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?”

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Lee Hubert is a Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer and founder of iTrainManagerforSuccess affiliate of Voltage Leadership, with over 20 years of experience in human resources development in healthcare, technology, financial and energy sectors. 


Lately I have been curious about exploring the essential ingredients of creative, innovative environments: trust and time.

Today we turn to how to prevent the trust-killer miscommunication from arising. I’ll offer some steps to take when miscommunication, unfortunately and inevitably, occurs.

Here is a typical scenario. Can you see yourself in it?

1.       A conversation between two people takes place.

2.       One person leaves feeling they’ve made commitments or defined expectations in a certain way.

3.       The second person does not leave the conversation with the same understanding.

4.       In time, the difference in expectations between the two people bubbles up or boils over.

5.       In an instant, trust that may have taken years to cultivate is damaged.

6.       At times this hard-won trust is destroyed.

Miscommunication has a painful and perilous cost, and it’s a daily occurrence in most organizations.

Given the frequency of such missteps, it would stand to reason that we would have developed a good process for navigating this difficult terrain. But we haven’t. Instead people deal with the consequences of these miscommunications, typically in silence (or by telling many people except the person involved).

Often the story I hear begins something like this:

“He betrayed me. “

“After what she did yesterday, I don’t trust her anymore.”

“I used to think he meant what he said, now I know he doesn’t.”

“She doesn’t care about anything but herself and this business. I don’t matter.”

“He says one thing to one person and another to someone else. He can’t be trusted.”

“I don’t know what to think anymore. I used to trust her. Now, I just don’t know.”

Miscommunication and distrust wreak havoc on creativity. What can we do to prevent this? Take some time on the front end to avoid problems on the back end! Ensure the expectations are clear. Here’s how.

We need to do 2 things: Push and Pull.

              Push expectations by clearly communicating face-to-face and in writing, and then

              Pull for understanding of those expectations by asking questions.

It is both Push and Pull that create a communication loop between leaders and their team members.

·       If you are assigning work to others, set clear expectations. Preferably both in writing and orally. 

·       When you are assigned work, or assume a task or project leadership, ask questions to clarify expectations. 

·       Before leaving the conversation, ask what the other person understands those expectations to be. Make sure they match before you end the conversation.

·       Follow up in writing when practicable.

When we have both actions, Push and Pull, embedded in our communication habits, we hold ourselves to a more disciplined approach to communication, and we set our people up to be successful. 

Helpful Habits: 

Leaders: When you ask someone else to take on an assignment, take the time to ask what they understood you to have assigned. This provides 2 things:

1.       The other person has an opportunity to articulate in their own words what their assignment is.

2.       You have the chance to check that you have communicated well and been understood. This is the first step of shared ownership over a project or task. 

Colleagues and team members: You don’t have to wait for someone else to ask you what you heard them assign. Simply say: “I want to make sure I understood your clearly. Can I repeat it back to you for clarification? What I heard you say was…..”  This conversation is especially helpful if you have a highly creative leader. Creative leader’s often share a dozen ideas at a time, forgetting that their ideas feel like assignments to the people around them. Asking clarifying questions will help you learn to distinguish between the ideas for later and the assignments for today.

Yes, it takes time to have these clarifying conversations. It’s an investment in relationship building and trust making. What do you gain by taking the time?

·       An accurate picture of the requests that are being made.

·       Some insight into how our colleagues think, listen and learn.

·       We learn what motivates people and what causes them to stop listening.

Learning to communicate effectively with the people on our teams provides something invaluable for the future: it creates the dividend of trust that pays off with speed, agility, engagement, and best of all, creativity in the future. It is time well spent.

Note of Caution: When it comes to performance or compensation, it is even more critical to ensure accurate communication. In these important conversations emotions tend to run hotter, even when they are easy “Great work!” conversations. When we talk performance or compensation people have their confidence, their lifestyle, and sometimes their identity wrapped up in the conversation. Asking what was heard is a great reality check for everyone involved.


I was recently talking with some close friends at dinner about their experiences with what actually happened behind their manager’s closed door.  The answers were varied, if not surprising, and will have an impact on engagement, productivity and retention.

One person indicated that her best managers always had office hours, reminiscent of her college days.  She felt that she always knew that she would be heard at some predictable point and could escalate urgent matters as needed.  Her boss was an active partner in managing up and engagement.  She felt validated.

Another person lamented the lack of predicable interaction with his boss.  His experience was quite different.  Not only did he feel invalidated, at times he felt almost invisible.  This lack of predictable interaction made it challenging to manage up, to read his boss, and to know what and when to escalate.

So, what should happen behind the Manager’s closed door and when?

We advocate for Well-Run 1:1 Meetings:  15- 30 minutes in duration and held at least once a month, (weekly for new hires.)  By well-run, we mean meaningful interaction with somebody who is actively present and actively participating.  This means no phone, no computer, no texting, and no interruptions.  Done well, this builds a trust bridge for great working relationships.  Here is the model used with many of our clients.

1:1 meetings (30 min max) once a month (and ad-hoc as needed).  The main purpose is to Listen, Understand and Exchange Information about:

1.      Assignments / Work-load Balance -  what’s working well, what’s not, distractions

2.      Developmental Plans / Activities / Training / Tools - Internal Customers, Continuing Education Certifications / Degrees, Shadowing, Cross Training, Networking, Tools / Technology needed

3.      Recognition / Coaching / Staff Feedback- Shared Successes, Constructive Thought Partnering

4.      Feedback for Leader - Things leaders may not see (blind spot) or need help on

5.      Other Satisfiers / Dis-satisfiers – Job enrichment ideas, ergonomics, environmental, etc

6.      Continuous Improvement / Innovation– As you drill into new /changed responsibilities

When done with authenticity, Well-Run 1:1 Meetings set up the foundation for performance expectations and directly address any issues in the employee’s world.  This, in turn, makes the performance review almost an afterthought, because you both have already sought out what really matters.

Please be on the look-out for other tools in future blogs as we employ Behind the Manager’s Closed Door to address specific things like;  coaching / mentoring skill development, 1:1 for recognition, 1:1 for lack of performance, 1:1 for formal discipline, and 1:1 for removing drama.




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?