It doesn’t matter so much where, when, or how you ask – But what will matter is 'ask to listen' and 'act to care'
HR asks employees the reasons for leaving at the time of exit interviews? Who is trying to understand why people stay in this company? I love this company and as long as my reasons for staying hold strong, I will like to stay.” This is a part of conversation that stayed with me long after the meeting with a high potential employee in my company ended. Constantly being nagged by this question, I embarked on the journey to understand more about Stay interviews.
During the late 90s, Beverly Kaye, Founder and Chairwoman of Career Systems International, was consulting for a large company that wanted to retain 38 people on its SAP team. Kaye asked the team members two questions: What could the company do to keep them, and what would entice them to leave the company? This exercise Kaye conducted is what we call today, a Stay Interview. A “stay interview” is a periodic one-on-one structured quasi-retention conversation between a manager and a highly valued “at-risk-of-leaving employee” that identifies and then reinforces the factors that drive an employee to stay. It also identifies and minimizes any “triggers” that might cause them to consider quitting.
For businesses, retention of key and critical employees is the real game to stay competitive. Many companies reach out to employees in their own different ways. Some do it like the classical HR business partners, doing one-on-one meetings; some do pre-exit meetings with people likely to exit; some use traditional focus group discussion and some have come up with early warning metrics to identify potential attrition. Irrespective of the path chosen, all organizations will agree that losing employees is a costly affair, and it’s not only the costs you incur in hiring and training new employees but goes beyond like lowered initial productivity of new hire, overworked remaining staff and ‘lost knowledge’.
Stay interviews remain a potent, though largely unused tool towards this end. A stay interview helps in understanding why employees stay, so that those important factors can be reinforced.There are numerous benefits of a stay interview like unlike engagement surveys or group discussions, this is about what matters to the employee,where the conversation is focused on identifying and reinforcing the positive factors about the job and actions that can be discussed and agreed upon.
However, before conducting a stay interview, managers need training on how to conduct the interview, the questions to ask, how to build trust, and how to effectively listen. Managers need to understand that the essence is in the conversation and need to take into consideration the following points:
Be genuine, or don’t do it at all
The sad thing is if you ask "What's important to you" and the employee replies "I want more challenging work," and then you say "That's good" and move on to the next question, instead of asking "So what would challenge you?" Be willing to go deeper on the answers you get.
Don’t trivialize how your employees feel
As Tom Peters famously said, ‘perception is everything!’ You may agree or disagree with the views expressed, but nonetheless, they are the current reality of the employees. Beyond listening, you need to respond, and what you say is critical.
Keep it disconnected from performance discussions
It is critical to build trust & confidence around this exercise. That will not happen if employees view it as another performance discussion or worse, are afraid that what they say can be used against them.
Informal yet actionable
The manager must discuss possible courses of action to reinforce what the employee values. If you can’t deliver, tell them the truth. But also tell them you’ll investigate the possibilities.
There are numerous ways to retain employees, but approaches that target employees with the assumption that ‘one size will fit all’ are likely to be unsuccessful. Asking will not only make your talent feel valued, but their answers will provide the information you need to customize strategies to keep each of them engaged. It doesn’t matter so much where, when, or how you ask – But what will matter is ask to listen and act to care.