Exit Interviews? Why Don’t We Focus on Stay Interviews Instead?

To Our Readers: This week, TLNT is continuing our annual tradition by counting down the 35 most popular posts of this past year. This is No. 21. Our regular content will return Wednesday January 2, 2013.

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I got to thinking about exit interviews after I read the article here on TLNT by John Hollon titled Exit Interviews: How Can We Make Them More Than a Waste of Time?

I have never cared for exit interviews. Yes, I know most companies have it on their checklist of things to do when someone leaves the company. But really — what you think you will gain from doing them?

Just as John said, people don’t want to burn bridges. Or, they will pick the easiest reason to give in an exit interview which is usually, “I was offered more money.”

One of the most forward-thinking companies I ever worked for started a practice a long time ago — long before companies started doing it — and calling it by the term “stay interviews.”

Why not interview your best performers instead?

At this company we decided that doing exit interviews, getting questionable results at best and feeding it into a report to management was a wasted effort. Frankly it was a “bummer” showing poor results/comments. It brought everyone down! It made us feel like — gee, we’re so bad, how can we ever climb out of this hole!

We decided to attack this from another angle. What if we did casual interviews with our best performers, our high potentials, etc? What could we do with what we learned?

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So we compiled a list of high performers and high potentials and started our project. Each of us took 3-4 employees at a time. We did this very informally. No “professional” surveys purchased from consultants, etc. We just each took our group to the company cafeteria or a conference room for coffee and “chatted”. We told them they were appreciated for their contributions to the company and the company wanted to ask them a few questions:

  1. Why do you stay at this company?
  2. If you have been contacted by a headhunter why have you not been interested?
  3. What are the things that you enjoy most about your job?
  4. If the company could do anything better, what would it be?

Who cares after the fact?

Simple. Direct. We didn’t take notes during the meetings. We just let the conversation flow. It was like we were all friends sitting around the table talking. Having a group of people helped because they added to what each other was saying, etc. They all seemed to enjoy sharing examples of what they liked about their jobs and the company.

When we compiled our findings and took them to top management it was like day and night. They were really happy to receive good news for once from HR. They appreciated hearing about the things they were doing that were “right” and interested in what the company could do more of. And when HR stood ready to recommend some things to improve on the environment — they were happy to approve them.

It’s easier to identify good things and make them better than identifying bad things after-the-fact when no one cares — don’t you think?

Jacque Vilet, president of Vilet International, has more than 20 years’ experience in international human resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor, and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. She has also been a speaker in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications. Contact her at jvilet@viletinternational.com.

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