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Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss: A Manager's Playbook

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Stay interviews prevent exit interviews!

You can't afford to lose them. They're your stars and your solid citizens. You wonder if they're happy in your organization—and what might keep them there. To find out, you could:
A. Conduct a survey—then try to guess who said what.
B. Take note of their latest tattoos. Is your company logo among them?
C. Ask, “What will keep you here?”

The correct answer is C. It's the opening line of a great stay interview, and it could make the difference between keeping and losing your best people.

Worried that your talented people will want things you can't deliver, like more money or a big promotion? Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans have a simple four-step process for dealing with that. Not sure how to get started? They provide dozens of suggested questions and icebreakers. Think you don't have time? They offer all kinds of creative time-saving options for where, when, and how you can do stay interviews.

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Chapter One: Why Bother?

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Why bother? What’s in it for you?

You’re busy, perhaps busier than you’ve ever been in your life. Why would you consider adding one more item to your overwhelming to-do list? Why take the time and make the effort to conduct stay interviews?

The answer is that you should conduct stay interviews because you want to:

better understand all of your employees. What makes them unique and special? What do they bring to the team? And what do they want more of … or less of?

demonstrate that you value them as human beings, that you care. This assumes, of course, you actually do care.

encourage them to stay on your team. It’s very expensive to lose them. You want them to stay, both physically and psychologically. You want them to love coming to work with you and for you. You want them to bring their creativity, energy, and effort with them.

You’ve already seen the numbers. You know, the ones that tell you how much it costs when a talented employee walks out your door. It’s been well documented that it costs 70 percent to 400 percent of an employee’s annual salary to replace him or her. Some of those costs are easy to measure and are sometimes called “hard costs.” Think about one talented person you lost recently. What did it cost your organization to replace her? Did you:

 

Chapter Two: Is It Art or Science?

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Is the stay interview an art or a science? It’s both.

The best stay interviews are a perfect blend of two things:

1. The person you bring to it. That’s about your authenticity, attitude, and mind-set.

2. The process, tools, and action steps you use. We’re giving you some of those in this book.

Great stay interviews require your genuine caring and curiosity. They also involve creating just the right questions, given your style and the employee’s. They require anticipating what your talented employees might ask of you and carefully preparing for any hard-to-deliver-on requests. And they include listening artfully as people tell you what matters most to them.

You might be thinking that this sounds like the once-a-year conversations you’re required to have with your employees. But is it really? Or is that annual (often mandatory) conversation actually a performance appraisal? You know, where you list what they’ve done well, where they’ve fallen short, and what you hope they’ll do differently next year.

 

Chapter Three: What’s Holding You Back?

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What’s holding you back? Are you worried about what they’ll ask for?

Picture this: Your boss calls you in and says, “You are so important to me and to this team. I probably don’t tell you that often enough. But I can’t imagine losing you. So I’d like to know, what will keep you here … and happy? And what might entice you away?”

Have you ever had a boss do that, perhaps in almost those exact words? If so, how did it feel? We’ve asked hundreds of people that question, and in response we hear things like, “It felt great. I felt important. I felt valued.” One manager raised his hand and said, “It felt a little late. It was in the exit interview.”

If it was a little late for you, or if you’ve never had a boss do that, you’re not alone. In fact, less than 10 percent of employees have had a boss tell them how much they matter, let alone ask what will keep them engaged and on the team.

Instead, well-intentioned bosses just keep guessing. And they often guess wrong. They guess you want a promotion when you really want to learn something new. Or they guess you want a raise when you’d prefer more time off to be with your family.

 

Chapter Four: What Else Is Worrying You?

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What else is worrying you? Can’t put your finger on it?

Managers’ most common fear is that they will be unable to deliver on employees’ requests. You now know how to successfully navigate that potentially tricky situation by using four simple steps. But managers have told us they have other worries, too, and that some of those concerns prevent them from conducting stay interviews. Check out these what ifs. Do any of them feel familiar?

Remember that this is not an interrogation … it’s a conversation, and hopefully one in an ongoing series of conversations. It’s okay not to know. Some people will be surprised by your questions and need some time to think about it. Let them think, schedule another meeting, and set the stage for an ongoing dialogue about your employees’ wants, needs, and career goals. Engaging and keeping your talent is a process, not an event.

By the way, a psychologist once told us that when you ask questions and the answer is “I don’t know,” you can ask, “Well, if you did know …” and you’ll get an answer! Go figure.

 

Chapter Five: Do They Trust You Enough?

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Do they trust you enough? We hope the answer is yes.

Some people said we could skip this chapter, that everyone already knows about this. Others said that trust has nothing to do with stay interviews. Still others said that this book would be incomplete without a trust chapter. We’re with them!

We’ve noticed that trust has everything to do with stay interviews. In fact, trust (actually lack of trust) is often the “elephant in the room.” No one wants to really talk about it or recognize it, so we talk over it, under it, around it. Ultimately, though, the elephant is in the way, so we have to acknowledge it. And often we need to do something about it!

Think back to a time when you had a manager you didn’t completely trust. How might a stay interview have gone? Here is what some in this situation have said:

“I consciously kept all conversations with her light, even superficial.”

“I avoided telling the truth about how I really felt or what I really wanted.”

 

Chapter Six: Will You Make the Time?

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Will you make the time? This is a good question.

We know you can’t manufacture time. But you can effectively manage it and make room in your calendar for something that really matters.

Did your dentist ever tell you to just floss the teeth you hope to keep? Along similar lines, we’re saying, “Just hold stay interviews with the people you hope to keep.” For many of you, that’s a lot of people, and it may feel like it will take a lot of time.

MANAGER: I don’t have time for these stay interviews.

US: How will you have time, then, to recruit, interview, select, orient, and train replacements for the talent you lose?

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. And there is no best time to ask. It depends on you, your organization’s culture, your access to employees, and their styles and preferences.

How, when, and where might you hold stay interviews? It depends. Where does your employee live and work? What does she prefer as far as meeting times and places? What have you done before that worked well for you and your employee? Here are examples of some times and places managers have chosen to have these ongoing conversations with their talent.

 

Chapter Seven: Have You Noticed Lately?

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Have you noticed lately? Noticed what?

Conduct ongoing stay interviews with everyone you hope to keep engaged and on your team. Make these conversations a normal part of doing business and of being an effective leader. Take note of those who appear engaged and happy with you and with their jobs. Also take note of those whose job EKG has gone flat for some reason. Could they be considering leaving?

Think about the last talented person who left your team. Did you see it coming? One manager told the following story:

She walked into my office with a letter in her hand and a stressed look on her face. She said she had just accepted a new job, outside of our company. I was shocked. She was a key employee and had been working on a special project with a cross-functional team of carefully selected people. When I asked why she was leaving, she said that there didn’t appear to be a terrific next step for her in our company and this project was winding down. No one, including me, had talked to her about her career path and opportunities for her inside our company. She was unhappy at work and I didn’t know it.

 

Chapter Eight: Does Practice Make Perfect?

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Does practice make perfect? It gets you closer.

We’ve asked dozens of managers how they get ready for stay interviews. What follows are a few of their answers. Which approaches do you already use? Which new ones might work for you?

Wait, isn’t hunch a noun? Yes. And today it’s also a new verb: an action you take as you prepare for the stay interview.

One manager hunched, “She’s brilliant. In fact, she’s one of the best nurses we’ve ever hired. I can’t imagine losing her—and I have no idea if we’re vulnerable or not. I pondered that question, along with several others. Is she happy here? Is there something missing? Is she ready for a new challenge? My hunch is that she might want to learn something new, or she could be ready for a bigger job.”

That’s all there is to it. It’s guessing, but it’s guessing based on paying attention to what you know and what you’ve seen and heard. It’s not magic and it’s not just an intuitive sense, although intuition certainly might play a part.

 

Chapter Nine: How’s That Working for You?

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How’s that working for you? We’ve asked hundreds of managers that question over the past sixteen years. Many respond, “I’ve learned a lot … and used what I learned.”

Here are three success stories. Read each one, then answer this question: What did the boss do well in this stay interview? At the end of the chapter, check out our opinion about what these managers did well.

MANAGER: Thanks for meeting with me today. I know that times are tense right now. Ever since the layoff announcement, I’ve been concerned about you. I hope you know that I want you to stay.

YOUNG ENGINEER: Well, to be honest, I’ve updated my résumé and have gone on a couple of interviews. I think I’ll have a job offer by the end of the week. I know the younger engineers are the first ones to go during a reduction in force. I’m one of those people.

MANAGER: You have a great future here, and I’ll do everything I can to protect you during these downsizings. I need you here!

 

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