HR people need to be a detective in an exit interview

If you’re losing good people the most important thing you can do, as a company, is to conduct an in depth exit interview and to take action on what you find. However, too many HR people are afraid of the political ramifications of potentially “rocking the boat” and by failing to bring issues to management’s attention they are endangering your organization.

Doug was a product manager for a large consumer electronics company who managed close to $400 million worth of products.  While he was there the categories assigned to him grew in double digits and he had an excellent working relationship with product development.

After four years, Doug resigned to start his own business, but what surprised him the most was that HR did not do an exit interview. They just asked for his badge and laptop and he was out the door.  This is a huge failure for the company, the brand, and its shareholders.

If they had talked to Doug they would have heard that he resigned because there was no clear career path and his wife grew tired of Doug working 11 hour days and putting off vacation.  “I like working there, but when the company doesn’t show appreciation for your effort what am I supposed to think?”.  The person who replaced Doug lost market share and profitability of the category costing the brand tens of millions of dollars.

When a good employee decides to call it quits HR has an opportunity to learn why they are losing good people.  At the exit interview HR people have to be part detective and part business person to learn why people are leaving.  They have to separate facts from emotion and they have to ensure that the organization learns from its mistakes.  However, too often exit interviews are just “another piece of paperwork” because HR managers are either afraid to point out failings or their reports are filed with no action taken.

When a company starts losing good people senior executives should ask HR for an explanation and an action plan to ensure they stop bleeding employees.  If they don’t, then they aren’t interested in their company and just want bodies to “get the job done”.

HR cannot afford to play dumb when good people leave and they have to have the courage to raise their hand and say “we have a problem”.  You can’t ignore good people leaving.

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