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‘Stay’ interview questions for problem workers

Sometime ago, you wrote about the value of conducting periodic “stay” interviews as the best alternative to reactive exit interviews. I agree with you. An exit interview is an obsolete approach for determining employee satisfaction level. Could you share with us a comprehensive list of questions that I can use to motivate difficult and unproductive employees? — Lady Bug.

Bill Clinton once told his wife Hillary that being president is kind of like running a cemetery. There are a lot of people under you, but no one is listening. It’s the same thing with people management. No one listens to management if the workers think they’re not being heard. It’s not a chicken-and-egg situation. It’s clear that management should initiate and create a friendly communication process.

Without one, you will not discover the issues bugging the employees. Essentially, this requires looking at their jobs and figuring out what makes them satisfied or dissatisfied. It is an important objective in people management. Whether or not your company can afford high pay and perks, the best option, in good and bad times, is to treat them well.

After all, you’re the manager and you have all the authority and freedom to improve the work situation of people, even on a limited scale.

So, what is a satisfying work environment for your workers, regardless of their attitude and performance? You don’t have to guess. You have to ask and hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. Here are some basic questions to help you identify the issues long before any worker resigns. This list includes previous questions I have written about before.

One, current work situation. How can I help you remove the difficulties or obstacles in your job, if any? Are those difficulties within my authority and responsibility to correct? If not, how can I make your work life comfortable, at least for the meantime?

Two, career aspirations. What is your career plan? How can I make you succeed in this department or elsewhere? What are the things you need from me to make it happen? What makes a job challenging, meaningful, and worth doing for you?

Three, training and development. What kind of training do you need? How would you like to enrich your skills? Are you open to the idea of a job rotation with another worker? How about working for another department? Or secondment to an affiliate?

Four, job enlargement and enrichment. How about handling two or more jobs to reduce your boredom? Would you like to try working on a project that gives you an extra challenge? How about if we give you a limited authority and freedom to do your job?

Five, autonomous working groups. Would you like to lead or be a part of an independent team working on a special project? What kind of projects are you looking at? How would it support the objectives of our department and the company?

Six, managing conflict and style. How do you like my management style? Is there anything you would like me to improve? How about your relationship with other employees? What are the issues that I can help you settle with another person?

Seven, performance appraisal policy. Do you understand well the performance standards? Are they fair and acceptable to you? Would you like to clarify the issues about your job or the company’s appraisal system, if there’s any?

Eight, coaching and counseling. Are you getting the same amount of guidance from me compared to other workers? Is there a way I can improve on them? In what areas? Am I being unfair? Am I patient enough in listening to your concerns?

Last, managing the reward system. Are your efforts being recognized in accordance with company policy? Are you properly rewarded for it? Are there rewards that you value which are not being given to you? Why do you think you deserve it?

Proactive communication is the lifeblood of people management. Unless you get hold of the right information at the right time, and not when an employee has submitted his resignation, you won’t know what’s going on. If you don’t have a finger on the pulse of your direct reports at any given time, you won’t be able to plan and take appropriate action.

We live in the age of information overload but there’s no such thing as “overload” when it comes to actively seeking and understanding the concerns of each and every worker. We are bombarded with information every day from various directions, but we cannot afford to ignore it all.

There’s no doubt that managers must communicate to convey ideas and to solicit support from employees. Without it, working with people would be impossible. Unless managers ask questions and share their concerns with the workers, they will be isolated in their ivory towers.

The communication process does not have to be formal. In fact, it’s better if the managers do it casually and in private with target employees that require motivation. There’s no need to wait for performance appraisal time. That may be too late. Even problem employees may be included in the “stay” interview for whatever it’s worth. It may be challenging, but every step in clearing up a cloudy situation is always worthwhile.


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