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Exit and stay interviews

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s been years since I conducted an exit interview. Pam and Ben’s internships ended a few weeks ago, and we wanted formal feedback about their experience working at Stories. I heard from one HR exec that exit interviews are the worst time to get real feedback about a work experience because the personal desire to leave on good terms trumps the desire to give critical feedback to the company. The HR exec preferred to conduct exit interviews six months after the team member leaves (interesting thought). But, because we at Stories work very hard to practice open communication, I was confident we’d get real feedback. Granted, I thought it would reinforce what (I thought) I knew about Pam’s and Ben’s experiences.

There were some surprises! The goal is always to get feedback in real time, but I never sat down with either of them and asked questions like, “What can I do better as a leader?” Or, “If you managed yourself, what would you do differently from how we’re managing/mentoring you?”

That last question comes from this excellent article about stay interviews. The biggest difference between an exit interview and a stay interview is the focus on what’s working, as opposed to why someone is leaving. A stay interview helps you understand why employees stay, so that those important factors can be reinforced. Of course, the hope is to also identify leadership behavior or other triggers that could cause the top performer to leave before they go down that path. To that HR executive’s concern about not getting the real story during an exit interview, perhaps the stay interview is the answer because it occurs before there is any hint that an employee is about to leave.

Another question I like from the Stay Interview Article: Do you feel that you are currently doing “the best work of your life?” The author notes that this is the number one key retention factor for top performers. But, beyond that, it kicked me in the pants as a leader. What am I doing as a leader to help others do the best work of their lives? I can’t truly know that unless I ask regularly and seriously about what’s working for team members.

What do you do to seek regular feedback? Email me at


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