We are in the midst of what many experts are calling the Great Resignation. Not surprisingly, employee retention is a top priority. Traditionally, organizations would use ‘exit interviews to gather information as to what went wrong.
This involves asking a series of targeted questions to see what could be done differently to address the issue and to take action to discourage other employees from leaving for this reason. Unfortunately, one of the biggest and unavoidable limitations of this approach is that the undesirable event has already happened. This type of approach is similar to a post-mortem, where people examine what went wrong after the fact.
Despite the popularity of this practice, there is another way. Rather than focusing on the past by asking a departing employee “What went wrong?” or “What could we have done differently to keep you?” we can shift the focus of the question. This involves asking a series of targeted questions to an existing employee to explore what can be done to retain them. This type of premortem has been called a Stay Interview.
To explore this idea further, I spoke with Dan Turner, CEO of Xperigo, to learn how he has been using Stay Interviews to enhance their culture and guard against the Great Resignation. Dan is a highly credible source. His organization has twice been recognized as one of Canada’s top admired corporate cultures, has been certified as a Great Place to Work, and was honored as one of the best workplaces for women in 2021.
At the beginning of our conversation, Dan shared with me what led him and his team to adopt this approach. “We asked ourselves, as opposed to learning from past failures, which are ‘a fait accompli,’ let’s anticipate the potential challenges and more carefully minimize or eliminate their occurrence. This led us to conduct Stay Interviews.”
Their goal in conducting stay interviews was two-fold. First, they wanted to identify concrete steps they could take to keep their employees engaged and committed to the business. Next, the team felt that holding these interviews would also strengthen the relationship between the manager and the employee moving forward. They believed that their employees would be more willing to open up and discuss issues that concern them if they were confident that managers at Xperigo would listen to them and act on their concerns.
Dan and his team created a set of questions to ask their employees:
- What do you like best/least about working here?
- What are your short and long-term career/professional goals? How can we best support you?
- Have you considered leaving the company at any time? If so, what made you consider this?
- What can I do to make your job better?
- Do you feel you are a valued employee? What can I do to make you feel more valued?
Understanding the urgency of launching these interviews and that their time was a scarce commodity, the first step in the process involved determining who would be at the front of the line. Dan explained, “We identified key employees that we felt would be difficult to replace and would considerably impact our business if they left. We scheduled those meetings as quickly as possible.”
Although some members of his team were initially skeptical, the results spoke for themselves. “What came out of those meetings was truly incredible. Things were brought to our attention that we had no idea were bothering people so much. They were simple fixes that paid immediate dividends. The results have gone been beyond what we thought possible, and we had pretty high hopes.”
Despite these impressive results, the team learned several key lessons:
- Focus on creating psychological safety – According to Turner, “it is important to let them understand that there’s no ulterior motive here. We are not trying to trick them into getting into trouble. We are not going to hold this against them. We want and need to hear what they have to say so we can find out where we can improve as a company.”
- Keep your ego at the door – You also cannot let your reactions to the feedback derail the conversation. “If you get defensive and start to make excuses or minimize their experiences, it’s pretty well game over. Although it may be hard to hear, it’s absolutely necessary. Your employees must know and trust you’re committed to hearing them out.”
- Actions speak louder than words – Simply discussing these concerns is not enough. “Leaders need to take action. Even if you can’t address everything, it is important to explain why. Look for immediate wins, no matter how small. The power of taking quick action is invaluable.”
One great idea that emerged through this process was the desire for mentorship. The company already has this in the works, with preliminary feedback highly positive. The benefit of this initiative is that it will continue to foster these conversations on an even larger scale.
Stay interviews worked out so well for the Senior Leaders at Xperigo that Dan and the rest of his team are cascading them throughout the rest of the organization. Each Senior Leader is coaching their direct reports on how to do these effectively. Dan sees it as a critical part of their strategy to counter the Great Resignation and continue to be widely recognized as a Great Place to Work.
Written by Craig Dowden.