Article: How 'Stay Conversations' can be used as a retention tool

Performance Management

How 'Stay Conversations' can be used as a retention tool

Open ended conversations with key talent are an excellent way to help them feel connected and engaged. 'Stay Conversations' provide an opportunity for long-term relationship building with your team members

Stay conversations are thoughtful dialogues intended to let key talent individuals know that the company appreciates and values them


Content is not critical, it's your intent that counts. Your goal is to connect and make this person feel valued and appreciated


Ritesh Agrawal, Vice President - Talent Management, ING Life Insurance answers the FAQs related to ‘Stay Conversations’ and how the practice can be used as an effective retention tool.

Stay Conversations’ are thoughtful dialogues intended to let key talent individuals know that the company appreciates and values them. They are particularly timely and effective during periods of organisational uncertainty and stress. They are a company’s best means of retaining key talent without over-promising or over-paying. You should have stay conversations with all key talent individuals that have been identified as being crucially important to the future success of the organisation. Stay Conversations will help you to make key talent individuals feel connected, listened to, and supported during a time when they may be feeling unappreciated, vulnerable, or frustrated.

How to initiate a stay conversation?

Keep it informal. Look for opportunities when you can suggest a cup of coffee, lunch, or an afternoon break together. Allow enough time to really listen to what the individual is trying to say. If you try to force a stay conversation into a five minute timeframe, you may end up actually doing more harm than good. At the same time, put a limit on how much time you want to spend to accomplish your goal… 30-45 minutes should be adequate.

What should I actually say during a stay conversation?

Content is not critical; it’s your intent that counts. Your goal is to connect and make this person feel valued and appreciated. You are paying them with your time and attention and this “soft currency” goes a long way in terms of talent retention.

Furthermore, having stay conversations help in preventing the departure of the talent by establishing “Push” factors that might be encouraging the person to leave. The whole purpose of stay conversations is to prevent the need for “exit interviews.” Stay conversations are proactive attempts to discover the problems before a person’s decision to leave moves past the tipping point.

Ideas to start a conversation could be: Like mentioned earlier, start conversations have to be informal in nature and there are various ways in which the conversation can be initiated like,

“I just wanted to catch-up and discuss how things are going. Tell me what’s going on and what we might need to talk more about;” “I just wanted to spend a few minutes connecting on what’s going on in your world. Fill me in on how you’re doing;” “I realise things are not clear right now. How is that impacting you? Is there anything I could be doing differently that would make things easier for you?” Remember to keep questions open ended.

Are stay conversations necessary if things are going ok? Why stir up trouble if people aren’t expressing any concerns?

Typically, key talent individuals aren’t whiners and complainers. They simply keep quiet, until they hand you their resignation and then it’s usually too late to recover. So even if you think everything is fine, it’s wise to double check during periods of turbulence and ambiguity. You may not like turning over rocks and looking for snakes, but if a snake is really there, better to know about it before it surprises you.

Isn’t there some risk that the person I’m conversing with will see this as an opportunity to make demands or to ask for things I can’t deliver?

Truthfully, this can happen anytime and not just during stay conversations. So that’s no excuse not to have them. It’s actually unusual for key talent individuals to take advantage of a stay conversation. To the contrary, they are usually flattered and appreciative that you’ve taken the time to check in with them and help them feel connected. However, you should be prepared to say no to unreasonable requests and refuse to take on unsolvable problems. It’s your willingness to listen that makes a stay conversation work and not what you can promise.

What kind of things can I say that will make people feel valued and appreciated, while still honouring the fact that I can’t promise them what they really want, which is an end to the uncertainty and a promise of job security?

You can say that you appreciate their patience, that you value their contributions, and that you hope they will feel comfortable coming to you with any problems they are experiencing. You can tell them that you genuinely hope they will stick with the organisation through this period of uncertainty because you believe they will have many opportunities regardless of the outcome. You can tell them that you wish you could reduce their anxiety and that you would like to end the uncertainty. You can also tell them that you are experiencing some of the same anxiety and discomfort they are feeling (if that’s the truth). Demonstrating a little vulnerability is a great way to connect with people on an emotional level. They aren’t counting on you to have all the answers or to fix all the problems. They are simply counting on you to help them weather the storm.

Aren’t stay conversations just common sense, or good management?

They’re both, but not common practice. Many managers avoid their key talent individuals during periods of uncertainty because they don’t want to know if they are at risk of losing them. Others take their key talent individuals for granted not realizing that even though they are performing well, and being low-maintenance, they may be accepting calls from professional search firms.

Is one round of stay conversations enough?

Stay conversations are a process and not an event. Although one time interaction may be enough, but it’s more likely that you’ll need to have several conversations to keep key talent individuals connected and motivated. You’ll need to keep your ear to the ground and listen for faint signals of discontent. You’ll also need to sense when announcements or changes stir up concern requiring additional stay conversations.

How can I find time to have all these stay conversations?

You can either find time to have them, or spend time figuring out how to make your organisation successful without these key talent individuals. Spending time retaining highly qualified and highly skilled individuals is the best investment of time you can make.

Why not have stay conversations with everyone in my team?

It’s simply a matter of time and priorities. So identify the most critical individuals in your team and make sure you have conversations with them first. If you retain these high profile, well-respected team members, they will help model ‘staying behaviour’ for others to follow.

What if a stay conversation doesn’t go well? What if the person admits that they are considering leaving or that they’re in conversation with another company about an opportunity that looks attractive?

Perfect. The process is working. That’s exactly what you were trying to discover. Sounds like there is still time to rescue this individual since he/she has not yet made up their mind to leave the organisation. This gives you a chance to explore their motives and see if you can meet some of their needs more effectively than the recruiter. Don’t be afraid to probe into their interests and desires. And don’t be afraid to surface their fears and frustrations with the current situation. You may not be able to resolve all their concerns, but the fact that you are willing to listen and address their needs is more powerful than an unknown recruiter’s empty promises.

Isn’t it being inauthentic if I encourage good people to stay with the organisation when they have opportunities with other companies that offer more security and less ambiguity? After all, I genuinely care about these people?

Caring is what good management is all about and authenticity is what stay conversations are all about. It’s not your job to persuade anyone to stay in a position that isn’t in their own best interest. But very often, during periods of organisational turbulence, people make bad career decisions just to resolve the uncertainty they’re experiencing. They jump ship, even when that decision is not the best decision for their career. They accept a job they don’t really want, just to ensure that they have a job.

Ritesh Agrawal is Vice President- Talent Management in a leading Insurance Company. An alumnus of XLRI, Jamshedpur, he has over 14 years of rich and diverse experience with reputed Organizations. The views expressed in this article are his, and not necessarily that of the Organization, he works for. Ritesh can be reached at or at

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Topics: Performance Management, Culture, Employee Engagement

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