Employees never cease to surprise us--in many wonderful ways. But sometimes the surprise stings, especially when they leave the company at a time you thought they were happy. This emotional topic is why high profile experts often weigh in with strategies to keep your best employees from bolting.

But quit happens.

And when it does, you already know the usual drill: See if you can do anything to change their mind, understand why they're leaving to ensure nothing foul is afoot, and already start forgetting them and shift focus on who can replace them.

I end that with a bit of sarcasm as a bridge to this first point.

First and foremost, when your star leaves, be happy for them. If they're a star, they're good and in good stead at your company, so odds are it wasn't an easy decision. We're all just rentals anyway in the grand scheme, right? So now is the time to appreciate what they've done, who they are, and where they're going for what reason.

So, resist the temptation to focus solely on "Who's next?" Yes, you might have to very quickly swing into "replacement interview" mode. But as you're doing that, consider making the investment to conduct these four other not-so-top-of-mind interviews.

1. The elevating exit interview

You already know what an exit interview is. But do you think of it as a selling tool? As an opportunity to elevate (positively) the exiting employee's point of view of his or her soon to be former employer?

Gallup says those who have a great exit interview experience are nearly three times more likely to recommend the company to a friend. Gallup further indicates that a great exit interview experience occurs when the employee feels heard, proud (only 40 percent of employees say they're proud to have worked at their former employer), and when they leave feeling like a brand ambassador. This happens when the door is left open as much as possible for the exiting employee.  

The best exit interviews I ever conducted with employees were when I showed I was an ambassador of the employee, not just of my company.

2. The stay interview

This is meant for other stars, not for the one who has already made up his or her mind. It's proactive, not reactive.

Use the employee exit as an important prod to never assume absolute loyalty from anyone. Conduct a world tour with your world-beaters to find out if they're happy, why they're happy (so you can feed more of that), what you could do to further fuel their personal learning and growth, and in general remind them that you care.

In conducting research for my book Make It Matter, I discovered that a whopping 40 percent of employees had at least a "moderate chance to change their exit decision" if someone had checked in with them often enough about their happiness or what they needed.

3. The team interview

Don't forget that when a star leaves, especially a culturally important star, it has an impact in more ways than you might realize.

Employees can question why the star left, casting doubt over their own situation. They might feel demoralized, thinking, "If she can't make it, what hope do I have?" Or employees might just be in mourning. I recall a time when someone quit my former employer and it was as if there had been a death in the family. The exiting employee was beloved, a high-level leader who set the tone for the culture--a situation exacerbated by the fact the exit came out of nowhere (the exact opposite of one of those "the-writing's-on-the-wall" exits).

So, take the time to find out how the team is feeling. Give them context, be honest about why the star left (with the star's permission), and be honest about what you and the company have learned from it (see point four below). Use the touch base with the team as another opportunity to appreciate their strengths and look for ways to bolster them.

4. The "innerview"

No, this isn't a typo. It's a self-reflective interview meant just for you. Step back and ask yourself if you were part of the reason the employee left. Ask yourself if the company as a whole could have done something differently. The way people work and what they want is changing--are you or your company changing to keep pace? Be willing to be vulnerable to get the help you need to make the changes you need to prevent future talent drain. 

So use exits as a way to enter into a thoughtful postmortem process. It just might prevent future parting of ways.  

Published on: Mar 29, 2019
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