Bob:  Have you ever had one of your most valuable staff walk in and give you their two-week notice?  How successful were you at getting them to reconsider and stay?  Is your experience that once they “give notice” it is almost impossible to retain them?  It could, in fact, be too late to ask, “What will it take to keep you?” So when should you ask that question?  Would the obvious answer be:  Before they even begin to consider leaving?   That is why I love this book and am so pleased that the authors, Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans have given me their permission to share excerpts from Chapter One of LOVE ‘EM or LOSE ‘EM.

CHAPTER ONE:  ASK:  What Keeps You?

Why do we ask great questions in exit interviews but neglect asking early enough to make a difference?

Have you ever asked your employees what keeps them at your company or what might entice them away?  If not, why not?

Ask – So You Don’t Have to Guess

When we suggest asking employees why they stay or what would keep them, we hear, “You’ve got to be kidding, “Isn’t that illegal?” or “What if they give me an answer I don’t want to hear?”  We dance around this core subject usually for one of three reasons:

  • Some manager fear putting people on the spot or putting ideas into their heads (as if they never thought about leaving on their own)
  • Some managers are afraid they will be unable to do anything anyway, so why ask?  They fear that the question will raise more dust than they can settle and may cause employees to expect answers and solutions that are out of the manger’s hands.
  • Some managers say they don’t have the time to have these critical one-on-one discussions with their talented people.  There is an urgency to produce, leaving little time to listen, let alone ask.  If you don’t have time for these discussions with the people who contribute to your success, where will you find the time to interview, select, orient and train their replacements?

The Dangers of Guessing

What if you don’t ask?  What if you just keep trying to guess what Tara or Mike or Marilyn really want?  You will guess right sometimes.  The year-end bonus might please them all.  Money can inspire loyalty and commitment for the near term.  But if the key to retaining Tara is to give her a chance to learn something new, whereas Mike wants to telecommute, how could you ever guess that?  Ask – so you don’t have to guess.

Asking has positive side effects.  The person you ask will feel cared about, valued and important.  Many times that leads to stronger loyalty and commitment to you and the organization.  In other words, just asking the question is a retention strategy.

How to Ask

How and when do you bring up this topic?  How can you increase the odds of getting honest input from your employees?  There is not a single way or time to ask.  It could happen during a developmental or career discussion with your employees.  (You do hold those, don’t you?) Or you might schedule a meeting with your valued employees for the express prupose of finding out what will keep them.  One manager sent the following invitation to give his key people some time to think and to prepare for the conversation:


                The next step in your continued development.

                You make a difference and I value your contributions.

                Let’s discuss some things that are important to you and me:

                                What will keep you here?

                                What might entice you away?

                                What is most energizing about your work?

                                Are we fully utilizing your talents?

                                What is inhibiting your success?

                                What can I do differently to best assist you?

                Please schedule a meeting with me within the next two weeks to discuss this and anything

                else you’d like to talk about.

Regardless of when you start this dialogue, remember to set the context by telling your employees how critical they are to you and your team and how important it is to you that they stay.  Then find out what will keep them.  Listen carefully to their response.

He Dared To Ask

Charlie set up a meeting with his plant manager, Ken, for Monday morning.  After some brief conversation about the weekend activities, Charlie said, “Ken you are critical to me and to this organization.  I’m not sure I’ve told you that directly or often enough.  But you are.  I can’t imagine losing you.  So, I’d like to know what will keep you here.  And what might entice you away?”

Ken was a bit taken aback – but felt flattered.  He thought for a moment and then said, “you know, I aspire to move in the organization at some point, and I’d love to have some exposure to the senior team.  I’d like to see how they operate – and frankly I’d like them to get to know me too.”  Charlie responded, “I could take you with me to some senior staff meetings.  Would that be a start?”  Ken said, “that would be great.”

Charlie delivered on Ken’s request one week later.

They Asked

Thousands of manager have tried stay interviews, and many have sent us the results.  Here is a sampling:

  • “A 23-year veteran of our company had his resume’ updated and ready to distribute.  The ’ask’ conversation, along with my follow-through on his requests, saved this key employee for my team and the organization.”
  • “I switched the IT (information technology) component of one employee’s job to another employee, after discovering in ‘ask’ conversations with both that one disliked IT and the other wanted more of an IT role.”
  • “I noticed that one quality employee seemed stressed and was not performing well.  During the ‘ask’ conversation, she stated she was not interested in a promotion.  I moved her primary role to a lower-profile, less-stressful desk job.  She was thrilled and is now performing very well.”

What if these managers hadn’t asked?


Stop  guessing what will keep your stars home and happy. Gather your courage and conduct stay interview with the employees you want to keep.  Set aside time to start the dialogue. Don’t guess and don’t’ assume they all want the same thing (like pay or promotion).  Schedule another meeting if they need to think about it for a while.

This may be the most important strategy in this book.  Not only will asking make your talented people feel valued, but their answers will provide the information you need to customize strategies to keep each of them.

It doesn’t matter so much, where, when, or how you ask – just ASK!

Bob:  Buy LOVE ‘EM or LOSE ‘EM today!  You will be adding a valuable tool to your “Leading with Questions” toolbox filled with “26 Engagement Strategies for Busy Managers.”

Bev & Sharon each have their own independent companies that offer an array of specialized products and services.

Beverly Kaye founded Career Systems International more than three decades ago to offer innovative ways to help organizations solve their greatest talent challenges by engaging, developing and retaining their people.

Sharon Jordan-Evans, the founder of the Jordan-Evans Group, is a pioneer in the field of employee retention and engagement. She serves as a prominent speaker for numerous conferences and works with Fortune 500 companies such as American Express, Boeing, Disney, Lockheed, Cheesecake Factory, Monster, MTV, PBS, Sony, and Universal Studios. Sharon is a Professional Certified Coach, coaching the leaders companies can least afford to lose.

Which of your friends would thank you if you forwarded this post to them?


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2 thoughts on “ASK: What Keeps You?

  1. Amy says:

    Perfect timing! I’m about to have development discussions and today’s blog was a good reminder of how to find out what motivates my employees and what the want. I especially liked the invitation to the discussion.

    1. Amy don’t you just love, “Just in Time Knowledge?” Please check back and let us know how your development discussions went – what questions you asked – and what you discovered that you might have missed if you had not seen today’s post/excerpt!

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