It’s reported that an astonishing 34% of all UK accountants are actively looking for a career move this year, a number which is set to rise further in the next 6 months (according to statistics from Accountancy Age). Uncomfortable news it seems for practice management teams looking to retain the employees which they have put time and effort into developing.
When a valued employee hands you that letter its always disappointing. But what happens next can make a difference to the future of the practice as a whole.
It’s tempting to just get them out of the building as quickly as possible, agree terms and just let them go (particularly as in most cases they will be high-tailing it to a competitor practice). After all, if they have decided they are going, what further value can they possibly bring? Yet Practices who don’t take this exit process seriously are unwittingly missing out on a ton of valuable Management information.
When a valued client leaves for a competitor you do your best to find out the reasons why. This information then drives improvements in service and/or execution to help ensure the situation is not repeated with further clients. Exactly the same process should follow with valued employees. In fact, the primary aim of an exit interview is to learn reasons for the employee’s departure, on the basis that any negative feedback gained at this juncture will act as a driver for organizational improvement.
Tips for conducting professional and useful exit interviews;
Keep it calm and professional- In a market which is currently candidate driven it’s wise for all parties to agree to part company on amicable terms. Not only will any ‘ill-feeling’ created cause probable future reputation issues for the practice, but it also rules out the potential for the employee to return in future years.
Who? – Ideally, it’s best to conduct interviews one on one as it’s less intimidating. Since in reality two of the major reasons given by employees for leaving are ‘company culture’ and ‘manager’ it’s also great to avoid the immediate line manager being the one to conduct the exit interview. Choose someone neutral where possible, or even consider using an external service provider to avoid the exit interview becoming just ‘lip service’.
Plan– Plan questions in advance and try to stick to the same questions every time you conduct an exit interview. This means that the management information you get out of the process will then be comparable over time. Use open ended questions to get the best results and to encourage the employee to give more detailed responses. Giving the employee the questions in advance can also help them to get their thoughts together prior to the discussion.
Reassure– Ensure that the employee knows that there will not be repercussions from anything they say. Let them know why you are conducting the exit interview, that you want them to be honest so that you can improve as an organisation. The more relaxed an employee feels about the process the more likely you are to gain candour and therefore valuable feedback.
Record – taking lots of notes in ‘real time’ will ensure that you are accurate and do not miss any salient points. It will also provide you with a valuable record to use as a prompt for discussion with other members of the leadership team at a later date.
When conducted correctly and consistently over time, exit interviews can provide powerful insights into your practice and help to shape improvements in process, employee engagement, client service proposition and ultimately your profitability. Conversely It can also highlight any real positives and reinforce those behaviours or procedures.
Naturally there will always be attrition. Employees across all sectors leave jobs for a variety of reasons, some of which are not in the control of the Employer directly. The key is to understand the drivers for change and to control or influence as many factors as possible through a robust engagement and retention strategy.
Analyse and take action: The information from exit interviews is only useful if the data is collated and analysed consistently. Look for common themes and prioritise key issues. It’s not suggested that you change your whole training policy just based on the basis of 1 complaint from 1 employee. However, if it’s a lack of training and development, as an example, is mentioned in 4 out of 5 exit interviews you can be sure that there indeed cause for concern.
Often the management information gleaned in exit interviews will provide a guide as to where to ‘look’ and ‘question’ further rather than providing the ultimate answer. But without conducting thorough exit interviews at all you are missing a huge opportunity to gain insight from the people who know the Practice best. Making this a part of your continual improvement process internally will go a long way to driving the practice forward as a whole and in particular should have a positive impact on attracting and retaining talent in the future.