Exit Interviews: Too Little, Too Late

By Alexandra DeFelice

"We need to talk."
Those words typically signal the end of a romantic relationship.
But the same holds true when an employee - usually one of the "stars" - wants to leave his or her current firm or company.
In a romantic relationship, the person who uttered those words most likely already decided to leave and has an exit plan to boot. Bags are packed, a new lease is signed, and a taxi may even be waiting around the corner.
In a professional situation, a staff member typically requests a meeting with the boss to discuss "something important" or a similarly vague topic.
Details are minimal and the urgency level is high – perhaps it can wait until Friday, but next week won't cut it.
As the boss, your gut tells you something is amiss.
Sure enough, that employee walks into your office and declares he is leaving "to pursue other opportunities."
So what do you do? 
Tell the employee not to let the door hit him on the way out? Beg him to stay? Make them an offer he can't refuse?
Chances are, even if you make the employee a great offer, it's too little too late. Why didn't you offer him more when he wasn't halfway out the door? 
Enter the concept of "Stay Interviews."
I participated in a conference call this month with human resources directors and managers who work for accounting firms that are members of Moore Stephens. The focus of the call was employee benefits, so, of course, part of the conversation turned to retaining talented staff and what they – as HR personnel – learned during exit interviews.

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The findings weren't unusual. What was unusual and intriguing is the response I received when I asked what they were doing to retain staff. Some of the firms have introduced initiatives called "stay interviews" in which they engage in some intense conversations with staff about how they view their roles, the firm, etc.

While early in the process, initial feedback revealed that employees appreciate being asked to share their honest perspectives. 
Exit interviews, when conducted properly, can provide firms with valuable data about the reasons behind voluntary turnover. But isn't it better to learn those facts earlier in the process and intervene before your star employees need "to talk" to you?
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About the author:
Alexandra DeFelice is senior manager of communication and program development for Moore Stephens North America, and a regional member of Moore Stephens International, a network of more than 360 accounting and consulting firms with nearly 650 offices in almost 100 countries. Alexandra can be reached at adefelice@msnainc.org.

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