Sit. Stay. – Guest Post by Sharon Jordan-Evans and Beverly Kaye

The Stay Interview… key to engaging and retaining talent

Sit. Stay. That command works for your dog (maybe). But does it work for engaging and keeping the talented employees you cannot afford to lose? Probably not.

Here’s another approach you can take that will work. It’s called the Stay Interview and it has now been tested and proven effective by thousands of managers.

What will keep you here?

When do most managers ask “What can I do to keep you?” You guessed it: during exit interviews. It’s a great question, but the timing is off. We suggest you ask it sooner.

You want them to stay—at least for a while longer. They are your stars and your high flyers. And they are your solid citizens too—the people who show up every day to do the work you need them to do. Your competition wants them, and you can’t afford to lose them.

You don’t have to cling desperately to your talent. You can keep them pumped up and excited about coming to work for you every day. Find out what will keep them engaged and on your team.

It seems so simple—just ask! Yet most managers will admit they are not conducting stay interviews (and their bosses are not conducting them, either). Why? Often it’s because they’re afraid of the answers.WhatsHoldingYouBack

They ask, “What if I ask my talented people what will keep them and they all say money or a promotion (or a Tesla)?” Good point. So the fear of being unable to deliver on someone’s request gets in the way of having the most crucial dialogue of all. Is that true for you? Here’s an easy four-step process you can use when an employee tosses you a tough-to-deliver-on request.

Four steps for dealing with tough requests

Next time your talented employees ask for something you think you might not be able to give, respond by using these steps:

1. Acknowledge the requests and restate how much you value your employees.

2. Tell the truth about the obstacles you face in granting their requests.

3. Care enough to look into their requests and to stand up for them.

4. Ask “What else?” — and keep asking. You’ll eventually get something you can work with!

It seems pretty straightforward. But how might it really play out?

He Dared to Ask

Antonio set up a meeting with his plant manager, Ken, for Monday morning. After some brief conversation about the weekend activities, Antonio said, “Ken, you are critical to me and to this organization. I’m not sure I’ve told you that directly or often enough. But you are. I can’t imagine losing you. So I’d like to know what will keep you here. And what might entice you away?”

Ken was a bit taken aback—but felt flattered. He thought for a moment and then said, “You know, I aspire to move up in the organization at some point, and I’d love to have some exposure to the senior team. I’d like to see how they operate—and frankly, I’d like them to get to know me too.”

Antonio responded, “I could take you with me to some senior staff meetings. Would that be a start?”

Ken said, “That would be great.”

Antonio delivered on Ken’s request one week later.

Well, that was easy. But what if Ken had asked for a raise? Here’s how the discussion between Antonio and Ken could have gone.

Following Antonio’s question about what will keep him, Ken replied immediately, “A 10 percent raise will do it!”

Now, some managers would say things like “Are you kidding?” or “Why do you think you deserve that?” Either response shuts down the dialogue and makes a key employee feel less than key. Antonio was ready for this possibility, though. Here is how he would have responded to Ken’s request for a raise, using the four-step process.

1. Acknowledge: “You are worth that and more to me.”

2. Tell the truth: “I’d like to say yes, but I will need to investigate the possibility. I’m honestly not sure what I can do immediately, given some recent budget cuts.”

3. Care enough: “But I hear your request. I’ll chat with Human Resources and my manager about it and get back to you by next Friday with some answers and a possible time line for a raise.”

4. Ask “What else?”: “Meanwhile, Ken, what else matters to you? What else are you hoping for?”

Research shows clearly that people want more from work than just a paycheck. When you ask the question “What else?” (possibly several times), we guarantee there will be at least one thing your talented employee wants that you can give. Remember to listen actively as your employees talk about what will keep them on your team or in your organization.

Bottom Line

If you’re not yet holding stay interviews, you are guessing at what your talented people really want—from you, from the team, from their work. You could be guessing wrong. Stay interviews are just one of many strategies in a successful manager’s playbook. But they are absolutely key to engaging, motivating, recognizing, and retaining talent.

Take the time to conduct stay interviews and take action on what you learn. Conduct these conversations early and often, with everyone you hope will bring their best and stick around for a while. Your return on investment will be an increased understanding of those on your team. And what might that lead to? Increased commitment, productivity, innovation, and success for you, your team, and the organization.

*Content adapted from Bev and Sharon’s new book, Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss, Berrett-Koehler, 2015.

BEVERLY KAYE is the founder of Career Systems International ( , a global leader in delivering innovative talent management solutions. SHARON JORDAN-EVANS ( is a sought-after executive coach and popular keynote speaker for Fortune 500 companies. They are the authors of five editions of Love ’Em or Lose ’Em, as well as Love It, Don’t Leave It.

Posted in Employee Engagement.