It happens. It disrupts our businesses. We’re dismayed by it. It comes at us unexpectedly. It breaks our hearts. But it happens. And it will continue to happen — more often than it used to. Because there’s no such thing as the gold watch anymore. Companies seldom promise a lifetime career, and younger recruits don’t expect it. They expect to change companies — maybe even careers — every few years. Regardless, it hurts when a valuable employee gives notice. So, what can you do when a valuable employee gives notice?

Find Out Why They’re Leaving

Sit down with the employee and ask them why they’re leaving? Begin by saying that you want whatever is best for them and will support their decision. Next, ask the employee what was missing — what’s different about the new position, what factors led to the decision, and how could we have better met their needs and expectations. At this point, if a counteroffer might be an acceptable remedy, begin the discussion with the employee.

Complete an Exit interview

Many people confuse the purpose of an exit interview. An exit interview isn’t to save the valuable teammate because that’s what the first conversation was for. The purpose of the exit interview is to improve procedures and personnel as well as to avoid future losses of valuable employees.

An exit interview is a tool that, when properly conducted, can be used to improve an organization. Exit interviews can uncover cultural disconnects, leadership errors, and training inadequacies. They can be used to identify equipment that needs repaired, replaced, or updated. Exit interviews may uncover trends that adversely affect performance and production. Exit interviews can be used to identify and then eliminate causes of turnover.

What to do Before an Exit Interview

Before conducting an exit interview, you should determine:

  1. If an attempt should be made to retain the employee.
  2. How to meet the employee’s needs if he or she is to remain employed.

Only after determining whether to attempt to retain the employee should an exit interview be conducted.

Who Should Conduct the Exit Interview?

The Human Resources department should conduct the majority of exit interviews. But what if the small business doesn’t have an HR department? In that case, someone other than the employee’s manager might be the best choice to complete the interview. Direct supervisors may have too many preconceived notions and prejudices to interview the employee with an open mind. And because employees might not be forthright with their immediate supervisor.

Set the Stage  

Before conducting the exit interview set the tone.

  • Conduct the interview in a quiet area without interruptions.
  • Explain the purpose of the exit interview, which is to seek the employee’s help and suggestions for improving the company and position.

The purpose of the exit interview is to discover opportunities for improvement. It’s not to place blame, protect the organization from exposure, or justify the departure. It’s to learn how to be a better business.

What to Ask

Questions should be based on areas of possible improvement. They should, in most cases, be open-ended and, when possible, be geared to specific challenges of the company. Here are a few examples of questions you might ask during an exit interview:

  • What could be done to improve your position for others?
  • What tools do we need to replace, upgrade, or purchase?
  • How could training be improved?
  • What would you tell your direct supervisor to help him or her be a better leader?
  • How could the overall culture of the company be improved?
  • What would make this a better place to work?

The best exit interviews are conducted openly in honest conversation focused on improving the organization. And when they are, they help businesses avoid mistakes and reduce turnover. They improve production and performance by identifying areas where improvement should be focused and targeting areas of leadership inadequacy. Because when an exit interview concentrates on finding areas of improvement, some will be found.

Have a Plan

How will the transition be handled? Who needs additional training? What will the exiting employee’s role in training a replacement be? Is it time to recruit — to place ads? A few weeks ago, an employee who wasn’t at the top of the valuable employee list gave two weeks’ notice. The employee offered to help with training her replacement. Several teammates shared that the employee who was leaving was saying derogatory things about our company. Her manager informed her she was no longer needed, and asked her to leave immediately. The manager was able to do this because she had a backup plan. She had already cross trained others to help.

It’s Not About You

Unless your poor management is the reason for employees leaving, don’t take it personally. Because, other than that, it’s not about you, and it’s not about them. It’s about learning how to improve your organization, and it’s about being a better leader and ramping up the employee experience at your business. So what should you do when a valuable employee gives notice? Everything possible to avoid losing valuable employees in the future.

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