If your promotion or bonus hinged on a supervisor’s stellar recommendation, is it likely you’d be honest about that person’s incompetent management? Would you be eager to share your thoughts about a company’s shortcomings and inefficiencies? Probably not.

Under those circumstances, your employees won’t feel free to communicate negative impressions either. Real or perceived concerns about collateral damage to careers and relationships could prevent an employee from speaking up. As a result, employees may try to make the best of a bad work environment. They might remain silent despite poor treatment, inefficient processes, waste, or dishonesty. The result: Management could be clueless until it’s too late.

On the other hand, if a worker has decided to leave the company for good, he or she may be more willing to provide candid and valuable feedback. Frequently encountered reasons for employee departures include lack of recognition or opportunity for advancement, poor supervision, personality conflicts, or greater income potential at another company. Properly analyzed and compiled, such feedback can provide management with crucial data that can be used to improve operational processes, revamp organizational priorities and management, strengthen employee morale, minimize turnover, and avert legal problems.

Carefully planned and skillfully executed exit interviews can gather the feedback you need. Consider these three suggestions from human resource professionals.

  • Craft a written policy. Make exit interviews a routine and formal part of out-processing. Uniform survey questionnaires covering such topics as benefits and pay, training, management issues, environment and culture, and opportunities for growth can be used as a starting point for guiding interviews toward relevant and sensitive topics.
  • Clarify expectations. Clearly state your reasons for conducting the interview. Inform the outgoing employee that you value his or her contributions and that you’ll seriously consider suggestions for improving the company’s operations and work environment. Also communicate your intention to keep interview answers confidential, except when legal requirements may dictate otherwise (in cases of sexual harassment or discrimination, for example).
  • Pick a skilled interviewer. The person conducting the interview need not be a trained human resources professional. But ideally you’ll select someone trained in interview techniques who will not respond defensively if pent-up emotions rise to the surface.

The exit interview may be your last best chance to obtain forthright suggestions from an employee for improving your company. Take full advantage of the opportunity.