Retain and engage your team with mindful stay interviews

We all have conducted behavioral interviews to uncover the mindsets, values, self-awareness and coping skills of prospective hires. We use questions such as, “Tell me why you want to work here?” or “There is no rule book for navigating an organization to connect with people inside and out. Tell me about a time when you did that?” But why do we stop asking questions that help our teams think through their personal strategy?


Most leaders want to have a conversation with their direct reports about engagement and most employees welcome it. The truth is most managers don’t know where to begin. Engagement is a 50/50 proposition with the organization unlocking the door and the employee stepping inside. We can’t push them through the door. But we can create an environment that invites them in with purpose, freedom, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the fulfillment that results in being their best.


Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their classic book First Break All the Rules show that the manager’s role as a catalyst is to 1) select the person, 2) set expectations, 3) motivate and 4) develop. If you can’t do all four of these well their Gallop research shows that you will never excel as a manger. Companies spend a small fortune evaluating employee engagement via surveys, culture initiatives, workplace wellness, and more. Basically, as a leader if your employees can answer “yes” to their six closed ended questions, chances are you have the beginnings of engagement.

  • Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  • At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing a good job?
  • Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

But this baseline is not enough to build high performance. Research shows that people need to hear six specific compliments before they will register one negative comment as helpful and not personal criticism. Knowing that, how do we mindfully remember to continually give specific accolades about the small wins of our employees when often we, as leaders, don’t need or get positive reinforcement for high achievement. “Great job!” doesn’t cut it. What I see in my coaching practice is that while most Jedi executives don’t need positive feedback to strive, they do find negative criticism difficult to take. The message they hear is “I’m not good enough.” Guess what? Your employees hear that too.

Your connection to your employees is your lifeline to your success as a manager and the success of your organization. Be human. You need not be perfect. Allow employees to be imperfect so they feel safe to disclose mistakes. Process improvement will grow instead of failed outcomes. Healthy tension is a good thing. Beth Comstock, first chairwoman of GE told The New York Times that she asks her team,

“Tell me one thing I don’t want to hear. It’s OK to give me some bad news. In fact, I want it.”

Stay-interview, open-ended questions

These questions demonstrate to employees that you care about their development, recognize their talent, and want to position them for success:

  • What about your job gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • Where is our organization letting you down? Lifting you up? What needs to change?
  • If you won the lottery tomorrow and left your job, what would you miss most?
  • Where am I letting you down as a boss? Helping you? What needs to change?
  • Do you feel you belong here? Why/Why not?
  • Where do you see yourself making the greatest difference? Where would you like to?
  • What talents do you have that we are not fully using?
  • What keeps you here? What might entice you away?
  • Where do you feel you are growing/stagnant in your role?
  • If you could work on one thing that you loved what would that be?

The goal is for employees to have ownership of high impact work. Listen to them. Take “Can’t” off the table. Engagement will follow.

Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is an executive coach and corporate CEO who helps busy leaders get off the treadmill to nowhere to be more effective, earn more, be more calm and enjoy connected relationships with the people who matter while it still matters. Watch her FREE Master Class training on Three Things to Transform Your Life and Career Right Now at