More Stay Interviews …rather than exit interviews

Most talent managers have likely asked these questions of an employee:

“Why are you leaving? And what can I, as a manager, do to keep you here?”

Those two questions are typically at the heart of the exit interview — the mechanism talent managers use during an employee’s final moments to get a deeper understanding of the reasons he or she is leaving, sometimes in an attempt to pinpoint a larger issue and alleviate the threat of further attrition.

But all too often this approach is insufficient;

by the time exit interviews take place, employees have made up their minds, and seldom do they reverse their decisions. It’s simply too late.

A shift in thinking is needed, the switch in when during the employee life cycle a similar, but arguably more effective, conversation takes place.

Managers would be wise to learn the art of the stay interview.

Put simply, more stay interviews equals fewer exit interviews. Having “What will keep you here?” conversations promotes the engagement culture that organizations must have to survive and thrive amid increasing competition for talent.

Many people leave companies because no one asked them what might keep them there or what would let them decide to go away. Instead of asking, many managers opt to guess what is best to retain their talent. And they’re often wrong.

In an exit interview-oriented environment, asking employees what would keep them is folly; they already have one foot out the door.

Why, then, talent managers ask perfectly effective questions at the wrong time?

It’s time to change that thinking, with stay interviews as the remedy.
A single stay interview with a treasured employee is not enough. The most successful managers ask early and often. They listen carefully to the answers and then partner with employees to help them get what they want and need to remain productive, engaged and happy as members of the organization.

To be sure, managers need help.

Despite the perceived simplicity of the stay interview, managers might be reluctant to have a conversation on this subject for a variety of reasons. To some managers, conducting a stay interview might back them into a conversation they simply don’t want to have or fear they have little power to address. What if the employee says he or she needs more money or a promotion to stay?

These are valid concerns. The fear of being unable to deliver on an employee’s stay request can make them avoid to run such important conversations.

A possible method?

So where should talent managers start? First, conducting a stay interview requires recognizing the process’ many nuances. The most imperative comes in the kinds of questions asked.

Consider two examples:

“What, about your job, makes you jump out of bed in the morning?”

This question creates an image immediately and gets the employee thinking about why he or she is excited about going to work.

It’s an unexpected question about job satisfaction, and it typically elicits some fascinating responses: “The project I’m working on” or “I love my colleagues”, “I love the customers I’m interacting with” or other perspectives.

The manager will learn more about this employee just by asking this question.

“What would you likely leave to someone else/avoid doing/like less among your activities?”

This is a safe way to ask employees what they do not like as much about the job.

One talented employee said he hates Monday morning staff meetings and therefore delayed his trek to work for as long as possible. Could that staff meeting be shorter or moved to another time?

Aside from “What will keep you?”, here are some proven stay interview questions managers can ask:

  • If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about your job?
  • If you had a magic stick, what would be the one thing you would change about this department, team or organization?
  • As your manager, what could I do a little more of or a little less of?
  • What can we do to support your career goals?
  • and What do you want to learn this year?
  • What makes for a great day?
  • Do you get enough recognition? How do you like to be recognized?

Ultimately, managers need to find the stay interview questions that work for them and their employees.

The Content of the interview

The content of the stay interview, however, is only half the battle.

How questions are posed and the way in which managers listen is just as imperative as what questions are asked.

Managers might start by saying, “You are so critical to me and to this team. I can’t imagine losing you. I might not tell you that enough. But I’d like to know what will keep you here and what might entice you away now or in the future. What kind of things are you looking for from the job or from me as a manager?”

Then they need to listen actively to the responses. “Does he want a chance to learn something new? Does she want exposure to the senior team?”

Beyond simply listening, how managers respond — verbally and nonverbally — and what they say or don’t say is also critical. Responses like “that’s unrealistic” or “tell me why you are worth that” will halt the dialogue and cause employees to clam up.

What managers ask and how they respond during a stay interview will determine the outcome of this important interaction.

What if managers can’t give what their people want? Many managers don’t ask because they fear one of two common responses: a request for a raise or a promotion. They might not be able to deliver on those kinds of requests — at least not in the near future.

So, what should they do? Use these four steps as a starting point:

  1. Tell employees how much they’re valued. “You’re worth that and more to me.”
  2. Tell the truth about the obstacles you face in granting their requests. “I’d love to say yes, but I will need to investigate the possibility. I’m honestly not sure what I can do immediately, given some recent budget cuts.”
  3. Care enough to look into their requests. “I hear your request. Let me look into it and let’s meet again next Friday to talk about possibilities.”
  4. Ask, What else? “Meanwhile, Ken, what else matters to you? What else are you hoping for?”

If you ask “what else?” you’re likely to get two to three requests that you can deliver on. Though salary is important, people want more from work than just a paycheck. In fact, according to our ongoing survey data, of the top five “stay factors,” four are within managers’ control.

The top “stay factors” are:

  • exciting, challenging or meaningful work;
  • being recognized, valued and respected;
  • supportive management/good boss;
  • career growth, learning and development;
  • job location;
  • job security and stability;
  • fair pay;
  • flexible work environment;
  • pride in the organization, its mission or product;
  • fun, enjoyable work environment;
  • working with great co-workers or clients;
  • good benefits;
  • and loyalty and commitment to co-workers or boss.