employee retentionPublic agencies across the United States are facing a silent threat.  Employees are considering their options.  Working for a public agency isn’t what it used to be and employees know it.  The greatest threat to organizational viability is the loss of talent that has inevitably arrived as the economy offers our best employees other opportunities.  Now is the time to focus on retaining those staff members who bring the most value to your organization.

You may think that retention is a human resources issue.  The reality is that employee retention and motivation are essentially individual activities, driven by supervisors and managers.  Retention is a one-on-one effort, rather than a group activity. And, while enterprise-wide initiatives like compensation studies and benefits analyses will create an environment that makes retaining employees easier, it still comes down to how the employee feels about working for you, their leader.

What can you do to impact whether your top performers stay or go?  Rather than guessing what keeps them happy, why not ask them?  Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, in their 2002 classic, Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay, suggest that managers conduct a “stay interview” to learn what it will take to keep the good ones. There’s never been a better time for government leaders to employ this practice. And it’s easy…

In a monthly or quarterly meeting with each employee, that doesn’t need to last more than 15 or 20 minutes, ask questions like:

  • What do you love about your job?
  • If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most?
  • What about your job do you dread?
  • What is one thing about your current job that makes you want to leave us?
  • What is it that makes you proud to work here?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about
    this department?
  • If you had to go back to a position in your past and stay for an extended period of
    time, which one would it be and why?
  • When you tell your friends about working here, what do you tell them?
  • What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
  • What is the best day you’ve had on this job and why?
  • What was the most frustrating day on this job and why?
  • What will keep you here? What would drive you away?

Asking such probing questions will result in a number of benefits.  First, you as the leader will learn what motivates your employees.  You’ll also learn where your vulnerabilities are in terms of staff morale.  Second, you send a strong message to your staff that they are valuable and that you need their service and dedication more than ever.  Finally, the conversation may lead to new ideas and innovations that you’ve not considered in the past.

A manager I recently worked with questioned the impact of the stay interview.  He asked, “What if I ask these questions and don’t like the answers I get?”  My response: “What if you don’t ask these questions and lose your top performers because they don’t think you care?”

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