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. 


“Hey, Jill, you got a minute?” Amy asks.

Jill wearily glances up from her email and turns to see Amy, her superstar employee, in her doorway.  “Sure, I guess.  I am a bit busy with the latest fire drill for senior management.  What do you need?”

“Well, there is no easy way to say this, but I am resigning.  I am going down the road to work for Greener Fields USA.”

Jill, now fully engaged with Amy, says, “I am shocked!  What made you want to do this?  We love you here and your future is so bright.”

Amy says, “Well, it just seemed Greener Fields might offer more development and the work is interesting and exciting to me.”

Has this ever happened to you?  I know it has happened to me and there is nothing worse than losing a superstar.  The worst part is that, when I reflect back, there was so much more I could have done to keep this person with our team.  What about you?  Were there signs?  What would you do differently?

Let’s chat about some ways to retain and engage our superstars.  First, we have to know they are superstars.  Many of us are scrambling through our tasks fighting fires and we do not even notice outstanding performance.  Additionally, we spend an enormous amount of time on our bottom 20% performers; fixing their mistakes, corralling their underperformance, or living in their drama.  Thus, the first question is:  “Do you know who your superstars are?”

Daniel Pink outlined key ways to motivate your team in his book, Drive.  Here are 3 keys:

·       Purpose.  Can you connect your superstar’s work to the company’s core purpose?  If not, why are they working on what they are working on?  When you recognize their performance, connect it to making a difference for the organization, the customer etc.

·       Autonomy.  Are you giving your superstar the room to create their own solutions?  Superstars need some guidance, but they also love room for their creativity so they can grow and develop.

·       Mastery.  Are you allowing your superstars to master what they are working on?   Many times we move our superstars from project to project and burn them out without allowing them time to get great at something.

The biggest complaints I hear from superstars that I coach are that they do not feel recognized for their efforts and that there is not a focus on their development.  The literature suggests that we recognize our team at a rate of five compliments for every one piece of corrective feedback.  Most superstars report about a 1:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback.  Put time on your calendar to recognize all team members, but concentrate some time for your superstars.

The last thought for today is dedicate time on your calendar to provide feedback, coaching, and development for your superstars.  They are doing great work and they want to do even better.  However, we tend to cancel their 1:1s or never quite seem to have enough time to spend with them.  Take time to mentor your superstars and see what happens!