Interview to keep your existing staff

Interview to keep your existing staff

Lenore Lambert reckons she knows how to save Australian companies millions of dollars each year. Her tip to the nation’s employers? "Stay” interviews.

Lambert, founder of Sydney company the Interview Group, is an expert in retention intelligence. She says Australian companies could reduce staff turnover by up to 40 per cent with effective use of stay interviews.

"We know 30 to 40 per cent of people will say: ‘They could have kept me, if somebody had done something before I resigned.’ About the same portion of people say: ‘I raised the issues that eventually led me to leave before I resigned but nobody did anything or if somebody did do something it wasn’t enough.’ So there’s capacity for organisations to reduce staff turnover,” Lambert says. "You can’t always do what’s needed but even at 20 per cent . . . the impact on the bottom line is millions and millions of dollars. Keeping in touch before that whole emotional checking out process happens is ripe with pay-off opportunities.”

Keeping in touch should happen more formally than the phrase implies. “Staff retention is a goal on just about every business plan. Stay interviews are a brilliant means of turning around flight risks. We design them from an HR perspective: What do we need to do to have the biggest impact on staff turnover in a positive way.

"Exit information is the most accurate source of information about why people leave an organisation, allowing you to home in at a systemic level on what needs to change or what initiatives need to be implemented. The downside of exit information is you don’t get it until after people have left; stay interviews are done while the person is still employed,” she says.

Extracting quality data is a job for experienced staff. "Exit interviews have been done forever but often a junior HR person does them and that’s ridiculous. You need an intelligent mind with experience in the business world, listening to the story, probing, clarifying, checking that it’s consistent from end to end.

Without intelligent human input you can end up with the wrong drivers of turnover being identified.”

There are two types of stay interview: on-boarding and generic. The former, conducted after an employee successfully completes their probation period, looks at what attracted them to the organisation in the first place as well as how the recruitment and selection process affected their enthusiasm. "By the time you make an offer, you can have someone three times as excited about working for you as they were in the beginning or you can have someone thinking, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ "

On-boarding interviews can help keep new employees enthusiastic. “Some organisations get employees to do a checklist about `Was your phone set up when you arrived, were your business cards ready?’ That’s fine for checking the efficiency of your processes, but it’s not helping you retain that person. There’s a lot communicated by an employer investing time and money in having a really focused, in-depth conversation. It’s hugely motivating.”

Lambert believes such an investment pays dividends.

"Losing somebody in the first year, especially in the first six months, when you’ve put all that time, energy and money into recruiting, selecting, training and getting them used to the culture of the place and the people, then getting no productivity from them and they leave. It’s a disaster and so expensive."

The pay-off is productivity. "You’re less likely to lose them and more likely to have a productive employee quickly if you asked: ‘Were you clear on what was expected of you? Did you know where to get the resources you needed?’ It’s such a no-brainer.”

Maintaining the strategy makes sense.

"Generic stay interviews are about your current experience, your role, team, manager and how satisfied you are. An organisation’s exit data reveals what is most likely to drive people out the door. Ask people about those things at risk points you’ve identified. Is there a certain point in tenure when people become a flight risk, are there particular roles that are prone to turnover, is one gender or the other more likely to turnover at a certain age or life stage or career stage?"

It’s all about understanding. "It’s a matter of saying where are our high performers or high-risk people and let’s stay really close to them. Trying to identify potential risk factors for particular individuals.

Existing employees may not give honest answers if asked: `How likely is it you are going to resign?’

"You need to flush out, without making them feel that they’re jeopardising their future, what could be a risk factor for them in the next six months and what specifically would be needed to keep them.”

Anonymity is overrated. "The core value in a stay interview is being able to act to save that individual now,” Lambert says. "Make sure it is disclosed to somebody who can act. Some employers go overboard with confidentiality, thinking they must let everybody be 100 per cent anonymous to get honest feedback. That’s rubbish, 75 per cent of people are happy to share their comments."

Carel Bothma, HR director with federal government agency Australian Hearing, says it listens to employees. "Prior to conferences or events we conduct online climate surveys with specific high-risk groups that are critical in our retention strategy, like our clinicians. We seek their feedback and ask: `Are you considering leaving Australian Hearing? What would make you stay?’"

He says the breakdown of a relationship between an employee and their manager is the No 1 reason employees think of leaving any organisation. "You might not get paid that well or have certain issues with an organisation but you’ll probably stay there if you have a manager [who] looks out for you or mentors you.

"At exit interviews, we ask: `Would you ever consider working for Australian Hearing again and, if so, what position would you want to come back in?’ "

Lambert counsels not letting things get that far. "Don’t get too hung up on the minutiae," she says.

"Make the majority of the [stay] interview about their experience of the organisation and how it feels because that determines whether they will stay. Emotions make decisions and you’re trying to influence that person’s decision about staying or going. There are few organisations doing this now but in 10 years it will be almost as common as exit interviews."

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