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?”

The Pastor and the Comic

It is not every day you have a completely new experience. Especially once you hit midlife. (And often, in midlife, those new experiences are not mountaintop experiences, but instead new experiences like, “Wow, now I need to wear glasses if I want to read anything.” But I digress.)

Recently I had one of those completely new experiences. I spoke at an event in another city and shared the stage with a Stand-Up Comic turned Motivational Leadership Speaker.

Steve Rizzo has been on sound stages in LA and New York.

I have not.

He has been featured on television specials.

I have not.

He flies first class.

I do not. But I digress.

I met him when the car that was taking both of us (thank you Charles!) to our first event of the day pulled up. I walked out, hopped in the back seat and into my new experience:

My Pastor Meets Comic experience.

(Yes, I am a Pastor. I served as Senior and Executive Pastor of congregations in southern California, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon. Until I woke up one day and didn’t want to be paid for ministry any more. I seem to have too much candor and conviction and too little patience for the church. But I digress.)

Back to this week, this day in my life story. It was a great day.

I met a generous man with a big heart and a mission to make a difference and leave a wake of success in the lives of the people who cross his path. Steve spreads joy and laughter, as well as a bevy of tips and tales that help people to create success mindsets, so that they can find opportunity in the obstacles and options that lie before them.

Here are a couple of takeaways from my time with Steve (These are not quotes capturing what he said. These are things I saw him do.):

  1.      See the world through the eyes of the people around you as often as you can.
  2.      Act on what you see.

When I met Steve the first words out of his mouth after we were introduced were, “Why don’t you come sit up here and I’ll sit in the back. You are tall, and you need the room.”

I deferred and thanked him.

When we returned to the car after the first stop, he went directly to the back seat and sat down.

He didn’t ask. He acted. I enjoyed the legroom up front for the rest of the day. Thanks Steve!

When the leader goes first and acts with generosity, warmth and unrequested thoughtfulness, the leader earns something valuable: trust.

It was a small gesture with a big impact.  He demonstrated he cared about my experience, more than his own. It was kind, and I appreciated it.

People trust you when you notice and act on your observations about their situation.

I have a lot of stories that would make you laugh about my day with Steve Rizzo.

If you have a chance to hear him speak, do so! And know that a generous man is behind those words, listening to his audience, caring about how to best communicate what he’s learned about living a life that matters, and enjoying the moment we are living right now.

Leaders, we are at our best when we are generous advocates, both behind the scenes and onstage, caring about and equipping people to see and seize opportunities. We are at our best when we allow ourselves and others to savor the process of living our lives, as we travel through shared valleys of turmoil and turbulence to our next mountaintop moment.

So, be present. Notice others’ circumstances. Act on what you notice. And laugh some along the way.


The first step in getting noticed is often overlooked by professionals who should know better.

That step is to follow a successful pattern that has worked for countless others in the past:

A – I – C – D – E/C

These letters stand for:

         1.     Attention                       

Can I get your undivided attention?

Do I have your undivided attention?

     2.   Interest

Once I do, are you interested at all in what I have to say?

     3.   Conviction                     

Your attention fuels my passion to contribute in a meaningful way.

     4.    Desire                             

 Your attention energizes my sense of impact and ownership.

5.  Engage/Commit          

The expression of my passions and ownership engages me in real ways.

Many have modified this pattern over the years.  Some have flipped steps three and four while others have changed the wording slightly. For our purposes of discussing the facilitation of cultural change, I will also change the wording slightly of the final step five from “Close” to “Engagement and Commitment”

In cultural change efforts, the momentum of the legacy (incumbent) culture can be very difficult to overcome.  The organizational physics of change dictates that resistance must be overcome by facilitating current flow over channels (media) that can accommodate the increased voltage.

 In short, the litany of resistance includes:

·       “That’s not my job.”

·       “We don’t do things that way around here.”

·       “We tried that before and it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.”

·       “Nobody seems to care, so why should I?”

·       “Nobody really knows what I do here.  They just keep piling on more.”

·       “We get mixed messages and are forced to take action and hope we are right.”

 If you want to obtain buy-in for change efforts, you will need to get the attention of the rank and file workforce.  Who carries that message?  Usually, it’s the Managers who do.  They need to become the new medium or channel by which the new energy flows.  How will you genuinely get their attention?

The answer is by applying integrity to leadership and not corporate glad-handing.

You pay the price of admission by:

acknowledging what is,

making the changes that are actionable, and

communicating the rationale for those that are not.

If you want to obtain buy-in for change efforts, you will need to get the attention of the leadership.  Are you able to get their attention? Are they so busy with the crisis of the day that you cannot be heard? Very often the answers to many dilemmas that seem to have no end in sight rests with paying attention to and diving deeper into the Management ranks. The answers are there.  Are you being heard?  If not, why not?