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Category Archives: exit interviews

08 May 2009 8:24am

Employers should stop thinking about recruitment and retention with a “war” mentality, and approach talent mobility with a new mindset, according to Melbourne Business School’s Dr Ian Williamson.

“The war for talent is over,” he told the Australasian Talent Conference in Sydney yesterday, “but it’s not because of the economic recession; it’s because talent won”.

“From the [employer] perspective, there’s no coming back from this defeat.”

Even while voluntary turnover has decreased as a result of the global economic downturn, the mobility of top talent has continued. “That hasn’t stopped at all, and if you talk to business leaders what they’ll tell you is the time to really get somebody of top talent is when you’re having a difficult business period.

“I don’t think that a recession has any impact on those individuals who are truly skilled in their position. Those individuals are always going to be in demand. So while we may have had some cooling off with voluntary turnover rate, for those truly valuable individuals this hasn’t been a big impact.”

Employers must work out how to deal with employee mobility, he says, because it will only increase.

“War” mentality unhelpful
The “war for talent” mentality of the last 10 years has not enhanced employers’ understanding of how to deal with mobility, says Williamson, an associate professor of management at the Melbourne Business School. The common thinking has been that when an employer lures talent from a competitor, it has “won” (and the competitor has “lost”), but he questions whether the issue is really that cut and dry.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs, he points out, pioneered a different way of thinking when it recognised that the hedge funds started up by former top talent became some of its most lucrative clients – “they lost talent, but it wasn’t as if they didn’t get something out of this”.

Employee mobility is not “win or lose”, he says. Employers must see every employee as a potential source of “social capital” and potential goodwill ambassador for the organisation – someone who will say good things about the business and help generate revenue.

So employers should think: “While I may no longer have access to your human capital – your knowledge skills and abilities – and while I may no longer have you as an employee, that does not mean that the organisation cannot still derive value from the relationships that we have developed over time.”

Develop alumni, manage exits
There are two broad ways to manage talent mobility, Williamson says. The first is to develop formal ties with ex-employees through alumni programs.

In most organisations now, “at best we might give them a pat on the back and say ‘good luck’; at worst we might think of them as traitors.

“But very rarely in organisations do we think and strategically plan to have an ongoing relationship with them.”

He points out: “We spend millions and millions of dollars on recruitment, trying to get people who have no relationship with us to talk to us – people who have no reason to pick up the phone – we call them all the time and plead ‘please, please, please pick up the phone to have a conversation with us’.

“How much time and energy do we spend trying to call people who used to work for us, who like us, who know us and who would gladly give us 30 minutes to talk about what’s going on in our organisation? Seems as if there might be a potential for a higher level return in terms of our time and our energy.”

The second way is to strategically manage employee exits. This is particularly important right now when many organisations are having a lot of involuntary turnover, Williamson says.

“What are we doing with those relationships? How are we managing that? We’re generating a whole population of former employees that are going to go off; some are going to work for our competitors, that might be a bad thing for us; some of them are going to work for co-operator firms – suppliers, potential clients, existing clients. How are we managing that process? What are we doing as they go through that exit process to ensure that we still maintain some type of positive relationship with them? Are we considering the potential social capital benefits as they exit?

“They’re going to have an immediate impact on shaping the brand and the image of that organisation, and no matter how much you might spend on a marketing plan or a branding strategy, it won’t overcome word of mouth.

“This has the potential to be a great thing. If we’ve done it right, they can be great ambassadors. They can recommend company products, they can refer new talent, they can be sources of new knowledge. But it can be very difficult to overcome if we do it wrong.

“It really is important to clearly communicate why we’re doing this. It’s important because it creates a sense of fairness. While things may have been unfortunate, you don’t want your employees saying it was an unfair situation, because that’s not going to generate goodwill.”

Outplacement services might seem expensive, he says, but employers will often recoup the cost if just one employee generates a new client.

Alumni recruitment often “hit or miss”
Alumni recruitment is often “hit or miss”, Williamson says, because few organisations have a formal strategy in place.

“It tends to be that a manager has an opening – they’re desperate to get somebody in, they want somebody good – and because they have a relationship with a former employee they call that person up [and] go outside of the HR process.

“What I would recommend is if you have the database of individuals who used to work for you, there’s nothing to stop you from sending out announcements of positions. You have their [CVs]; you know what they were doing in your organisation; you can screen before you even send out the messages, and so you can say ‘we think you would be an excellent candidate for this. I know you left – we have your information from your exit interviews as to why you left – we think we can address those concerns, would you mind having a conversation?’

“That’s an email you can’t send to a cold candidate.”

April 15, 2009

About one-third of employees who leave their employers to start a new job weren’t even looking for one.

Research by UniSA’s Centre for Human Resource Management has found that 31 per cent of organisational leavers are lured away by an unexpected job offer.

“With those poaching rates, employers had started to think that high turnover rates were unavoidable,” said Co-Director of the Centre, Professor Carol Kulik. “However that would not be true for everyone.

“For about half of those poached leavers, the job offer was the only factor motivating their move. They had been happy with their current employer until an attractive alternative promising more responsibility or better pay had created an irresistible pull.

“For this group, turnover probably was unavoidable. However, these leavers maintained considerable goodwill towards their former employer and could be a valuable resource for spreading positive word of month.”

On the other hand, Professor Kulik and fellow researchers Dr Gerry Treuren and Professor Prashant Bordia, believe that for the other half of the poached leavers the turnover could have been avoided. In exit interviews, these employees described two things that motivated their move.

“The first was the job offer, creating a pull,” Dr Treuren explains. “They would have resisted the pull, except that it occurred in close proximity to some kind of push experience from inside the organisation such as a bad experience with their manager or the performance appraisal process.

“These leavers consistently said that if the organisation had only addressed that one specific problem, they would have stayed. So if the employer had acted promptly, they might have been able to keep 15 per cent of their leavers.”

The researchers studied exit interviews, in which employees explained their reasons for leaving. The study was prompted by the unprecedented mobility of employees during the past decade, caused by Australia’s skilled and unskilled labour shortage. This research project is just one of several at the Centre that is examining attraction and retention.

The researchers found five distinct groups of leavers. One group was the poached leavers. For a second group, the major reason for staff leaving the organisation was to pursue a plan that pre-dated their employment, for example, to go overseas once they had saved enough money, to start their own business, to move interstate, or to follow a life-long dream.

“For this 22 per cent, the decision to leave the organisation has little to do with their actual employment,” Prof Kulik said.

About 15 per cent experienced a push factor alone – something that made it impossible for them to continue working. Usually the push was something that occurred inside the organisation, but a small number left due to personal factors that caused them to not want to work any more, such as a family illness.

“Another 7 per cent had a bad experience at work, leading them to leave the job without another one to go to yet, while 25 per cent left because they were dissatisfied and had found a new job.

“In this study, just over half of the staff who left the organisation did so because of factors largely not related to their job. But that leaves a lot of other employees who left because of a bad experience such as being passed over for a promotion, or because of ongoing unresolved issues.”

Dr Treuren says that organisations could learn some valuable lessons by studying their own exit interview responses.

“Exit interviews are very useful for an organisation that is trying to understand its turnover. By identifying the incidents that lead to resignation, the employer can design appropriate intervention strategies.”

For more on this:

Email me (Gerry, at for a copy of the paper.
Download a presentation on reasons for turnover from:

Managing for Recession or Recovery? What role for HR?

16 March 2009 8:11am

Employers that gather and accurately interpret workforce data before resorting to massive job cuts can avert unnecessary workplace upheaval and save big bucks in future recruitment costs, according to Qantas workforce analytics manager, Nathan Carbone.

“For instance, an analysis of average employee resignation rates can tell employers how many people are likely to resign within the course of a year,” Carbone says.

“If this matches the number of people the organisation intends to exit, it puts forward a solid case for employers to consider letting natural attrition rates take their course without the upheaval of mass redundancies.”

Employers that act rashly and let too many workers go, he says, could find themselves recruiting within the “pay-back period” (before the cost-benefits of layoffs are realised) and battling for the very talent they’ve retrenched.

Conversely, companies that resort to “cost-cutting” alternatives to lay-offs, without first conducting a detailed analysis, could be inadvertently adding to their outlay.

For example, full-time employees offered a part-time role – as an alternative to redundancy – often end up working full-time hours anyway and, due to penalty rates, cost the company more in remuneration spend than before, he says.

Analytics versus “gut feel”
At Qantas, data is gathered and compiled into four key workforce areas, says Carbone, who will be discussing the topic at the upcoming Australasian Talent Conference.

These are:
attraction – including the number of applicants per advertised role; the number that meet the Qantas criteria; that are interviewed; that are offered positions; and that accept positions;

development and motivation – average training and development hours and spend per worker; and individual performance gains post-training;

productivity – profit relative to remuneration; expenses and profitability per individual employee and labour group; and cost of all internal elements, including in-flight meals and fuel; and

retention – exit survey results; and demographics including age, gender, labour group, work pattern and tenure.
An employee’s “entire lifecycle” – from entry to exit – is covered, assisting Qantas to make prudent decisions and accurate projections regarding its workforce, Carbone says.

“Being able to accurately interpret workforce data is crucial in the current environment,” he says.

“Workforce analytics is… helping businesses to make decisions with the backing of data rather than intuition and gut feel.”

Qantas senior managers have “seen the effect of analytics”, he says, and have learnt to “rely on the stories the data is telling them”.

The company can predict future shortages of certain skill-sets and can plan to recruit or train in-house accordingly. It can also strike a more practical balance between a part- and full-time team, and accurately determine the best times to either enforce lay-offs or hold on to staff.

Analytics drive re-focus
The power of HR analytics over “gut feel”, Carbone says, can be illustrated by an experience he had with a previous employer.

HR had hypothesised, he says, that new managers would counter their lack of experience in resource management by allowing a high rate of overtime among the staff in their departments until they established the right mix of employees per shift.

Therefore, fast-tracking the staff-resourcing learning curve of new managers would dramatically reduce the company’s overtime spend, it was argued.

“What the data analytics showed us, however, was that more experienced managers were allocating overtime as a reward for employees and scheduling overtime based on employee needs, rather than the organisation’s requirement,” Carbone says.

“Their overtime spend was actually higher than new managers’.”

This led to a change in focus, he says, away from strategies to fast-track training for new managers and instead to direct experienced managers to be more responsible in their use of overtime.

02 March 2009 4:38pm

Employers that refrain from indiscriminately slashing staff numbers and adhere to the 10 “DOs and DON’Ts” of the redundancy process will be “poised to enjoy a competitive advantage” as the economy rebounds, according to the authors of a white paper from the Human Capital Institute and Taleo.

“Every recession of the past has been followed by a recovery,” say Dr Katherine Jones and Allan Schweyer in Recessionary Management, a paper based on a survey of more than 300 leading global corporate executives. “It is not a matter of if, but when.

“HR and talent management leaders must make the right decisions today to aid their organisations in surviving this [downturn] and to position them for the inevitable recovery.”

Forward-looking employers, they say, have a vision of what their company will look like post-crisis, and are developing plans accordingly. They are evaluating their leadership team and identifying future leaders – who cope well in difficult times – and are looking to recruit from the new glut of talent available on the market.

Highly-skilled performers are more accessible today than they have been in many years, Jones and Schweyer say, and employers should hire “selectively” – even while downsizing – to bolster their organisation’s capacity to outlast the downturn and to prepare them to take on new business as the economy swings.

“For some organisations there may never be a better time to hire.”

Still, many employers have little choice at the moment but to reduce their workforce, the authors note, and are at risk of damaging their company’s brand and crippling their capacity to respond to an upturn if downsizing is undertaken hastily.

“The challenge,” they say, “is to manage morale and the brand while simultaneously letting some of the team go.”

Based on the survey, Jones and Schweyer identify 10 “DOs and DON’Ts” for employers forced to downsize.

The DOs:
Identify the roles that are core to your business success. Evaluate the contribution of each role to the company’s profit, as opposed to the individual employee in each role, and look to eliminate a less critical business unit, rather than cutting a set proportion of staff across the board.

Reduce or eliminate headcount in non-core sectors, irrespective of individual achievement, but allow for “internal mobility” for high performers.

Identify competencies needed to execute goals. Retain and engage top performers within core functions, and think carefully about who adds value and who is hard to replace.

Utilise HR and talent-management technology, including scenario-based workforce planning.

Protect your bottom line and brand. Remember that the message an employer sends during lay-offs “affects the brand and may stick to the organisation for a long time”.

Ensure that lay-offs are aligned with business strategy, but treat employees with fairness and efficiency, and beware of internet scrutiny.

Communicate constantly. Tell employees what you know when you know it. Provide them with accurate information and the “dignity they deserve”.

Pay attention to the survivors. “Survivors” often feel guilty that they have been retained – perhaps at the expense of colleagues – or are “paralysed” by fear that they are next to go. Rebuild their confidence by informing them that they are vital to the company’s future.

“Knowing why they survived is paramount in persuading them to stay engaged.”
The DON’Ts:
Don’t cut with a hatchet – use a scalpel. “Organisations that downsize in haste or indiscriminately… are very likely to harm their brands as well as their capacity to respond to an economic upturn.”

Avoid “death by a thousand cuts”. Plan carefully and try to make downsizing a one-time event, rather than a series of “painful cuts”, and then communicate that the cuts are over and that remaining employees are secure.

Avoid lay-offs before the weekend or holidays. “Best practices reveal that a lay-off should occur early in the week – never on Friday, when the employee has a weekend to brood, perhaps alone.”

Don’t shoot from the hip. Hasty and poorly executed lay-offs can result in damage to reputation and legal ramifications.

Don’t keep employees guessing. Create a corporate policy on downsizing and provide support to the newly unemployed.

03 March 2009 6:36am

Attracting great consultants might not be forefront in recruitment executives’ minds right now, but those who fail to manage their employer brand during the downturn will struggle to attract good staff when it ends, says employer brand strategist Brett Minchington.

Minchington, who chairs the Employer Brand Institute, notes that in the broader market, companies once seen as the ‘poster child’ of their industry have made massive lay-offs and are now “off the list of talent looking to switch jobs or graduates looking to enter the job market for the first time.

” With the recruitment industry one of the first to be impacted by the downturn, companies without a “game plan” to react quickly have been hit hard, he says. “How you manage your employer brand during the downturn will not only impact on current and future sales, it will determine your attractiveness as an employer when the economy starts to grow again.

“We have recently witnessed consumer boycotts of products of companies that have announced massive lay-offs. This is a good example of the link between your employer brand and your corporate and consumer brands.”

To manage your employer brand through the downturn, Minchington recommends that you:

Ensure open communication across the lines. This will help to squash rumours in their tracks before they spread and be perceived as fact;

Continue to undertake staff research to ensure you have a good handle on how employees perceive their employment experience;

Treat people with empathy and respect, and communicate honestly if layoffs are necessary.

Provide every opportunity to ensure employees are ‘fit’ to move to another role outside the organisation – treat them like family!

Stay in touch with them, as you might wish to re-hire them down the track;

Undertake an audit of your employer brand to develop your strategy so that in 12 to 18 months you are best positioned for when the economy improves;

Invest in building capabilities in your employees through integrated learning and development programs;

Encourage coaching and mentoring programs to keep your leaders close to their people and enhance engagement;

Audit your existing materials, channels, themes and messages to check these are best-fit for the next 12 to 18 months, and ensure your internal and external communication strategy is relevant;

Continue to celebrate individual and team success. A simple “thank you”, or “well done” can be much more powerful than a movie ticket! Use the time to get good stories about your employment practices out into the media; and

Most of all, stay focused on the tasks at hand, keep an open mind to what’s reported in the media about the crisis and let your staff feel confident their leadership team have a well-thought-out strategy for managing the company through the next 12 to 18 months.

Minchington is chairing the upcoming 2009 Australian Employer Branding Summits in Melbourne and Sydney.

Print Article17 February 2009 8:48am 

Traditional exit interviews rarely help employers understand how an employee became disengaged from the company and what role a manager might have played in their decision to leave, says human capital expert, Anthony Sork.

In the current market, he says, it’s important that organisations understand the reasons behind their turnover.

Ideally, employers will measure perceptions around both employer-driven and employee-driven transition decisions (whether internal or external) – in order to ensure their employer brand is protected – but it’s most important to understand the latter, as these decisions are influenced by factors affecting the engagement levels of workers who remain, and those employed in the future, he says.

Traditional exit interviews, however, are “not structured in order to achieve this”, says Sork, the managing director of Sork HC.

This is because they “focus around deriving perceptions from the employee and making an evaluation about whether the employee was disgruntled and whether they’re credible or not”.

Instead, he says, “you want to understand what shifted in the employee’s perceptions that led to a decision to leave either the role or the organisation, and how that actually occurred, relative to engagement drivers”.

And although the aim of exit interviews is generally to identify trends in the feedback and use the information in ways that help the organisation retain its remaining staff, “most organisations tend not to do this either consistently or effectively,” Sork says.

A survey-oriented methodology is more effective in assisting this than one based on anecdotes, he says. “What you’re looking to do is measure the change in the emotional and intellectual commitment of the individual, relative to the drivers that are being measured, and I recommend this is viewed on an ‘engagement versus detachment’ spectrum.”

The transitioning framework that Sork HC has recently developed identifies drivers of detachment – grouped into three “clusters” – and the elements or perceptions that affect them.

Sork says, for example, that an employee’s position can be a driver of detachment or engagement, depending on: whether the work involved is engaging and fulfilling; if it has diversity and variety; the level of difficulty and challenge; whether it creates a sense of personal contribution to a team and the organisation’s success; and the personal (physical) workspace.

Information from exit surveys should be linked directly back to an employer’s engagement strategy, he says. Organisations should identify the factors that are consistently leading to “decisions to detach” and decide whether the strategy needs to be modified or enhanced, or whether development needs to occur at the manager level.

Managers have the biggest impact on tenure

Another crucial thing that traditional exit interviews tend to ignore is the perceptions of the employee’s manager, Sork says.

Managers’ behaviour has the single biggest impact on an employee’s engagement, he says, but there is often a significant gap between an employee’s perception of why they have decided to transition and the manager’s perception, Sork says. A transition survey that measures each person’s perceptions can highlight this gap “and educate the manager about where they have been misunderstanding the engagement levels of the employee and what they could have been doing to create an environment that was more engaging for them”.

In current market conditions, he says, “if managers believe that the key talent they want to retain is secure, and yet they’re finding that some key talent is making decisions to transition, the perceptions that they hold around what’s engaging them and what’s detaching them are often misaligned”.

In such cases, “they actually need to learn from the experience and understand at a level of detail where their perception gap exists, so they can go back and review the initiatives they have in place to engage remaining employees”.