When do you think most leaders ask questions like “What can I do to keep you?”
You’re right: it’s in the exit interview. At that point it’s typically too late. The talented employee already has one foot out the door!
Have you ever wondered why we ask great questions in exit interviews but neglect to ask early enough to make a difference? Love ‘Em Leaders do ask. They ask early and often, they listen carefully to the answers, and they link arms with their talent to help them get more of what they want, right where they are.
A crucial strategy for engaging and retaining talent is having conversations with every person you hope will stay on your team. We coined the term stay interview to describe those chats. If you hold stay interviews, you’ll have less regrettable turnover and fewer exit interviews!
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?” Managers dance around this core subject usually for one of three reasons:
• Some managers 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 managers’ 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?)
What if you don’t ask ? What if you just keep trying to guess what Tara or Mike or Akina really wants? 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 asking leads to stronger loyalty and commitment to you and the organization. In other words, just asking the question is an effective engagement and retention strategy.
How and when do you bring up this topic? How can you increase the odds of getting honest input from your employees ? There is no 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 purpose 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:
You are invited to attend . . .
. . . 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 using 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.
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 up 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.
For a decade now, we’ve collected managers’ favorite stay interview questions. Here are the top 13:
1. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
2. What makes you hit the snooze button?
3. If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about your job?
4. What one change in your current role would make you consider leaving this job?
5. If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about this department, team, organization?
6. As your manager, what could I do a little more of or a little less of?
7. If you had to go back to a position in your past and stay for an extended period of time , which one would it be and why?
8. What do you need to learn to work at your best?
9. What makes for a great day?
10. What can we do to make your job more satisfying?
11. What can we do to support your career goals?
12. Do you get enough recognition? How do you like to be recognized?
13. What do you want to learn this year?
Let these ideas serve as catalysts for your own thinking. Create a list of your favorite questions. Ask them of your talented people. And ask again, listen carefully, and customize your retention efforts. Bottom Line Stop guessing what will keep your stars happy and on your team. Gather your courage and conduct stay interviews with the employees you want to keep.
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.
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