You Already Know the Reason
I’ve long been a big fan of Exit Survey’s and Interviews. In a world where data is king, it’s a great way to gather data and understand why people are leaving your organization. This, of course, is only as useful as the questions being asked, but even the worst questions will give you some insight. And though an individual exit survey has the ability to provide some very specific information, I find the greater value in the themes that come to light.
A single data point that says your organization is in trouble could be an anomaly; a disgruntled employee focused on trying to get someone in trouble, maybe. But a series of data points telling you the same thing is likely something to explore. Therefore, I've always found them useful in helping to identify (or confirm) issues with a department, a manager, a process, or something much bigger.
However, over the years, what I've learned is that Exit Interview data is a supplement. In my experience, it's rarely told me anything that I wasn't already somewhat aware of. Actually, in a lot of cases, it helped to obscure issues because lots of people are hesitant to give an honest assessment that may be perceived as negative for fear of burning bridges. And in places where leadership relied on Exits to tell the "real" story, this allowed them to continue to deny what was clearly in front of their faces.
As a HR Guy, I consider myself a leader in the organization. And as a leader, it's my job to know what's happening in every corner of that organization. Therefore, if there is a pattern to why people are leaving the organization, I should already know. And not just me, but the other leaders should know as well.
Now from time to time, a new issue will pop up, and you may get caught off guard, but that isn't normally the case. You already know if you aren't paying enough, if you have poor work-life balance, if your benefits stink, or if you are allowing a poor people leader to continue to lead your people (that last one is a huge one).
And if you don't know, you aren't paying attention. Running a business isn't a passive exercise (and I consider all managers as leaders, by the way) It requires deliberate attention. It also requires you to be objective and check yourself and the "people" decisions you make. To be clear, I'm still a fan of Exit Interviews. I think they can be extremely helpful, if the right questions are asked. I think they can also be used to predict future exits (when paired with other data), and I'm sure there's some machine learning software that will assist with that in the near future (if not already).
However, I'd like to see less reliance on them for trying to tell us how to fix our organization. If you're finding out why people are leaving as they are walking out the door, you're likely missing some other obvious signs. You just have to be willing to see what they are telling you.