The article spends a fair amount of time providing rationale about why exit interviews are something that should always be done but their value is suspect for a variety of reasons including:
- Posing the right questions, or not.
- Ill equipped interviewers.
- Fear of burning bridges by the exiting employee.
- Fear of a confidentiality breach; where does the info go and how is it used.
So they advocate the idea of doing exit-like interviews with employees while they are still at the business. They call them Stay Interviews and the whole idea is improve retention and overall employee performance by asking key employee satisfaction questions way before someone is thinking of leaving or actually leaves. By then it’s too late to react.
How to Structure Stay Interviews at a Small Business
The concept of small business owners having one-on-one sessions with employees is hardly new. But translating those sessions into something structured that is specifically intended to improve retention is another matter. It doesn’t have to be complex, just planned and well executed.
Here’s how to implement such a plan:
1. Commit to a Process: Lots of smallbiz CEOs hate the word process because they equate it to bureaucracy. But I do suggest telling people that you’re going to start this two way communication and put some structure/expectations around it so folks know that you’re serious.
2. CEO conducts 1-2 sessions per month: Having the CEO do the feedback sessions is key. The feedback loop starts and stops right where it should, at the top. Frequency: Anything less than 1-2 times per month and you might as well not do it at all. Anything more frequent and they risk becoming rushed and discounted by all involved.
3. Interviews should be casual but consistent: This means that the CEO should have an established list of questions to ask or topics to discuss but the session should be conducted in a non-threatening, conversational manner.
4. Confidentiality: At some point, the CEO will share the aggregated information with the company. But individual employee feedback should only be shared with the consent of the employee. Importantly, leakage of any information gleaned in the sessions could completely undermine or even destroy the program objectives.
5. Communicate expectations: It’s super important that the CEO NOT attempt to address every single employee concern or suggestion. The idea is to aggregate feedback into common themes and address them holistically where appropriate.
6. But do communicate: I recommend that at the monthly company wide meetings, a consistent item on the agenda is the feedback that the CEO has garnered from his/her “stay” sessions. Side note: If a smallbiz CEO is NOT conducting monthly company meetings, then there are much more fundamental issues to deal with at that company.
7. Address what make sense, but not everything: Lastly, the CEO and management need to carefully consider all suggestion and feedback and not necessarily react to every one. Some ideas will be great, others not so great and a bunch in between. For consistency and transparency, consideration of all ideas needs to be evaluated relative to company mission and objectives. Note: If a smallbiz doesn’t have a mission and objectives that are shared with employees, then there are much more fundamental issues to deal with at that company.
This suggested approach is not complicated and needn’t take up a lot of time for a CEO. Some initial thought and planning is key and then its all about executing on a consistent regular basis. This whole thing can badly backfire without consistent implementation and communication.
What have been your experiences with exit interviews or CEO one-on-one conversations? Please comment, I’d love to get your feedback.
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