The other day a respected colleague and good friend, Carol Weisman, sent a copy of her latest blog post entitled, “Don’t Just Whack’em and Plaque’em: Exit Interviews for Retiring Board Members.” As all of Carol’s writings, it dealt with an important subject, was informative and had me in stitches – Carol is one of the smartest and funniest people I know. She spoke to the value of doing an exit interview and shared five excellent questions to use in such a situation. My only quarrel was that she put the responsibility for doing the exit interview on the executive director. I have always believed an exit interview should be conducted by the board, in the person of the chair or a member of the governance/board development committee.
She and I went back and forth with our arguments. She felt that the executive director is the constant – the one who will be there after the entire board turns over. I reasoned that there is no guarantee that the executive director will be there tomorrow, let alone years down the road. I know too many organizations that make that position a revolving door. But even in the most stable organizations, a lot of long-time executive directors are reaching the point where retirement is starting to look pretty good. We’re also starting to see a number of less fortunate dying with their boots on.
Carol asked me to honestly examine how many boards step up to the plate and take on this responsibility. While I concede that the job often defaults to the executive director, by accepting that role, the executive director makes it that much easier for the board to abdicate its responsibility in the future. It is the board that benefits most from learning what it could/should be doing differently to maximize, or at least improve, its directors’ experiences. The interviewer should be taking notes that can be kept in a board book for easy referral by future boards. Carol argued that future boards won’t bother to look back. I of the “you get what you expect school” retorted that debriefing should be an expected part of the job. After heating up cyber-space for a couple of days, we agreed to disagree.
However, I was like the store clerk who gets in an argument with a customer. Long after the customer leaves, the clerk is whining about that customer to everyone else she comes in contact with that day. I ran the arguments by another colleague, Jane Garthson. Jane said definitively that it was the board’s job to conduct exit interviews. However – sneaky devil! – she said she understood if an executive director wanted to conduct his or her own exit interview to learn what he or she might do differently in the future. So, this brings me to the question of the day. What, if any, are the arguments that we are all missing? If you even agree that exit interviews for departing board members are valuable, who do you want to see facilitating them? Why?
By Terrie Temkin