Note from Bob: My friends Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans have just released the 6th Edition of their Updated “Love Em or Lose ‘Em.” With over 750,000 sold this is a “Must Buy” book for every leader!
When do you think most leaders ask questions like “What can I do to keep you?”
You’re right: they ask during 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 collaborate with their talented people to hep them get more of what they want, right where they are.
Two decades ago, we coined the term stay interview to describe a conversation that leaders need to have with the people they cannot afford to lose. It all started when we answered the call to help a Silicon Valley company increase the odds of holding on to key talent.
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:
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 an invitation to give his key people some time to think and to prepare for the conversation.
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 responses.
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 11, in no particular order.
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 then act. Collaborate with your employees to find ways to fulfill their requests.
Note: Don’t ask until you’re ready to act!
Are the managers you manage conducting stay interviews? If so, that’s outstanding. If not, they need to start. Your job is to teach those you lead how to ask these crucial questions of their talent, how to prepare for employees’ responses (including the tough requests), and then how to make something happen! Hold managers accountable for conducting stay interviews with all those they hope will stay on the team and in the enterprise. Ask them to share with you the personalized creative strategies they create with their talent. Better yet, bring your team of leaders together and have them share their experience with stay interviews. This joint sharing will spark great ideas.
Stop guessing what will keep your talent happy and on your team. Gather your courage and conduct stay interviews with the employees you want to keep, no matter their age, gender, or cultural background. Set aside time to start the dialogue. Don’t guess and don’t assume they all want the same thing (like pay or a promotion). Schedule another meeting if they need to think about it for a while.
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