Prevent Exit Interviews With Stay Interviews

By Sharlyn Lauby

We haven’t thought about them for a while, but stay interviews might be making a comeback. They’re defined as structured interviews designed to learn the reasons that employees stay with a company or the conditions that might cause them to leave. As the talent wars continue, stay interviews can be a valuable way to engage and retain employees.

During the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) International Conference and Expo, I had the chance to hear Dr. Beverly Kaye, co-author of the international best-seller “Love ‘em or Lose ‘em: Getting Good People to Stay” discuss her new book “Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss” which talks about the dynamics of stay interviews. What I thought was interesting about the renewed stay interview conversation was the idea of having recruiters conducting stay interviews.

Yep, that’s right. Recruiters doing stay interviews.

I asked Dr. Kaye about the role recruiters can play in stay interviews. “In my research, I’m finding that retention is the new measurement of recruiting success and different players have a role in the outcome. Clearly the employee’s manager is the best bet to conduct a stay interview. But, the missing link is the recruiter who is often the first to really connect with the new hire. I believe that new recruits do bond with the person who gives them the interview and invites them to join the organization.”

In her book, Dr. Kaye focuses on providing managers with practical ideas they can use to conduct stay interviews with their employees. But I must confess that I’m still focused on the idea of recruiters getting involved with stay interviews. So I asked Dr. Kaye if she could share some sample questions:

  • What was something your last organization did well that we don’t do?
  • Is the job turning out to be what you thought it would be? How so? How not?
  • What did your past job offer that you feel is missing in this one?

I totally get this. I’ve worked for companies where we asked employees these questions during their first 30 / 60 / 90 days of employment. They have a fresh set of eyes. It’s smart for the company to get their feedback. And there’s research to show that 40% of employees who leave their job do so within the first six months of employment. Making a connection with the company quickly is important and the recruiter could be a key individual in the employee’s success.

But I also want to bring a degree of realism to this conversation. I’m sure one of the biggest objections to doing stay interviews is having an employee suggest something that you know the company won’t consider. Which leads me to my one note of caution when it comes to stay interviews. Please don’t do them if you’re not prepared to listen. The absolute worst thing you can do is ask someone for their feedback and not do anything with the information. Dr. Kaye recommends a 4-step approach for handling employee responses that cannot be accommodated:

  1. ACKNOWLEDGE – Listen to the employee and acknowledge what they are saying.
  2. TRUTH – Tell the employee that their request isn’t a viable option.
  3. CARE – Express a sincere concern to work with the employee.
  4. ASK – Find out if there is another option that might be satisfactory.

Another objection to stay interviews might involve time. Some recruiters and/or managers might say they don’t have time to do stay interviews – “I’m overworked, underpaid and stressed out.” To that I have a couple of responses:

1) Don’t forget recruiters and managers are people too. If the company is serious about retaining talent, they should conduct stay interviews at every level of the organization. That includes the recruiting, human resources and management team.

2) If you don’t have time to conduct stay interviews, then chances are you don’t have time to deal with an employee resigning, hiring their replacement and training them. Stay interviews will definitely take less time.

Objections behind us, it’s important to find time to conduct a meaningful stay interview. (Translation: the stay interview while multitasking isn’t a good idea.) While it’s ideal to conduct stay interviews in person, Kaye shared with me some strategies for conducting stay interviews with virtual teams. “I have seen managers with virtual teams use Skype to do their stay interviews. Being able to see the individual gives the manager the opportunity to pick up clues from gestures and facial expression. If this can be done for virtual employees it can be as effective as face to face meetings.”

Stay interviews have tremendous potential for the organization. Yes, it’s possible the company will still lose the employee (even after conducting a stay interview). There are some offers that are just too good to pass up. But the company will have learned something. And to quote the great B.B. King, “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”


Reprinted from HR BARTENDER

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