Exit Interviews

Why Everyone Hates Exit Interviews & What to Do About It.

Everyone Hates Exit Interviews - What to Do About It

Hate is a strong word, perhaps, but I think we can all agree that exit interviews are viewed in the same emotional category as colonoscopies, cleaning your baseboards and getting your driver’s license renewed.  All good things to do, of course, but generally not highly anticipated or enjoyable by any stretch of the imagination.  Why?  Because they represent things that can be painful, draining and that sometimes don’t end very well.  Never fear, help is on the way! 

We’ve cultivated a list of the common reasons why outgoing employees dread or avoid the exit interview process all together and some practical tips on how your organization can change that narrative. 

By setting the right tone and asking open-ended questions, your church exit interview process can become your most important gage to measure the health of your culture, church staffing needs and vision for the future.

The Outgoing Staff Member thinks, “I’m leaving anyway, what good will this do?  Plus, I really don’t want to burn a bridge on my way out.”

What You Can Do:  Set the Right Tone

Ensure that the exit interview comes from a position of positivity vs negativity.  After all, transitions are a part of life.  No one should stay in one place forever professionally.  The organization should be happy to have been a part of this individual’s growth.  Overcome any awkwardness or negativity by staying positive and not taking things personally.  Be human, affirming, and compassionate above all else. 

Use A Decision Maker

Make sure that the church staff member conducting the exit interview is a decision maker within your organization.  This communicates to the departing staff member, as well as to the existing staff, that this process is taken seriously by the organization.  Also, make sure that they have a relationship with the departing staff member so that built in trust has been established.  This will allow for transparency and real, unfiltered feedback that can only benefit the organization, whether it’s positive or negative. 

The outgoing staff member thinks, “Wow, I bet this is going to be super awkward and stressful.  I wonder if I can be really honest or if they will just get defensive.”

What You Can Do:  Ask Open-Ended Questions

Apply the 80/20 rule when conducting an exit interview.  Listen 80% of the time and talk 20%.  The purpose of this process is to glean as much information as possible from the person who is leaving the organization, so make sure that the questions that are asked allow for lots of elaboration and detail.  Sample questions that fit this model are:

Was the job what you thought it would be?  Why or why not?

How would you describe the culture here?

What were some of the biggest stressors that you experienced?

What were some of your best memories and accomplishments?

How was most of your time spent?

Did you feel you had clear goals and objectives?  If so, what were they?

Use the phrase, “Tell me more about…”

The goal of the interview is to capture as much information as possible about the outgoing staff members experience with your organization.  The best tool in your arsenal for this is the simple phrase, “Tell me more about…” By asking them to elaborate on a prior response given, you are opening the door for them to share in even more detail about their experience, therefore giving you much more insight into their perspective.  The phrase also shows that you are genuinely listening to what they have to say and are interested in hearing more.  Take notes to make sure you are capturing the pertinent information and repeat back often for understanding.

The outgoing staff member thinks, “Wow, I just got a lot off my chest.  I bet they just did this to check a box and make me feel better, but nothing will change.”

What You Can Do:  Take Action

After the interview is over, let the outgoing employee know that you will be using their valuable feedback to better the organization.  Don’t just stick your notes in a drawer or save the file to a random folder on your desktop.  Take the feedback you collected and use it to make that job and the overall organization healthier.  Ask yourself:

What did I learn?  What should we change? 

Prioritize things that can be changed for the better quickly, for example, adding a new responsibility to the church job description or taking something away, adjusting a line item in the budget or increasing hours, all based on the feedback that you received.  For things that will take longer to change, keep a list that leadership revisits often.  Look for repeated patterns in the feedback that is given.  If multiple people are saying the exact same things in their exit interviews about your church culture, for example, it’s definitely something to pay attention to that belongs on your list. 

If you set the right tone, ask open-ended questions and take action, exit interviews can move from the dreaded “list of things no one wants to do” list to one of the healthiest, most helpful processes that you can do as an organization.  Trust me, if you take these practical steps, it can truly become way better than colonoscopies, cleaning base boards and getting your driver’s license renewed.

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