From http://www.businesssynopsis.com/2012/02/04/exit-interview/
Exit Interviews This page was inspired by the page on the SDC Learning&Networking Knowledge Management Toolkit

Brief Description

What happens when people with key knowledge or expertise leave our organizations, communities, teams and networks? How do we try and capture some of that knowledge? We know we can't capture it all, but exit interviews give us a chance to capture some. It is important, however, not to wait till the last minute to think about knowledge continuity in our organizations. Think about this BEFORE people leave as well!


According to the NLH Knowledge Management Specialist Library, Exit Interviews are traditionally "conducted with employees leaving an organisation. The purpose of the interview is to provide feedback on why employees are leaving, what they liked or didn’t like about their employment and what areas of the organisation they feel need improvement. Exit interviews are one of the most widely used methods of gathering employee feedback, along with employee satisfaction surveys.
More recently, the concept of exit interviewing has been revisited and expanded as a knowledge management tool, as a way of capturing knowledge from leavers. Rather than simply capturing human resources information, the interview also aims to capture knowledge about what it takes to do the job."

When to use

Exit interviews have evolved from feedback interviews with employees leaving the organisation to a knowledge management tool, as a way of capturing knowledge from leavers. Rather than simply capturing human resources information, the interview also aims to capture knowledge about what it takes to do the job.
Done correctly, exit interviews can be a win-win situation for both the organisation and the leaver. The organisation gets to retain a portion of the leaver’s knowledge and make it available to others, while the leavers get to articulate their unique contributions to the organisation and to ‘leave their mark'. Exit interviews are relatively quick and inexpensive. In a knowledge-focused exit interview, a face-to-face interview is needed.
(Source: SDC Learning&Networking)

How to use

  1. Start early. Plan the exit handover with replacing staff.
  2. Identify persons that might benefit from the captured knowledge. Check their interest.
  3. Make sure explicit knowledge captured throughout the whole working period is accessible. Check for relevant additional aspects to be captured now.
  4. For tacit knowledge, review the key tasks of the person leaving. Ask about how to go about those tasks and the needed knowledge.
  5. Ask for a 'walk through' to identify success stories and success factors, problems and pitfalls.
  6. Identify knowledge sources (persons, networks).
The best exit interview happens during an overlap between the leaving and the replacing person.

(Source: SDC Learning&Networking)

Tips and Lessons Learnt

  • Invest enough time to research problem areas of the programme/work and achievements of the leaving person so you can shape knowledge capture questions to best reflect the person's perspective.
  • Avoid asking personal questions that may make the interviewee feel intimidated. '
  • Where you do the interview is critical. Experience shows that interviewees answer questions most comprehensively when the environment chosen for the interview is cozy and comfortable. Offer comforting drinks/snacks etc.
  • Make sure knowledge capture queries reflect not only the person's work focused experiences,best practices, challenges and lessons learned, but also about organizational culture. eg. What organizational culture did the leaving person appreciate and what improvement areas does he/she observe.
  • It helps to keep knowledge capture interview questions short and clear as much as possible.

Examples & Stories

These stories were harvested from the KM4Dev community discussions.
  • Johannes Schunter, UNVolunteers: Still inspired by the KM4Dev workshop 2 weeks ago, I'm planning to conduct an exit interview with a colleague who is leaving end of next week. This will be done as an informal experiment in our unit, to assess if this is an adequate tool for capturing experiences and lessons learned. However, I'm not yet sure how to approach and structure this interview beforehand and would therefore be happy for any experience, template, checklist or guideline you have or you can direct me to.
  • Lucie Lamoureux: There are a few SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation)people on this mailing list, so I hope that they will be chiming in with their experiences with exit interviews. In the meantime, you might want to look at this brochure, which explains very well their KM Principles: [4] You might want to take a look at a couple of BMZ documents on the KM4Dev website (one in English, the other in German). The former is on "Handover procedures at BMZ". The latter is on an approach called "Wissensbrücke" (translates into "knowledge bridge"), which aims at defining individual areas of expertise which are of special importance for BMZ, finding appropriate ways of sharing this expertise: [5]
  • Peter Hobby, AED: I have done a few exit interviews for USAID - video taped for posterity. Frankly - the best interview I participated in had the staffer filling the vacated slot sit in. The value of ad hoc conversation was huge in transferring much-needed experience. Our plans to edit, synopsize and share were overtaken by budget challenges. USAID also was flirting with re-invigorating a formal historian position. A great idea and perhaps one way to help institutionalize the practice. Great to hear if that's going forward - although from my limited experience, exit interviews have real value to share working level experience across the organization and not only for the history-worthy. And apart from mentoring, active communities can help distribute experience beyond the individual in some of those context-sensitive ways that are hard to plan for.
  • Dorine Rüter, ETC Foundation: ETC Foundation does have some sort of exit interviews, but they are private, with our director, and (I believe) mainly intended for the organization to learn from the critique the departing employee has, but hasn't expressed while working here. Just last week at the farewell reception of Sarah Cummings at KIT, Sarah gave a speech in the form of an exit interview. I thought that was a great idea. I don't remember the exact questions though. She had used 5 questions, which she compiled from searching the internet for examples. (Hope your question attracts some more examples/experiences - I would be interested in that too!) Besides my interest in the topic, I wonder how much use there is in having an exit interview... when someone is already exiting. Wouldn't it be better to have such interviews when the person departing is still at the office, to be able to contact him/her and learn more about the experiences mentioned in the interview? A while ago, one ETC department did experiment somewhat with creating 'knowledge maps' (what a word, eh) to identify themes that are relevant for their department and who has expertise in these areas. All this to be able to see where we lack expertise but also to see if there are for instance only 3 senior that know anything about topic X and we are in desparate need for a new generation of people in this theme. the exit interview farewell speech made me think it would be nice to take this up again, but then in another form, like through an interview. So in addition to Johannes' question on experiences with exit interviews, which experiences are there with... "non-exit interviews"?
  • Simon Dückert, Cogneon GmbH - Erlangen, Germany: I am not sure if this helps because its information in german!? We have a method called expert debriefing that is designed to identify leaving experts in an organization and providing a process for knowledge retention. In germany about 10 organizations are using this process. You find a presentation we gave at Knowtech 2006 (german knowledge management conference) including a paper and a podcast at http://www.cogneon.de/events/vortrag_die_methode_expert_debriefing_auf_der_knowtech_2006. The core of the method is a so called jobmap a mixture beween a history map, a process map, a knowledge map and yellow pages on individual level. Two links: Book "Deep Smarts": [6]Weblog "Retention in 20 days": [7], in german you can try to translate it with google or ask Dave Snowden, he provided the original tipps.
  • Josef Hofer-Alfeis, Consulting for Knowledge and Innovation Management, München, Germany: cently a whole day called “Wissenstag Oesterreich 2007” in Vienna has been dedicated to the classic KM issue “The expert is leaving – where does the knowledge remain?” To find more (in German) go to “Plattform Wissensmanagement” [8]. I have developed mainlyin the last years within Siemens Corporation a process called Leaving Expert Debriefing, which is a procedure partly for planning follow-up knowledge transfer actions, partly for transferring overview and linking knowledge, partly for defining future directions: [9]In case of interest, please contact me for some slides in English.
  • Tony Prior: One book which I found very helpful (and depressing at the same time) was “Lost Knowledge – Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce”, by David DeLong. The book is mostly focused on the private sector, but the problem is very much the same as for the development assistance world - transferring skills and experience which become essentially second nature are difficult for a range of reasons: the person with the experience may not see clearly why what they know is so special or unique, while the brand new worker may not value it because they don’t yet know what processes are or are not important.One problem we found with our interviews has been the tendency for the subject matter to reside in two. Added to this discussion is the one we had about a year ago, on knowledge sharing within the KM4DEV institutions where much of the technical work is done by consultants, not staff. Exit interviews for employees need to also be complemented by “expert interviews” for departing consultants. But in that case, it is in the consultant’s interest to transfer what they are paid to transfer, but NOT necessarily the skills and experience which would essentially make them redundant for future work. I think exit interviews can serve an important purpose if indeed the person leaving can still be accessed in some way, since their expertise can truly represent lost knowledge otherwise. But it's not so easy to do, since often the most experienced person doesn't just "know" facts which can be written down, but she/he has approaches and skills built from experience, used to solve problems. Passing THAT along isn't something that can readily be "archived". Often in fact the person who is leaving may not even know what she knows (just like the most junior person may not know what he doesn't know). This then leads me to the importance of mentoring. Again, a powerful concept, IF you have enough people. But in this age of shrinking staff, mentoring is alot harder to organize than it used to be. We've been toying with audio taping interviews on behalf of USAID, and in fact USAID in principle now asks every retiree whether or not they want to do an interview on the way out. But I find that doing these in a way that is meaningful and not just essentially a tour down memory lane is very tough. I believe we will be working with USAID again on this soon and so will be following this discussion with much interest. Lucie's mention of hand-over notes and the knowledge bridge gets to the other idea of capturing knowledge between assignments, a powerful cocnept. But it implies also that the previous job holder will be available in the future. Informally I think this is often a correct assumption; we all like to help each other. But it can run afoul of personnel rules if done too formally. This need to capture what we know as we move to another assignment though becomes increasingly important as aid workers move around more frequently, change positions more often, and even change functional roles in ways not as commmon sy 20 years ago.
  • Steph Colton: I seem to recall that SDC developed an approach for exit interviews ... Manuel, am I right? In addition Sparknow's guidance on how to document an oral history could prove a useful complement to the more formal capture process. Happy to dig out something.
  • Joitske Hulsebosch, IICD: What strikes me in all the answers about exit interviews is that people see the exit interview as a way to transfer the knowledge of the employee to the organisation. The exit interviews I have been a participant in were mainly to get feedback about the processes, procedures, culture, management etc of the organisation. Not really about the content of the job as such. The opportunity there is that people may feel more free to express their honest opinions while leaving anyhow. Of course it is better if people have means to express themselves earlier (or even better: are even listened to) but in my experience management doesn't take the time or effort to listen that attentitively or open to an employee. I guess it could serve both purposes, but I think they are quite different purposes, so that would inform, participants and processes to be followed. One small tip: don't plan it at the very last moment when everyone is stressed (expecially for people who are expatriate, 3 hours before you board the plane is not the best time for an exit interview :)

Who can tell me more?

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Page Contributors

  • Johannes Schunter [3] originated the discussion
  • Lucie Lamoureux
  • Peter Hobby, AED
  • Dorine Rüter, ETC Foundation
  • Simon Dückert, Cogneon GmbH
  • Josef Hofer-Alfeis, Consulting for Knowledge and Innovation Management
  • Tony Prior
  • Steph Colton
  • Joitske Hulsebosch, IICD
  • Nadia von Holzen, SDC
  • Hermella Ayalew