The Three Most Impactful Words a Manager Can Say: I Hear You
If you’re going to invest time in gathering information from a departing employee, ensure they feel heard.
Most organizations I’ve worked in collected some type of exit data, both quantitative and qualitative, through an exit survey or an exit interview. Many departing employees appreciated the opportunity to share insights about their experience with the organization. And most organizations believed there was value in gathering the data. But how the leaders of different organizations handled the data varied greatly.
Even with good intentions, organizations rarely took action based on exit data alone. I understand the reason for this. Unless there is something obvious, it takes a lot of time to identify trends based solely on exit survey data.
A more common issue I faced as a Human Resources Professional was the manner in which members of management dismissed the data with their reason for the employee’s departure. For example, it doesn’t really matter why Sara said she left, she really left because she couldn’t get along with her coworker, Lisa. Or, it doesn’t matter what Jake wrote in his exit survey, he was moving anyway. And Kim may say she found a better match at a new company close to her home, but her supervisor attributed her departure to an unwillingness to learn a new software system.
When I was faced with those type of responses as a human resources professional, I often wondered if there was any value in collecting the data. Granted, not every organization and not every manager was so closed-minded, but it happened more frequently than I care to admit.
A friend of mine recently shared a story that might help organizations and the exiting employee benefit during the departure process. After several years with an organization, my friend recently gave notice of her departure. She’s smart and creative and experienced, so I was interested to understand her reasons for leaving. I got the sense that she thought she had plateaued unless she was willing to manage people. And she was hesitant to manage people at this organization because of the lack of maturity of her colleagues and the mirco-managing nature of the CEO. I realize I’m only getting one side of the story, but in her explanation to me, she wasn’t negative or disgruntled.
The lesson I took from the story of her departure? Her supervisor took the time to listen to her perspective about her experience, her thoughts on the role and the organization. Near the end of the discussion, the manager said, “I hear you.” The time her supervisor took and the acknowledgment were extremely powerful for my friend. The frustrations that ultimately made her decide to leave won’t change, but my friend’s perspective on the organization is likely colored positive by a single manager that took the time to listen. In fact, her message to me was this: it was perhaps one of the best things a manager can say.
Regardless of whether or not you take action based on exit survey data, it’s valuable to acknowledge the perspective of departing employees. The bottom line: ignore the data if you want to, but helping make the employee feel heard creates a win for both the organization and the employee.
How do you ensure departing employees feel heard?