Last week I spoke at the New York Expo and Business Conference on the fundamentals of business mastery. One of the elements of business mastery is building a rock star team to help you grow your business. That means finding the right people and putting them in the right seats. So I asked the attendees these two questions.

1. Why would someone want to go to work for your company?

2. What are the reasons someone would leave your employment?

Significantly more participants were able to respond to the first question as opposed to the second. That’s probably because most business owners either don’t ask an employee why he’s leaving or, if they do, they are happy to accept a pat answer such as “better pay” or “more opportunity.”

According to Leigh Branham, author of “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave,” more than 80% of employees don’t leave because the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Instead, it’s because of negative factors in the workplace.

To get a better insight into your business and why people are leaving, take the time to devise some pointed questions for the exit interview to get to the “root” of the matter. What you learn could help you save employees and your business.

Why you really don’t want employees to leave

Employee turnover is expensive—particularly for a small company. Human resources professionals estimate the cost of turnover ranges from 50 to 200 percent of an employee’s annual salary. Furthermore, an employee resignation can impact the morale and productivity of your remaining team members  As a smart business owner, you owe it to the health of your business to examine the true motivation of an employee’s departure by conducting an exit interview.

Exit interviews can be as eye-opening as customer complaints. They provide an opportunity to gather information about your company that might otherwise be difficult to obtain while someone is working for you. The interview may cover issues such as benefits, working conditions, opportunities for career advancement, the quality and quantity of the workload, the company culture and relationships with co-workers and supervisors.

How to conduct a successful exit interview

Because it’s difficult to conduct an exit interview, you want to set aside about one half hour in a quiet, private area to speak with the employee. Prior to the interview, carefully plan what questions you intend to ask and what information you’d like to obtain. Start off by trying to gain the trust of the departing employee and control the conversation so it doesn’t become confrontational. Some questions you might consider asking are:

1. Why are you leaving?

2. How would you suggest we train your replacement?

3. What were the most challenging issues in your job?

4. How would you improve job satisfaction here?

5. What did you like most about your job?

6. Were you happy with the pay and benefits?

7. How do you feel the business is run?

8. Were there any policies that made your job more difficult?

9. Would you recommend working for this business to friends? Why/Why not?

10. What did you dislike most about your job?

If the employee is a valuable part of your team, be sure to ask if there is anything you can do to make her want to stay. You might be surprised by what you learn, and the entire conversation would transition from a resignation into a negotiation. For example, suppose an employee is leaving because she wants to be able to work from home, but she’s afraid it won’t be acceptable. You may be able to arrange a schedule that works for both of you and the employee will be saved.

However by the time someone has made the decision to resign, it’s probably too late to do anything about it because that’s a really big decision. What you can do is learn what you could have done differently so you can keep from losing other employees for similar reasons.

If you aren’t comfortable doing the exit interview yourself, or if you don’t think the employee will be honest with you, consider using an outside human resources professional or a trusted business adviser. In fact, many small companies find this is actually more productive. Small business owners typically have close relationships with their employees and, as a result, the employee is often more comfortable with someone from outside the firm.

Bottom line…

You don’t want your business to be a revolving door for your employees, so it’s important to “take a step back” and really figure out why people are leaving. Maybe they are just departing for more money or a better opportunity, but unless you ask the right questions, you’ll never know. Knowledge is power—empower your business!

What eye-opening things have you learned about your business from exit interviews? Tell us in the comments below.