Is the Stay Interview Art or Science?


I am so excited about the new book Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss by my friends Sharon Jordan-Evans and Bev Kaye.  In case you didn’t know it, these two partners are the authors of several bestsellers like Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em.

In honor of the launch of the book they kindly contributed  a guest blog post.  I love the practical tips Sharon and Bev offer. It turns out that the key is asking GREAT questions and listening to the answers you receive. Try some of these on with employees and team members and notice how much you learn.

And the answer to their title question? The Stay Interview is both art and science, as you will see below.

By Sharon Jordan-Evans and Beverly Kaye

Whether an introverted or extroverted leader, you want the same thing; you want your talented employees to stay, at least for a while. You’ve decided to have stay interviews with all of them, in order to build relationships and learn more about what these people really want from you, from their work, and from the organization. You might wonder about the science and the art of holding these crucial conversations.

The best stay interviews are a perfect blend of two things:

  1. The person you bring to it. That’s about your authenticity, attitude, and mind-set.
  2. The process, tools, and action steps you use. That includes asking great questions.

Great stay interviews require your genuine caring and curiosity. They also involve creating just the right questions, given your style and the employee’s. They require anticipating what your talented employees might ask of you and carefully preparing for any hard-to-deliver-on requests. And they include listening artfully as people tell you what matters most to them.

A Stay Interview by Any Other Name

You might be thinking that this sounds like the once-a-year conversations you’re required to have with your employees. But is it really? Or is that annual (often mandatory) conversation actually a performance appraisal? You know, where you list what they’ve done well, where they’ve fallen short, and what you hope they’ll do differently next year.

Or perhaps it’s an individual development planning discussion? These conversations focus on what your employees want to learn next. Or maybe it’s a career discussion? Chats about careers are often about employees’ career goals. It’s a discussion about next steps.

The stay interview might include components of every one of these types of conversations. When you ask a question like “What will keep you here?,” the answer might prompt a discussion about career, performance, or learning opportunities. But the dialogue often goes well beyond those topics. It could include work/life balance concerns, or how to manage conflict with a teammate, or what your employees really want and need from you.

“What will keep you here? What might entice you away?” These are the most powerful stay interview questions, the granddaddies of them all. Until you try them, you won’t believe the positive impact they can have on the talented people you hope to keep on your team. And you’ll be amazed at the new information you’ll receive.

Beyond those questions, there are dozens of other terrific queries you can use, depending on variables such as your relationship with this person, the organization’s culture, the situation at hand, your goals for the conversation, your comfort level, and your experience with stay interviews.

Some of Our Favorites

Here are a few of our favorite questions and the reasons why we like them.

“What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?”

This question conjures up an image immediately and gets your employee thinking about why he’s excited about going to work. It is an unexpected question about job satisfaction, and it typically elicits some fascinating responses, such as “The project I’m working on” or “Seeing my favorite client” or “Handling a tough problem” or “I love my colleagues.” You will learn more about your employee just by asking this question.

“What makes you hit the Snooze button?”

What a safe way to ask someone what she does not like as much about her job! Employees have answered this question in diverse and informative ways, such as “I’m just not an early-morning person.” Perhaps you could flex just a bit regarding her start time, or allow her to catch up on e-mails from home and then hit the freeway after rush hour. Another talented employee said he dreaded Monday morning staff meetings and delayed his trek to work for as long as possible. Could that staff meeting be shorter, better planned, or moved to another time?

“If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about your job?”

Who doesn’t dream about winning the lottery? Yet most of us, truth be told, would miss something about our job if we were to leave. Many employees will answer, “I’d miss the people most.” Yet others stay on the job despite the people! Think how valuable it is to know who wants what.

“What do you want to learn this year?”

He could answer, “Nothing. Nope, don’t want to learn anything this year.” (Hope you don’t have more than one of these folks on your team.) The question elicits fascinating responses that can help you gauge employees’ desire to learn, in general, and also can surface ideas for enriching their jobs.

“Does work give you back as much as it takes out of you?”

Wow—now there’s a powerful question! What’s your answer to it? And what would we learn about you based on that answer?

The Art/Science Combo

Great stay interviews are a combination of art and science, questioning and listening. They’re not difficult, especially if you’re interested in others. Take your genuine caring and curiosity to the stay interview. Wonder about and then ask your talented employees what will keep them engaged and on your team. Listen carefully to their answers, then co-create action steps, responsibilities and timelines to help them get what they want.

*Content adapted from Bev and Sharon’s new book, Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss, Berrett-Koehler, 2015.

 BEVERLY KAYE is the founder of Career Systems International (, a global leader in delivering innovative talent management solutions. SHARON JORDAN-EVANS ( is a sought-after executive coach and popular keynote speaker for Fortune 500 companies. They are the authors of five editions of Love ’Em or Lose ’Em, as well as Love It, Don’t Leave It.



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