The secret to keeping your best employees

Written on Jan 19, 2017

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA content manager

Receiving a high-performing employee’s two-week notice is not only disheartening, it’s also frustrating. But figuring out how to keep your best employees before they jump ship doesn’t have to be a guessing game.

MarksShelly Marks, HR consultant and executive coach, uses the book “The Stay Interview: A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest,” by Richard P. Finnegan to teach leaders how a half-hour conversation every six months can build trust and increase retention.

“It’s taking 30 minutes with each of your direct reports and letting them know you want to have a casual conversation with them about what’s meaningful to them, for their work and careers,” Marks said. “The questions you’re asking in the stay interview are based on what they want, what their dreams are, what they need and what they’re willing to talk to you about.”

She warned that this is not meant to be a conversation about grievances or work performance. Instead, look at the bigger, long-term picture relating to the employee’s satisfaction.

“What it’s meant to do instead is identify what is important to that person and then probe to find out how you can help make that a retention tool so your employee stays  longer in the position,” Marks said.

Managers can fall into the trap of wanting to solve all an employee’s problems immediately, she said. But it’s more crucial to listen carefully to establish trust and keep communication lines open.

“The most important thing that can come out of this is the employee leaves the meeting feeling like she’s been heard, that she trusts something is going to happen, that she trusts there’s going to be open communication even if her issues can’t be solved,” she said.

If you’d like to initiate a “stay interview” with your manager, Marks suggested emailing your boss a link to the book with a simple message that you’d like to try it out to enhance your working relationship.

Marks recommended meeting every six months or so to check in with direct reports, and to conduct stay interviews more frequently with new hires.

“If it’s a new employee, you probably do it three times in the first year, especially two times within the first six months, when it is critical to understanding what a new hire needs,” she said.

Not everyone is necessarily a candidate for this type of discussion, however. Marks advised against using the stay interview technique with low performers or people who have been struggling in their position for an extended period of time. They will need a different type of discussion, not one that is looking to encourage the employee to stay at the company long-term.

Because one of the most common reasons people leave their roles is dissatisfaction with their manager, these discussions can help employees feel they are being heard and strengthen their working relationships. An open, honest discussion can help the manager catch signs a top performer is looking to move on before it’s too late.

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