You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Forget 'Exit Interviews.' Here's Why You Should Conduct Stay Interviews Instead. What's working at your company, and what's not? Three ways to find out from employees who aren't halfway out the door.

By Curtis Odom

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

So, another employee is about to leave your employ: But rather than focus on an exit interview to find out why this individual is leaving, think about conducting "stay interviews" instead, and find out why existing employees are staying with you. Knowing the answers can help you build a better mousetrap for retaining top talent.

Related: 4 Smart Ways to Increase Employee Retention

What exactly is a stay interview? you may be asking . How do you conduct one, and why you should start doing it now?

In response, I would cite that old practice in HR, the exit interview, which in my opinion has seen the end of its useful life. It used to be that you would ask employees why they were leaving, in the hopes of getting useful and actionable information to help you correct the course.

The problem, however, was that the data obtained was tenuous at best; and, even worse, the employee was already lost, so your changes were coming too late. The exit interview did little to help you keep any more top employees from leaving.

Certainly, it's OK to have some turnover in the ranks, but with competency shortages and the war for talent heating up, you don't want your best people walking out the door. Here's where the "stay interview" comes in: as a retention tool, used by managers and HR professionals alike, to build engagement by allowing your employees' opinions to be heard, acted on and cared about . . . while they're still your employees.

The premise is pretty straightforward. Stay interviews are easy to conduct (and getting even easier with new micro-pulse technologies) and offer up rich, actionable data. They're not intended to replace an organization's engagement surveys, but rather to target high-performing or high-potential employees who may be looking to leave. Used correctly, the stay interview shows employees that you're taking the time to understand what's working and what's not.

Such interviews are also intended to be individualized and focus on the key factors that keep employees at the organization as well as the triggers that might cause them to leave. Unearthing this information helps managers better understand how their actions might impact an employee's particular engagement level as well as his/her desire to stay or leave the company.

So, if you're ready, here are some tips on how to conduct a stay interview:

1. During your first foray into the interviews, keep things simple.

The goal is to engage your employees. The conversation should be a positive experience for all involved. Asking your employees what really drives them, what engages them in their work and why they stay in the organization, are questions at the crux of the stay interview.

2. Anticipate that some employees won't be fully transparent.

There will surely be some cases where an employee may not feel like telling all, but give it time, and let the interviews stay the course. You'll welcome the input and your employees will appreciate your commitment to understanding what's working for them and what's not. Acting on the feedback shows an even greater commitment.

Related: Data Reveal the 7 Factors for Optimal Employee Retention

3. Think ahead about the questions you'll ask.

  1. Keep questions simple and informal.
  2. Ask questions about what motivates an employee to stay in the organization.
  3. Ask what drives the employee to succeed in his or her role.
  4. Ask what aspects of the culture are working for the employee and what aspects are not.
  5. Ask, "If you were your own manager, how would you manage yourself?"
  6. Ask what's missing in the employee's day-to-day routine, and what you could do differently to help.

Keeping stay interviews simple is truly key to their success. Employees want to share with you what's working and what's not. All too often, we let employees guess about where they stand and how they can grow. Communication and transparency are critical in today's workforce. Showing your employees that you care about what motivates them is just good talent practice. So, don't wait until a good employee leaves your organization to find out what went wrong.

Related: Keep Your Talent: 5 Employee Retention Strategies for Long-Term Success

Curtis Odom

Principal and Managing Partner, Prescient Strategists

Curtis L. Odom, Ed.D., is the principal and managing partner of the Boston-based executive leadership consultancy, Prescient Strategists. The firm's client list includes Aramark, Boeing, Brinks, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Campbell’s, FedEx, GAP, Harvard University and more. Odom, who specializes in multigenerational human capital development, is the author of several books on business strategy including Mind The Gap: Getting Business Results In Multigenerational OrganizationsGeneration X Approved: Top 20 Keys to Effective Leadership (2013); and Stuck In The Middle: A Generation X View of Talent Management (2012). A member of American Mensa, Odom holds his doctorate in education from Pepperdine University.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.


Save on Business Travel with Matt's Flight's Premium, Only $80 for Life

This premium plan features customized flight deal alerts and one-on-one planning with Matt himself.

Science & Technology

Here's One Reason Urban Transportation Won't Look the Same in a Decade

Micro-EVs may very well be the future of city driving. Here's why, and how investors can get ahead of it.

Health & Wellness

Do You Want to Live to Be 100? This Researcher Has the Answer to Why Longevity is Not a Quick Fix or Trendy Diet

Ozempic, cold plunges, sobriety and the latest health fads are not what science reveals will help you live a longer and healthier life.

Data & Recovery

Better Communicate Data with Your Team for $20 with Microsoft Visio

Visio features a wide range of diagramming tools that can support projects across all industries.