Here are some quick tips, compiled with the help of Steve Cohen, president of Missouri-based Labor Management Advisory Group Inc.
When you conduct an exit interview, you want to ensure the former employee is comfortable with speaking openly. The answers to where, who and when all factor into whether you hear what you need to hear, and not what you want to hear. By following the six “Ws” of better exit interviews, you can make sure that happens.
Optimally, you, the owner, will personally conduct the interview. What a gift to give your former employees — telling them that the boss wants to hear what they think. If you’re unavailable, a senior executive or an HR professional should conduct the meeting. It should not be the direct supervisor because the employee may not be as frank.
You want to set up a situation for an honest and open discussion. You’re more likely to get the former employee to open up if you listen closely to the employee and avoid getting defensive. By asking open-ended questions rather than “yes” or “no” questions, you get more intimate details about the inner workings of your business and also hear what you need to hear.
Often, companies hold the exit interview on the last day of employment. That’s a mistake. Emotions may be raw and they may not have gotten their last paycheck Ideally, you don’t want to have the meeting while the employee still works for you. He is more likely to be honest if you wait until a week after he leaves but don’t wait longer than three weeks to hold the exit interview.
Consider holding the interview on the telephone. You want a comfortable, non-threatening environment, and the phone can provide that. If it’s face-to-face, don’t meet with a desk between you. This implies that you have clear authority. A conference room or a place where you can sit across from one another comfortably is best.
You can avert disaster if you conduct a good meeting. You can better manage PR, avoid viral Twitter blasts or simply diffuse a situation that could otherwise end in a lawsuit, or worse, workplace violence. Also, you will get much needed advice from a person who is in-the-know.
Set the meeting up confidentially and formally. Don’t do it impromptu on the shop floor or hallway. You want to convey that the employee’s opinion matters.