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Learning From Departing Workers: Firing Line

Many businesses devote a lot of time and energy into hiring the right people but spend little or no time understanding why those good employees eventually leave.

This is unfortunate, because such analysis can propel an organization to higher levels of performance and help it to better retain valuable employees in the future.

The reasons good people leave an organization are often similar, and, in my experience on the front lines and in the front office, their departures can often be prevented.

Many employees look forward to discussing why they're leaving because it's their last chance to let people know how the organization could possibly set things right.

In the military I always conducted exit interviews with departing subordinates in order to understand what they thought could improve our organization. I also wanted anyone who left to do so on a high note because I wanted former organization members to keep a positive attitude toward me and my organization. After all, I might need to work with them in the future.

This was the time to wish them "fair winds and following seas" and let them know their efforts were appreciated.

Unfortunately many businesses do the exact opposite. When an employee expresses a wish to move on, many organizations brand that executive as a deserter and seemingly forget all the hard work, effort and honorable service he or she has devoted to the organization.

When a firm reacts this way it causes other employees who are considering leaving to feel guilty, negatively affecting morale. This results in an organization of "clock punchers" who are there to simply collect a paycheck. I call these "lighthouse" companies. Employees hang out and hide, doing the minimum to get by. When the beam of light starts to sweep toward them they pick up their level of effort for a bit and then relax when the light sweeps away from them.

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