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Having Stay Interviews to Avoid Exit Interviews

I chuckled to myself recently when reading an article stating that “stay interviews” were the newest trend because of the labor turmoil of the Great Resignation[1]. We were big on stay interviews (or "retention interviews" as we called them) for my entire Army career, and all leaders keenly understood that influencing a soldier’s choice to stay at the end of their term of enlistment cost far less money and was much less disruptive than recruiting a new soldier to take their place.

Eternally focused on process and procedure, we had a regulation that directed leaders to keep a thumb on the pulse of how satisfied our Soldiers were with their military service and what their career intentions were. For those who roll their eyes at having rules about retaining soldiers, I'll say that as a commander, I was glad they were there. The regulations told us when we should be conducting periodic reviews and who should be doing them. Unsurprisingly to us, it wasn't always the leader conducting the interviews because the Army had learned the value of peer counseling and that soldiers were often more comfortable speaking their minds with someone they knew more closely.

The regulatory stipulations didn't mean we couldn't have other 'retention-type conversations,' but rather served as a minimum standard. For me, the great thing was how we had those retention conversations left to us. A recent Harvard Business Review article by leadership development expert Christopher Littlefield is backed by Gallup research and really gets to the heart of how most Army leaders I served with engaged their Soldiers in real conversations about just how happy they were...or weren't[2]. As Gallup found, it doesn’t have to be hard: by starting with three or four genuine questions about how someone is doing, and then actually listening to the answers, leaders can learn valuable information about what their team members are enjoying most about their job, how they’re balancing work and family life, and what things might be done to increase their satisfaction and engagement.

Fast forward nearly seven years post-retirement, and I'm now more aware that many organizations aren’t conducting retention interviews. For myriad reasons, leaders aren’t choosing to engage their team members in regular conversations about how things are going. It turns out, just taking the time to ask can yield valuable information that might be used to head things off at the pass if a valued employee is at risk of leaving.  Many, if not most conduct "exit interviews," but isn't it a little late to start the conversation when they're already walking out the door?


[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/30/why-stay-interviews-are-the-next-big-trend-of-the-great-resignation.html

[2] https://hbr.org/2022/04/how-to-ask-whether-an-employee-is-happy-at-work

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