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What's in it for me?  A perspective on conversations vital for talent retention

What's in it for me? A perspective on conversations vital for talent retention

HR: Hello, how are you doing today?  Thanks for catching up with me regarding your exit interview today.  It's very unfortunate that you have decided to leave our organization. 

Employee: Hello. Yes, it was a difficult decision for me, but you know I did not find value in staying back further.

HR: I see.  What do you think led you to make this decision? 

Employee: Honestly there are many.  Infact the whole team feels the same way. But I don't think anybody in the organization cares.

HR: Could you be more specific with some examples may be! 

Employee: What's the point now?  (Wondering to herself- Anyway what's in it for me?)

This is a typical conversation that HR Managers go through with a leaving employee during exit interviews. And many of the HR practitioners would agree that most of the times these conversations don’t lead to any specific actionable insight. Employees are not always comfortable sharing the real reasons behind their intention to leave during that once-off hour long traditional exit discussion. They tend to sugar coat their triggers or explain the situation in the most diplomatic way possible.  And a simple reason I can think of is same as what the employee wondered to herself in above conversation:   “What’s in it for me?”.

It has been consistently pointed out in various researches that employees leave an organization primarily because of their bosses or some workplace conflict. For the purpose of this article, I am not referring to the exit reasons like higher education, entrepreneurship etc which is beyond organization’s control to cater to. 

Having said that, there are also situations where the employee would go full blast on the negative experiences enlisting all the triggers that demotivated them. But the question that even such candid employees ask is “ What’s in it for me?” or “Does anyone care?”. These questions are very natural, as an exited employee never gets to see what actions were taken by his/her organization to future proof itself against those areas of improvement. 

Exit interview has a lag effect and howsoever well managed the process is , the reality is you lost this talent and you would have lost more because you were delayed in taking relevant action. 
Contrast this with the concept of Stay Interviews. By its very definition, a stay interview is a structured discussion that a leader conducts with each individual employee to understand what motivates him/her to stay with the organization. It’s like conducting an appreciative inquiry to understand what ticks for your key talent and helps you strengthen your employer value proposition through real time feedback in a positive direction. 

Now, let me come back to the same question, “What’s in it for me?” in the context of stay interview. Think of the moment when your line manager had a one-to-one discussion regarding your development. Think of that moment when you were appreciated by your line manager for your recent accomplishment. Din’t you feel valued and motivated to do more? Employees feel valued when leaders invest time in periodic conversations around career development and performance discussion. It not only helps to course correct and develop the employee at periodic frequency but also helps to build a lasting trust based relationship.

Business and HR leaders should use this opportunity to also understand what their employees love about the organization and what they would like to change at the same time. These conversations can provide powerful insights on how employees perceive the culture that leadership team is striving to build or nurture. The insights that you receive are time relevant and a primary source of data which can be used to reinforce engagement momentum. 

I love the simple “Start”, ”Stop”  & “continue” model to get a better and clear sense on areas of improvement. In fact, it also helps address the other question ,”Does anyone care?”. But please take note that employees see meaning in such discussions only when they see clear action plans culminating out of it or when they have experienced solutions which would help them grow further in the organization. Hence closing the loop is equally important. You can refer to this article by Dr John Sullivan Stay Interviews: An Essential Tool For Winning ‘The War To Keep Your Employees’  which beautifully captures some of the questions that would help you assess the retention risk for your key employees.

There are many views on the methodology of exit and stay interviews and how best to use this data to business advantage.  Let me share my perspective with a simplified comparative review on objective , methodology and benefits of exit vs stay interviews.

In a nutshell, exit interview is a lag indicator telling you how to fix attrition problem, and stay interview is a lead indicator which tells you how to enhance employee engagement. Both the strategies have their own pros and cons and either of these interviews conducted in isolation would not provide a holistic perspective on identifying the motivators and de-motivators for your team members. Stay interviews should be seen as a powerful supplement to exit interviews and other retention tools to be able to position your organization as an employer of choice. The end objective is to weave in conversations that matter to the employee and enables you to have a timely assessment of retention risk. In this era, where War for Talent is a daily struggle for organizations, focus on people will only help further to create an environment of trust where employees are willing to strive and stay on.

Disclaimer: Views are personal.

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