Talent Management

Want to Retain Employees? Ask ‘What Would It Take to Make You Leave?’

Illustration by istockphoto.com

Michele Klein, HR Manager for Fidelity Exploration and Production (a large player in the booming oil and gas industry) was doing an exit interview with an engineer who was leaving to take a similar job with a competitor.

As her final question, she asked, “If we had known that you were thinking about leaving several months ago, would there have been anything we could have done to keep you?”

“Absolutely.” the engineer replied. “I didn’t realize that you had bigger plans for me. Nobody ever told me.”

But by then, it was too late.

Making stay interviews a priority

So Michele and her team decided that the best way to circumvent future exit interviews was to begin to conduct stay interviews.

“I read some books on the concept of stay interviews, discussed it with a colleague, and put together a schedule that would allow me to interview every employee every 18 months.” Klein told me. “Each interview lasts about 30 minutes, and our people now look forward to them.”

Then again, what employee wouldn’t want management to know how they really feel about their job?

Fidelity employs about 200 people, many of which are geologists, chemical engineers, and other professionals in positions of high demand and short supply. Turnover is a major issue in oil and gas with fresh-out-of-college engineers commanding starting salaries of $80K per year and more.

Headhunters are having a field day finding and selling talent to the highest bidders, and Klein says, “no one leaves for a job that isn’t paying at least 10 percent more.”

That’s why Michele Klein says it’s her goal to do at least two stay interviews per week, with each interview conducted face-to-face as opposed to over the phone or online.

“There’s something about that personal connection that makes this process work.” she said. “The interviews allow me to find out what our people like about working for us, what they don’t like, and what they’d like to see changed.”

Getting inside their head and heart

Klein said that she has a list of 10 questions that guide her, but she’s always willing to go wherever the interview takes her. Among those questions on her list, are:

  • “What makes a great day of work for you?”
  • Are we using your talents effectively?” and,
  • When you do a great job, what’s the best way we can recognize you?”

Her favorite question, and the one that Klein says is the most revealing is “What is the one thing about your job that, if it changed, would cause you to leave?”

I can’t think of a more valuable piece of information for any manager wanting to stem the heartbreak of turnover.

Take a minute to imagine how much more effectively you could manage, motivate, and retain your cherished employees if you only knew how they really felt about their jobs and your culture.

Then take a page from Michele at Fidelity and stop imagining.

Go ask them.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the emerging workforce and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 3 leadership books including Reviving Work Ethic . His new book, On Fire at Work: How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out, will be released later this year. Learn more about Eric at EricChester.com.
  • Scott Span

    Excellent point and like the questions. It’s along the same lines as waiting once a year for a performance review. 2 way conversations and feedback should be ongoing so that concerns and issues can go addressed as they arise, before negative consequences. This type of approach serves to help with retention and engagement.

    • http://twitter.com/eric_chester Work Ethic Guru

      Agree, Scott. These conversations should be both two-way AND ongoing. Best way to solve a big problem is to recognize and solve it while it’s small.

  • Johann Gauthier

    Really like this concept of “stay interview” ~ and the questions.
    Sheds new light on retaining talent.
    Thanks for sharing !

  • Dr Rajiv Massey

    I wish HR Directors accept this concept and make it a practice rather than the more common- ‘ leave it alone till its broke’- i.e till he/she quits!

  • Rosanna Nadeau

    This is a wonderful idea, and the questions are excellent. Just think…if management treated you like this, would you leave? I cannot wait to implement these interviews. Thank you!

  • Pheamo Witcher

    This is a wonderful idea! Thanks for sharing.

  • Lenore Lambert

    It’s great to hear of a company doing this. We did some research in Australia a couple of years ago and found that only 10-15% of organisations do any type of stay interview (this included online surveys though). There are some lovely questions there and the face to face approach is great if you have the resources to do it as well as to respond to the issues raised. The expectation to follow through on anything raised is higher for a face to face interview so you need to make sure the Interviewer has time to follow it up.

    Another option is to outsource the interviews to a phone-interview provider (with highly skilled Interviewers) who does the feedback collection and then the HR professionals/managers can debrief it with the individual and, where permission is given, their manager. My company does this. We gather satisfaction ratings on a list of known turnover drivers, then use structured questioning to identify which of the low satisfaction issues are Flight Risk Factors and which are irritants that may be affecting productivity or the care-factor but are not turnover risks. We also look at what makes them stay currently, what it would take for staying to be absolutely the right decision for them and lots of other questions. The simple act of being interviewed is usually very motivating for them and an acknowledgement that they are valued.

    See http://www.interviewgroup.biz for more information.

  • LNalley

    This is something that doesn’t need to be left to HR, it can be done by the Managers as well. It’s a great idea.

    • Adriana

      I agree. This let you know they needs and doubts, instead of wait for the 360 or another yearly evaluation.

  • María

    Great concept, I had not heard of it before, but if we invest time, effort and money in recruiting and hiring it should be obvious to invest time in retaining valuable people, as you mention it is so important to know what is happening in our organizations in order to take proper actions.