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Dear Workforce Exit Interviews Reveal That Some Junior Execs Don’t Trust Human Resources. Should That Matter

A few junior executives told us in exit interviews that they are uncomfortable discussing issues/problems with human resources. They suggest we form a special forum or appoint someone specifically for this purpose. Should we follow this suggestion? If so, how would we create it and who should head it? Or should human resources continue to handle this?
September 2, 2005
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Related Topics: The HR Profession, HR Services and Administration, Dear Workforce
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Dear Incredible:

Shifting this responsibility to a forum or some other person would be a tacit admission that your human resources professionals aren't capable of doing the job. Is that really the message you want to send?
That being said, your human resources department appears to have a credibility problem. This may be due to lack of action (human resources can, but doesn't, do anything with the information), lack of empowerment (it is unable to do anything with the information) or past instances of failing to appropriately handle information. It also could stem from employees' lack of understanding regarding the role of human resources.
That junior executives are reluctant to confide in you gives the impression that human resources is influenced by, or supportive of, senior executives--to the point of being biased in its responses to the information gleaned from departing employees. To build credibility, begin the exit interview by explaining how human resources will use this information.
It sounds as though your human resources department lacks credible methods for receiving feedback, developing new executives and recommending/implementing actions to address the issues being reported. You should institutionalize methods and procedures (if you haven't already) to develop top executives and respond quickly to critical feedback.
This critical first step, however, requires active support from your chief executive officer. Namely, you need to handle information appropriately and report feedback directly to the CEO. If your CEO repeatedly chooses not to take action, you may want to look at obtaining more objective and comprehensive data.
Exit interviews often reveal the weaker managers/executives in an organization, yet the data seldom supports specific actions. Unwanted criticism also may be discounted by discrediting the source, such as a disgruntled ex-employee. Having a solid executive- development program helps ease some of management's suspicions about negative feedback.
For example, let's assume all your executives are put on a schedule to develop key accountabilities and review their success in attaining them. In this case, executives who move to the top of the list when reviews come up are likely to be received more positively by your CEO.
In larger organizations, an even better approach is to have all executives within a division participate in the process. Using sophisticated automated-assessment tools, executives can easily measure their competencies and their own levels of accountability. Using various assessments (360-degree feedback, for example), objective data about each executive could be summarized for your CEO to analyze.
What's the connection toexit interviews? Remember, executives with weaker competency levels surface first. Your job in human resources is to connect those weaknesses to business issues that need shoring up. These could include the loss of promising junior executives, volatile turnover, increased staffing costs, diminished customer satisfaction or flagging sales. Make sure this connection is spelled out when passing along exit interview information to top brass.
SOURCE: Carl Nielson, Principal, The Nielson Group, Dallas, October 25, 2004.
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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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