Exit interviews are standard fare at many organizations. Whether you find them helpful or you dread them, you understand that the purpose is to glean useful feedback from departing employees about ways your company can improve. The exit interview is an important tool for gathering insights that people might otherwise be hesitant to share. After all, a departing employee has no reason not to be completely honest with you.
But what if you could glean those same vital insights before an employee is ready to walk out the door? That’s the power of stay conversations.
What Is a Stay Conversation?
According to retention specialist Dick Finnegan, author of The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, company leaders can gain valuable insight into the daily experience of employees by conducting stay interviews on a regular basis. These interviews, or stay conversations, should take place between an employee and his or her immediate supervisor. The goal is to create better employee experiences and to build trust between employees and managers.
Finnegan emphasizes that stay conversations have the power to improve retention by focusing on the employees you most want to keep. Unlike an exit interview, which assesses the situation after the fact, the stay conversation gives current employees a chance to share their perspectives with a manager long before they are ready to leave. The process of giving feedback to someone who will listen and take action builds trust, motivating employees to stay with the company longer and become more engaged.
What Are the Elements of an Effective Stay Conversation?
To gain the most valuable insights, conduct stay conversations in a structured context. Employees should meet with their immediate supervisors, and leaders should look for specific actions they can take to improve the employee experience and keep individuals engaged.
Ready to implement stay conversations in your workplace? Keep these tips in mind as you develop your process:
- Separate stay conversations from performance reviews. Avoid the temptation to tack a stay conversation onto an employee review or rounding. The focus of a stay conversation should be on how the company and its leaders can better serve employees, not on how employees can improve performance.
- Conduct one-on-one meetings. Whenever possible, keep stay conversations between individual employees and their immediate managers. In a group setting, employees will share fewer of their thoughts, and some employees may not be confident enough to speak up. In a similar way, employees may be less likely to say what they think if they meet with someone several levels above them. With one-on-one meetings conducted by an immediate supervisor or manager, however, every employee has an equal opportunity to voice opinions.
- Listen more than you talk. Finnegan recommends that leaders listen 80% of the time. This gives the employee freedom to share thoughts without feeling pressured. The goal is to focus your attention completely on digesting what the employee is saying without thinking ahead to your next question or interjecting comments or explanations into the conversation.
- Ask the right questions. We recommend structuring questions around the RESPECT framework. Consisting of seven fundamental employee motivators, this framework helps you get at the heart of what keeps an employee engaged and why they might consider leaving. For example, recognition is the first element of the RESPECT framework. Questions under this category might ask about how the employee prefers to be recognized and what behaviors or achievements deserve recognition.
- Probe for insight. Employees might not share all of their thoughts right away. By asking follow-up questions and encouraging honest communication, managers demonstrate that they value the employee’s contributions.
According to Dick Finnegan, employees stay with your company because of the things they get from you that they can’t get elsewhere. In today’s job climate, that may not be a high salary or big benefits package. Instead, your employees may be looking for a positive culture, a manager who invests in their development or the opportunity to use their strengths to make valuable contributions. These are the kinds of insights you’re looking for in the stay conversation. By identifying the primary drivers of engagement for your employees, you can take specific actions to improve both the employee experience and, ultimately, your retention rate.