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The Power of a Stay Interview and How to Conduct One

Ever wonder why your employees choose to work for you and why they stay? Do you truly know what motivates them, what they absolutely love about the job, and what they wish would improve? Unlocking the answers to these questions starts by implementing “stay interviews.”

Stay interviews can provide you with powerful insight – the type of insight that will equip you to make effective decisions, establish better ways of doing things and address problems before it’s too late. This kind of valuable information could also help you retain great employees and impact your ability to recruit new ones.

So, let’s focus on two questions you might be asking: What is a stay interview and how do I conduct one?

What Is a Stay Interview?

A stay interview is similar to an exit interview. However, exit interviews are used for when employees quit, and stay interviews are used for when employees stay. A stay interview is a means to get feedback from your employee about their experience and satisfaction. They provide an opportunity for you to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your organization. You can use this to seek out any concerns or problems your employee is facing in hopes of resolving them to prevent your employee from leaving.

And How Do I Conduct One?

Clearly stay interviews can provide meaningful results. But they can’t just be another check in the box. If you want powerful outcomes from a stay interview, you need to facilitate them in a powerful way. Here’s how:

1. Get in the Right Mindset

Before you start, you should get in the right mindset. Why is this important? During the interview, you might receive feedback that you weren’t expecting or input that’s not so positive. Getting in the right state of mind will help you become less defensive and more open to hearing what your employee is really trying to say. You can do this by going into the interview with an open heart and mind.

For example, challenge any assumptions you have about the employee and let go of any biases you might be holding on to. Try setting aside your own emotions and practice empathy by putting yourself in your employee’s shoes. Work on actively listening by letting them do most of the talking. This is not a time for you to justify any decisions you have made or to come up with new solutions. This session really isn’t about you; it’s about them. All of this will help to create an environment of trust that will lead to invaluable results.

2. Ask Some Questions

To help you get the conversation started, ask some of these thought-provoking questions:

  • What do you love the most about your job?
  • What is your least favorite part of your job?
  • Why do you choose to stay here?
  • What motivates you to perform your best?
  • How could we work even better as a team?
  • What should leadership do more of?
  • What should leadership do less of?
  • Is there one area that needs improvement?

3. Get to the Heart of the Matter   

Try some investigative techniques to really get to the heart of the discussion and to explore any areas that need a little more attention. Don’t always take first responses at face value. Instead seek to peel back the layers to really understand the core of what is being said. One way to do this is to stay curious and ask exploratory follow-up questions when something doesn’t feel quite right.

To practically put this into action, use phrases like, “Interesting, can you tell me more about that?” or “Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Can we discuss that a little more?” And absolutely incorporate Michael Bungay Stanier’s “AWE” question: “And What Else?” to really get to the heart of the matter. Again, remember to take the time to listen.

Above all, don’t get discouraged if the session doesn’t go quite as you hoped. What’s important is that you did it. You made a point to have a crucial conversation and you put effort into actively listening and genuinely learning. This is how you get powerful results.

You may also be interested in Feeding Frenzy: Learning to Love Feedback and Giving and Receiving Feedback with Poise and Grace.

Tessie Davenport has served as a leader in the Department of Defense for the past ten years. Her breadth of experience includes creating successful teams, coaching, mentoring, and leading development programs. She has a B.A.S. in Information and Computer Security, a M.S. in Intelligence Management and is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Organizational Management. She hopes to inspire new leaders and experienced ones by offering practical ideas to help them build positive cultures and grow their people. Tessie is happily married with three dogs and a cat. She loves to travel, hike, kayak and explore.  

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