Business Coach

by Madeleine MacRae

Question: I’ve been reading about the Great Resignation for a while now and I just lost a key employee. I’m really worried that I’m going to lose more people. I already increased wages and can’t afford to keep upping compensation. What can I do to keep people?! —Feeling Worried

Dear Feeling Worried, 

There are two key things that you can do to regain your confidence and to get out in front of issues that might be creating the conditions for unexpected exits.

When you’re having voluntary turnover, the first question that you want to ask yourself is, “Could I have seen this coming?”

People leave businesses for many reasons, but as owners and managers we need to be able to anticipate change. One way to do that is to establish an anticipated shelf-life for each role. 

While we would love for every single person who ever joins our business to stay with us until they retire or until we let them go, that is not reality. Every role within our business has a reasonable shelf life and it is our job to determine what that term looks like.

To establish an anticipated shelf life for any given role, consider the number of years that an average performer would remain in the role before feeling ready to move on. When you’re puzzling this out, look at what has historically been true for your business and consider the type of person who usually steps forward for the role you’re evaluating. Where are they in their life and career journey? What skills or experience will they be acquiring in this role? How long will it take them to master this? Is this an entry-level role that someone would typically outgrow in two to three years? Is this a senior-level leadership role that someone who is very experienced is looking to as their final career move? 

The dynamics of achievement and of personality really matter when you’re setting up a baseline for how long you think someone would be reasonably fulfilled in any given role. If you’re hiring an entry level person and they leave after two or three years, that’s been a good run and you may have nothing to worry about. If, however, your VP is jumping ship after just two or three years, you may want to ask yourself why.

When any team member is getting close to the shelf life for their current role, it is time for you to proactively consider a change for them. Perhaps they are ready to take on new skills, to be put on a new project, to cross-train into a new department or even to elevate into management. Staying on top of the shelf-life metric may help you avoid panic when people exit roles at or around the time that you’ve determined as the typical shelf life for that role.

Now, once you’ve asked yourself that question, there are plenty of things that you can do to see if there are other dynamics at play that you need to heed, and one of them is called a “stay interview.”

A stay interview is designed to create a safe space for team members to share the nitty gritty about what is and isn’t working in their role and within the company. It is used to check the temperature of the team, keep a pulse on the overall culture of the company, and monitor individual job or career satisfaction.

Instead of waiting for team members to become unhappy, leave, and then provide their feedback in an exit interview, management teams are proactively seeking the feedback of those people who are still on the team. More than an annual performance review, a stay interview builds a sense of trust and loyalty between manager and team member, strengthens the relationship with the company, and encourages an ongoing feedback loop that allows for proactive management.

An effective stay interview must be done in a spirit of trust with positive intent on both sides and, ideally, should be conducted verbally by the direct manager of the team member. 

Each stay interview should consist of seven to nine questions dealing with overall culture, personal fulfillment, challenges, disappointments and hopes for the future. Keep the tone positive but balanced. Consider the content you are most looking to discover and craft your questions accordingly. Questions can range from super specific to more generalized. 

Three of the questions I’ve found very revealing are: 

  • What is it that you LOVE about your work with the company?
  • What decisions or changes in the past few months have disappointed you?
  • If you were king/queen for the day, what would you change and why?

Find one or two strengths you can further strengthen and/or opportunities for improvement in each interview, no matter how small they might be. And then circle back on the action you’ve taken directly with the team or team member within seven to 14 days of conducting the Stay Interviews. 

Letting ideas and insights linger for months without action can be worse than not soliciting the feedback in the first place. 

What you learn in a well-executed stay interview will help you see if there are bigger issues afoot or if your company is simply having some growing pains. 

People join businesses for many different reasons and when the business has grown beyond a certain threshold or has taken a new strategic direction, some attrition is absolutely normal. Some individuals prefer to work for smaller businesses where their impact is bigger and clearer while others would rather be one among many. Having a growing business will mean turnover. It’s not bad or wrong — and it’s not easy, either.

If you have considered the shelf life, have done a good stay interview, and have made meaningful improvement to your business, you’re well on your way to keeping your best people. 

Madeleine MacRae is a business and leadership coach who focuses on bringing her clients thought-provoking, practical, usable content that accelerates their implementation and secures their long- and short-term results. She loves the grit and determination of small to mid-sized business owners and has dedicated her career to helping them and their teams.

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