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How 'Stay Interviews' Can Help You Retain Talent

How 'Stay Interviews' Can Help You Retain Talent

The world of work is changing fast with unemployment on the decline and the Talent Wars in full swing. The major skills gap is still a reality and the buyer’s market is highly competitive for qualified candidates.

The Millennial Generation talent pool will comprise 50% of the workforce in 2020 but their values don’t focus on the outdated metrics of money, power and prestige like their Generation X and Baby Boomer colleagues. Culture fit, meaningful work, and giving back to the community top the values list for emerging Millennial-aged leaders.

Stellar candidates of any age often face the wonderful problem of multiple job offers and have the luxury of waiting for an opportunity that meets their unique criteria. This shift from an employer-driven market to a candidate-driven market requires employers to compete more heavily for great talent than ever before, according to Edward Fleishman, CEO of New York and Boston staffing and recruiting firm Execu|Search.

“You never want to wait until someone resigns to get feedback on why they have decided to leave for another opportunity.” - Edward Fleischman, CEO, Execu|Search

This year, reconsider the traditional performance evaluation and implement the new practice of Stay Interviews to reduce turnover and identify rock star talent before they leave for greener pastures.

[Related: Winning over Millennial Talent: Use the Interview as an Employer Branding Tool]

The Stay Interview is a conversational review with the manager and staff member. This is a great opportunity for the manager to be an active-listener and learn from the direct report about their ideas for progress, solutions, goals, and challenges they face. In turn, the manager will also have an opportunity to receive constructive feedback from the direct report – a concept not always utilized in the more traditional one-way performance review.

It’s essential to have regular and consistent Stay Interviews to set up proper expectations for the manager and the staff member so both can come to the conversation prepared. Fleischman suggests setting three dates on the calendar in advance over a 12-month period. The frequency allows for corrective action, or recognition, on any issue, large or small. The goal is to groom, grow, and retain top talent before they are wooed away by another opportunity.

Creating a safe environment for respect, candor and authenticity is essential so both the manager and staff member can share constructive feedback and recognition of a job well done in a manner that is positively received.

“If an employer wants someone to stay, they must be able to tell the individual respectfully not only what they need to improve and what is required for promotion, but they also need to elicit meaningful feedback from the employee about what they need and value most in order to be able to stay.” - Edward Fleischman, CEO, Execu|Search

Employee retention expert, Dick Finnegan wrote Rethinking Retention in Good Times and Bad, and detailed the only research-based, strategic approach to cutting employee turnover with specific tactics. He believes that Stay Interviews provide a formal mechanism to retain employees who might otherwise leave.

Finnegan distills his retention model into 3 main points:

  1. Employees quit jobs because they can
  2. Employees stay for things they get uniquely from you
  3. Supervisors build unique relationships that drive retention…or turnover

So how does this work in the real world?

Hanapin Marketing is an industry-leading digital marketing agency that specializes in pay-per-click advertising. With a vibrant and diverse team of industry professionals in their ranks, they compete for talent in the global marketplace. They have created a culture employees want to stay in to grow and develop and Hanapin clients rave about their results oriented services.

Rebecca Reott, Associate Director of HR with Hanapin Marketing has begun implementing Stay Interviews with her staff and the results are encouraging.

"We have been doing Stay Interviews at Hanapin for about four months now. Before starting down this path, we pulled the highest rated and most effective Stay Interview questions from the related research and trained our management team on how to handle these sometimes-tricky conversations. Stay Interviews give us early insight into what keeps someone engaged at Hanapin and how we can continue to make Hanapin where they want to come to work every day. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to retaining the top talent, which is why adding this critical conversation has already shown to be high impact. We now know the unique factors that will keep specific employees happy, engaged, and performing well. – Rebecca Reott, Associate Director of HR Hanapin Marketing

While it is still a relatively new initiative for Hanapin, they have also seen Stay Interviews improve their succession planning. Managers complete the Stay Interview with their direct reports, and then roll-up the critical themes to department heads and Human Resources. A year ago, trying to figure out how to retain each individual person and map out when employees would leave Hanapin involved a lot more guesswork.

[Related: Why So Many Companies Are Letting Their Best Tech Talent Go]

“One of the keys to a successful Stay Interview is pushing deep beneath the surface. It is easy for an employee to give a blanket answer to a question or simply say what they think you want to hear. It is the manager’s responsibility to probe further in these cases and figure out what is really driving that employee. We've uncovered things that could be fixed within 10 minutes that had been eating away at employees for a year! When you're able to move the needle that much from simply asking, "What makes you stay? What would make you leave?" it seemed foolish for us not to launch Stay Interviews company-wide. Because of our Stay Interview process, we are better positioned to do what we can to retain our great Hanapin team!" - Rebecca Reott, Associate Director of HR Hanapin Marketing

The old-school exit interview is just an autopsy of problems that already happened with no possibility of solutions for the future with that particular individual. The Stay Interview empowers both the staff member and the manager to become solution providers. When an employee hears “We want you to stay,” it goes a long way towards retention and job satisfaction.

Finnegan provides these Stay Interview questions as a point of departure for your organization:

  • When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to? 

  • What parts of your job are the most enjoyable...or even the most fun? 

  • What parts are most challenging? 

  • What are you learning here? What do you want to learn? 

  • How do you like working with other members of our team? 

  • And what about me? What can I do to help you stay longer? 
Are there specific reasons you can think of that could cause you to leave us? 

The goal is to create a detailed plan with measurable outcomes and a timeline that both the manager and staff member agree upon. By creating a value proposition, talented employees will want to be part of the work culture you create because they have buy-in and accountability. In this scenario, everyone wins.

Whether you are the manager or the staff member, consider suggesting the Stay Interview to your Human Resources department. Focus on keeping and attracting the great talent to make your organization thrive.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.