The Stay Interview: What Would It Take For You To “Stay”?

In the key area of employee retention, the “stay interview” has become my new favorite tactic. The concept is simple:

What would it take for you to stay?”

When do we normally pose this question to a key employee? Of course, when they have announced their plans to leave our company. In the exit interview, as a last ditch effort to keep them, we ask this question in hopes of some miracle. Rarely are we that lucky.

By the time the employee has decided to leave us, more than likely they have already found a new job. They have announced their new plans to their family and friends. It is very hard for that departing employee to change their plans now.

Hence, why wait until the end of their employment to ask this question? Why not ask the question at the completion of their first 30 days of work? It’s not unusual that a new employee might be experiencing some doubt about this new job as early as after their first month. The job may not be quite what they had imagined it to be.

Perfect time for a stay interview.

By definition a stay interview is a 1-to-1 meeting with a key employee with the intent of finding out what it will take to keep the employee or to prevent them from leaving.

Recently one of my clients shared with me that he thought a new employee was at risk of leaving. He was concerned because it was an important position and the new employee was performing very well so far. He decided to meet with the new employee the next day as it was the conclusion of her first 30 days on the job.

“I think I am going to offer her another $5,000 in salary,” my client said.

“Are you willing to try something different first?” I suggested.

“Sure,” he responded.

I then offered the following: “Before handing over an extra $5,000 to her, ask her a very simple question. First, tell her how pleased you are with her performance to date. Next, ask her what it would take for her to stay? Finally, do something very hard for all CEOs…say nothing.”

“Sounds easy enough,” he responded.

The next day I received a call from my client in the late afternoon. He sounded very happy.

“I tried what you suggested,” he said.

“And what happened?” I asked with great anticipation.

“It was great!” he exclaimed with great gusto on my speakerphone.

He continued, “I told her how pleased I was with her work over the past four weeks and how valuable she had already become as a team member. Next, I asked her the big question about staying.”

“There was a nervous pause on her part,” he said. “I think she was surprised.”

“Next, she said that when I hired her she thought she should have asked for a little more salary. Maybe an additional $1,500.”

“I told her that I thought we could do that.”

“Then, she said that her job would be much easier if she could have access to an online tool that might cost about $500.”

“Again, I told her that we could afford that, as well.”

“Finally, she shared with me that her only daughter typically got home from school around 4:30 in the afternoon and she was getting home from work around 5:00 pm. If she could be home when her daughter arrived at the house, it would be fantastic. She added that she would be happy to arrive at work as early as needed to get her job done.”

My client paused for a moment to catch his breath. Clearly, he was very pleased with the outcome of this meeting.

“How did you respond to her final request?” I asked.

“That was the easiest of the three,” he responded. “Family is one of our core values. She will start coming in earlier starting tomorrow.”

“I am doing some quick math and I have come up with about $2,000 in additional costs for this star employee,” I offered.

“Best investment I could possibly make,” he responded.

This was a great example of the stay interview. Several important takeaways:

  • Don’t wait until the employee has already decided to leave. Be proactive with your stay interview.
  • Ask the question and then be a good listener.
  • Be prepared to take quick action.

Are you ready to enhance employee retention with a stay interview? I look forward to hearing the results.