Dear HR Executive:
I used to conduct the lamest exit interviews. I'd ask people the usual questions:
- Why are you leaving? (a better opportunity came along; they came after me.)
- How good was your relationship with your boss? (oh, he was fine)
- Was money a factor? (not really)
- Is there anything the company could have done to keep you? (no, the company's great)
The answers were always useless. People didn't want to burn bridges by saying anything bad about the company or their boss. I always felt I'd learned nothing from these meetings.
Top salespeople will tell you that the key to selling is asking the right questions. They'll also tell you that the phrasing of the question determines how effective it will be. That's true in any situation where you're communicating with people, and I came across a technique for phrasing questions in exit interviews that immediately turned dud interviews into incredibly insightful ones.
And it was so simple. All you do is ask people to answer using a scale. For example:
- On a scale of 1-10, how happy were you with your boss (1=not happy; 10 = very happy)?
Now you'll tend to get answers like 6 or 7, which could easily be misinterpreted as meaning the employee was satisfied with her boss. But she wasn't. When a good employee that you really wanted to keep answers 6 or 7 to this question, it means she left because she there was something missing in her relationship with her boss.
- On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think you were compensated (1=not well at all; 10 = very well)?
Again, you'll get 6's or 7's, which means that they were extremely unhappy with their pay.
- On a scale of 1-10, how well do you think our company trains and develops its people?(1=very poorly; 10 = extremely well)?
You get the idea. Sometimes I found that people landed a super job and they deeply regretted leaving. They tended to give us high marks, mostly 9's and 10s. They told the truth. But when you start getting 5's, 6's and 7's, people are sending you a message in code that they were deeply dissatisfied with your company. The genius of this technique is that it coaxes people into revealing what they really believe, without having to come right out and say it.
Follow up questions can get you the details, as in: "Jody, you gave your boss a 7. That's not a bad rating, but describe to me what a 9 or a 10 looks like." Jody will then describe the missing qualities that she hopes her new boss will have (which is telling you in code what her last boss lacked). You get what you want and Jody doesn't feel she's badmouthed anybody.
Exit interviews are really important because they help you identify dysfunctional patterns that cause turnover. But they're useless unless people tell you the truth. Try this technique and you'll get it (or at least you'll get a lot closer).