Don’t Wait for the Exit Interview (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this article, drawing from The Power of Stay Interviews, by Richard P. Finnegan, we looked at some traditional means of managing employee retention and why they often don’t work. We also considered the main reasons employees choose to stay with a particular employer (or not), and what commonly contributes to that decision. As the title of his books suggests, Finnegan advocates stay interviews as one of the most important tools for cultivating employee engagement and improving retention. Finnegan’s defines a stay interview as:

“A structured discussion a leader conducts with each individual employee to learn the specific actions that leader must take to strengthen the employee’s engagement and retention with the organization.”

He identifies the following core features of effective stay interviews:

  1. Stay interviews must be conducted by a leader who manages the employee directly.
  2. Cascade stay interviews from the top. In order to better understand the process and to learn from personal experience, “all leaders, except the top executives, should first experience a stay interview as an employee.”
  3. Whenever possible, conduct stay interviews in person.
  4. Schedule stay interviews in advance and honor the allocated time (Finnegan suggests 20-30 minutes). Building in a little buffer time beyond the scheduled meeting will ensure that important conversations are not cut short.
  5. Separate stay interviews from performance appraisals or performance management discussions. The objective of the stay interview is to identify what the employer can do to keep the employee engaged and committed to the organization.
  6. Prepare a scripted introduction that starts the conversation moving in the right direction and, at the same time, avoids any suggestion of an implied contract. (Finnegan provides a few sample openings on page 29).

A stay interview is just a specialized form of one-on-one meeting that aims to draw out what really motivates a particular employee. Regular, personal interaction with a direct supervisor is one of the most powerful tools for building strong, trusting relationships that keep people engaged and help organizations out-perform. A stay interview simply focuses the conversation around what makes an employee stay and what might make them leave.

Finnegan offers the following questions that you might ask in a typical stay interview:

  • What do you like most and least about working here?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Describe your dream job.
  • Why do you stay?
  • Why might you leave?
  • What makes a good day here?
  • What more do you want to learn?
  • How can I help?

Most importantly, keep the questions open-ended and be prepared to probe with follow-up questions when answers are incomplete or noncommittal. You can find more examples of stay interview questions here and here.

Sometimes, employee requests that emerge from a stay interview will have to be researched to find out whether they can be met by the organization. If the conversation moves into unknown territory, be prepared to stop the meeting so you can investigate further, and then provide a valid response at a scheduled follow up discussion.

Of course, not every request made by an employee during a stay interview can be met. Some things may be outside the scope of the manager’s control, or may simply be unworkable for the organization. Taking some time in advance to think about these types of questions (e.g. immediate pay increases, work schedule changes that would negatively impact operations, etc.) and preparing scripted responses can avoid triggering frustration that might derail your process. If you're considering stay interviews as part of your employee retention strategy, this two part article should get you started. For more guidance on implementing stay interviews and training leaders to conduct them, Finnegan's book is a useful resource. 

One final note. The most critical component of stay interviews (like all leadership commitments), is follow-through. The time and effort expended in training leaders, drawing out employees, and planning and conducting the interviews will be wasted if nothing is acted upon. When you make the effort to meet with employees and ask them what matters to them, you open the door to a more meaningful and trusting relationship. Failing to follow through may slam that door in your face and encourage your people to open it somewhere else.


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Don’t Wait for the Exit Interview (Part 1)

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While it makes sense to ask a departing employee why she’s chosen to leave, it’s a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has galloped off into the sunset. Employee retention is critical, and engagement is personal. That’s why finding out what didn’t work for the one who’s leaving, may not give you the information you need to keep the people you still have. Photo by Daivd, Wikimedia Commons In The Power of Stay Interviews, Richard P. Finnegan suggests a more proactive approach to retaining your best employees. …

When Employees are Caregivers

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Recently, I attended a conference for the families and caregivers of children with a rare genetic disorder that’s generally accompanied by a wide range of special needs. It quickly became obvious that everyone in attendance was highly committed to ensuring the best possible outcomes and quality of life for their loved ones. The amount of time and energy required to deliver on that commitment was, in many cases, extraordinary.  Photo by Philippe Leroyer, Flickr So how, I wondered, do they juggle personal and professional commitments on top of the extra demands of supporting a child with special …

The Customer is (Not) Always Right

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No one likes to terminate an employee. In fact, many managers rank firing someone as the hardest or worst part of their job. While it makes sense to do everything possible to retain someone you’ve invested the time and resources into hiring, there comes a time when you just have to show a problem employee the door. But this article is not about that. This article is about the one other time management will bend over backwards to make things work; struggle valiantly to smooth things over; or simply refuse to acknowledge what’s going.  I …

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Employee Retention Secret Sauce

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Employees leave for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common include:  Engaged employees stay longer Inadequate current compensation (or better compensation elsewhere). Limited opportunity for advancement. Feeling undervalued. A poor relationship with immediate supervisor or manager. Lack of organizational support. We’ve all heard the comment “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers.” It turns out that’s not the whole story. While the relationship with an immediate supervisor is highly influential, studies have found that perceived organizational support can actually mitigate the impact of a bad manager when it comes …

Paid Wedding Leave – Not!

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Did you know employers in Spain are required to provide 15 days paid wedding leave to employees who are getting married? In Croatia, marriage is considered an “important personal need” and, therefore, qualifies for up to 7 day paid leave from work.[1]  This type of personal leave is also available in a number of African countries (including Libya, South Africa and Togo).[2] Wedding Ducks, Rystheguy, Wikimedia Commons Other countries in Europe and around the world provide varying amounts of paid leave for employees who are getting married, either in the form of specific wedding leave or as an …

3 Things That Make a Huge Difference to Employee Satisfaction

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The average time an employee stays at any one employer right now is 4.4 years. For Millennials, the number is expected to be half that.[1] In spite of tight job markets, employees who feel undervalued, who lack confidence in management or have poor relationships with colleagues and managers, leave. Current research suggests, if average tenure is to lengthen, the quality of the work experience will be the deciding factor. Employee Appreciation Cupcakes, Wikimedia Commons According to the 2012 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report, compensation comes third on employees list of concerns. The CEB Quarterly Global …

How to Spot and Nurture Your Intrapreneurs

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Businesses are like people. They grow, they change, they spin-off into bigger spaces and they mature. When small companies become huge companies, they adopt a different attitude to risk and often take much longer to innovate and make decisions. These changes may range from subtle to extreme, but they come naturally with corporate maturity. Ashoka Intrapreneur by Wil Kristin, Flikr In the beginning, the shots are called by founders and entrepreneurs, with their eyes glued to immediacy and the opportunity. Over time, decisions are taken on by more cautious types, who see more merit in process and risk management. Even …

It’s All About Retention

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The most recent release of results from the ongoing National Study of Employers[1] identifies the following five trends between 2008 (in some cases 2005) and 2014. Trend #1: The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act has leveled the playing field—12 weeks has become the norm for leaves for childbirth, adoption, foster care placement, a serious personal medical condition or care of a child or spouse with a serious medical condition; at the same time, longer leaves are less available. Trend #2: Demographics are destiny, though legal and attitudinal shifts have an impact, too! Trend #3: Smaller employers are big leaders in providing flexibility and in not …

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