Why do Your Top employees stay?

Document created by 1002028 on Aug 19, 2014
Version 1Show Document
  • View in full screen mode

For professional service firms the loss of a key person can be devastating.  As the economy slowly improves, many companies are concerned that their top talent might leave for greener pastures.  Before these key people become former employees, or perhaps even worse disgruntled, unengaged employees, consider conducting “stay” interviews with them to understand why they stay with your firm.  You can then reinforce and / or amplify those factors.

Employees stay with companies for many reasons.  Pay, benefits, stock options, career opportunities, security, a good manager, family friendly policies and schedules, etc.  Complicating matters is that each employee joins and remains at a company for different reasons.  And those reasons change as people move through their life.  Unfortunately, at many companies the reality that people are different collides with a company’s desire to be consistent, leaving many key performers unsatisfied. 

What if you knew that the main reason your top accountant remains at your company was for a flexible work schedule.  Armed with that knowledge, how would you
confront a new Vice President that doesn’t believe in flextime and wants everyone working a standard 8-5 “in-the-office” schedule?  For a lot of technical managers, “work-at-home” sounds like an opportunity to get taken advantage of so they avoid or minimize it.   They can all recount that one person that did in fact take advantage of it.  You’ll recall from earlier column I called that belief system “managing for the 5%.”  In other words, we let the 5% that may do wrong shape our practices for the 95%.

In a stay interview, you “interview” your top performers as well as your top potentials periodically before there are any hints that they might leave.  Find out what’s on their mind.  What’s important to them?  Are they having any issues?  Ask them for ideas they have to improve culture, processes, policies, etc.  Keep the questions simple and conversational in topic.  Don’t over-engineer this process.  The discussion is more important than the form.  Stay interviews are best done one-on-one
and face to face or worst case over the phone.  I would not utilize an online survey for a stay interview.

Another word of caution, whenever you survey or interview employees, be prepared to apply what you learn to the work environment when you can.  I believe it’s much worse when you find out about a problem and do nothing about it versus just being conveniently unaware.

Since you are talking to these good employees in advance, you’ll have time to hopefully improve and reinforce those factors that are important while they are still a part of your organization. 

Another great outcome of stay interviews is that seeing things change will also encourage your best employees to stay.  It brings them even closer to the company to
know they have a real voice and that management cares.  What a great trust building opportunity. 

My co-worker Renee Watkins advises companies consider asking these questions in the stay interview:

  • Why have you chosen to remain with our organization?
  • Are we meeting your career development goals?
  • If an outside recruiter were to contact you, what reasons would you list for not being interested in another job opportunity?
  • What do you enjoy most about your job?
  • What improvements could the company make?


Stay interviews aren’t meant to be a substitute for overall employee satisfaction surveys or exit interviews.  However, stay interviews are laser focused on only one employee subset…your best employees.  And for the small professional service firm, keeping those key performers can make or break your firm. Think about it.