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Making an Exit Interview Work for You

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Dave Schedin has been in the auto industry since 1978. Initially he was a tech, and now he’s CEO of consulting firm The CompuTrek Group.

Over his lengthy career, Schedin has heard quite a few horror stories about exit interviews—about how the sessions can occasionally turn volatile. And, on countless occasions, Schedin has heard how painfully pointless owners deem exit meetings to be.

Regardless, the industry veteran knows better. Where others see an awkward interaction, Schedin sees opportunity.

“I believe they’re worthwhile, if the person giving the exit interview is really trying to find out where they fell short of serving that employee,” Schedin says. “If they’re going in to do name, blame, shame and guilt so they can yell at somebody, [exit interviews] don’t work at all. What you want is feedback.”

Ratchet+Wrench spoke with multiple experts on the subject of exit interviews, and how to turn an often unappreciated element of the business world into a valuable experience that shop operators can use to improve their workplaces moving forward. 

 

Be Prepared.

Interviewers should always approach an exit interview with a clear head and open mind. 

“Before somebody goes into an exit interview, they really need to be grounded and centered in who they are, and the purpose of their business,” Schedin says. “If they’re not, somebody may give them what’s perceived as negative feedback, and if it rocks them off their purpose and they become offended, then an exit interview can become volatile.”

Consider this general to-do list to keep exit interviews efficient: 

Call for reinforcements: On those occasions where exit interviews are called for, it’s wise to have two representatives of your business conduct the process. That way, in a worst-case scenario in which an exit interview turns contentious, a witness can verify the interviewer’s story. 

Cover your assets: For legal purposes, it’s never a bad idea to document an exit interview with audio or video, too. To keep things definitively above board, the interviewee should be informed the process will be recorded. 

An additional note on documenting exit interviews: If the interviewee states the reasons for why they’re leaving, those should be written down, so they can’t be disputed later. 

Know your people: Get a feel for the employee’s reason for departure before an exit interview. Is the employee departing for significantly better money elsewhere? If so, don’t waste an extensive amount of time trying to talk them out of it. 

If you feel there’s any chance a valued, departing employee might be able to be enticed to stay at your shop, it’s worth asking: “What would it take for you to stay here?” 

Serve employees at their exit: Ask employees who are departing on good terms if they need a reference letter. Remember the word-of-mouth element of an employee’s exit, and the fact you want them to speak well of your shop to others. 

Have a checklist on hand: Inform an exiting employee of everything you need from them, be it a key card, uniform, or logins and passwords to, say, vendor sites. Clarify if medical benefits (e.g., a COBRA plan) will continue for a certain time period. 

Get a signature: The final step of an exit interview typically entails having the departing employee sign a release form (reviewed by your legal counsel) acknowledging why they’re leaving, and noting their continued commitment toward any confidentiality agreement, should one exist for your business. 

 

Five Questions That Should Be Asked In an Exit Interview:

1) What’s the main reason you’re leaving? 

2) What would entice you to stay here?

3) What rule or SOP do we have that you disagreed with most? 

4) Did we provide an effective tool for you to communicate your frustrations? 

5) Were there skills or talents you had that we didn’t utilize? 

 

Have An Ideal Interviewer.

Mel Kleiman, president of consulting firm Humetrics, has a certain appreciation for time management. Thus, he understands why some find exit interviews to occasionally be tedious. But when Kleiman consults during exit interview processes, he suggests planning wisely to determine such assignments as who will lead an exit interview. 

“If you’re going to do an exit interview,” Kleiman notes, “look at doing it after the person has left, give them a couple weeks to be in that position, and then look at trying to get the information.” 

Small shops often ignore the exit interview process entirely. And, on the rare occasion when an exiting employee is interviewed at a small shop, the person meeting with them is usually the facility’s owner—and that presents an obstacle in gaining worthwhile information. After all, the main inspiration for an employee’s departure may very well be a boss. As a result, the departing party might not want, or feel comfortable, in airing grievances about the overseer. 

“What’s the No. 1 reason why employees quit?” Kleiman says. “It is not the company, it is not the opportunity, it is not the money. It’s the person they work for. People join companies; they leave managers.” 

The experts seem to agree: When doing an exit interview, either use an HR official,  or at least have two rather impartial superiors lead the process. 

 

Seek Info And Listen.

When an employee is about to turn in his or her ID badge, a shop owner’s thoughts inevitably drift to who should be hired next. Here’s another element that should be on the owner’s to-do list: introspection. 

“The purpose of the exit interview,” Schedin says, “is to find out where did I, as shop owner or manager, miss out on value for this person? Was it that I didn’t provide leadership, I didn’t provide a safe place for them to come work? And these are critical.” 

As an interviewer, this is the time to do your best detective work. Resist the temptation to interrogate, however. 

“Don’t ask closed-ended questions—you know, ‘yes-no’ questions,” Schedin says. “You want to get them to talk.”

Vague answers, after all, provide few lessons for a shop owner to use to improve the business. As a result, ask probing questions that might get a departing employee to admit, for example, that a superior often left them feeling overwhelmed. 

“The answer I’ve learned over all the years: Just listen to what their issues are, and just be personable,” notes Carlo Sabucco, who has owned Sil’s Complete Auto Care Centre in suburban Toronto for nearly 16 years. “I want them to feel like they’re in control of the meeting and giving me advice that I’m going to actually take.

“When I go through the process, in some cases it’s been to strengthen the benefits of the company for the employee—we need to improve the uniform, we need to improve the benefit plan, we need to improve our tool program; that was one of the reasons why one employee left. He was like, ‘I couldn’t afford tools.’ So we put a tool program in place for our younger staff.” 

 

Build Off Interviews.

If you treat employees with compassion and display a genuine interest in them during their tenure with your shop, exit interviews will rarely be needed.

And, one option for bypassing exit interviews is to have periodic, one-on-one conversations with employees, say, every six months. Such informal performance reviews can create an open line of communication that can aid workplace harmony. 

If a shop owner or manager doesn’t foster an environment of openness, they’re likely to receive the occasional two weeks’ notice from a valuable asset. And it’s rather difficult to talk someone into staying when they already have their eyes fixed on the exits. That’s why experts instruct shop leaders to gather as much insight as they can from departing employees, so that exit processes can be avoided as much as possible in the future.

When an exiting employee expresses displeasure with a certain element of your business, it’s important to take note. Then, in the future, steps can be taken to avoid similar issues—in fact, that action can begin during future on-boarding processes. For example, if there were certain customer service scenarios that your exiting employee handled poorly, you may want to re-create that same “what-if scenario” for subsequent job candidates you interview, to gauge how they would handle it, Schedin says.  

Ideally, exit interviews can be used to continually refine your shop’s working environment. 

“Top-end shops,” Schedin says, “are always looking for feedback on how they can improve.”

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