Love 'Em or Lose 'Em 5th Edition
Getting Good People to Stay
Publication date: 12/11/2013
Bestseller over 680,000+ copies sold
WHAT KEEPS YOU?
When do you think most leaders ask questions like “What can I do to keep you?”
You’re right: it’s in the exit interview. At that point it’s typically too late. The talented employee already has one foot out the door!
Have you ever wondered why we ask great questions in exit interviews but neglect to ask early enough to make a difference? Love ’em leaders do ask. They ask early and often, they listen carefully to the answers, and they link arms with their talent to help them get more of what they want, right where they are.
A crucial strategy for engaging and retaining talent is having conversations with every person you hope will stay on your team. We coined the term stay interview to describe those chats. If you hold stay interviews, you’ll have less regrettable turnover and fewer exit interviews!
When we suggest asking employees why they stay or what would keep them, we hear, “You’ve got to be kidding,” “Isn’t that illegal?” or “What if they give me an answer I don’t want to hear?” Managers dance around this core subject usually for one of three reasons:
• Some managers fear putting people on the spot or putting ideas into their heads (as if they never thought about leaving on their own).
• Some managers are afraid they will be unable to do anything anyway, so why ask? They fear that the question will raise more dust than they can settle and may cause employees to expect answers and solutions that are out of the managers’ hands.
• Some managers say they don’t have the time to have these critical one-on-one discussions with their talented people. There is an urgency to produce, leaving little time to listen, let alone ask. (If you don’t have time for these discussions with the people who contribute to your success, where will you find the time to interview, select, orient, and train their replacements?)
Guessing Is Risky
What if you don’t ask? What if you just keep trying to guess what Tara or Mike or Akina really wants? You will guess right sometimes. The year-end bonus might please them all. Money can inspire loyalty and commitment for the near term. But if the key to retaining Tara is to give her a chance to learn something new, whereas Mike wants to telecommute, how could you ever guess that? Ask—so you don’t have to guess.
Asking has positive side effects. The person you ask will feel cared about, valued, and important. Many times asking leads to stronger loyalty and commitment to you and the organization. In other words, just asking the question is an effective engagement and retention strategy.
How to Ask
How and when do you bring up this topic? How can you increase the odds of getting honest input from your employees? There is no single way or time to ask. It could happen during a developmental or career discussion with your employees. (You do hold those, don’t you?) Or you might schedule a meeting with your valued employees for the express purpose of finding out what will keep them. One manager sent the following invitation to give his key people some time to think and to prepare for the conversation:
Regardless of when you start this dialogue, remember to set the context by telling your employees how critical they are to you and your team and how important it is to you that they stay. Then find out what will keep them. Listen carefully to their responses.
He Dared to Ask
Charlie set up a meeting with his plant manager, Ken, for Monday morning. After some brief conversation about the weekend activities, Charlie 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.” Charlie responded, “I could take you with me to some senior staff meetings. Would that be a start?” Ken said, “That would be great.”
Charlie delivered on Ken’s request one week later.
What If You Can’t Give What They Want?
Most managers don’t ask because they fear one of two responses: a request for a raise or a promotion. They might not be able to deliver on those kinds of requests. Then what?
Next time a talented employee asks for something you think you might not be able to give, respond by using these four steps:
1. Restate how much you value them.
2. Tell the truth about the obstacles you face in granting their requests.
3. Show you care enough to look into their requests and to stand up for them.
4. Ask, “What else?”
Here’s how the discussion between Charlie and Ken could have gone if Ken had asked for a raise.
Following Charlie’s question about what will keep him, Ken replied immediately, “A 20 percent raise will do it!” Now, some managers will say things like “Are you kidding? You’re already at the top of your pay range.” That response shuts down the dialogue and makes a key employee feel less than key. Charlie was ready for this possibility, though. Here is how he could have responded to Ken’s request for a raise, using the four-step process.
2. I’d love 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. But I hear your request. I’ll run this up the flag pole and get back to you by next Friday with some answers and a possible time line for a raise.
4. Meanwhile, Ken, what else matters to you? What else are you hoping for?”
Ken might have responded with his interest in getting to know the senior team— and Charlie was ready to act on that one immediately.
Research shows clearly that people want more from work than just a paycheck. When you ask the question “What else?” 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.
What If You Ask What They Want and They Say, “I Don’t Know?”
Remember that this is not an interrogation—it’s a conversation, and hopefully one in an ongoing series of conversations. It’s okay not to know. Some people will be surprised by your questioning and need some time to think about it. Let them think, schedule another meeting, and set the stage for an ongoing dialogue about your employees’ wants, needs, and career goals. Engaging and keeping your talent is a process, not an event.
What If They Don’t Trust You Enough to Answer Honestly?
Discussions like these build trust. Ironically, discussions like these require trust. If your employees are afraid to answer your questions for any reason, you may need to build a trusting relationship with them before you can expect honest, heartfelt responses. Try to discover why trust is missing in the relationship, and purposely act in trust-building ways. Seek help from colleagues, human resource professionals, or coaches.
Be honest. If you’re not in the habit of having dialogues like these, it could feel strange—for you and perhaps for them. Tell them you did read a book or attend a course about engaging talent, and you did it because they matter to you. Tell them you honestly want to hear their answers and you want to partner with them to help them get what they want and need. You might even choose to admit that the love ’em approach sometimes feels awkward, even uncomfortable (like a new pair of shoes). That “name it to claim it,” forthright action can be just what’s needed to build trust with the talent you hope will stay and play on your team.
Ask each employee what will keep him or her at your company or your department.
Make a note in your computer or smartphone for every employee’s answer.
Every month, review the notes and ask yourself what you’ve done for that employee that relates to his or her needs.
Why Most Say They Stay
We’ve asked over 18,000 people why they stayed in an organization for “a while” (yes, it’s a relative term). Our findings confirm what many others (e.g., Blessing White, Gallup, Towers Watson, Sirota) have learned about the most common reasons employees remain at a company (and what will help retain them). The items recur throughout every industry and at every level. The differences between functions, levels, genders, geographic regions, and ages are minor. Here are the top 13 responses listed in order of frequency of response as of November 2013.
1. Exciting, challenging, or meaningful work
2. Supportive management/good boss
3. Being recognized, valued, and respected
4. Career growth, learning, and development
5. Flexible work environment
6. Fair pay
7. Job location
8. Job security and stability
9. Pride in the organization, its mission or product
10. Working with great coworkers or clients
11. Fun, enjoyable work environment
12. Good benefits
13. Loyalty and commitment to coworkers or boss
How do your employees’ answers compare with the list? Find out what truly matters to them by asking. Then create customized, innovative approaches to retaining your talent.
By the way, if you’d like to see the complete “What Kept You” survey data, including updated findings and multiple demographic breakdowns, go to our website, www.keepem.com and click on the “What Kept You” link.
A Word about Pay
Some of you immediately noticed the fact that fair pay lands in seventh place on this list. Here is what we know about pay. If employees see compensation as noncompetitive, unfair, or simply insufficient to sustain life, their dissatisfaction levels will go up. Your talented people will become vulnerable to talent theft or will begin looking around for something better, especially in a favorable job market. But here’s the rub. While it can be a huge dissatisfier if inadequate, even fair pay won’t keep people who are unhappy in other key areas.
So if your talented people do not feel challenged, or grown, or cared about, a big paycheck will not keep them for long. Researchers over time have found this to be true. Frederic Herzberg found in the 1950s that pay is a “hygiene factor”—make sure it’s there or it will be noticed!1 So, do what you can as a manager to influence your organization’s compensation programs. Be sure they are competitive and fair—then focus on what else you can do to keep your talent.
A Word About Culture
How do cultural differences play out in this crucial, foundational engagement strategy—the stay interview? We asked colleagues, book reviewers, and clients around the globe and here is what we heard.
• The majority said, “It will work here just as well as in the United States.”
• One colleague said, “Barriers to ‘asking’ in Asia are magnified because the culture demands respect for elders and leaders. Even if asked, most employees do not feel free to share issues that may reflect negatively on their boss.”
• A Chinese proverb reads, “A man of honor will feel ashamed by a single question to which he does not know the answer.”
• A consultant reported, “In more hierarchical cultures like that of Japan and Korea, asking questions is not traditionally encouraged. If the boss were to say, ‘What do you think?’ the subordinate would say, ‘Yes.’”
If you manage others in a culture where asking is not accepted or recommended, you’ll need to find a work-around. Some managers have used anonymous surveys or tasked someone else with the “asking.” However you seek to learn about what your talented employees really want, it is crucial that you do gain that information.
Look back at the list of reasons people stay and ask yourself which of these you can influence.
Check all those that you believe are largely within your control. If our hunch is correct, you will find that you can influence many more than you may have thought.
Beyond “Why Did You Stay?”
For a decade now, we’ve collected managers’ favorite stay interview questions. Here are the top 13.
Stay Interview Questions
1. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
2. What makes you hit the snooze button?
3. If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about your job?
4. What one change in your current role would make you consider leaving this job?
5. If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about this department, team, organization?
6. As your manager, what could I do a little more of or a little less of?
7. If you had to go back to a position in your past and stay for an extended period of time, which one would it be and why?
9. What makes for a great day?
10. What can we do to make your job more satisfying?
11. What can we do to support your career goals?
12. Do you get enough recognition? How do you like to be recognized?
13. What do you want to learn this year?
Let these ideas serve as catalysts for your own thinking. Create a list of your favorite questions. Ask them of your talented people. And ask again, listen carefully, and customize your retention efforts.
Stop guessing what will keep your stars happy and on your team. Gather your courage and conduct stay interviews with the employees you want to keep. Set aside time to start the dialogue. Don’t guess and don’t assume they all want the same thing (like pay or promotion). Schedule another meeting if they need to think about it for a while.
To simply ask may be the most important strategy in this book. Not only will asking make your talented people feel valued, but their answers will provide the information you need to customize strategies to keep each of them.
It doesn’t matter so much where, when, or how you ask—just ASK!
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