3 Ways to Help People Decide to Stay, Not Stray

September 20, 2022 Ken Blanchard

Lots of people are talking and writing on the topic of quiet quitting—when people do their job every day but perform at the minimum accepted level, just enough to stay employed. Unfortunately, it’s easier to find causes and examples of the problem than it is to uncover suggested solutions for engaging and retaining good people.

In my 50-plus years of experience working with leaders in organizations, I’ve found that in order to feel comfortable staying with an organization, people must have a manager they can trust—someone who cares about them, recognizes their efforts, and wants to help them grow and succeed. If that sounds like the type of leader you’d like to be, here are three ways to get started.

1.  Meet your people where they are

Meeting people where they are at means shifting your leadership style according to each person’s development level on a specific task or goal.  In our SLII® leadership development model, we teach that there are three skills managers need to develop to meet people where they are.

  • Goal-setting skills—specific, motivating, attainable, relevant, and trackable
  • Diagnosing skills—is the team member an Enthusiastic Beginner; a Disillusioned Learner; a Capable, but Cautious Contributor; or a Self-Reliant Achiever at this task or goal?
  • Matching skills—does this person need a Directing, Coaching, Supporting, or Delegating leadership style from their manager?

For example, person A has years of experience using a certain kind of computer software and needs very little direction or support from their manager on a project requiring that software. Person B is completely unfamiliar with the same software and needs specific direction before they can even begin to understand how it works. If the manager delegates the project to both people, person B will immediately be at a disadvantage. Why? Because the manager didn’t bother to learn that person’s development level before assigning them to the task.

People whose leaders flex their leadership style to the situation understand that their manager will work closely with them to diagnose their development level on each task or goal and give them the right amount of direction and support to help them move forward in their development and be successful in their role.

2.  Have frequent one-on-one conversations

Conduct one-on-one meetings with staff members at least every other week for at least 30 minutes. The manager schedules the meeting, but it’s the direct report who sets the agenda—they can talk about anything they want.

There’s really nothing more important than sitting and having a conversation with each of your people. You are taking time to focus on them so they know they are being heard. It doesn’t matter whether it is face to face or virtual—the point is that you are speaking privately with each person about anything on their mind. You are building trust by seeing each other as fellow human beings, not just manager and direct report.

The magic of this practice is found in getting to know one another over time. Because the other person sets the agenda, it’s their choice to focus the discussion on work topics or talk about things such as personal goals, family activities, movies, books, hobbies, etc. If there is a lull in the conversation, have a few questions ready to ask. I often ask people if there is anything they need me to do for them. They know I really mean it, and they seem to appreciate that question and respond well to it.

3.  Know when a stay interview is necessary

A side benefit to having a set schedule for one-on-one meetings is that direct reports know an opportunity is coming up for them to run an idea past you or discuss recent developments at work. If you have established a pattern of speaking openly in these meetings, it’s more likely you will notice if someone has a concern. You can start an open dialogue with them long before they become a disgruntled employee.

Let’s say a person drops a hint during a one-on-one meeting that things aren’t going as well as they would like at work. That’s your clue to turn the conversation into a stay interview. Ask them what they need to be more successful in their role. Listen carefully and take notes if necessary. They may open up and tell you they would like more recognition, a higher salary, more responsibility, or a promotion. Speak frankly with the person about their value to you, to the team, and to the organization. Then discuss next steps and schedule a follow-up meeting. It’s possible that something you say right now could be the reason the person decides to stay with the company.

Remember: A common answer to the question “Why are you leaving?” in exit interviews is: “Nobody asked me to stay.” Of course, at that point, it’s usually too late.

In their book Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss: A Manager’s Playbook, Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans share this cautionary message: “If you’re not yet holding stay interviews, you are guessing at what your talented people really want—from you, from the team, from their work. You could be guessing wrong. Stay interviews are just one of many strategies in a successful manager’s playbook. But they are absolutely foundational to engaging, motivating, recognizing, and retaining talent.”

The most difficult leadership role

I’ve always felt that mid-level managers have the most important, and often the most difficult, role in leadership. These managers work directly with people who are on the front lines, doing the hands-on work, facing customers, and keeping things flowing. The best managers are well acquainted with every person who reports to them. They help them accomplish goals, praise them when they do things right, and redirect them when they get off track. They want to know how their people are feeling, how their weekend was, and what their career goals are. They also are comfortable sharing stories about themselves and what’s going on in their lives.

Create trusting relationships with your people by being responsive to their needs, giving them the direction and support they need to develop, having open conversations, and letting them know their value. The only way they know you care is if you show them—by getting to know them.

About the Author

Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard is cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies®. Best known as the coauthor of The One Minute Manager, as well as 65 other books with combined sales totaling more than 21 million copies.

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