Ask an Investor: How do I conduct an exit interview?

interview

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As CEO, you conduct interviews with all of your early hires and senior leadership. Even as your organization grows and you introduce managers who hire their own teams, CEOs often continue meeting all new hires as a way to disseminate culture. Less common are exit interviews – talking to the individuals who are leaving your team.

When should I conduct one?

Similar to reference calls, your focus should be on the repeated comments and patterns that emerge.

As CEO, you should conduct exit interviews with every employee who’s leaving your firm. Once you grow to a size where that overwhelms your time, you should delegate to your senior leadership for their respective departments. The goal here is to understand why individuals are leaving your company, and parse out repeated reasons to improve your behaviour and culture with the goal of employee retention.

What should I be asking?

  • What is your primary reason for leaving?
  • How would you rate your job across: morale and job satisfaction, training and support, growth and career path?
  • How would you rate your manager across: fairness and equality, fostering cooperation and teamwork, growth and career path potential, acknowledgement of efforts and contributions, providing clear direction and feedback, offering mentorship and support?
  • How would you rate the company across: compensation, benefits and perks, culture, management, product?
  • What did you like most about working here?
  • What would you change about working here?
  • If you have knowledge of specific scenarios that impacted the decision to leave, ask what the firm could have done to resolve that scenario to a positive outcome.

    What if I worry a senior leader won’t share their feedback with me?

    Bring in your board! As CEO, you won’t always get transparent feedback, especially when it concerns you personally. If a senior leader is leaving and you’re at a loss for why they’re churning, conduct an exit interview and have your board members perform one as well. You won’t necessarily come away knowing everything that was discussed, but to the extent that the conversation requires a change on your part, you’re more likely to get to that result through a board member.

    How do I conduct one?

    Make it routine so employees expect it will be part of the departure process. This helps normalize them, reduces unease, and increases the odds that you’ll get at real insights rather than platitudes
    .
    Come into the conversation prepared. Speak to their manager to understand why they believe the individual is leaving and gain context that can shape your conversation.

    Frame the conversation as a transparent dialogue that covers positive and negative aspects of your company. Your goal is to come away with actionable insights on why individuals are leaving your company and how changes can help retain top performers.

    Focus on patterns. Similar to reference calls, your focus should be on the repeated comments and patterns that emerge. These are more telling than individual data points that may indicate two personalities didn’t align.

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    Sarah Marion

    Sarah Marion

    Sarah Marion is an Associate at iNovia, a full-stack venture capital firm that partners with audacious founders to build enduring technology companies. iNovia manages $500M across three funds, and holds offices in Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, and London. For more information, visit inovia.vc