A VALUABLE TOOL FOR EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
When a valued employee suddenly and unexpectedly gives his or her notice, managers and supervisors will want to know why. Often, they will seek the answer in the “exit interview,” the standard meeting between outgoing employees and their bosses. The concept of exit interviews raises an obvious question: Would it not be better to find out why valued employees may want to leave before they turn in their resignation letters?
Consultant Richard Finnegan agrees and offers a solution: the “stay” interview. In his book The Stay Interview: A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest, Finnegan lays out the process for regular face-to-face meetings during which managers can pre-emptively uncover problems and concerns and resolve them.
Questions and Probes
The goal of the stay interview, and one that differentiates it from performance reviews or personal-development meetings, is for the employee to set the agenda, not the manager. This does not mean that the manager should not prepare for the meeting. On the contrary, managers should prepare as much as possible, Finnegan writes. For example, he suggests that before the meeting managers prepare two lists: an “important to them” list and a “my beliefs” list. The “important to them” list is an effort to anticipate (and thus be prepared to respond to) all the issues and concerns that the employee might have. “Avoid falling into the trap of thinking that if something is important to you, then it must be important to everybody,” warns Finnegan. “Conducting effective stay interviews requires putting your needs on the sidelines and focusing entirely on those of your employees.” The “my beliefs” list must follow this rule. It is a list of solutions or suggestions that managers believe should be offered (if the employee does not ask for them first) because they believe the employee will benefit from them.
The next step is to prepare the questions for the interview that will, in essence, help the employee set the agenda — that is, keep the meeting focused on his or her needs and not the needs of the manager. Finnegan offers five key questions to use in the interviews:
When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to?
What are you learning here?
Why do you stay here?
When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?
What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?
These questions are the opening to the conversations. Each question, Finnegan emphasizes, must be followed up with what he calls “probes”: questions designed to dig deep into the reasoning of the employee’s responses. Effective probing will reveal the core emotions, concerns or challenges at the heart of the first responses to the questions.
Four Essential Skills
Probing, according to Finnegan, is one of the four essential skills required to make stay interviews work. Listening and taking notes are also essential skills, but it may be the fourth skill that Finnegan highlights that may be the most challenging to managers: supporting the employee without throwing the company under the bus. It’s easy in such situations to commiserate with the employee about the unfairness of the situation. In the long run, however, an employee is not going to stay engaged in a company in which even middle managers agree that the executives don’t know what they’re doing. Managers, Finnegan writes, should respond by expressing to employees their trust in top management — a trust that must be sincere. If managers have their own doubts about the company, they are not in a good position to work with employees on engagement.
Finnegan’s comprehensive guide, which covers all the facets of stay interviews, including developing stay plans and avoiding interview traps, does not gloss over the challenge of keeping the best and brightest in the company. In The Stay Interview, he introduces a valuable employee engagement tool that is realistic and practical but requires a conscientious effort from both parties.