Which Stay Interview Questions Work Best?

man shaking hands at interview

This sponsored post is shared with you by Dick Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics and THE Expert on Stay Interviews. An in-demand speaker and top-selling author, Dick travels the world speaking about Trust and Leadership and has authored five books on Employee Engagement and Retention, including The Power of Stay Interviews, which is the top-selling book in history as published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

“Stay Interviews” are widely known today but were undiscovered just a decade ago. I bumped into the term when researching my first book, and then later wrote The Stay Interview, which continues to be the top-selling book in history as published by the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM.

Shortly after I wrote that book, bloggers wrote their own versions of Stay Interview questions. The most common was “Here are 20 questions, pick 6,” or some variation, providing a long list of randomly chosen questions and suggesting the pick-and-choose method. The clear message was that question development required no science, so if, for example, career development is important to you, here are several questions to help you learn about it.

But the SI5, as we call the questions in our offices, had strict upbringing. Our research ultimately told us they represent THE Stay Interview formula with no exceptions. Here’s why they are the true winners for improving employee engagement and retention:

Q1. When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

Employees readily know the downsides of their job but not the upsides. This question solves two needs as it shines light on what employees like and also puts their minds into the here and now. That’s where retention and engagement are won—in the daily relationships and tasks of the job. When asked over dinner, “How was your day, dear?” no one says they wish they had vision care. They talk about bosses, colleagues, duties—and that’s where this question takes them.

Q2. What are you learning here?

Learning is an active word, again directing one to the present tense to analyze and report what’s new. More importantly, though, asking this question says clearly that I, as your manager, want you to learn, to grow, to stay fresh. You then can tell me what you’ve learned, along with what you want to learn. If you say, “I’m bored. I don’t know,” a good manager would say, “Come back to me in three days and tell me.” Or, if you, as an employee, say, “I’ve learned enough. Let me work and go home,” a good manager would say, “That’s fine.”

The important thing is that we ask and that we are open to new learning or even new positions—as long as the employee commits to their own education and can qualify for more responsibility. Career planning is not that hard when we follow these instructions:

  1. Ask what each employee wants to learn.
  2. If they want a different role, arrange for them to interview an incumbent.
  3. Tell them to focus on skills as well as activities.
  4. Build a plan to help that employee learn new skills.

And building skills can usually happen via mentors, those onboard who are very willing to meet with employees to teach them. Many Stay Interview outcomes are about arranging mentors to teach employees new skills.

Q3. Why do you stay here? 

At first glance this question looks so simple…but only skilled Stay Interviewers can leverage its power.

The obvious, knee-jerk answer is “I need a job to pay the bills.” The skilled manager, though, asks for a better answer, noting that in these times of many jobs and low unemployment, most employees can change jobs before lunch. So, what is the real reason you stay?

The goal here is for the employee to dig deeply, find the correct response, and then announce it to their manager—and consequently to themselves. Employees need to hear why they stay in their own voices, so they readily balance the inevitable bad parts of their job with the good parts.

From the manager’s perspective, we now know not only why the employee stays but also what they look forward to when they commute to work, from Question 1. Now we have data about what your employees get excited about when it comes to their job. So how can we twist their responsibilities just a bit to give them more of what they like?

Q4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

Just as we must know why our employees stay, we also need to dig deeply to understand why they might leave. The “gasp” here is we might hear something out of our control.

The good news is most employees respond by saying something about their jobs—too much administrative work, shoddy equipment, or careless teammates. Most managers can find room on these issues to generate improvements. Probes—like tell me more, give me an example, how did that make you feel, how important is that to you on a 1-10 scale—all solicit more information that sometimes makes solutions appear.

But suppose the employee says, “I need to make more money.” Trained managers know how to answer that one by saying, “I’d love to help you make more money. Let’s talk about what skills you can build that make you more valuable.”

Q5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you? 

The key word here is “I,” as the manager is seeking true feedback on what we will call here “style.”

Do I tell you when you do something well…or just when you need re-direction? Am I specific in my feedback or praise? Does the care I feel come through? Do you have a clear understanding of what I expect?

Or I could jokingly add here, “Do I need mouthwash?” The point is that the style each manager uses with one employee might not work with another. So, managers must buckle their seat belts and enter this discussion with ears open. And then re-build their management style to help each individual employee perform at their best and also want to stay.

The SI5 stand alone as powerful gatherers of the most important information to improve each employee’s engagement and retention. Managers who leverage these carefully-selected questions with strong probes, detailed notes, and deliberate next-step action-planning reach the holy grail of leadership—by building highly skilled teams who give their best and stay.

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