Exit stage left – 5 ways to improve exit interviews

The exit interview …

When someone is retiring after a long and illustrious career, they will probably be delighted to share the golden nuggets of knowledge they have amassed over the years as part of their legacy.

However, when someone is moving on to a competitor or being made redundant, how can knowledge managers handle the knowledge exit interview?


With these limitations in mind, how can you make sure your exit interviews (especially with the non-retirees) are as effective as possible?

  1. “We know more than we can say and we can say more than we can write down.”  A meeting, preferably face-to-face, will elicit more than asking your leaver to write down their knowledge for a database.
  2. Prepare. You are unlikely to have a long meeting, so spend some time beforehand thinking about what is the most important knowledge and how you will begin a conversation about it. Questions such as “What did you wish someone had told you from the start?” or “What was the most useful thing you learned?” can be good starting questions. You might want to start building up a few templates of questions for leavers depending on their speciality. Look at the data: do you have a bulge of retirees in the pipeline? If so, start preparing your frameworks in spare moments, then this won’t derail your other work when it hits.
  3. Dig deeper. The initial questions often get you vague, slightly cryptic or superficial answers, which need follow-up. How cryptic/helpful the follow-on answers are will probably depend on how cordial the departure process is. Useful follow-up questions are simply “Why?” and “Give me an example when that worked well.
  4. Draw on the wisdom of the crowd. A panel interview, fishbowl discussion or series of group conversations can help to spread the knowledge and bring a variety of experiences to the discussion, to elicit more complex situational knowledge in a more efficient way. You’ll need to be sensitive, however: many people, including those being made redundant through no fault of their own, prefer to handle leaving privately and won’t appreciate a group discussion.
  5. Be imaginative and flexible. Ask the leaver how they would like to engage and share. Those who are leaving due to retirement may enjoy leaving “a legacy” which could take the form of a filmed interview, a book or a presentation. Alternatively, you may find with those facing redundancy, that you can find a win-win method of knowledge sharing.
    1. You could help them with their CV and so have lots of discussions about their successes and what made these successful compared to other situations.
    2. You could help them prepare a portfolio of success stories to take with them to help to obtain their next role.
    3. They could prepare a presentation to the rest of the team about their knowledge, as a means to improve their public speaking skills and as preparation for interviews.

Lastly, don’t forget the importance of having on-going systems of knowledge sharing and efforts to improve trusting networks in order to faciliate knowledge sharing throughout people’s careers. On-going knowledge sharing is easier and more effective than a big blast of knowledge elicitation at the end of someone’s tenure at your organisation.

How do you handle exit interviews? Do you have any top tips to share? I’d love to hear more in the comments below.

If you are interested in uncovering and sharing your firm’s Deep Knowledge, come along to my workshop in London on Wednesday 11th July 2018 at 2-5pm. More info and book here.

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About knowledge4lawyers

I am a lawyer and a Knowledge Management expert. Through The Knowledge Business I help law firms improve their efficiency and profitability through knowledge services - consultancy, training and implementation help.
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1 Response to Exit stage left – 5 ways to improve exit interviews

  1. Pingback: Money, money, money | Knowledge for Lawyers

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