Thursday, July 19, 2012

Exit Interviews? Why Not Do Stay Interviews?

Here's an interesting thought: Why do companies conduct exit interviews when employees leave, but they don't conduct stay interviews to understand why employees stay?

Think about this. Companies often focus on churn or attrition of customers - or turnover for employees - but who has retention as a key metric? I've worked with a lot of clients who track customer or member attrition on their scorecards but not retention. Why not? I just met with a client last week who conducted nothing else but Lost Customer research. It accounted for 4% of their business! Why aren't they focusing on the 96% that remain and what it takes to keep them?!

OK. This post is about employees. I'll devote a full blog in the future to customer retention and attrition. But, just as we know that employee engagement drives customer engagement, we can also surmise that employee retention drives customer retention. Why? Well, for one, because people buy from people! Those human relationships are so vital!

I don't even think I need to pose this, but why focus on employee retention instead of turnover? Without a doubt, employee turnover is costly - not just in terms of the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a new person but also in terms of the knowledge and productivity that just walked out the door.

So, let's think about this for a second. In an exit interview, we typically ask what went right and what went wrong. (I'm over-simplifying, but you get the point.) At this juncture in the employee-employer relationship, where the employee has checked out, the employee has no vested interest (usually), and either doesn't provide any information worth acting on (sometimes for fear of recourse) or does such a huge dump of things gone wrong that you find it hard to believe, i.e., is it vendetta or truth? It's too late to save the employee, which can be a costly mistake. Honestly, I'm not so sure that an exit interview is a good use of time and resources. I do, however, like the concept of the stay interview.

Why don't we ask, on a regular basis, where employees stand; how they feel about the organization, management, culture, and vision/direction; and if they have everything they need to be successful in their roles? You might say, well, I do an employee satisfaction survey. Isn't that good enough? I say "Bravo to you!" if you do conduct employee satisfaction surveys! You're ahead of the curve already! Stay interviews are a bit different, though, and supplement your annual or semi-annual employee survey. They are more conversational in nature and are conducted between manager and employee, perhaps during weekly 1:1s.

While exit interviews are more like autopsies in nature, stay interviews are more like your wellness visits, focusing on what current employees enjoy about working for the company, as well as on aches and pains and what needs to be fixed. As an employee is walking out the door, there is really nothing that a manager can correct immediately to keep him, while employees who are staying can be reassured that they are appreciated and can witness their feedback being used to transform the organization and its culture.

Key to this process is that managers are trained on how to conduct the interviews and how to address concerns and feedback. Also important is the need to close the loop and keep employees abreast of improvements and changes as a result of the discussions. Changes, if needed, must be made in order for this to be a successful initiative. In addition, these discussions must happen on an ongoing basis. Paramount to everything else is a culture that accepts the feedback gleaned from these interviews without recourse and embraces employees who are open and honest, in the spirit of success of the company.

Let me know if your company conducts stay interviews. I'm curious to find out how they are received and how they are used. Are they ongoing discussions? Are they successful?

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” ~Alan Lakein

6 comments:

  1. Much like customer satisfaction interviews, the problem lies in a lack of follow-up activities. Gallup's Q12 program, for example, has touched millions of employees; however, the scores mean nothing without executive outreach to follow-up on survey findings. A strong HR department and chief customer officer can help drive follow-up activities, if empowered.

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    1. I absolutely 110% agree... just like any other feedback, if you do nothing with it, it is pointless.

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    2. For what it is worth my view is that in stay interviews there is also inherent bias. Being stereotypical for a moment, Brits tend to say everything s OK, but then go back to colleges and moan about all the things that are wrong. My experience with US colleagues is you get "everything is awesome" sorts of commentary – again meaningless. I agree there are some enlightened organisations out there that really use this as a tool to drive change, but there are an awful lot more that pay lip service...

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    3. Good points. Those are my concerns, too, which is why there really needs to be a culture that is open to this approach and clearly communicates that this is a tool to drive change and to keep people from leaving.

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    4. What you're really talking about here is a lack of trust. Starts with a belief that management won't follow-through. Then devolves quickly into a logic chain that says "if _they_ won't respond/reply/react, then _I_ won't waste my time providing input".

      See here for a great book that shows how trust can be _intentionally_ developed. http://bit.ly/NmtrcB

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    5. Thanks, Andy. You're right. And thanks for the suggestion of the Stephen Covey book. I saw your post on it last week and added it to my personal reading list. Now, if I just had a few more hours in the day... :-)

      Annette :-)

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