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How to Conduct Stay Interviews: Preparation

Part 3

Two businessmen sitting in an office talking to each other.

This article is the third in a series of three excerpts from The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, Second Edition (SHRM, 2018) by Richard P. Finnegan.

Imagine nirvana: All of your leaders completely understand the full range of developmental tools available to them. Each leader has conducted a comprehensible stay interview with each employee to put all issues on the table.  The leaders each addressed those issues in the best possible ways. 

OK, snap out of it! Stay interviews will not lead to perfect outcomes, but they will certainly improve engagement and retention in your company. And they will do this by helping your leaders build more productive one-on-one relationships with their employees. 

Preparing for Basic Q&A

Provide your leaders with scripts of the questions and a list of top employee issues to facilitate the stay interview. Consider inviting a small group of leaders to provide input for the scripts so the content rings true to them and their peers. Possible issues employees raise include:

  1. What can I do to get out of working weekends?
  2. I'd like more input into company and department decisions.
  3. I can't live on my pay and I need a big raise.
  4. I'm bored and need to do something different.
  5. I perform better than others, yet they make more money.
  6. I wish I had a career here but I just don't see it that way.
  7. Healthcare premiums keep going up. Can't the company pay more?
  8. We need more people to get all this work done.
  9. Why can't we wear jeans Monday through Thursday instead of just Friday?
  10. Can I work different hours to avoid all the traffic? 

Each of these issues leads to a dead end for some companies or managers, and scripts are needed to get past that. For savvy organizations, though, these issues represent opportunities for improvement. 

Let's look first at the even-numbered items. For items 2, 4, and 6, smart leaders can establish ways for employees to gain more input, provide more duties or training to overcome boredom, and coach employees on careers or at least provide a plan for their development. The leaders can also address item 9 by directing their teams in ways that improve operating efficiencies (even if they can't get additional positions). And regarding item 10, why can't some employees work different schedules than others if they still get their work done? 

Each of these solutions requires careful planning so the resulting activities avoid detracting from day-to-day productivity and are administered in ways that are fair to others. But remember that increasing engagement and retention is hard work. Savvy managers must push themselves to see the big picture and invest time and energy to improve engagement and retention, which will greatly improve productivity. 

The odd-numbered items are more challenging. For item 1, it might be right to spare some employees from weekend work based on performance or length of service—or perhaps all should work weekends with no exceptions and each leader needs to enforce that policy. Broad pay questions that involve needing a large increase or comparing one's pay to others, such as items 3 and 5, will likely lead to scripted responses that essentially say no—unless the employee performs much better than others. 

Regarding health care contributions as in item 7, most employees know their payment amounts but not that of the company's and may soften their positions when given scripted information about the company's cost. And for item 9, maybe employees should be permitted to wear jeans every day—or maybe they shouldn't, depending on your company's beliefs. 

Our basic Q&A exercise offers several important conclusions about stay interview solutions:

  • Leaders who bring open minds to the process are far more capable of identifying solutions that improve engagement and retention. Approaching employee requests with a "why not?" approach versus a "that would never fly here" response will lead to greater success.
  • Leaders must also support company policies and executives above them by using the proper pronouns, like "we" and "I," rather than separate themselves from the management team by blaming those at higher levels and using "they."
  • Executives must be prepared for reasonable change; workplace and schedule flexibility is the number on policy reason why employees leave. Executives who hear an inside voice that says, "I had to drive in heavy traffic so they should too" must adapt, or they will become obstacles to improvement.
  • While stay interviews call for individualized solutions, they will also lead to healthy changes in departmental and company policies. Examples may include implementing flexible work schedules, permitting some work from home, or developing an effective method for instituting employee development plans. 

Know Your Company's Resources

Prepare yourself by making a list of available company resources to develop the most effective stay plans. Here are a few generic ones:

  • Your company's policy and process for job posting.
  • Developmental opportunities available in-house or via external sessions to build needed job skills.
  • Professional certifications for specific fields.
  • Mentoring, cross-training and other ways to use in-house experts to develop colleagues.
  • Professional readings that expand one's base of knowledge.
  • Specific skills required for next-step promotions and ways to build them.
  • Your company's policy for tuition reimbursement.
  • Projects that can be assigned to build additional skills and increase one's contribution.
  • Your company's policies for salary increases and overtime, employee referrals, and any other award opportunities employees can use to earn more money.
  • Your company's policies related to schedule flexibility, work from home, flextime and related issues—and your company's practices, too, so leaders know which precedents have already been established. 

Most of these examples require employees to take some degree of responsibility for themselves. Leaders can propose and agree to developmental plans, but employees must carry out those plans and develop their own knowledge and skills.

Dick Finnegan is CEO of C-Suite Analytics and the Finnegan Institute. Please visit the SHRMStore to order a copy of The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, Second Edition.


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