Conduct Entrance (Not Exit) Interviews

by Merrick Rosenberg, MBA

The Saratoga Institute recently reported that 85% of people are dissatisfied enough to change jobs in the next year. Is it just me, or wouldn’t it be better to ask people what you need to do to keep them working for your organization, rather than ask them why they no longer want to work for you? It seems intuitively clear that if managers proactively and regularly identify what makes people unhappy in the workplace, there would be a lot fewer exit interviews to be conducted.

As Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great:

 “Spending time and energy to “motivate” people is a waste of time. The real question is not, “How do we motivate our people?” If you have the right people they will be self-motivated. The key is to not de-motivate them.

So, let’s flip exit interviews around and start asking questions that remove the de-motivators so that people are self-motivated, engaged and satisfied in your organization. We’ll call these coaching sessions, entrance interviews, representing what keeps them coming back to your organization day after day, rather than exit interviews after they leave.

Retention & Turnover

When conducting entrance interviews, it’s important to understand why people stay at, as well as why they leave organizations. This knowledge can guide the questions that managers ask their staff. A study by Career Systems International found that people reported that they remain in the organizations for the following reasons:

- Exciting & challenging work 48%

- Career growth & development 43%

- Working with great people 42%

- Fair pay 32%

- Supportive manager/great boss 25%

- Being recognized, valued & respected 23%

- Benefits 22%

- Meaningful work/making a difference 17%

So why do people leave? Over and over, studies reveal that people quit their manager, not their company. Let’s examine a few examples:

  • The Saratoga Institute found that 39%, the number #1 answer as to why people leave, was related to Supervisory Factors that include areas such as: Lack of respect by supervisor, lack of leadership skills by supervisor, favoritism, lack of recognition, and supervisor’s incompetence.
  • Robert Half International found that “limited recognition and praise” was cited as the most common reason for why employees left their companies.
  • Gallup found that the #1 reason that people leave organizations is that they don’t know what’s expected of them.
  • While answers may vary depending upon the study, everything points back to the manager.
The Entrance Interview

Armed with the knowledge of what motivates people to stay in organizations, managers can ask meaningful questions, such as:

  • Do you find your work to be exciting and challenging?
  • Do you feel that you are on a path that will allow you to meet your career goals?
  • How can I support you better?
  • Do you feel like the organization values your contributions?
  • Do you feel like you are making a difference here?
  • Managers can also ask questions that are designed to gauge the individual’s satisfaction with the organization and likelihood to leave.
For example:

  • If there was one thing that would drive you to leave the organization, what would it be?
  • Is there one thing that I could change to make this a better environment for you, what would it be?
  • If you were king for a day, what would you change in this organization?
  • What do you want to see more (and less) of in this organization?
  • There should be very few surprises about who leaves the organization and why. If managers speak with their people on a regular basis, there won’t be.
Taking action

Conducting entrance interviews not only helps managers to identify de-motivators, but also these meetings give managers an opportunity to demonstrate that they care about their people. Leigh Branham in her book, The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, noted that 80% of employees who had been coached by their managers felt a strong sense of commitment to their organization versus 46% of employees who received no coaching. When managers demonstrate that they care about the personal growth and success of their staff, these individuals are far more likely to stay in the organization.

And yet given all of this evidence, few managers ask questions like the ones listed above on a regular basis. Rather, all too often, Human Resource representatives ask these questions on their last day of employment…after it’s too late. 

Managers who ask the right questions on a regular basis will find they have developed a committed workforce.