4 Tips to Maximize the Value of Exit Interviews in the Legal Workplace

By Robert Half on May 12, 2015 at 3:00pm

When a legal professional on your team hands you a resignation notice, do you schedule an exit interview? What about when you need to terminate a staff member — do you solicit their feedback before they leave?

Exit interviews can be an ideal opportunity to obtain feedback from employees that can be used to improve business practices within legal organizations and strengthen employee retention and legal recruitment. But too often, I’ve seen legal managers regard exit interviews as perfunctory, just filing away staff members’ interview responses along with the departing employee’s profile.

Here’s a short quiz on exit interviews:

  • Do you or someone in your organization conduct exit interviews with every employee who leaves, including resignations, dismissals and layoffs?
  • Do you have an established process for exit interviews?
  • Does your organization ask a consistent set of questions during exit interviews?
  • Does someone in your organization review exit interview feedback on a regular basis?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, chances are that your organization is not deriving maximum value from the exit interview process.

Here are four tips for using exit interviews productively and reaping the benefits they can offer:

1. Conduct exit interviews with all departing employees. 

Exit interviews should be conducted with all employees who are leaving the organization, regardless whether the circumstances involve a resignation, dismissal or layoff. One of the mistakes I see most often is when law firms or legal departments hold exit interviews only with high-performing staff members they will sorely miss, because they want to find out exactly why the person is leaving to try to prevent a mass exodus of other top talent. But when exit interviews are done only occasionally or subjectively, you can’t get a clear snapshot of areas within the organization that may need attention.

2. Establish a process for exit interviews.

If you’re going to use exit interviews as part of your organizational approach, it’s important to create a process and administer it consistently across the board. This includes asking the same questions in each instance so you can compile and address cumulative data over time. It’s also helpful to focus on open-ended questions to gain the most insights and provide the employee with questions in advance to facilitate a thoughtful and candid discussion during the interview.

3. Identify a structure to capture feedback.

Beyond creating a formal process for exit interviews, it’s critical to develop a consistent mechanism for capturing feedback so comments on various workplace issues — for example, compensation, training and development, environment and culture, mentoring — can be compared.

4. Collect and regularly review exit feedback.

The most significant value of exit interviews, in my opinion, is the cumulative data that’s gathered over time. As with any data set, you need enough information in that bucket to identify recurring themes. If discussions with departing employees repeatedly raise comments on particular issues, it’s up to senior management to take action. So it’s important that exit interview feedback is collected, summarized and tracked centrally; and analyzed and reviewed regularly to identify trends. Only then can legal management have a meaningful discussion and identify potential issues within the workplace where actions or changes may be required.

Departing employees will generally be more honest in their feedback because they’re less concerned about repercussions than current employees may be. For that reason, exit interviews can be a very valuable tool to collect candid information about your culture and your legal leadership team, about organizational processes and procedures, structure and more. These interviews can offer a unique perspective on your company’s performance and employee satisfaction that can be used strategically to improve workplace issues.

Do you have other ideas for maximizing the value of exit interviews? Please share your comments below.

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