I recently read an article in my favorite business magazine on the value of employee exit interviews. It went into great detail on the benefits of gathering data from departing employees. It talked about maintaining confidentiality, asking open-ended high impact questions, proper timing of the actual interviews, etc.
I agreed with its content and recommendations but view it as only addressing the back end or "lagging portion" of the employee management process.
When I say "lagging" I mean gathering information and data on things that have already happened. For example, information on financial statements are lagging indicators. They provide information on activity in the past. Although valuable moving forward, it's too late to make changes or adjustments in the period it is reporting on.
In the case of the exit interview, the information is lagging related to these employees since they have already decided to leave the company. In most cases, the exit interview is way too late in the process to save a valuable employee. The majority of businesses today manage based on lagging indicators.
Best in class companies, however, excel in using leading indicators to drive performance. A better leading question is, "Could we have identified the employee's issues earlier in the process and kept them?"
Leading indicators are measures / metrics that warn you in advance of potential issues. A good real life example of a leading indicator would be the "low fuel" light that appears in your car when you are low on gas. This light triggers you to take action prior to running out of gas. An exit interview in this scenario would involve asking questions after you ran out of gas. Although it is valuable information, it was not helpful in preventing if from occurring in the first place.
An effective management review process includes a good mix of leading and lagging indicators. Creating leading indicators for the employee management process involves effectively evaluating employee satisfaction. There are many wonderful books on measuring employee satisfaction so we will not discuss this in this article (see recommended books section).
The point I want to make is that improving employee satisfaction (leading) will drive improvement in employee turnover (lagging) rates. If you manage the leading indicators effectively, the lagging indicators will take care of themselves.