Avoid exit interviews by using a stay interview

Dear Ken Keller,

I recently went to lunch with some fellow business owners and they shared with me that they have two kinds of employees.

The first are the employees who are part of the past and the present, but are not part of the future of their companies. This does not mean they are bad people in any way but they have maxed out their contribution level.

The second group consists of employees to keep because they are helping move the company forward. These are people not satisfied with the present situation and are striving to take the company to a better future.

While I am mulling this over, wondering if what I was told was true in my company, an employee in my “keep” group resigned for a better opportunity.

The employee did not leave for a competitor but for a company in a different industry. I was told that his new company was hiring for skills, abilities and potential and that he would be expected to learn the nuances of the industry over a period of time.

This was a shock and a disappointment. What can I do to retain my better employees?

Steve B.

Dear Steve,

Every company is different and what you were told about groups of employees may or may not be true.

Assume that you have people working for you that, if they resigned, you would not be sorry to see them go. The bigger question is at what point did you start feeling that way about them and why?

If you think this way about a group of employees, you can bet they know it. The only reason they work at your company is because a better job opportunity hasn’t come along. And they are doing the minimum required of them. Why should they do more?

What you want to do is four things. First, don’t make assumptions until you know the truth.
Second, set a goal to increase the engagement level of every employee. Third, keep individuals employed as long as they are productive and contributing and when they are not committed or producing, have a conversation to find out why. Fourth, until you have defined a clear vision of what the future looks like for the company and every employee in it, no one is immune from leaving for greener pastures.

How do you increase engagement? Conduct a “Stay Interview” which consists of four simple questions for each employee:

What can I do to support your career goals?
Do you get enough recognition?
What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
If you had a magic wand what would be the one thing you would change about your department?

When you hear the results take action and follow through. You will be very surprised at what you will learn.


Dear Ken Keller,

It makes me cringe when I hear someone on my team respond to a person saying “Thank you” with “No Problem!” What is the best way to train my employees so they no longer do this?

Carl N.

Dear Carl:

At the Ritz Carleton Hotels, the Main Thing is that “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” In a service business, this is the gold standard of proper attitude and behavior.

You need to start by educating your worst offenders what the acceptable alternatives are when thanked. This might include “You are most welcome,” or, “My pleasure,” punctuated at all times with a warm smile. Practice this with your team members.

If practice doesn’t work, tell those that as much as you like them, their next pay increase will be delayed by one day every time you hear them using the phrase you detest. Once money is a stake, positive change will take place immediately or you’ll need to move people to a better job opportunity elsewhere. It will be their choice.