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Guest opinion: Stay the course


By Daphne Christensen | Practice manager, Koch Facial Plastic Surgery & Spa

What happens to the vibe among your team when rumblings of performance appraisals begin? This morale-busting bummer of a way to end the year drove me to find a new tactic for sloughing off the dead and dull, while systematically drawing out the impurities (sound familiar?).

My internet search for unique ways to execute employee appraisals resulted in membership with the Society for Human Resource Management. This organization unlocked for me a wealth of invaluable resources for HR departments of one, like my own. Anyone who is involved in HR, supervises the HR function, or otherwise has an interest in HR is invited to join. It was here I stumbled upon the concept of stay interviews. 

“The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, Second Edition” by Richard P. Finnegan is the mechanism behind the process I adopted to replace our annual performance appraisals. I wanted a platform that cultivated conversation around the elements of our environment keeping us from showing up happier, more productive and plugged in to our roles and goals as a practice. 

Finnegan defines a stay interview as a structured discussion a leader conducts with an individual employee to learn specific actions the leader can take to strengthen the employee’s engagement and retention with the organization. This idea, and Finnegan’s five proven effective interview questions, ignited me. I scheduled one-on-one interviews with each employee and what resulted was nothing short of pivotal. 

I conducted the interviews in my office where I was able to curate an ambiance both familiar and comfortable yet clearly staged for purposeful engagement. I provided coffee, a non-confrontational seating arrangement, and cleared my desk of clutter and distractions. Finnegan’s model has been practiced and tested for efficacy, therefore requiring no reason for modifications. The compelling mix of probing questions and a commitment to ask and listen stirred a profound shift in our culture literally overnight.  

The interviews opened by asking employees to focus on their daily duties and challenges, rather than pay and benefits. What do you look forward to each day when you commute to work? The responses I received from each employee confirmed Finnegan’s finding that employees stay and engage based on their relationships with supervisors and colleagues and how much they like what they do. 

Next, employees were invited to share their desires regarding development and careers. What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn? I quickly realized degrees of ambition vary significantly based on two main factors — age and tenure. The answers to this question will either confirm or deny how appropriately employees are matched to current roles. I tapped into several wish lists for continuing education and appreciated the honesty of others who are content and simply want to work and go home.  

The first two questions got things warmed up; the next two challenged me profoundly as a manager, person and teammate. Why do you stay? I pursued this question the most, carefully digesting what I was hearing before digging deeper. Tell me more about that. Is that the only reason or are there others? Finnegan urges interviewers to listen, truly listen — 80 percent of the time. By stubbornly requiring at least one answer, employees were forced to announce to me, and more importantly to themselves, what they value most about their jobs. Take your time because I really want to know. 

I put my pen down for the fourth question. I wanted to erase any temptation for employees to sugar-coat their answers due to my note-taking. When is the last time you thought about leaving us, and what prompted it? The responses ranged, as expected, from full admission of active job searches to those who hadn’t considered quitting ever. The prompts for leaving were profound, however. While the questions were asked off the cuff, it was clear my team members had definite boundaries for scenarios that would cause them to move on. From disrespect by colleagues or leadership to life changes such as a demographic relocation or motherhood, my eyes opened to an entirely unexpected set of parameters for why people leave otherwise great jobs.  

Without a doubt, the most humbling part of the interview was realized through the final question: What can I do to make your job better for you? I quickly discovered my part to play is far greater than serving as organizational glue to our tiny but mighty crew. Ask me how I’m doing. Be out and about in the clinic more. Recognize what I’m doing right. Challenge me to grow with constructive criticism.  

I wrapped up our team’s interview process with a summation for our physician owners, inviting dialogue on issues we could immediately rectify and strategic planning for tactics that would require more data-driven consideration. The simple fact our employees were provided a forum to candidly speak up, effect immediate change and take ownership in their role changed our culture instantly.  

The rewards of measuring engagement and retention using the stay interview model are proving to be innumerable for our practice. Increased camaraderie and productivity continue to be realized weeks after our first round of interviews. My best advice as you adopt a similar process in your practice is to be open to the findings and committed to solutions.  

I am forever growing into leadership. I am most effective when I approach its complexities with clear expectations, grace for myself and others, and being open to perspectives outside of my own. Define your objectives, commit to the plan, and stay the course.  

Daphne Christensen is practice manager for Koch Facial Plastic Surgery & Spa. She can be reached via email

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