Having a Voice is Important – Even When Leaving

Do you ever feel like your organization doesn’t actually hear you?  Or perhaps your organization doesn’t offer a safe environment that encourages you to speak up?  All too often, one of these scenarios is played out in the workplace.  Many businesses feel that they have processes in place to ensure employee feedback, but is it effective?

Stoping the Silence

Previously I wrote about the importance of not silencing your staff.  Aside from providing a safe culture within the organization that encourages staff input and feedback, many companies miss out on the opportunity for the most honest feedback by skipping the exit interview.  There are multiple reasons for the exit interview, but the most important is to get a candid overview of the organization’s culture and environment.   The information obtained from an exit interview can identify opportunities for employee retention, leadership development, and succession planning.

Don’t Assume

When I left after 20 years with the same organization, I literally begged for an exit interview.  After being completely ignored by one CEO (who suddenly left the organization without explanation), I approached the new CEO requesting a brief meeting.  I was quickly dismissed and wished the best of luck in a brief email response.  I simply wanted to express my experience with the organization and my concerns out of dedication to my previous patients and the work-family I left behind.

No one in management asked why I was leaving.  Assumptions were made, but only those close colleagues knew the real reason.  I could no longer work in an environment that didn’t support their staff, seek genuine feedback or provide the tools that allowed me to do my job at the level that made me feel fulfilled.  More importantly, I no longer felt that the organization prioritized patient safety, leaving me feeling less competent as a health care provider.

Why The Exit Interview

Unfortunately, the absence of an exit interview is common.  The insight that upper management missed by dismissing my request saddens me.  Even worse, my work family is stuck in the same toxic environment that forced me to leave, and it’s only getting worse.

It’s essential to have clearly identified standards for the exit interview to make them successful.  Most Fortune 500 companies perform exit interviews but only 40% feel they are properly utilized.  Make sure to have a format that can get useful information.  The last touchpoint with the employee gives the interviewer the opportunity to ask about issues that are concerning or unresolved.  It also allows the employee to leave with a sense of feeling heard.  Why is that important – they are leaving after all?  Because in todays employment climate, you never know when you may need to call that worker back for some help.  If they left on a sour note, they are guarantee not to help out in a shortage.  This frequently occurs in healthcare but also in any skilled industry.  Boomers are retiring at an alarming rate, and there isn’t always someone qualified to immediately replace them.

Making Them Count

Finally, assessing and utilizing the information after the interview is vital.  We’ve all filled out an employee survey that was later thrown in the trash and never actually looked at, let alone the feedback reviewed and put to use.  This is important if the organization has a genuine interest in maintaining a healthy culture and an environment that encourages communication and investment from the employees.  After all, without staff, no organization would exist.  Employees are the company.  Dedicated and fulfilled leaders and employees want to put their best foot forward.  The key is to keep both feet in the business but if they choose to leave, find out why.  The reasons may surprise you.  At the very least, it will provide you with valuable insight and the opportunity to improve and grow your business.

cherry tree and water

Embrace The Good

For years now, I’ve been intrigued by a short article I read about an African tribe and how they deal with each other’s mistakes. I took a screenshot of it and have kept it on my phone ever since.

In this African tribe, when someone broke a rule or made a mistake, they take the person to the center of the village where the whole tribe comes and surrounds them. For two days, they will tell them all the good that he did over the past years. The tribe believes that each human being comes into the world as good. In the beginning, everyone desires safety, love, peace, and happiness.  But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes.

The community sees those mistakes as a cry for help. They then unite to lift man up, to reconnect him with his true nature, and to remind him who he really is, until he fully remembers the truth of which he had been temporarily disconnected: “I am good.”  (May 17, 2014, the good men project)

Dealing with Difficult Employees

Not until recently, I actively connected this article to leadership and managers dealing with difficult employees. Difficult employees are often a challenge for management. Some situations like a violation of company rules such as stealing are less difficult to deal with than unpleasant behavior between or towards colleagues. In the last situation, it might seem tempting to wait and see how it develops. Inaction, however, can harm those involved, general workplace morale, and productivity. It might become a reason for other valued members of the team to leave the department or even the company. Management needs to intervene; it’s their responsibility. So don’t brush people away, take them seriously. Make sure there is confidentiality. Address the employee in question immediately so that the situation is still fresh in their memories!


So when employees misbehave, do you punish them? If you do, keep in mind that it only has a short term effect and stops a specific action. It won’t change people’s behavior in general. It only teaches people how to avoid punishment. Think of a police camera that stops you from speeding as you pass it, after which you start to speed again. You want your employees to develop and have a sustainable and effective contribution to the team and its results. Not only when you are around but as a standard bar. To reach that state of collaboration, it’s better to create an environment where people want to do their job and feel safe to do so. That way, the need for punishment is way less.


But how do you create that environment where people feel safe, appreciated, and empowered to develop? Your three basic golden rules come close to Skinner’s behaviorism theory:

  1. Embrace the good, give compliments for positive behavior;
  2. Ignore little everyday mistakes and incidents unless you see a concerning pattern;
  3. Only punish excessive behavior that needs to stop immediately.

I’m a firm believer in a complete focus on positive behavior. If you give three compliments and punish once, you have made a tiny step forward in building a relationship. Can you imagine what would happen if you gave more compliments?  Even though at times it is so tempting to focus on the mistakes of others, you don’t want to feel like a cop, do you?  And honestly ask yourself the question if that “cop behavior” would work on you! You want to give your team what they deserve, your full attention, constructive feedback, and coaching.  Don’t lose your eye for the good in the members of your team, embrace it, and give them compliments!

Compliments are so powerful because they make people happy. When someone feels appreciated, they are willing to work harder to keep others happy.  The happier someone is, the more meaningful their life gets. It confirms that you are seen, accepted, and loved by others!  It will make them give their very best.

What do you do to inspire your team to develop and grow?