An Overlooked Benefit of Stay Interviews

Stay interviews have gained in popularity in recent years, especially as organizations saw employees begin to leave in record numbers.

Why are stay interviews so popular? Because by the time you’re trying to figure out how to keep someone who wants to go, there is a good chance you’re already too late – as I note in this Fast Company article from 2021.

What makes it possible to retain people is improving the experience for them while they are there, not waiting until they decide to leave before trying to come up with solutions to a problem that likely resulted from a decision long in the making.

The topic of stay interviews comes up frequently in my work as a growth strategist and executive coach. I work as a partner to CEOs and other senior executives who are want to successfully navigate change in their business and grow their leadership. And oftentimes, that means they are trying to navigate their own career paths or succession plans as well as the career paths of others, all while we’re in the middle of navigating their strategy and transformation efforts.

Given that, I’ve helped leaders craft their own stay interviews. And when I’m brought in to work with the organization, I design the stakeholder interviews in a way that uncovers much of the same information that a stay interview would – the truth of what is really fueling both employees and the company.

Stay interviews have three distinct functions – two of which are often underlooked. We’ll start with the more obvious benefit of stay interviews first.

Employee engagement and retention

Stay interviews are often thought of as a way of retaining employees by better understanding what motivates them and makes them feel connected to the company.

Questions you can ask include: What made you want to work here? What is your favorite part of your job? What is the work you are most proud of? Do you feel your work is valued? What do you most look forward to in your work? What are you least excited about in your work? Are there times you think about leaving? What would make you leave? What are you most excited about working on in the future?

These questions help you understand what about the work itself is specifically fueling the employee, making it possible for you to ensure they keep getting opportunities to work on what is most fulfilling.

Of course, there are parts of anyone’s job that will simply be a part of the job – but you don’t want to accidently take away the parts that are most motivating and energizing. Those parts will be different for everyone, which is why it is important to ask and not assume.  

Manager and employee relationship

These interviews are also an opportunity to further the relationship managers have with their employees – when they are conducted in a way that shows genuine interest and care.

In an age where we’re inclined to automate everything, it’s certainly possible to create forms that employees can fill out to indicate their favorite or best work. But that does little to make the employees feel connected to the organization or their manager. It becomes another task.

When another person asks these questions, and takes the time to listen with interest for the subtleties of what, why, and how an employee does their work, it is possible to uncover many clues about the unique strengths that person brings to the table. And when others in the organization recognize those, it’s fuel for their relationship and the employee’s overall sense of connection to the company.

Company capabilities

Perhaps the most overlooked part of stay interviews are the opportunity they create for the company to understand more about its own set of core capabilities.

Most every top executive understands the financial component of the business, but stay interviews provide nuance as to how work is getting done. Uncovering this information is less about the questions asked and more about what the company is listening for as the conversation unfolds.

When you listen, what can you infer about the ways employees are interacting with other departments? With customers? How are problems being solved? What’s draining teams? Which systems and processes seem to need constant workarounds?

Listening between the lines provides a wealth of information not just on who the employee is, but the “what and how” of a company’s true core capabilities and distinctiveness, as well as what opportunities might exist for the company to enhance its own effectiveness.

Are you conducting stay interviews? How are you building in regular opportunities to connect and uncover what’s fueling your business? Reach out if you want help creating these systems and checks, or if you want someone to help you with a deep dive.

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