Exit Interview Etiquette


I’ve been with my company, let’s call them XYZ distribution company, for the last 5 years in district management and run about $40M in sales and 3 branches. I love the company, I really do love my job and my employees but not my boss so much. The company brought in someone from corporate to run my division who has zero experience in distribution, strike one, he’s also having two overt affairs on the job, strike two, and he’s a micromanager, strike three. I’ve been offered a really amazing job at ABC Supply running a much larger region, I’ve accepted, I’ve given notice but I still need to do my exit interview with HR. Do you think I should be honest with them about what’s really going on here?



Great to hear from you Robby,

Congratulations on the new position first of all. Secondly, wow…that’s a tough spot! I’d always err on the side of full disclosure, while you are moving on, there are likely a lot of people that you managed over the years that are going to still be faced with his unprofessional antics, it’s far better to walk away knowing that you’ve said your peace and trust that HR will do their job to put an end to it, then to walk away with guilt over saying nothing. It’s not easy but I think you’ll feel much better if you have an open and honest conversation about your reasons for leaving so they can work on making things better. HR is your friend in these kinds of situations and know how to handle this legally and professionally. All my best in fancy new job!


New Technology, New Ideas, New Channels, old habits.

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The industry has changed dramatically over the past 3 years. The influx of electronics into the traditional electrical industry has changed the very way we see the business. LED, controls, solar, wind, DC distribution, ESCO’s, ROI value propositions, Zigbee, Zhaga and even Google in our light bulbs! The electrical industry has always been grounded in the basics: a new construction market with products primarily targeted to the electrical contractor. The ‘rest of the market’; DIY, remodel and MRO still generally used the same equipment and mostly relied on a professional installer, using tools designed for ‘real electricity’ (120-480V). But what size wire nut do you need for your wireless connections?

Finding a salesperson to sell ‘electrical’ was fairly straight-forward, they were primarily categorized as a gear guy, lighting guy or wire guy. This just happened to represent the three largest categories of electrical products sold in the US. It was considered bad form to hire a wire guy to sell lighting, or a lighting guy to sell switch gear, etc. A lot of the industry has grown up in the business; sons (mostly) or daughters of industry people joined their Dad’s business and grew up to take their rightful place in the industry. Colleges began offering Industrial Distribution programs and then lighting design curriculum and the industry had a steady flow of college talent from disciplines other than engineering to help add to the talent pool. The largest of corporations developed college recruitment programs to attract young and smart talent into their companies (Graybar, GE, Lutron, CED, Schneider, Crescent Electric, Eaton, etc.). The downside of college recruitment was that you had to have a large, formal training program which was very expensive and then you needed a retention program to try to avert becoming the training program for your competitors.

That was then. The industry has changed. Lighting has become largely electronic; controlled by sophisticated control systems that are software-based. Wire has become wireless. Buildings have become ‘smart’. Power distribution can now be off-grid; and DC. AND, who ever conceived of solar-powered lighting? (But it’s dark outside, so how can you solar power your lighting when it’s dark….)

So, this should be easy. Let’s just hire the talent that can fully grasp a solar-powered, wireless controlled, DC distribution system that is ZigBee certified. There are two problems with that solution:

  1. How do you interview and qualify someone for a position you don’t understand yourself?
  2. The hiring processes have evolved even less than your reluctant adoption of technology.

The industry desperately needs talent to compete with competitors that have never been in our industry: Sharp, Mitsubishi, Philips Electronics, Citizen, Sony, and hundreds of startups, etc. But our hiring processes are fraught with layers of defensive reactions that simply turn off techno-people:

  • Non-competes. The State of CA has declared non-compete contracts illegal. Ironically, when you hire a sales manager in Boston and require him/her to sign a non-compete, you have imposed an unfair liability on the Boston manager that you don’t impose on your San Diego manager. Your HR department vexes over internal equity; get rid of non-competes, unless your company is 100% R&D.
  • Hands-off agreements. Once again CA has determined that hands-off agreements between competitors create a non-competitive environment for the worker, so it’s disallowed.
  • Credit checks. Unless the position has a direct fiduciary responsibility (accounting, use of a company credit card, pricing authority, etc.), it is considered discriminatory to run credit checks on new employees.
  • Hiring processes. Multiple interviews, largely covering the same questions, spread over months is a surefire approach to losing quality talent. This is officially a candidate-driven market again. If you can’t make a decision, the candidate will go to a company that can.
  • Offers. The belief that the 2010 recession has significantly depressed wages so that you can offer a candidate lateral or even less money than they are making now, is a complete myth. The talent pool is not deep. There are not a lot of qualified people who will just ‘take a job’. Industry savvy talent, who have experience in contributing and growing companies are in very short supply. They are getting multiple offers and we’ve seen the re-emergence of signing bonuses and counter-offers for the first time in over 3 years.
  • Ageism. The Baby Boomers have begun wandering off the planet, but those who are active and engaged deliver the best ROI due to the short runway to be effective. They have a work ethic and a sense of pride to deliver results. They’re connected; not on Twitter, but with people who actually want to buy stuff. The number of requests we get every year for ‘young’ and aggressive is astounding. You need someone who can help your company get better; so get over the obsession with youth and hire someone who actually knows what ROI means. And can prove it. And if that’s someone who’s 35 or 60, why do you care?
  • Testing. Personality profiles, IQ, Myers-Briggs, sales aptitude, leadership, cultural fits, management ability, etc. A 15 minute (or more) test, delivered via the internet that generates ten pages of ‘assessment’ does not validate performance. No test validates nor guarantees performance (other than pure skill tests for accounting, engineering, CAD, typing, etc.). Test protocols provide two things: false comfort in your ability to hire the right person and profit to hundreds of test sites who can make $50/head for a web link. If you want to improve your hiring; learn how to interview and qualify people. Ask yourself, how many people in your company have ever had any training on interviewing or people assessment? Save your money on tests and learn how to interview.

The industry has changed and will require a strong influx of talent who sees the industry through different perspectives. Technologies are new and evolving rapidly. Channel strategies are changing. Channel partnerships are being challenged or reimagined. The world is flat; years after the book, but it’s arrived. Selling wire strippers in a wireless building is daunting, but it’s also exciting. You want to thrive? Start with looking at your company’s strategic plan for products, markets and talent. If you plan on being a player in the nouveau electrical industry, then you’d better be well staffed with smart electronics people.