The 5 Stay Questions


I recently attended a professional meeting where colleague of mine presented some excellent and timely information.  As our economy heats up and job opportunities become more plentiful, it is incumbent on employers to fully understand why people stay in their jobs. Improving employee engagement and retention is more important then ever to keep high performing people on your team.

It got me thinking about a recent radio show that Voltage CEO Jeff Smith and I did on the topic of retention.  We used the term re-recruiting to describe how to keep valuable people from leaving the organization.

Jeff made the point that when a star performer comes to you, the leader, and says, “I’m thinking about taking an offer from another organization. What do you think my chances are for advancement here?” By that time, it’s too late.  The star performer has already entertained and turned over in their own minds the proposition of working elsewhere, (you are just the last to know).

Below are what Richard Finnegan, the author of The Power of Stay Interviews, calls the five stay interview questions. These may be very appropriate to incorporate into periodic re-recruiting meetings in 1:1 mode behind the manager’s closed door.

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

The opening clause, “When you travel to work each day”, encourages the employee to imagine their daily commute to capture their everyday images in the here and now. Then asking them what they look forward to drives them to their positive images.

2. What are you learning here?

“Learning” in the present tense sends the compelling message that we want you to grow, to prosper for both yourself and our organization. When employees answer and hear their own lists, they
know they are developing and not standing still.

We encourage managers to engage employees in career discussions built around the word “skills”. For example:

“What skills would you like to build?”
“What skills do you think are required for that position?”
“What skills do you possess that are not being fully utilized on your present role?”

3. Why do you stay here?

The goal here is for the employee to drill down, identify, and then verbalize why they stay. The initial response might be something mundane like,” I have to pay the bills” or “Because its familiar and steady”. The manager may respond by saying something like “Of course, me too, but I really want to learn why you stay. Please take a few moments and let me know what you really think”.

The point is that few employees really take the time to consider why they stay and voice them once they have been challenged to think about them. This is a very “local” discussion, one that hits close to home. It needs to be done thoughtfully as the employee just might be thinking, “Yep you are right. I am so out of here.”.

4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

This question gets to the core of retention issues. Everyone at some point in their tenure thinks about
leaving at one time or another. Some of the drill down questions are:

“How important is that issue to you today?”
“Can I count on you to come 1:1 if you ever feel that way again?”

“What’s the single most important thing I can do to make it better?”
“How often has that happened?”

5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

This question is often seen a lip service or as a cliché. It is about building the trust bridge behind the manager’s closed door. It requires the manager to be comfortable in their own skin and not react defensively. The responses from this dialog often provide insight into regarding how the manager can adapt their leadership style with each employee.

 “Do I recognize you appropriately when you do something well?
 “How do you like to be recognized? Privately? In public?”

“Are my work instructions clear?”
“Are there times you don’t always understand what is expected?”

“Do I seem genuinely interested in your career here?”

“Am I with you enough? Not enough? Too much?”