Why Would Your People Leave?

I’ve written about this before so it should come as no surprise that I’m not a fan of exit interviews. Most people are not fully transparent with their answers for a variety of reasons. Some don’t believe the company they are leaving will actually act on anything they say. Considering most of the people are leaving because the company never listened to them it’s easy to see how they would feel that way. 

Some just don’t care. They have emotionally moved on to their next job or their next opportunity and they want to make the exit interview as short as possible. 

But the big reason I do not like exit interviews is because they fall into the “too little too late” category. Finding out why someone left after they have made the decision to leave is far less effective in building a strong work force than finding out how you can keep them from leaving in the first place. 

So I am a fan of a “stay interview.” A stay interview is something that happens on a semi regular basis. A leader can either conduct a more formal interview asking a series of questions all at once or they can “deconstruct” the interview and ask the questions here and there over a longer period of time. 

I am a bigger fan of the deconstructed method because it drives more consistent dialogue between a leader and their people. Either way here are a few examples of the types of questions I suggest for a stay interview.

What part of your work do you find most enjoyable? The point of this question is simple, do you know what your people like about their job. Do you know what it is that keeps them engaged and committed? It’s interesting to note that in 25 years working in corporate America I have never heard of a single employee asked this question by their leader. 

What might make your work life easier? Many leaders don’t ask this question because they simply don’t want to know the answer. Knowing what they could do to make life easier for their people causes the leader to have a sense of responsibility to do it. Authentic Leaders accept that responsibility, lesser leaders do not. 

What three ways would you like to be recognized and rewarded? Here’s another question that many people in leadership positions don’t want to ask. But recognition is a form of reward in itself. Leaders who know how their people want to be recognized can target much more impactful recognition instead of the more common “one size fits all” approach.

When was the last time you were recognized by me or the company? Leaders most often decline to ask this question because the answer is frequently awkward…since the answer is too often, “I have no idea.” But this is a leadership accountability question. If your people don’t feel as if they are being recognized then they aren’t being recognized, no matter if the leader thinks they are or not.

What can I do to ensure we never lose you as a member of our team? Be prepared for some surprising answers, many of which you would have never thought of on your own. 

What different jobs or roles might you envision yourself doing in the future? Leaders grow their business by growing people. Don’t “plant” your people in a field where they have no interest in growing. Feeling “stuck” leads people to disengage. Authentic Leaders know that the most expensive employees are not the ones who are paid the most, it is the ones who are least engaged.

What would cause you to leave our company? Yep, ask it. Might take a bit to muster up the courage to ask this but this is where the rubber meets the road. This question alone could bring the “Great Resignation” to a screeching halt. But somehow, many many leaders are too afraid of the answer to ask it. Authentic leaders ask it then they act on it.

How can I be a better leader for you? Let me assure you that your people don’t have to be leadership experts to answer this question. Give them some time to gather their thoughts on this one. Maybe circle back with them later in the week. Your success as a leader is completely dependent upon the success of your people. You can help them be more successful but they can return the favor…if you’ll let them. 

Above all your people need to know you’re asking these questions because you care about them as people. They need to know there are no consequences for their answers, only possible improvement. Improvement in their situation, improvement in your leadership abilities and improvement in the company as a whole. 

Don’t wait until you’re asking your people why they are leaving. Ask now what you can do to ensure they never do.

Are Your Key Employees a Flight Risk?

For the past several years I’ve been trying to alert leaders to an impending existential threat to their organizations. I no longer feel the need to do that because it’s no longer impending. The danger is upon us and if you still don’t know what it is then frankly there is little long-term hope for your organization. 


Hopefully you’re at least in the group who has the feeling that it’s harder to find people than it used to be…what you need to know is that it’s not just a feeling, it’s a very serious threat to the very existence of your business or organization.


The threat I’m talking about of course is the significant shrinking of the available workforce. Upwards of 10,000 Baby Boomers a day reach retirement age and they are being replaced by a much much smaller number of millennials. Even with the Centennials, iGen, Generation Z or whatever you want to call them joining the workforce very soon it won’t be enough to replace all the retiring boomers. 


With all due respect (if they still deserve respect) to the politicians who are claiming credit for the near historic low unemployment rate in the United States it has little or nothing to do with their efforts. It’s all about demographics.


The math is simply and it does not lie. 


One of the worst mistakes a leader can make today is to assume that their key people are not vulnerable to offers from other organizations simply because they provide a fair wage and a good work environment. 


Everybody, I repeat everybody, wants something and if you’re not working diligently to provide your people what they want then rest assured some other organization will. 


I could go through a long list of what your people might want but “might” doesn’t get it done. You need to know precisely what each of your people want and you need to know it before they are offered it by someone else. 


That’s why I’m such a proponent of “stay interviews.” Conducting an exit interview to discover why you’re people are leaving is of little use when compared to conducting a “stay interview” to determine how you can keep them. 


Sometimes when asked in a “stay interview” your people may say that “everything is fine” or that they don’t really know what they want. If that’s the case then it’s your job as a leader to help them discover what it is that they want, what it is that will help them stay motivated to remain a part of your organization. Then it’s your job as a leader to deliver it to them if it’s at all possible.


I absolutely promise you that if you don’t do that someone else eventually will and it’s getting more likely that it will be sooner rather than later.


The number of small businesses closing their doors or hanging on by a thread due to lack of an available workforce is beginning to grow. It is already spreading to larger organizations. If you’re in business then you’re in the people business. If you’re in the people business then you’re going to need to fight for your piece of a shrinking workforce. 


The fight begins by not losing the people you currently have. 


I truly do not have the vocabulary or writing skills to convey how serious an issue this is becoming for all businesses and organizations. The demographics are just crystal clear!


There are a limited number of larger companies who had the vision and forethought to get out in front of this threat and develop programs to retain their people and even recruit new ones. While that’s good for them it makes the situation even more critical for those organizations behind the curve. 


The answer to the question that makes up the title of this post is YES! Your key employees are a flight risk. Even if they are not looking to leave there is another organization out there who will try to entice them to do just that. You need to covet them as much or more than the organizations that don’t have them….yet.

Oh, one more thing before we close this out…. if you have an employee who isn’t key to your organization then what the heck are they doing working for you?

The Problem With Exit Interviews

In just the last few months I’ve had no less than half a dozen people who were leaving their jobs ask me what I thought they should say during their exit interviews. When the first few asked I just naively said “the truth.” They kind of stared at me like I was some sort of idiot. (okay, just keep your snide remarks to yourself here 😊)

I guess I hadn’t really thought that out.

With the last few who have asked me I answered with a question. I asked, “what are you thinking of saying?”

Their answer indicated that the truth, at least the whole truth was nearly out of the question. They saw nothing to gain by ratting out a crummy boss, complaining about a hostile work environment, or uncompetitive compensation and benefits. They didn’t want to go out as a negative complainer.

What they really wanted to know was how much information they should share, if any, or should they pretty much hold everything back and just go quietly into the night. I guess I had never really thought much about the various strategies involved in exit interviews but these people had raised my curiosity.

So I started asking around. I asked people from different industries, different levels within companies, and different amounts of experience at their current jobs what they would say at an exit interview and the answers I received surprised me. Most people saw an exit interview as a necessary evil that they needed to carefully manage. They said they would choose their words carefully so as to not offend. Not one saw a benefit to “burning any bridges.”

The ones who said they felt an obligation to be truthful said they couldn’t be fully truthful. They didn’t think anything would really change so even those who were willing to share something “bad” would not come clean as to how truly bad it was.

I’ve come to the conclusion that conducting exit interviews is a little bit like closing the gate after the horse has left the corral. 

So here’s a message for those organizations and leaders who are still robotically conducting exit interviews. You had better be certain that the reason you like exit interviews isn’t because you DON’T want to really know what’s going on. The most successful leaders ask the questions even if they think they won’t like the answer. 

To grow your organization you must listen intently to what you don’t want to hear. Too many exit interviews merely confirm that “it wasn’t anything the company did,” it wasn’t anything the boss did,” in fact, there is really no reason I’m leaving at all. Guess it was just time for a change or I think I have a better opportunity somewhere else. 

Clearly there was a serious, tangible reason that the person leaving your organization decided to leave. If you can’t find out what that reason is then why bother with an exit interview?

Most answers in an exit interview leave the organization and it’s leaders off the hook for losing people. In my opinion that’s why little change comes from the “information” learned in an exit interview.  

If you’re losing good people find out how to keep them BEFORE they leave. 

So maybe you ought to consider “stay interviews.” These are conducted on a very regular basis,  at a minimum once a year. Asking a few times a year during regular “bring-ups” is not too often. The two big questions to ask are, “what could the company do to keep you?” and “what would entice you to leave the company?”

Surprisingly most research indicates that the first question is commonly asked in one form or another during an exit interview. That’s way too late. 

Finding good employees is only going to become more challenging as the retirement of Baby Boomers speeds up, there just won’t be enough people to fill all the open positions. Rather then jumping into the rat race of finding new people maybe you ought to consider focusing on keeping the ones you already have.