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Exit interviews and mentoring sessions require preparation in advance. As you'll remember from our first page, the goal is to collect as much knowledge as possible from your exiting employees and make it useful for your department; you'll need a plan to make it happen. That said, and we’ll say this again later, no plan will be perfect. There will likely be needs or subjects that you don’t anticipate. Use this plan as a framework for your event, but be prepared to make tactical departures from it if the moment requires it.
PRIORITIZE YOUR CONTENT
There are all types of useful knowledge that your employees might have. The following is a brief list that might be useful for you. Your first task is to prioritize what kind of knowledge is most important for you to collect.
- Reason for leaving. This is the subject of the classic exit interview, and its usefulness depends on the circumstances. If you’re losing staff to a voluntary retirement incentive, you may well know at least part of the reason. But if several people are leaving at once, even as part of a retirement incentive, it can hint at other dysfunctions in your department that may need to be addressed.
- Materials used. Collecting employee knowledge that is already written down is the simplest thing you can do. Employees often use tools or guides in their work, either that they have found or that they have created themselves. Retaining these in the organization for other employees to use is usually a high priority.
- Procedures performed. Technical expertise usually takes the form of a procedure. Planning a class, organizing office materials, using financial information to make decisions: Employees conduct most tasks according to a specified plan. Even if a task in your office already has a Standard Operating Procedure, employees will commonly depart from this process if they find something that works better. Make sure you know how your employee actually conducted their work.
- Rules of thumb. Everyone has rules of thumb that they use to solve a thorny problem. Employees often find creative ways to solve complex problems in their work. If you know a particular process or situation could be tricky later on, have the employee describe to you how they decide to do what they do.
- Contacts known. Some of the most important knowledge in any organization is the set of working relationships both within the department and with other departments. We rely on many people to get things done, and if your exiting employee serves as a primary point of contact on a certain task, the department may need to relearn who to go to for things to get done. You can solve this by having the employee list people or departments they frequently work with.
- History. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and if your longest-tenured employees are on their way out, they may be taking with them a history of decisions your organization has made. Conflicts or decisions from a long time ago can still lend a valuable perspective on what the organization is currently going through. Don’t forget to ask your exiting employees about the good times and bad times they’ve seen.
Rank these different types of knowledge in order from most to least crucial to begin your plan. This list is not exhaustive; if a need comes to mind that is not listed here, be sure to include it in your plan.
PLAN YOUR QUESTIONS
Once you’ve identified your key knowledge needs, plan your questions accordingly. A good question to begin with is open ended; this means it prompts your exiting employee to explain something in detail. Rely on who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, especially why and how, to get the most information for each topic.
Plan questions on your highest-priority topics earlier in the interview to ensure you have time for them. You will also want to ask the employee if there is anything they wanted to discuss that might not be on your plan. You could ask this at the beginning or the end of the interview, or both.
CREATE YOUR CAPTURE SHEETS
Plans are typically neat; interviews are typically messy. Sometimes employees will anticipate your questions and address a topic from the end of your plan, and sometimes they will go back to a topic they already discussed when they think of more details.
A single notepad may be insufficient to capture a complicated conversation and the relationships between some topics and others. If you will be writing down the information your exiting employees talk about, use a capture sheet that fits with the plan you created and leaves room to write plenty of answers.
We have included a sample capture sheet below. Feel free to tweak it however you need to conduct a successful interview.
Once you have your plan, you can conduct your session.