Q: We just lost another key employee, and I don’t know what the real problem is. All three employees who resigned seemed great hires and started out strong. All three seemed to lose steam after about six months and left before the year was out.
The common denominator is that they all worked for “Laura,” but it seems too simple to say she’s the problem. I’ve been the CEO of our company for three years and Laura is a rock-star employee. I absolutely depend on her. I know she’s a hard-charger and sets high expectations for herself and others, but I also know that our clients, many of her peers, and several of her other employees absolutely love her.
I asked Laura for her thoughts about why each of these employees left. She let me know that all three departing employees had received amazing job offers. She assured me that each of them hadn’t been “looking” for a new job when the opportunities presented themselves. She also said their departures may have been blessings in disguise as each of the three had work habit problems she’d had to work around.
I don’t want to make this a bigger deal than it is, nor make Laura feel I’m checking up on her by asking her remaining employees what they think might be the problem. How do I figure this out before we hire a replacement employee?
A: Have you tried exit-interviewing the employees who resigned? They’re the ones who chose to leave and may be carrying the answers away with them. If you haven’t already conducted exit interviews, here’s how to do it.
Let each resigning employee know you’d consider it a gift to the employee’s coworkers and you to learn his or her thoughts about working in your organization. If the employee worries about potential retribution, find out why and offer to hold the information you learn confidential. You can also allay any fears the employees may have by offering to provide reference letters before conducting the interview.
Start your interviews with safe questions that get the dialog flowing easily, such as “What was it that initially attracted you to the job you are now leaving?” and “What did you like the best about your job or working here?”
Then, ask questions more likely to get at what you need to know, such as:
• “What was the most challenging or difficult thing about working here?”
• “When did you first decide to leave?”
• “What was the turning point of your wanting to move on to another job?”
• “How would you rate the morale in the office?”
• “Have there been recent positive changes?”
• “What are some recent negative changes?”
• “If you could change anything here, what would you change?”
You can explore specific areas with questions such as:
• “What can you tell me about the effectiveness of communications here?”
• “What could have made communications better?”
• “How did you feel about the quality of supervision you received?”
• “Were your talents well utilized?”
• “You seemed to change about six months into your time with us; what can you tell us about that?”
Conclude your interview with two questions that generally lead to surprises, such as “What qualities will the next employee coming into your position need to have to be successful?” and “What should I have been wise enough to ask but haven’t?”
You may learn information that corroborates what Laura told you — that you’ve hired stellar employees that each simply caught another employer’s attention. You may learn you hired great employees, but ones who didn’t match well with their supervisor. You may, however, learn that while Laura is great in many ways, she needs to revamp her supervisory skills.