10.3.2012

The Big Mistake Leaders Make Reading Exit Interviews.

Nothing good comes from an exit interview.

If you are a leader, reading the snotty feedback of disgruntled employees you’ve fired (or let leave on their own) is distracting and counter-productive.

You won’t learn anything you don’t already know right now.

And whining, cranky under-achievers are hardly the best source for the bold strategies you need to scale your business in a turbulent marketplace.  You won’t make important changes because you are nagged.

If that were the case, and the changes were important, you would have already made them.

So stop listening to HR.  Shut down the exit interview process.  It’s a mental death trap.

Angry departing employees don’t put aside their frustrations and calmly share their perspective on your growth potential.  They lash out.  They’re petty.  They’re acidic and biting and cheap.

You aren’t likely to change either.

If you were an arrogant, un-listening leader before reading the exit interview, you aren’t going to have a “come to Jesus” experience reading the dark satire of an employee no longer at your company.  That’s just silly thinking.

And if you know that you have problems and are working on fixing them (albeit slowing and painfully), you only find yourself more humiliated and discouraged after reading these biting critiques.

Frankly, no one wins in the process.

Not the person being interviewed.  Not you listening in to their answers.

That’s because the time for learning is past.  The time for a better conversation is past.  What went wrong went wrong.  It’s important to learn from your mistakes, but there is no reason to rub poison in your eyes.  Just do it better next time.

  1. Only hire people that you respect enough to listen to their advise — now and sometime in the future.
  2. Share your company’s goals and vision as often as you can with each member of your team.  Pound your story home.
  3. Take regular time to ask your team members what they think the company should be doing.  Ask for “facts” and opinions.
  4. Give team members responsibility for fixing problems and make them accountable for their results.
  5. Encourage failure.  Discourage excuses.  Talk about each, often.
  6. Fire team members who have negative attitudes or are passive aggressive. Foster candid conversation.

Everybody wins this way.

You’ll solve problems before they turn into disasters and you’ll spot troublemakers before they disrupt your business growth.

The worst time to read advice is right after a “blow-up” or a break-up”.  Don’t make the mistake ofgetting your business ideas from the sour tones of unhappy ex-employees.

Focus on the conversation each day.  Talk through challenges.  Inspire leadership.

Greatness will follow.


  • Kevin Feldman

    The only thing that I disagree with is that “exit interviews” are “big mistakes” — and that reading them is a big mistake. The post assumes that all exit interviews are because of negative terminations or resignations. What about the employee that leaves for a better opportunity? What about the retiring employee? What about the employee who is “laid-off” due to lack of funding or work? What about the employee who is let go because they are not a good fit, but have valuable expertise and skills? As a manager, I want to know what they think of their experience as an employee of the organization. I want to hear their suggestions.

    I don’t have to take the advice of an exiting employee, but I don’t want to miss any early warning of a sinking ship either.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      I think it’s too late then…. You are right, Kevin, that you should attempt to learn from people leaving your company, but at the time of the exit, the quality of the information is “spotty” at best. It’s like try to brainstorm engineering and architecture nuggets while you’re sinking on the Titanic. It’s over.

      An unhappy employee is spiteful. A happy employee just wants to move on to the next thing.

      And why are we waiting to get this information at the worst possible time. Why not gather this information regularly? Why not stop and read through employee ideas each week?

      You are absolutely right that as leaders we need to always be listening to ways to improve. I just think there are better ways to do that than the exit interview. What do you think?

      Dan

  • http://www.adigaskell.org/blog Adi

    Good post Dan. As you state in your response to Kevin, even if people leave for good reasons, the chances are that their mind and heart are already in their next job, so it’s rare that they’ll give you good advice or feedback.

    It’s so much better to have regular ongoing dialogue with employees and develop the kind of culture where your team can tell you if you’re being an arse. It’s sadly very rare for this kind of candid culture to exist, and it inevitably leads to surprises when the manager hears that they’re not as great as they though they were.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      That’s my opinion too, Adi…

  • http://twitter.com/CoachLee Leanne HoaglandSmith

    My sense is the information is “spotty at best” is because there has been a lack of a consistent process. Exit interviews can provide value and should be front ended in the hiring process given the longevity of employment is no longer in decades. In the book by Clifton “The Coming Jobs War” he talks about the majority of managers are bad, very bad. This suggests performance appraisal process must also be in place as well as determining if the 7Rs are in place.

    • http://www.DanWaldschmidt.com/ Dan Waldschmidt

      You are exactly right, Leanne. Reliable information isn’t something that you can turn on at will. Top be successful you need to cultivate a sustainable culture of candor.

      Dan

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