Leadership: Building Trust through Stay Interviews

Many buzzwords in the world of employment – “engagement” “retention” “turnover” “employee satisfaction” – are really revolving around the basic concept of how an employee feels about his/her job.  Does he/she like it?  Hate it?  Want something better?  This is the great mystery for companies trying to reduce retention, increase engagement, or just improve productivity and performance by keeping their top employees.  To accomplish this, I frequently share my favorite ‘leadership tool’ – a very simple idea that has an amazing ability to help leaders view things differently, take action in a meaningful way and help keep the best employees engaged.  It is called a ‘Stay Interview’.

First, consider the fairly common practice of an Exit Interview.  This will typically include questions like “why are you leaving?” or “what might have kept you here?” in an effort to understand what could improve or change to improve employee satisfaction, and curb future turnover.

I see a couple few problems with that practice:

  • The employee may or may not be share complete truth.  (The problem is, we don’t ever really know.  We likely will second guess everything, because everything they say might be either “too negative” or “too positive”).
  •  Because they are leaving, they no longer have a vested interest in actual improvement.
  • It’s likely too late to “save” them.  That time has passed… trust has likely diminished, they have mentally checked out and moved on.
  • This information is usually shared with HR, who is one step removed from the all-important Manager/Employee relationship, where understanding, communication, and trust are critical.

and the list goes on…

Now, am I advocating to stop doing exit interviews?  Nope.  They have a good role and purpose in the overall picture… but I do advocate considering an additional leadership tool – a Stay Interview.stay interview

A Stay Interview takes a very similar conversation and brings it into the midst of the person’s employment.  Find out why a person stays with the company, what keeps them here, what they might suggest to improve, etc.  Suddenly, as a manager, you find yourself in a position of more control, because you are finding out what it will take to keep that person around and engaged!

I recommend focusing on two simple areas:

1) What keeps you here with the company today?  (Or, what do you like about your job?  What gets you excited to come to work?  Is there anything you don’t like about your job currently?)

2) What will keep you here with the company in the future? (What would you like to learn? What upcoming/future work would you like to be a part of?)

(I have shared a list of specific questions here to reference if you like.)

These questions can be as formal or informal, depending on your style and preference; I recommend asking these types of questions about once a month.  As you do that consistently over time, you will start to form a collection of notes describing what is important to that person;understanding is the first step in keeping them engaged and happy with the company (action on those notes will be the all-important next step).

I recommend leaders of all levels engage in these conversations with their employees.  Very simple, but when done properly (and with a foundation of trust, connection, and rapport) something magical will happen:  conversations open up, trust increases, opportunities to work together will emerge, and, most importantly:  they will stay!!!

 Here’s some really good information about Stay Interviews:



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