The Conversations That Can Keep Someone from Quitting

Losing talented team members is always a concern, but it looms even larger during this unprecedented period of tumult within the workforce and higher than average turnover. Having candid conversation with your direct reports about their level of satisfaction with their current role, ideas for growth, and perspective on the organization can help ensure you aren’t surprised by an unexpected resignation, but even better, avoid one by troubleshooting together while there’s still time.
Let’s talk about it
Work can be a frenzied, pressure cooker kind of a place that leaves little time for slower, deeper conversations that get beyond posturing, politicking and short answers that allow you to move on to the next fire. But that can leave a lot of important things unsaid. Too often, the end result can be that a valued team member doesn’t share concerns about her job until she’s sitting in an exit interview with HR.
Executive coaches suggest making time regularly to ask team members key questions about their current role, what they want to be doing next, and how the organization can help them get there. Not only do such conversations show employees that they are valued, they also equip you with critical information regarding how best to work together to maximize their contribution, sense of purpose and level of job satisfaction.
Silence is not golden
While a no-news-is-good-news philosophy can be a favorite among leaders who don’t want the responsibility of helping team members grow beyond their current roles, a far more effective strategy for retaining talented staff is to help them develop as fully possible within your team, or at least within the organization.
Executive coach and author of Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work, Susan Peppercorn, has seen in her practice coaching hundreds of employees in career transition the same findings that research reveals about common experiences among employees who leave their organizations. “Countless clients have told me they wished their employer had asked them questions to encourage their growth before they resigned,” she wrote in Harvard Business Review.
Research from Gallup also finds that 52% of employees who had recently resigned said that their manager or organization could have intervened in ways that would have prevented them from leaving. More than half also said that no one had asked them how they were feeling about their role in the three months before they left.
Questions that can make a difference
Equipped with a few pointed questions, you can help team members focus on what they want most in their career and brainstorm together how to deliver it as fully as possible in your current context. This approach shares responsibility between leaders and their team members for professional development and for trouble shooting department policies and practices that can inhibit growth.
Consider these conversation starters.
  1. How do you want to grow and expand your career? A lack of opportunity for growth (even lateral growth) is a top reason people at all stages of their careers leave their organizations. Asking people about their goals for growth can uncover interests you would otherwise have no idea they had. Even if there is not a direct position available that meets that description, knowing what your team member is looking for might enable you to help her gain stretch assignments elsewhere in the organization, and mentoring and professional development that will help her expand in the areas she most desires and increase her contribution to your agenda.
  1. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job? Assuming you know what tasks and opportunities someone else values most is dangerous. Some team members might relish the opportunity to present to senior executives and others would rather build behind-the-scenes skills. One team member might be single-mindedly focused on the C-Suite and another might prefer a lateral move that provides an international experience. And while everyone will have aspects of their job that they enjoy less, it might sometimes be possible to hand a few of those tasks off or share them more broadly to provide room for high-potential talent to tackle new skills.
  1. What accomplishments here are you most proud of? Where people feel proud of their contributions, they are also likely to feel most engaged and to connect their work to a greater sense of purpose. As a manager, you can help team members understand how their work contributes to larger goals and the broader mission of the organization. And, by finding out more about what they value and the elements of their job that feel most important to them, you might also see opportunities to connect them to responsibilities that tie into that sense of purpose.
  1. How can I help you do your best work? It can be humbling to learn about ways you might actually be interfering with someone getting more done or spreading her wings, but also extremely helpful to uncover unintentional roadblocks. If a team member can articulate the kind of support needed to perform at her highest level, working to provide that demonstrates your commitment to her growth, and provides a level of accountability for the employee to step up and seize the moment.
  1. What ideas do you have to help our team perform at a higher level? While question four focuses on the individual, this question provides an opening for staff to provide input from a team leader’s perspective. Every team member has a unique perspective on the department and the organization as a whole and seeking out this input can help you discover changes that can boost overall performance and help colleagues feel more empowered and engaged.
Employee engagement is a powerful strategic advantage that can allow your area of responsibility to exceed expectations. Often, the first step to driving greater engagement is to simply ask team members how things are going and how they could be improved.

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