Keeping the best and brightest employees is high on the list of priorities for any business owner, and it turns out it may not be as difficult as you think. In fact, it may take just one simple step: the stay interview. We’re conducting them here at BGW, and we think you should be, too.
If you’re uncertain about the concept, you’re not alone. This is one meeting far too many business owners fail to make.
In a stay interview, you ask current employees questions about what’s working and what’s not, why they continue to work for your organization, and if (and why) they’ve ever considered leaving. The feedback you get gives you knowledge about what the organization is doing well, what it can improve, and exactly what it will take to retain your valued employees. It’s preferable to an exit interview because it takes place before a good-but-disgruntled employee decides to leave, affording you the opportunity to resolve the issues at hand and encourage the employee to stay.
Beyond that, the stay interview is a tremendous opportunity for you to build real trust with employees. People prefer to work where their thoughts, needs, and feelings are valued, and the ability to have an open, two-way conversation with you, or preferably a designated rep, goes so much further in establishing that trust than what’s typically used to gauge employee satisfaction: a fill-in survey. The stay interview says a lot about the open, communicative company culture that (we hope) you’re trying to create.
Before you dismiss the importance of stay interviews, consider this most recent study from Harvard Business Review that reveals the dissatisfaction that many Gen-Xers feel at work -- lack of advancement while bearing the brunt of management work. The study warns employers that Gen-Xers are reaching a “breaking point” and could soon face a massive exodus of Gen-Xers from their ranks who are frustrated by feelings of invisibility.
I can’t help but think that the results of this study would be very different if surveyed Gen-Xers had employers that made it a point to check in with them regularly -- before they reached this level of frustration.
Can stay interviews backfire? Of course, and this often happens in organizations that lack trust and open communication. If your company is currently plagued by high turnover, poor attendance, short tenure with the company, and low sales per employee or productivity issues, anonymous employee satisfaction surveys are a better fit for you until you have the opportunity to improve the factors that would make stay interviews comfortable for employees. An organization that isn’t ready for a stay interview process can receive poor or “canned” answers, and that can lead to making changes that don’t really have any positive impact at all.
We are currently in the process of conducting stay interviews at BGW, and our staff is really liking the opportunity to openly talk about what’s bothering them and how to improve it. I am keeping the responses anonymous, and that helps with openness, I think. Also, I’m a senior staff member, not a partner, so the interviews feel more like a peer-to-peer discussion rather than an open critique in front of a “big boss”. I think that’s critical.
Equally critical is the fact that our leadership group and partners are eagerly awaiting our stay interview results. When you conduct stay interviews, employees will look for something to change as a result of their participation. Your leadership team must be committed to change before engaging in stay interviews as ours is! This is really important. If employees give you good feedback, but you take no action on it, they will feel undervalued and like the exercise was for naught. That’s a killer for company culture.
A simple Google search will give you great suggestions for what to ask. I particularly like and have tweaked this list, but be sure to customize your questions based on what’s happening currently in your organization. Note that the first question is an ice breaker designed to relax employees and assure them they’re not here for an interrogation. The last question gets at what I can do personally to make their work experience better. I’ve received great feedback on this one because I really think the question shows people that their ideas matter and will be implemented.
When you do make changes, be sure to inform employees that the changes are the result of information gathered from their stay interviews. People won’t necessarily make the connection.
Retaining key employees is critical to the success of your organization, and stay interviews can be one of the simplest steps to achieving that goal. We urge you to implement the process now, long before you lose your best teammates.