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Letter to Leaders

Keep Your Best Employees By Asking These Questions

A very wise man once said if you ask enough “stay interviews”, you’ll be doing a lot less “exit interviews”.

I have seen very few businesses that can’t benefit from more frequent and quality interactions between managers and their employees. The problem is, most managers don’t know what questions to ask. As a result, communication is garbled or non-existent, and a very good employee often shocks their boss when they “suddenly” leave. This problem is exacerbated when managing remote employees.

Anyone can ask good questions; it’s just a matter of being intentional about doing so.

Many years ago I was running a division of about 300 salespeople. 10 managers reported to me. One of those managers was actually someone I reported to a few years previously (that’s another article right there). I really loved and respected Chris when he was my boss, and tried hard to treat him the same way when I became his boss. The trouble was my boss – Edward – intensely disliked Chris, and wanted me to fire him.

So I put together a day-long meeting where each of my managers presented a “state of the staff” to both me and Edward. Each manager had 45 minutes to review staff, discuss challenges and successes. The managers were competent, and reviewed each employee in terms of productivity, customer service ratings, etc. I saved Chris for last. Instead of reviewing numbers, he reviewed each of his direct reports as individuals.

“Keith had a tough year last year, as he was going through a divorce. The divorce is now final and he’s totally been re-focused”.

“Jennifer and her husband just bought a new house so she’s twice as motivated to bring in new sales”.

And so on. He knew each of his employees in detail – where they lived, names of their spouses or significant others, what their issues were and what their goals were. At the end of the day, Edward grudgingly said he understood Chris a lot better.

So get your managers to get to know their employees better. It’s not a big ordeal – just 10-15 minutes a month of conversation. And managers need to do a lot better than simply “How’s it going?”

Last year, we worked with an organization on their culture and incorporated much of the culture into some stay interview questions. Here are some of them:

  1. If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most?

  2. If you were the CEO for a day, what would be the one thing you would change about this department?

  3. What makes for a great day?

  4. What can we do to make your job more satisfying?

  5. What can we do to support your career goals?

  6. Do you get enough recognition?

  7. What will keep you here? What might entice you away?

  8. What do you want to learn this year? How might you learn it?

By understanding employees better, your managers will be better able to help employees stay. Or, prepare for an impending departure. In either instance, asking stay questions becomes an essential part of your overall performance management strategy. After all, the whole purpose of management is to manage performance.


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