You’ve got a company of ten, somebody decides to leave. You’ve got a company of 60,000, somebody decides to leave.
Which company gets the most benefit out of an exit interview? Which company should do an exit interview?
After talking with a number of former Microsoft folks, I circled back to them as well as adding some others to the mix as a look see into this whole notion of former employees, the value of, etc.
The longest was a MFST guy that did a 15+ year tour of duty, the shortest being a 10 month process at one of our portfolio companies. All left on ‘good terms’ or they resigned vs. being overtly fired.
For me, there were no surprises. IBM/Sun/Microsoft/Intel all started these interview with a reminder/review of the confidentiality agreement. Right out of the gate. Everybody got the COBRA briefing (Cobra, for non-US folks, is the law that allows you to pay for your own benefits at the group rate, unsubsidized, for a set period of time. Designed to keep you from having zero health benefits immediately). Everybody got reminders of vesting issues, if any, and the checklist of what not to steal, err, reminders of what to turn in.
As I said, exactly what I suspected.
Here’s what nobody got. Free software. Employee discounts for 6 months, or a thank you. Over 15 years of service, last words are, yeah, bummer, I might quit too but, hey good luck to ya.
If you assume 500 people a year leave, say Microsoft, that’s 500 people going some place else that should be 500 people talking up, using, and still being involved in, at a minimum, cheer leading from the side. Or at least there is the possibility of those folks being ‘on your side’, if I can phrase it that way. This is just a talent going to waste.
Here is my take on the Microsoft (or other) Exit interview checklist with the lessons for you and your company, regardless of size.
1. Do the interview yourself until you hit 100 people
If you tell me you are too busy to do this, you’ve got a turnover problem. Don’t get all anal on the number, you get the concept. Clearly, Bill/Steve can’t/won’t do it, but, get some people that aren’t in HR (when you have an HR Department) to do this. Not the person’s boss (Duh), but others. Like, say Robert Scoble doing Mini-Microsoft’s exit interview. Now, that’s an exit interview. Get your most vocal, kool-aid drinking, troops (just kidding, Robert) and let them get the unvarnished stuff. And report on it to the management team. Hey, we lost a person X because he didn’t feel like his code mattered. Here that enough, unfiltered from the HR drones and maybe, just maybe it gets heard. No shot at HR intended. HR has a process role to play but there is no way, in my opinion a HR person can hear, really hear what a good coder leaving is really saying about the why. And the why matters.
2. Say Thank You.
First words spoken at an exit interview. Thank you for working here and contributing, all of us appreciate it. And mean it. Say thank you.
3. If a re-hire, then give them a priority “come on back” pass.
After you say thank you, simply say, if you decide to come back, here is the priority way to go right to the head of the line. How hard is this? If you are a ten person team, give them your home phone number. If you are a Microsoft, create a priority system for these folks to get immediately noticed, interviewed, and dealt with. Folks with 3, 5, 10, 15+ years of experience? Good people? American Airlines, after you hit a million miles flown, you get Advantage Gold Status forever. A tiny bit of special treatment forever. This is a non-cost, easy thing to do and will mean something to people.
4. Free software/services/equipment for over X number of years.
If you’ve been at Microsoft for over 5 years and you leave in good standing, you get a year of MSDN and a year to use the company store to get stuff. Again, how hard is this? Back to my 500 people a year, gee, seems to make sense to have 500 people a year going off to other companies armed with Microsoft stuff; who knows, they might inject a little into that new whatever company they are doing/going to. Cost is a bunch of DVDs. If you are IBM, after 5 years (or ten), a thinkpad at cost or a Notes package for your start up, whatever, you get the point. For your company, think about what you can give your former employees so they can continue to spread the word and feel the love.
Case in point. Dave Winer supporting Doc Searls and Robert Scoble with the blogs. Nothing to it and the love just keeps on flowing. Dave is a great guy and a friend to both but that notwithstanding, it make solid business sense. Scoble as a former employee, good business sense, Doc being helped out, also simply good business sense. Do you think Symantec is still giving Winer code drops/product for free? Probably not. A check every now and again, yeah fine, pesky detail, but you get my point. I don’t think Marc Canter is still getting free stuff from Macromedia. And so it goes.
5. Keep a connection.
Give your former employees and email address and put em in an alias for the former employees (again, all assuming good standing). It’s one domain and simple Linux, err, exchange box. @fmrmsft.com or @fmrYourcompany.com, etc. Simple, cheap, single point of contact to talk, reach out, etc, to a group of people that, at one time, roamed your halls. Mike Maples, to this day (and to the best of my knowledge) still has a Microsoft email address, he is that well thought of. There is a big/smart lesson in that for you.
Over and over again, I hear about former IBM/Sun/Microsoft people after having spent 10+ years at the company being treated like some goober a the county fair pie eating contest. Here’s an extra special message to the 26 year old that I had the pleasure of meeting with in Redmond. I and three other former folks that represented about 25 years of MS time. Put away the smart phone, get your feet off the table, stop slumping, and remember that all three of us were coding for a living when you were crawling up to Cafe Mommy for a swig. It is a fundamental mistake to think you used to be one of us and now you’re not. It’s just bad. Respect will get you armies of people you aren’t paying for, perspective you probably need, and help you won’t have to ask for. Respect, its not just for breakfast anymore.
The U.S. Military has this down pat. If you wore the uniform, you are always part of the family. And the Marines have it tuned to a fine art. Your company needs to be built like that. The few, the proud, the 37signals machine, the icerocket rangers, Team Technorati, whatever. All of these companies are growing or will grow. All of them will have former employees, veterans if you will. Think about how this impacts your company and what you are doing about it today.
This isn’t a slam on Microsoft or any other company, rather a good lesson for you and your company, large or small. Good people move on for lots of reasons and assuming bad stuff wasn’t the prime reason, it makes good sense to retain some value in that relationship.