Exit Interviews

I am a big fan of exit interviews. I have learned more doing exit interviews than most other management techniques. When people are on their way out and have no fear of saying exactly what they think, you can learn a lot.

It is rare for an investor/VC to do exit interviews. I only do them in situations where there seems to be a significant problem in a portfolio company and I want to get to the bottom of it.

But if you are the CEO of a company, you should be doing exit interviews with everyone who leaves your company until your company gets to the point that it is impossible to do that. Once you pass that point, your senior team should be doing them along with you.

Here's what I like to do.

First, get a sense from the exiting employee's manager what the cause of departure was. Get the manager's take on the situation. Context is very helpful in situations like this.

Second, don't make an exit interview a witch hunt. Make it a conversation about the good and bad things about the company, the job, the people, etc. The less confrontational the exit intereview is, the more you can learn.

Finally, don't take everything that is said as gospel. There are always two sides to every situation. I like to understand both sides as well as I can. Everyone has an opinion and an agenda and its best to understand everything in that context.

Doing exit interviews is a lot like doing references. The patterns that emerge over multiple interviews are the most telling and that is what you want to be listening for. Exit interviews are a great way to get those patterns out on the table where you can see them.

#MBA Mondays

Comments (Archived):

  1. Rational Consumer

    What about exit interviews while exiting an investment? Or is the exit event itself proxy to how the relationship turned out?

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a great suggestion. i haven’t done that but i should

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Or when failing to invest in an startup you wanted to invest in.

  2. Fernando Gutierrez

    Not exactly an exit interview, but whenever I lose a bid to sell anything I try to contact the client and learn why I’ve lost.I usually get great feedback. Most of the clients like that I contact them even when I have no inmediate interest. It shows that I care. A couple of them even have come back to buy me something later in time. I had always thought that this is just common sense and that anyone selling would do it, but it turns out it’s not that common.

    1. Ana Milicevic

      Yes – I’ve done these types of follow-ups too and they can be equally valuable if you’re a one person consulting shop or if you’re bidding for a multi-million dollar complex RFP for BigCo. It can be great feedback for you and help you spot things you may not necessarily be aware of in how you’re pitching. Very valuable.

    2. awaldstein

      Smart salespeople see beyond the transaction and are the best marketers. You are obviously one of them.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        πŸ™‚ Just average, the really good ones don’t lose!

        1. awaldstein

          Humility will get you everywhere!I love sales orgs. They get judged on the numbers but the best of the best always think past them.

    3. ShanaC

      what’s the difference with an employee one and a sales one?

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        In the case of the employee, there has been an established relation and there is much more to analize. In the case of a failed sale the scope is narrower.

        1. ShanaC

          what sorts of questions beyond “why no in the end”

          1. Fernando Gutierrez

            That one, or some variation, is really powerful. Then you let them speak and explore the paths they open (your were too expensive, the product was not right, I don’t like your shirt… whatever they say). Not everyone is comfortable being sincere, so you need to analyze if what is being said is really the cause of losing and take the feedback with a bit of salt.

    4. karen_e

      Debriefing really shows the client that you care. And absolutely, it can set you up to be called back when something doesn’t go right with the first consultant or vendor. I have been on both sides of that table.

    5. BillMcNeely

      β€œThe Army’s After Action Review (AAR) is arguably one of the most successful organizational learning methods yet devised. Yet, most every corporate effort to graft this truly innovative practice into their culture has failed because, again and again, people reduce the living practice of AARs to a sterile technique.”~Peter Senge

      1. JLM

        .Not to be horrifically morbid, but it’s the “dying” not the living which makes AARs so effective.JLM.

        1. BillMcNeely

          If not the dying then the injury and 3 days of no sleep. ( no exaggeration) That will motivate you to dissect the event find the root cause of the problem and plan to mitigate it so it does not repeat itself.

  3. reece

    of course, the best option is to hear all of this stuff BEFORE the person is heading for the door…it’s probably impossible to get 100% truth/clarity etc, but if you can create a culture of transparency that goes beyond the usual “here’s what’s up in my life” to something more like “i may just be a junior dev, but the founder wants to know what i really think” then you’re in a better spotit works fairly well for us (at 9 people)… we’ll see if it’ll scale

    1. LE

      hear all of this stuff BEFORE the person is heading for the door…Once again if the situation involves people hearing it may be useless, right? After all companies have prima donnas and it’s not as if you can just sit down the prima donna and they will say “you know you are right I shouldn’t act that way and throw my weight around thanks for the tip I appreciate”. [1]But even w/o prima donnas there is a balance of power in any group of people that needs to be recognized and not disturbed. And all sorts of dynamics. Same reason you can’t just walk into the middle east and “talk things out” because things don’t operate on rationality.[1] Story that David Geffen told that when he was young he approached Clint Eastwood to try and get him to make changes to a movie. Clint thanked David and said “well I’ll tell you what. If you feel that way why don’t you make the changes and by the time you are done I’ll be over at Paramount”. (This is from memory not an exact quote but the general idea.)

      1. reece

        again, your culture and good leadership hopefully…1. won’t hire prima donnas and2. will be able to coach/work with them to make it so this doesn’t impact the company negatively

    2. JLM

      .It may not be a “culture” issue as much as a leadership style issue.If you are truly trying to do the best you can, your vanity does not get wounded if you find out you or your company is not perfect.The “special” in Special Forces is really about the quality of the leadership and the ability to operate as a team.Why would anyone not want to know the truth?JLM.

      1. reece

        yupI know we’re not perfect, so that’s why I encourage the open dialogue and feedback BEFORE we encounter problems

  4. William Mougayar

    The tricky part about exit interviews is that people aren’t always very candid, for a variety of reasons.I liked Matt Blumberg’s post last week where he wrote an email to all employees asking them to talk to someone internally first, if they are thinking about quitting. http://www.onlyonceblog.com

    1. Nima Elyassi-Rad

      Great point William. That’s where candid survey’s can be helpful. One of our co-founders wrote a great post about conducting Exit Interviews and he touches on your point http://recruitloop.com/blog…. There’s a template at the bottom of the article to help folks with conducting exits as well.

      1. William Mougayar

        Good link. Thanks. These are oriented for the HR manager, and often the employee will confide more with HR than they would to their manager. This works in larger companies, and it depends what type of HR they have.

        1. Anne Libby

          I’ve seen circumstances where people share openly with me — an external third party — and not willing to share on an anonymous survey.Maybe it’s the degree of trust in the organization. Maybe it’s the difference between talking to me, or committing something to writing. Or something I’m not seeing…

          1. ShanaC

            i think it has something to do with the emotional energy in the company when your involved. Until a few days after at least, you belong.

          2. Anne Libby

            Yes. It’s complicated!

          3. Cam MacRae

            I used to do a lot of survey planning — it seems with employee opinion surveys it doesn’t matter how much you stress anonymity and ethics a fair proportion of employees assume their manager has a backdoor.

          4. Anne Libby


    2. ShanaC

      It’s hard to be candid. There are profiles and references to worry about. Hard to also find great employees for the same reason

    3. awaldstein


      1. William Mougayar


    4. PhilipSugar

      I’m not sure I agree with that post. Great advice for great employees, but what about those that are not working out?

      1. William Mougayar

        I thought the email approach was worth a try, since some employees will be salvageable that way, but I also suggested to him in my comments there to conduct an annual employee satisfaction survey where one of the questions is “Are you considering leaving the company” and “Why”. He has over 400 employees, so as you well know, employee attrition is a part of life. I think it would be alarming if it’s over 5% typically.

  5. Guest

    Great point William. I think that’s where anonymous survey’s can be very helpful. One of our co-founders published a great article on the topic of Exit Inteviews while touching on anonymous surveys: http://recruitloop.com/blog…. Also, there’s a template at the bottom to help folks with Exit Interviews.

  6. JimHirshfield

    Agree 100%.But I hate the name “exit interview”. The “exit” part is accurate. But the “interview” part isn’t. That word implies that someone is being judged, analyzed, or considered for something. It’s really better described as an “exit conversation”, IMHO.

    1. Ana Milicevic

      Agreed – it really should be a conversation, yet at the same time you want to have some structure b/w conversations with different departing employees.

      1. JimHirshfield

        For sure on structure.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          And you can’t forget that there can be judgement. Maybe the one judged won’t be the person being interviewed, but there is always some blame distribution.

          1. JimHirshfield

            For sure. You can never get away from judgement. People will always be judging.

  7. Anne Libby

    Yes!And, “yes, and…” On a related note, it’s good to see what you can see before people have made the decision to jump. I’ve been thinking about the Stay interview. (Via my blog: http://bit.ly/149EiwC)

    1. Ana Milicevic

      Great post Anne (but you have an extra ‘)’ in the link that you might want to fix). I like to address the ‘are we meeting our promises’ conversation in annual & semi-annual reviews — basically the earlier that you can spot a problem with a valuable employee the more chance you have to address it.

      1. Anne Libby

        Thank you. When writing the post, for brevity I deleted my suggestion to have these conversations separately from the performance discussion.I have mixed feelings. On one hand, yes, talk about this during review discussions. Don’t waste an opportunity to listen.On the other hand, the performance discussion can be so loaded, emotionally, even for top performers. It might be too much to try to accomplish at once.So, like many other things, “it depends”!(And weird, the link looked fine. Just replaced it. Thank you.)

        1. awaldstein

          You are obviously a pro at company dynamics Anne.

          1. Anne Libby

            Aww. Thank you, Arnold. So much.

          2. awaldstein

            Credit where credit is due is a good policy.I’ve built many teams and guide my accounts in doing so. HR structures and the dynamics of employee health over time is something I’ve often brought in pros to help with.

          3. Anne Libby

            I’ll wave you down the next time I see you bomb past me on a Citibike!

          4. awaldstein

            ;)See this with the relationship between CitiBike and the fashion industry! and the astounding number of rides per month:http://awaldstein.tumblr.co

    2. leigh

      Stay 360 interviews happen at my company in the review process. Most small companies ignore it all together and gives a great platform for the employee to voice their challenges and feedback (positive and negative)

      1. Anne Libby

        Good for you. This stuff is *more* important in a small company, because if one person is off, not performing or unhappy, it makes a much bigger impact on the ecosystem.(And it’s been said here before, clearly, if you’re a new team of 4-5 and you’ve got to “manage” anyone, serious issue…different story.)

    3. JLM

      .Excellent concept. Well played.Why did he leave?JLM.

      1. Anne Libby

        Thank you. (I love getting a “well played”!)

    4. William Mougayar

      It reminds me of Jackson Brown’s song, Stay a Little Longerhttp://www.youtube.com/watc…

      1. Anne Libby

        William, you’re psychic. What a great song about loving work, and about the entire ecosystem that makes someone’s work possible. I toyed with including one of the Jackson Brown videos with my post, but it’s not my schtick… http://bit.ly/152FY8g

        1. William Mougayar

          It’s a great song. πŸ™‚

  8. awaldstein

    Relationships, information and the patterns that connect them is all there is. Whatever you can do to build understanding between them you should do .

    1. WA

      Patterns are always a good thing. Foresight to forecast.

  9. Aaron Klein

    Hopefully, whatever comes out in an exit interview is already on the table in the form of 1:1 meetings. I’ve been too slow in doing these and have been stepping them up. I just did one with one of my key reports, and two and a half hours later, we still weren’t done talking. Obviously we need to do this more often!A few questions I asked:- What do you think our biggest problems are?- If you could change anything about the product, what would it be?- What isn’t fun about working here?- Who is really kicking butt in the company?- If you were me, what would you change?- What’s the best part of coming to work every day?Getting that at an exit interview is great, but try not to wait for that.

    1. awaldstein

      There’s the work that people do and there’s the people that do it. Knowing the person is key and getting to know them, especially your senior people, outside the office environment is key.Wine flights, dinner, bike ride, whatever for me works.

      1. Aaron Klein

        Very true. I don’t quite get the folks who suggest maintaining distance from their people. I can’t do it.

        1. awaldstein

          At your size its wacko not to do that.You can talk HR in general but it’s all abstraction, as it relates completely to the size and trajectory of your company.

        2. BillMcNeely

          I don’t understand it either. Leadership is about relationships. You don’t necessarily have to be friends with the people work all day with but you should something about them other what is happening inside the 4 walls of your office with them.

          1. Aaron Klein


          2. BillMcNeely

            By chance The @NYTimes did an interview with Martin Bellamy Founder and CEO of Salamanca Group, a merchant bank and risk adviser based in London. He made some comments on the topic. He is a former British Army officer. via Chad Storlie @combattocorphttp://www.nytimes.com/2013…

          3. Aaron Klein

            Thanks! I’ll give it a read.

  10. Guest

    People exiting don’t necessarily have no fear of saying exactly what they think.The stock answer ranges from, “There are a few other opportunities I’m interested in exploring and Team XYZ approached me” to “My work-life balance needs are changing.”



      1. William Mougayar

        Yup. And if you hear surprises, it’s the smoke part. There’s a fire somewhere.

      2. Guest

        I’ve only ever been in 1 exit interview; I was the exitee.On the opposite side of the table was the CEO of UBS’ senior MD whom I was a direct report to.Honest me could have shared, “Well, as you know, I wrote those strategy slides on mortgage CDOs and there’s a fundamental strategic difference between senior management deciding to focus on the mortgage CDO business and prop trading when my slides recommend other businesses like IP securitization which Goldmans is already successfully doing and we maybe could emulate.”Instead, I didn’t share that. I simply went to help set-up a corporate finance boutique as person #4.Fast-forward and Goldmans has the best IP securitization business on the Street and limited exposure to mortgage CDOs.Meanwhile, UBS writes down $35+ billion and needs the Swiss govt to bail it out.***********If I was in the same exit interview today I’d say this, “I’m going to a role where I have decision-making and ownership over what I produce and believe in.”That’s where I am in my career.

  11. Thanos Kosmidis

    Exit interviews can be very helpful – similar to anything that fosters systematic learning for a team or company (including project postmortems for instance).Yes, there’s always the risk of dishonesty in interviews – but one runs that risk even more when interviewing someone for a job …A key success factor for exit interviews is to frame the conversation about what the company/team can do to be better. In other words, avoid finger-pointing & personal attacks, think of overall behaviors vs individual actions, and focus on systems and processes more than outcomes (which could be one-off).However, for whoever’s left in the company, it’s not what happens during the interview that matters. It’s about what corrective actions are taken after the interview.

  12. Richard

    For larger companies, mapping explanatary variables (age, time with company, number of promotions etc. ) to the interview data might just shed some light on the big picture.

  13. jason wright

    what’s in it for those on the way out?

    1. fredwilson

      People will call to reference them in the future

      1. jason wright

        not if they become their own bitch.

        1. fredwilson

          No matter who you are, people call around about you

          1. jason wright

            if a person says no to being interviewed i wouldn’t allow it to influence the reference i give. a person has the right to say no. respect one another.

          2. Aaron Klein

            That’s ridiculous. Of course it would influence the reference you give.You wouldn’t have the data from the exit interview that might improve said reference.

          3. jason wright

            not to me.do as you wish with your company.

          4. Aaron Klein

            Cool. So you’ll give a reference based on imaginary facts you don’t have from an exit interview. Got it.

          5. fredwilson

            sure. but what goes around comes around. that’s one of my mottos i live by. if you want others to do right by you, you need to do right by others. telling them what you think of their company honestly and candidly on the way out is a huge favor and they will appreciate it.

          6. jason wright

            in my family we simply call it ‘karma’.your post came across as ‘you will give me the info i want or i’ll fuck you’.

          7. PhilipSugar

            I don’t get that tone at all. Not at all. What’s in it for the person on the way out? Its called being professional. I don’t like when people use a blanket term like that, but it is unprofessional to not give 30 minutes of your time to a company on the way out the door. Why? Because the company has been paying your salary. Why? Because they gave you a job. If it was shitty and you are bitter you can say here is why. If you just want to go somewhere else you can’t give 30 minutes?

          8. jason wright

            ‘gave you a job”paying your salary’sure, but the highly skilled probably don’t quite see it that way. they walk when they’re not happy with management.

          9. JamesHRH

            you are describing unprofessional prima donnas.

          10. BillMcNeely

            Professionalism? A concept lost on both sides of the equation here in America.

          11. LE

            Well perhaps Jason didn’t phrase this the right way but recently someone I know was let go from the company that they were with for the last 6 years over an interpersonal issue with another employee. They were given a nominal severance and totally taken by surprise and quite hurt by the situation.As a result I can fully understand why they might not feel the need to provide useful information to (in their mind) treated them like that. I have empathy for that.I mean let’s say I try to sell your company a product or service. And you decide to use another company. Then I say “hey can I have 20 minutes of your time to see what I could do better on the next sale?”. You say “sure” because I am the one who lost. And we both feel good about it.But now let’s say I am the guy who decided that your product didn’t fit at my company. And I say “hey I want to meet with you and find out what I did wrong negotiation wise so I can make a better deal the next time I do this (remember you didn’t get the sale)”. And let’s assume that there are no longer any possible interactions that could benefit the party that will be interviewed. So they might think (as Jason is saying) “why should I help this person”.And in fact they might feel like a “schmuck” for doing so.Quitting is one thing (which could be for many reasons) firing is another thing. Firing is rejection and failure.

          12. PhilipSugar

            It never even crossed my mind to do an exit interview on somebody that you fired.There should be a clarification on that. Doing an exit interview on somebody you fired is like rubbing salt in a wound.There is no way Fred could mean this.

          13. LE

            I read Jason’s comment and figured the “what’s in it for me” was tipping the context in the direction of an exit that was as a result of a negative reason. Otherwise why the attitude?In Fred’s post he doesn’t seem to differentiate between “fired” and “left on their own”.And he did specifically say:But if you are the CEO of a company, you should be doing exit interviews with everyone who leaves your companySo at the very least two things exist:1) AVC.com is read by people of all experience levels and at the very least to some people reading that point the point you are making might not be obvious.2) It’s possible that people who were not fired were actually forced out and quit or have left with bad feelings. In which case they are essentially in the same mental state as those who were fired.

          14. PhilipSugar

            If you were fired or “forced out” you did not leave you were kicked out.That’s why I hate the euphemisms. I called Fred out on it once where he said asking somebody to leave. He agreed.If you are at the point that you think somebody is bad enough to fire asking them for their opinion is opening yourself up to a ton of bad things. Hey, I know you suck so bad that I am going to ruin your life short term, but how about we talk about what you like and don’t like.

          15. LE

            telling them what you think of their company honestly and candidlyThere is no problem talking about a company “honestly and candidly”. The problem is talking about people at that company honestly and candidly.There is probably more of a disadvantage in any type of information discovery to letting something negative out about someone at that company because if that info gets out (and once you talk you can’t control it) you will have burned that bridge for sure.Plus you don’t know if the person you are telling the info to will view it in the wrong way and hold it as a negative against you for some reason. So I can fully see why it would be a safer move to say as little as possible.This is a departure from the way I was raised. In my family people regularly said what they thought and there were no hard feelings or grudges and very little defensiveness.

          16. awaldstein

            Oh so true.As Bill Clinton once said about international politics as it related to the US and the Middle East–‘want to have friends, be one’.

          17. fredwilson

            such a great line!

          18. awaldstein

            A great leader also in my opinion.

          19. pointsnfigures

            It also may help you diffuse a potentially bad situation before it happens.

      2. JLM

        .Everyone talks. All the time. About everything.I generally refuse to give negative references.I might say: “Seems to me like Joe might have gotten out of charm school a semester early.”Nothing more.People get the message.JLM.

        1. JamesHRH

          NOT giving a reference is a negative reference, without putting yourself in a bad light.

        2. fredwilson

          i was sent to charm school three times in my career. i may need to go again soon.

          1. JLM

            .You are that most dangerous charm school grad — you understand its limits and you can turn it on and off.Hell, you could teach the damn course.Be well, Charmer.JLM.

  14. Tom Labus

    But in a smaller company you should know these people issues.

  15. PhilipSugar

    I am different in that I don’t view people leaving as a huge negative. I view it more like the McKinsey or Accenture way. There are going to be times where it is just right for the person, and they have to do what they have to do for them.Your alumni group can be a powerful force. These people can really give you some good feedback on your company.I would caution that if somebody leaves and really has an axe to grind, you have to look at it two ways:They are right in which case you failed, you personally failed. You know in your gut they are right and you failed to take command of the situation, you failed.They are wrong. In which case you have to dismiss it completely.

    1. awaldstein

      I’ve never tried to convince someone to stay once they decide to leave. I’m sure I could of, but once someone goes that far, I just move on.

      1. PhilipSugar

        No I never have either. But what I am saying is that I don’t take somebody leaving as a failure. If I fire them it is my failure, but if they leave? I don’t view it that way. Its what gives centers like Silicon Alley and Valley their strength. Mobility.

        1. LE

          Yeah but you might fire them because of the circumstances of the situation at your company make them less willing to perform and therefore the delicate balance that makes a situation work is disturbed. In other words something about the company (or location or offices or coworkers) doesn’t float their boat and they don’t try as hard. And they don’t respond to your management skills because they simply don’t care. So there is little you can do if what they want is, say, not to work in Delaware or to work in a larger company with nicer offices (like that spanking new Sallie Mae building off 95). And it’s hard for you to know that when you hire them. People don’t tell the truth. So it’s not your fault or failure. It’s a failure of circumstances. It would be your failure though if you didn’t recognize that they would want a greater opportunity than your company though.Sorry to use the marriage analogy again but what you are talking about is a relationship.For example while it’s easy to blame the opposite party when they cheat you have to ask what about the situation makes them cheat? (I’m not talking about Kennedys or Spitzers with all sorts of opportunities or people wanting a thrill I mean garden variety cheating). In other words what does the wife of husband do in their behavior that makes the other party more likely to cheat? (I recognize this only is one model of cheating that there are many others like some people just aren’t compatible etc.)

        2. awaldstein

          Agree with that as well.This is work not love. This is networks not family. Important certainly but in this people should be guided by their own goals. They map to yours sometimes, stuff changes.Don’t burn bridges is as old school and as true as can be for both sides of the table. Germane in this circumstance certainly.

        3. JamesHRH

          it is an occurrence, not a failure – that is very sound viewpoint.

      2. LE

        “convince someone to stay once they decide to leave”Agree. Exception might be a hasty decision made for the wrong reason but I would guess that isn’t the case very often.This is similar in concept to why marriage counseling (by anecdote and observation over time) has a hard time working. Once someone gets to that point there is so much animosity it’s hard to roll back taint and impressions. Things are usually in positive halo or negative. Hard to un ring the bells as the cliche goes or let the genie out of the bottle.

    2. BillMcNeely

      Well those places are kinda like Union Square Ventures, the US Army, GM… You are seen more as graduate and Alumni. It’s a positive events and those firms tend to make sure they are seen in a good light. Most likely in the future you will be a client or champion.

  16. leigh

    While I like the idea of the CEO doing the exit interview in theory, I find that given how hyper connected employment is these days, that can become a less than frank conversation.I have a friend who does HR consulting for a headhunter at an hourly rate, and I tend to use him as a neutral third party to get a more honest conversation πŸ™‚

    1. Matt A. Myers

      I guess it can depend on ow good you are at having someone feel comfortable and draw out discussion. Though depending on the circumstances, a third-party could feel more unbiased and safer.

  17. CalebSimpson

    I was robbed of an exit interview at my last job before moving on to start my own business. I felt jipped, big time. They finally sent me a written exit interview after requesting it several times since I didn’t get one in person. Now that I’m a business owner myself I definitely see the value in an exit interview. It’s something I hope I don’t have to do for a long time. I have a solid crew right now. But I know the time will eventually come they grow and move on to better opportunities.

    1. Nathan Lustig

      I’m going to assume you used “jipped” out of ignorance and don’t know the derivation. Many people consider it a racist term that comes from gpysies who have the stereotype of being cheating, thieving criminals. Would use use “i felt jewed?” Doubtful. Much better to say “cheated” or “robbed.”more info:http://meloukhia.net/2011/0http://www.urbandictionary….

      1. Aaron Fyke

        This is a totally offtopic philosophical point, but it is an interesting question – if the original, offensive intent has been *so* far removed from common speech, is it still offensive? People still find “don’t jew me down” to be offensive, because it is a clear connection with Jews. However, other than your post, I’ve now gone through several decades on this planet without knowing the connection between jipped and gypsies (or roma). So, if eventually the population of people who were aware of this connection drops to zero, does the offensiveness disappear, like eradicating a disease? If so, the interesting point is – by educating people, are you increasing the population of people aware of this link? And if so, is the “anti-offensive” pressure of people being educated (and the avoiding the term) more powerful than the “anti-offensive” pressure of people being ignorant to the point where offense cannot be taken? One wonders if educating people is actually the wrong tact?

        1. Nathan Lustig

          Very interesting point, thanks for responding thoughtfully.I think it’s still worthwhile to point it out, as you never know when you’ll offend someone and there are much better words to use (cheated, robbed, scammed, etc).To wit, I’m half jewish (non practicing) and became more sensitive to this ~15 years ago. When I was 12, I was working with another kid my age and my meal ticket had an extra $5 on it. He looked at me and completely offhandedly said “oh man, they really jewed me here.” I felt terrible and didn’t say anything.Then in college one of my roommates from a small Wisconsin town offhandedly said “hey, don’t jew me on the toppings” to a girl at an ice cream stand. He’d never met a jew in his life and claimed he didn’t know it was something you shouldn’t say. I believe him.I figure with words like this many people are just as ignorant, they’re not racist and they’ll likely change their behavior if they know better.I think maybe outside the US there’s a stronger correlation between gypped/jipped and gypsies, as they seem to be more prevalent in Europe/South America.

          1. Aaron Fyke

            Well, yeah, saying “don’t jew me” is pretty beyond the pale. I find it hard to believe that anyone could not see that (although, I suppose it’s possible). But, I suppose that’s the argument. And yes, opinions of gypsies are far stronger outside of North America.

          2. Nathan Lustig

            My take on the two people who have said “jewed” in front of me in my life is that both of them were just ignorant and didn’t mean anything by it.My college friend is a nice, smart, guy but is from a town that didn’t have jews and he truly didn’t know it was wrong. After the ice cream clerk gave him a shocked look and we educated him, he turned bright red, learned his lesson and never said it again.

        2. POOL-POG

          I love this post. Totally off-topic (off the main topic at least) but very well stated

  18. baba12

    Exit interviews/conversations etc are generally too late to correct the situation with regards to that individual who is leaving. The hope is that you maybe able to garner some insights from a person who is leaving and has nothing to loose and may shed light on how the organization conducts itself and hopefully it is able to fine tune itself better.But I find that in a world where loyalty has no really value between employer and employee, is there value to wanting to know how to be a better person (for the one leaving) and for the organization based on this conversation(s) if multiple individuals are leaving.There is benefit to the organization in terms of possibly becoming better in how it conducts itself. What is the benefit that the person leaving the organization get in expressing their reasons for leaving?I am guessing most of the time one avoids being candid as one does not wish to burn bridges, therefore it becomes more of a kumbayah with everyone being nice and just stepping around the egg shells.How does one conduct this conversation in a manner where one can be candid and yet not burn bridges?”Diplomacy is when you tell a person to go to hell and they look forward to the visit”

  19. JLM

    .Exit interviews are the equivalent of ‘bayoneting the wounded” after the battle has been decided. All you are doing is engaging in an artificial “clean up” exercise.If you want to acquire actionable intelligence — before the bleeding starts — which can be used to enhance the organizational glue of an organization, then put that same energy into direct communication, performance appraisal and anonymous company surveys.Actionable intelligence allows you to change things before anyone — the organization, in particular — is bleeding. Exit interviews can only be conducted after the damage, if any, is done.1. The first thing to do is to talk to your people. If you are a CEO, take a guy or girl to lunch who is not a direct report, put them at their ease and skillfully quiz them about things that can be done to make the company “better”.You want to use a nebulous word like “better” to initiate the conversation so it does not feel like an inquisition or otherwise targeted. If you are skillful at doing this, the problems will bubble to the surface. I promise you.I did this hundreds of times and it always provided some grist for the mill. Be careful so that you do not violate a confidence or tip anyone off to your source.2. The second thing to do is to use regular performance appraisals to create a two way dialogue — what would you change and why? What is your greatest personal frustration and how can we make it better?Remember that folks may be leaving you because a pea under their mattress has become a boulder. Pick the peas.3. Use an anonymous company survey to ask really tough questions:If you were the CEO, what are three things you would do immediately?What do you think I do not know and should, as the CEO?What are the three worst things about our company?Why would you tell someone to work here or not work here?Are you currently or in the future intending to leave and why?These are what I call “chunky” questions — intended to reveal actionable intelligence and not to make anyone feel good.The energy spent on these issues — dialogue, performance appraisal and anonymous company survey — will result in real actionable intelligence while the time spent on exit interviews will result in a lot of bloody bayonets.Just the emphasis on these process changes will result in a higher retention rate.I am willing to bet that almost every lost person, who is mission critical, has not had a dialogue, performance appraisal or been surveyed in 6 months.If you want an exemplar of a performance appraisal form or an anonymous company survey, email me and I will send you one.Please note that my take on this issue is focused on CEOs wanting to prevent the loss of mission critical personnel. Fred’s view point is a bit different as he is focused on the nature of his investment. Slightly different points of view.JLM.

    1. LE

      1. The first thing to do is to talk to your people. If you are a CEO, take a guy or girl to lunch who is not a direct report, put them at their ease and skillfully quiz them about things that can be done to make the company “better”.I think this is a perfect example of how doing many things depends on who is doing the action.You have the charisma to pull this off so I can definitely see it working well for you. But I don’t think it would as easily work for anyone just like some of the things I do work well for me but not for others. Because I deviate and make all sorts of minor adjustments in the process just like you do when you fly an airplane. And not because of lack of wanting to follow the example. Because it’s in the muscle memory of speech patterns.As an example in the movie Patton George C. Scott gets up there and gives a speech at the start that is inspiring. And in “Office and A Gentleman” Lou Gosset Jr. plays a role that has a certain effect on Zack Mayo (Gere).But the truth is the same words out of a different mouth would not have the same effect as coming out of those mouths. Can you imagine pre scandal Anthony Weiner as Patton or even Obama in that role?This phenomena also explains why women have a harder time being taken as seriously as men do even when saying the same exact thing. The charisma just isn’t the same even if you subtract all the cultural bias.

      1. JLM

        .Everyone has to find their authentic leadership style.Read this here — Finding Your Authentic Leadership Style — http://themusingsofthebigre…The military typically seems to embrace the bombastic Alpha dog “take charge” type of style but that is not always the case.Marshall and Eisenhower were not of that style. Remember Eisenhower’s visit with the paratroopers the night before the D Day invasion in which he agonized as to how many of these young men would be alive at dawn. He had real empathy.Troops get the qualities of their leaders. I used to give my soldiers off on payday after room and uniform inspection. I would conduct these inspections at any time they were ready.I also had to go to Finance and get their pay and break it down by paycheck.It got so that I would go at 2:00 AM, count it out by 4:00 AM and be ready to inspect by 4:30 AM and pay them by 5:30 AM.They then got the rest of the day off for whoring, drinking and fighting.My soldiers and sergeants loved this. There was absolutely no “style” to this at all.They failed to recognize that I got the rest of the day off also. By noon, they were all drunk and laid.JLM.

    2. Anne Libby

      I agree with you more than you agree with yourself.In companies of all sizes, the performance appraisal is one of the most potentially valuable, underutilized management tools around.It’s not the review itself, it’s the opportunity to build relationship between people when they discuss common goals, results, and how to reach them.Elsewhere in comments, @aexm:disqus mentions holding semi-annual review discussions. +1000

  20. JLM

    .If you are trying to obtain actionable intelligence — information that is a call to act and based upon which you can make real changes — be clever and coy.Don’t call it an “exit interview”.Take the guy out for BBQ, go play golf — thank him for his service and then cleverly work the conversation around to what you want to know. Make it smooth and innocent. Not obvious.An exit interview is like that moment when you are getting your annual physical and the doctor puts on the rubber gloves and reaches for the gel — oh boy!The subject is going to stiffen up, become anxious and this anxiety is going to color answers. It is hard to carry on a conversation when the doctor is checking your prostate. Trust me on this one.Work your way around things and come back to them from time to time like you were interrogating a spy. Smooth.JLM.

    1. LE

      “be clever and coy.”Exactly my point as far as “minor adjustments”. Things happen on the fly and someone who is not creative and just following something they read many times will fall flat on their ass.”and then cleverly work the conversation around to”Exactly. When gathering intelligence the angle of attack is never the obvious angle. You go in for something else for some other reason, gain trust, and then insert the speculum. This is actually part of the basis for social engineering. You approach the target under one premise and then go for the info you are really after after you have gained trust and the guard is down.God I love this type of thing.

    2. awaldstein

      Sounds like an interrogation to me my friend.Actionable intelligence–I just don’t know.There are few aha’s of that great a nature that you discover in this circumstance unless you or your managers are wackily out of touch. Or you work for a huge and wildly disfunctional org.Honestly, it’s less about what you learn and more about letting the individual feel good with you, with the company and their choice.Good will is priceless because bad will is devastating.That’s always been my goal with some intelligence as the dressing.

      1. JLM

        .I often find myself speaking in shorthand to the AVC.com audience and not varnishing the truth because of the utility of the conversation. It is peer to peer conversation.In fact, my approach is much less like an interrogation than an “exit interview”. Exit interview sounds like a vegetable that does not taste very good. It sounds odious to me.I like the term “actionable intelligence” because it strips the niceties of information and reduces it to — what can I really act upon here? We spend a lot of time in business doing things which do not move the needle.I would take a bit of exception as to what you can learn or what needs to be learned — the guy did quit, right? So there may be something of great magnitude to learn there after all.Good will is one of those touchy feely terms that masquerades for integrity. If you treat people right, if you have a bit of genuine empathy and if you relate like a mensch, then good will will come along for the ride.If you don’t then good will is just Cool Whip — looks like whipped cream, but it is not.JLM.

        1. awaldstein

          Again, I bow to you with a big thumbs up.Sure I agree. And certainly I’ve done a lot of these. What I’ve most learned (and I’ve never had a direct report group bigger than 220 nor a company that I had leadership over that was more than 3-5,ooo) is that that my direct reports were missing the boat.

          1. JLM

            .Those are big time accomplishments, Arnold. Congratulations.Well played.JLM.

    3. Matt A. Myers

      I think you’re likely to piss off more people who can see through inauthentic behaviour, than those who will dislike an exit interview process.

      1. JLM

        .Perhaps you are seeing something that is not really there.There is no reason why it has to be inauthentic and getting to the truth of a matter does not require anything that is intellectually dishonest.I am only suggesting a manner in which to put someone at their ease and to allow the story to come out naturally rather than having it dragged out.If you go play golf with someone for 4 hours hopefully you so disarm the other party’s reticence in such a manner that they want to tell you the story.In this manner, you receive information that itself is authentic.JLM.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          Why can’t this comfort come in a planned conversation – called an ‘exit interview’ or ‘exit event’ or ‘recap interview’ etc?You don’t have to immediately jump into it – and it doesn’t have to be in an office setting.You could just call it an exit interview – and say that you’re going golfing to be in a relaxed / fun / physical environment that allows feel good neurochemicals and help stiffness from anxiety release — all while being fully honest, without having to act clever and coy while not being upfront.People aren’t stupid, and if they’re invited to go golfing with no intent stated – and they really don’t want to share anything they simply won’t accept the invitation.

          1. JLM

            .Perhaps you are knee jerk concluding that being clever and coy means being dishonest.As I intend the use it is simply picking a relaxing environment and being modest in the manner in which you approach someone.Not posing questions but introducing topics which allow the conversation itself to naturally flow toward the subjects you want to explore.Listen politely while guiding the conversational gambits toward what you want to learn about.If you can disarm someone, you can get them talking in a manner that will provide real insight and information.You are somehow suggesting that being thoughtful is disingenuous or dishonest while, in fact, it is empathetic and sensitive.As a CEO, you will often find yourself in a situation where your position is an impediment to a useful exchange. People are reluctant to speak the truth particularly if they perceive it is not what you want to hear.As you get experience, you learn how to make this impression disappear.JLM.

    4. andyidsinga

      sign me up for that exit interview! mmmmm BBQ!

      1. JLM

        .And in the glory of that BBQ, you will unburden yourself of whatever the “problem” really is, no?JLM.

        1. andyidsinga

          no doubt.

  21. markjosephson

    Love this. Was really disappointed to not be asked to give one at last job. So, I gave myself one. Really interesting to look back and assess good and bad during my time and what I wanted to take from it. So, my advice would be to give yourself an exit interview if your company doesn’t ask and try to be critical of yourself, in a constructive way.

    1. fredwilson

      CEOs should give VCs exit interviews. we never really did that after we sold Outside.in Mark. I could have used it. My bad.

      1. markjosephson

        I was talking about aol, not oi. But agree looking back at everything to see what to take from it is good idea.

  22. Pete Griffiths

    Totally agree.And, whenever possible, let the person leaving feel valued so you part as friends.

  23. John Revay

    “Doing exit interviews is a lot like doing references. The patterns that emerge over multiple interviews are the most telling and that is what you want to be listening for.”Reminds me of part of a continuous feedback loop.http://www.avc.com/a_vc/201

  24. panterosa,

    There should be exit interviews for accelerators too.

  25. Yasaman

    Great advice Fred! I had the same conversation with one of our early employees who left our startup. I also asked his view on my strength/weaknesses as an entrepreneur/manager. I’m the first time entrepreneur and thought an early employee should be able to provide me with great deal of information about my management style and things we do/don’t do well in our company. His feedback was super helpful.