I was in the Big Apple a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful time and really, words or a blog entry won’t do it any justice… so I won’t try. I had a bit of a hard time saying goodbye though… it was one of those partings where you say farewell and walk away… and you want to look back to see if that person you’ve said goodbye to is still there watching you leave because they too weren’t quite ready to say goodbye. But you also don’t want to look back because what if the person you’ve said goodbye to isn’t there? What if he didn’t stick and just turned around as soon as you said your goodbyes? You can’t help but to turn around though, just to see. You with me? Thankfully, in this case, my New Yorker was still there, watching me leave.
On the escalator down to the train platform, the gentleman behind me quipped, “It looked hard saying goodbye back there.” Isn’t it always, I replied. Saying goodbye is never easy and on a HR listserv I subscribe to, there’s been a bit of chatter on exit interviews lately. Someone had sent around a column by Liz Ryan where the reader asked whether he should spill his guts in the exit interview. Liz advised:
“…I’d counsel you to clam up and tell your HR pal that the new opportunity was too close to your career goals for you to pass it up. Truth to tell, if she were on the ball she would have zeroed in on the workplace problems already…”
At first blush, her advice makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? Because is Liz Ryan really telling people not to share their feedback when leaving? Is she trying to make our jobs as HR pros difficult? I mean, really – why hide the truth? But read it again – if the HR manager were on the ball, she would have zeroed in on the workplace problems already. Yep, Liz got it precisely right. Not too much of what comes up in an exit interview should be a surprise to a great HR pro. You feel me? Because if you’re picking up on patterns and learning all sorts of “new” information about the employee experience and their reasons for leaving via exit interviews… it may be a sign that you’re totally out of touch.
Not to say exit interviews have zero value… with hindsight on their side, I’ve seen departing employees contribute some really great and innovative ideas – a great reason to conduct exit interviews. I also like picking the brains of departing employees about what they think we should look for as we replace them. Are there things about their role, team, or manager we should keep in mind? It’s a good conversation to have… because not only will they have some unique insight, but it also shows them that you care about what they think as they’re leaving. If you don’t want to burn your bridges, it’s an important message to send – that they can still provide value even though they are one foot out the door. Other best practices? Send out the formal exit interview questions in advance. I use Zoomerang to do it and have their thoughts in advance of our meeting which makes it more of a conversation and less of an interview.
So for those who are on their way out the door and contemplating what and how much to say as you leave? Please do make a gracious exit. Share with your HR pro your insights… but hopefully, the reason you’re leaving won’t be a huge surprise. And me? As I’m having an exit interview with you? Well, I think you already saw this coming, so let’s make it a constructive chat and brainstorm a bit.
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don’t be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she’s still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life… she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat.