How to break up – pro­fes­sion­ally

Exit in­ter­views can pro­vide valu­able in­sights for com­pa­nies

Mail & Guardian - - Top Employers -

Break­ing up is never easy to do — es­pe­cially when it’s a pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship. Yet un­der­stand­ing the rea­sons why em­ploy­ees re­sign is one of the most valu­able tools in an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ar­se­nal. Here are three rea­sons why a good exit in­ter­view is worth its weight in gold.

Lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional head­lines have seen their share of high-pro­file res­ig­na­tions re­cently. Kenya Air­lines’ head of mar­ket­ing re­signed, while the fi­nance sec­tor was hit by four Skye Bank ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors re­sign­ing. In Nige­ria, the bank­ing sec­tor has faced a high staff turnover for some time, with re­searchers ques­tion­ing man­age­rial styles.

Break­ing up can be hard to do — which is why the vast ma­jor­ity of Top Em­ploy­ers take the time to un­der­stand res­ig­na­tions. “Em­ployee ex­its can be an im­por­tant strate­gic tool that many or­gan­i­sa­tions over­look,” says Billy El­liott, coun­try man­ager: Africa for the Top Em­ploy­ers In­sti­tute (TEI).

The TEI, which recog­nises ex­cel­lence in the con­di­tions em­ploy­ers cre­ate for their peo­ple glob­ally, helps or­gan­i­sa­tions stay on top of cur­rent HR best prac­tices. Its re­search has re­vealed that in Africa, 88% of cer­ti­fied Top Em­ploy­ers have a for­mally de­fined chan­nel in place whereby HR of­fi­cers con­duct exit in­ter­views with all em­ploy­ees, and an ad­di­tional 12% have a for­mal chan­nel in place us­ing a spe­cial­ist ex­ter­nal party to con­duct a more in-depth qual­i­ta­tive exit in­ter­view.

As the adage goes: “Peo­ple come into your life for a rea­son, a sea­son or a life­time. When you fig­ure out which it is, you’ll know what to do.” This may be hard to do, be­cause it can be dif­fi­cult to face un­com­fort­able truths, be­lieves El­liott. But if a com­pany loses good tal­ent, it can be costly not to un­der­stand the rea­sons.

With this in mind, says El­liott, there are three key rea­sons why an exit in­ter­view is worth its weight in gold.

1. A rare op­por­tu­nity for free and hon­est feed­back

“In to­day’s knowl­edge econ­omy, skilled em­ploy­ees are the as­set that drives or­gan­i­sa­tional suc­cess. Thus com­pa­nies must learn from them — why they stay, why they leave, and how the or­gan­i­sa­tion needs to change. A thought­ful exit in­ter­view process can cre­ate a con­stant flow of feed­back on all three fronts,” ar­gue Everett Spain and Boris Groys­berg in the Har­vard Busi­ness Review.

“Exit man­age­ment should be seen as an area for growth and learn­ing — a rare op­por­tu­nity for a com­pany to get free and hon­est in­sight,” adds El­liott. “If there is a pat­tern in the rea­sons for em­ploy­ees leav­ing, it may in­di­cate some­thing has to give.”

DHL vice pres­i­dent of Hu­man Re­sources for Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, Paul Clegg, con­curs. A cer­ti­fied Top Em­ployer in 12 African coun­tries, DHL prides it­self on hav­ing a cul­ture of appreciation and open­ness, that con­trib­utes to a gen­er­ally low staff turnover, and this ex­tends to the exit in­ter­view process. Says Clegg: “We an­a­lyse feed­back from our exit in­ter­views to de­ter­mine trends and per­form root cause anal­y­sis. We have a cul­ture of con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment at DHL and we use the exit in­ter­view as an ad­di­tional chan­nel to gain feed­back on what we’re do­ing well as well as to fur­ther iden­tify ar­eas that re­quire im­prove­ment. The sin­gle most im­por­tant as­pect of the exit in­ter­view is see­ing if we can pre­vent sim­i­lar ter­mi­na­tions from oc­cur­ring again.”

Ac­cord­ing to El­liott, 73% of Top Em­ploy­ers on the con­ti­nent re­port on exit man­age­ment KPIs (key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors). Of these KPIs, the most fre­quently used are 1) track­ing the num­ber of years the em­ployee worked for the or­gan­i­sa­tion and 2) ob­tain­ing spe­cific rea­sons why the em­ployee is leav­ing. These rea­sons are then com­pared to pre­vi­ous years so that trends can be an­a­lysed.

2. A good exit in­ter­view can give you a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage

An exit in­ter­view should be aimed at es­tab­lish­ing the rea­sons for the em­ployee leav­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion. These in­sights should be fed into re­ten­tion strate­gies. Know­ing why an em­ployee is leav­ing can also gen­er­ate use­ful in­sights into the mar­ket and com­peti­tor of­fer­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to Spain and Groys­berg, the op­por­tu­nity to learn about HR bench­marks (salary, ben­e­fits) of com­pet­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions and see­ing how your or­gan­i­sa­tion stacks up against other em­ploy­ers in terms of time off, abil­ity to ad­vance, dif­fer­ent ben­e­fits, and pay pack­ages, etcetera, is one of six key out­comes that a good exit in­ter­view should strive for.

Top Em­ployer Bri­tish Amer­i­can Tobacco South Africa en­sures that data from their exit in­ter­views is fed di­rectly into the busi­ness strat­egy, ex­plains tal­ent man­ager Riana Ohlson. “We aim to con­duct exit in­ter­views with all em­ploy­ees who re­sign. The exit in­ter­view is con­ducted by an HR of­fi­cer in or­der to de­ter­mine what the rea­son for leav­ing is, as well as to pro­vide us with mean­ing­ful in­sights into re­ten­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties for the fu­ture. These exit in­ter­views also shed light on our com­pet­i­tive land­scape.”

In or­der to gain these in­sights, how­ever, it’s cru­cial to follow a few golden rules. To im­prove the qual­ity and ve­rac­ity of the exit in­ter­view process, the TEI rec­om­mends that the in­ter­view not be car­ried out by the em­ployee’s im­me­di­ate su­pe­rior and, and where pos­si­ble, be anony­mous. The TEI re­ports that 63% of Top Em­ploy­ers in Africa have a for­mally de­fined chan­nel in place to use anony­mous ques­tion­naires for exit in­ter­views.

“An anony­mous exit in­ter­view can pro­vide deeper in­sights, as it gives the em­ployee the free­dom to ex­press their true con­cerns with­out feel­ing that he or she will burn their bridges when leav­ing,” ex­plains El­liott. “It can take place in the form of a ques­tion­naire or be con­ducted by a third party.”

3. A good exit in­ter­view is the first step in re­cruit­ing fu­ture staff

An exit in­ter­view is not al­ways the end of the road with an em­ployee. In fact, it can be an op­por­tu­nity to learn to do bet­ter. HR ex­pert Su­san Heath­field writes in The Bal­ance that it’s cru­cial to com­mit to tak­ing the em­ployee’s feed­back on board and end the in­ter­view gra­ciously; in that way they leave the or­gan­i­sa­tion more likely to be an am­bas­sador than a critic.

An­dre Muller, Head of HR at Top Em­ployer Pernod-Ri­card, says: “We be­lieve that we cre­ate am­bas­sadors for life when peo­ple join our busi­ness, and place enor­mous im­por­tance on the exit process be­ing treated as pro­fes­sion­ally as the on-board­ing process. As a re­sult peo­ple of­ten want to come back after they have left,” he says.

“In a rapidly chang­ing HR en­vi­ron­ment, em­ploy­ers need all the un­der­stand­ing they can get,” con­cludes El­liott. “Exit in­ter­views open a valu­able door to that in­sight. And a good em­ployer will take care to en­sure that the qual­ity of the exit in­ter­view is high. It is no co­in­ci­dence that 98% of Top Em­ploy­ers on the con­ti­nent ask HR to eval­u­ate the qual­ity of the exit man­age­ment process.”

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