You depend on your high-performing team members to grow your business and keep it running smoothly. So it’s important to check in with them from time to time. You need to find out how they’re feeling about their job, the workplace and their future in the firm. That’s the premise behind conducting stay interviews. You want to uncover any latent concerns or issues that could be troubling them before they escalate into real problems.
Exchanging insights, not evaluations
Richard P. Finnegan, the man who literally wrote the book on the subject, The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, defines a stay interview as “a structured discussion a leader conducts with an individual employee to learn specific actions the leader can take to strengthen the employee’s engagement and retention with the organization.”
It’s worth noting upfront what a stay interview is not. It is not an evaluation of the employee or their performance. Nor is it an invitation to the employee to evaluate the leader conducting the interview. The purpose is to have a conversation with the employee. Learn what they like about their role in the firm and what they would like to change. The focus should be on positive actions that can be taken to help the employee increase their contribution to the firm. It should have an eye toward enhancing their sense of engagement and giving them more incentive to remain with the firm for the long term.
Ideally, the stay interview should be conducted by the employee’s immediate supervisor. As stated in the definition, the person conducting the interview should come prepared with a set of questions designed to keep the conversation positive, focused and moving forward.
Five key questions
Finnegan suggests the interviewer need only ask five key questions to conduct an effective interview:
- What do you look forward to each day when you commute to work?
- What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn?
- Why do you stay here?
- When is the last time you thought about leaving us, and what prompted it?
- What can I do to make your job better for you?
With each of these questions, the interviewer should probe deeper if necessary to get specific, concrete details. Encourage the employee to be frank and express their preferences and aspirations.
Two aspects of the stay interview distinguish it from other types of employee evaluations or reviews. First, the interviewer is looking to find out what the leadership in the firm could or should be doing to better support the employee and enhance their sense of belonging in the firm. This could involve giving the employee more of what they need. That could include different types of assignments, more or needed resources, leadership opportunities, training or professional development, or perhaps greater flexibility or work/life balance.
Second, the interviewer needs to follow up within a reasonable amount of time. Have an engagement and retention plan for the employee ready to put into action. Imagine if the employee feels their needs and concerns have not been heard or that nothing of any real consequence will change as a result of the interview. They may become more dissatisfied and disengaged. Providing the employee with a concrete action plan will demonstrate leadership’s commitment to valuing and developing employees.
It’s important to acknowledge what the employee has said. But it’s not necessary to address or remediate all of their issues and concerns at one time. The action plan can lay out a series of steps or priorities that will be dealt with or implemented over a defined period of time. It should be reviewed with and agreed upon by the employee. Then it can be tracked to ensure progress is being made.
Building loyalty and trust
In addition to strengthening employee engagement and retention, stay interviews help to reinforce trust and loyalty between the employee, their supervisor and the firm. When employees see that leaders truly are listening to them and taking action on their behalf, they feel valued. They develop a deeper connection to the firm and are more invested in their own and its performance. Another benefit is that employees are more likely to raise issues or concerns with their supervisor sooner, rather than letting them evolve into problems.
As an added bonus, stay interviews help to develop leaders’ interpersonal skills. They also raise leaders’ awareness that, ultimately, they are responsible for creating a culture and work environment in which employees feel engaged and invested. If they want to retain their top performers, they need to demonstrate their interest in their welfare and give them the support they need to do their best work.