Interview: Exit interviews are great, but ‘stay interviews’ are even better

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THERE has been an increased focus on business relationships in recent years, and executives know the value in building, nurturing and maintaining relationships in organizations, writes Orla Clancy. It’s been far from easy. Increased uncertainty has created challenges for organizations. I recently interviewed Victoria Dew, founder and CEO at Dewpoint Communications, Inc. to find out more about how organizational changes affect relationships with employees. 

The employee experience and future of work expert, who splits her time between Boston and Los Angeles, said “Every business (and person) in the world is on a massive change journey with no end in sight. As we all collectively try to navigate not only global uncertainty and disruption but a changed world of work, our relationships with one another become even more important.”

“Companies that take a strategic, sustained approach to creating connection between the organization and its employees, and between the individual humans who work there will always fare better in the long run.”

Dew shared tips for leaders to keep corporate reputation and relationships intact when changes are happening.

Be proactively transparent whenever possible. If you’ve built strong, genuine relationships with your people through consistent communication you will have more good will and trust during periods of change. You will need these to mitigate the dangers of employee activism to the company’s brand and reputation.

Don’t default to a one-size-fits-all communications approach. It can be tempting to broadcast or ‘cascade’ information about org-wide changes to employees, but building a strong internal communications function capable of segmenting employee audiences and tailoring messages and conversations will help to maintain engagement and retention during uncertain and stressful times.

Throw out the rule book. Everything you learned in ‘CEO School’ is outdated. Being a true leader has become exponentially harder in recent years because the job description now requires you to bring your people along on a tortuous journey every day. There are no quick fixes here, but being human-centric and empathetic will help you to win and re-win hearts and minds every day.

During this time of change and uncertainty, business leaders are working to instill confidence to retain their workforces. “Employees aren’t stupid; they know that the world is an inherently uncertain place and that there are no easy answers,” said Dew. “They want to know that their leaders care about them, about the company, about the world we live in, and that they’re working to find real solutions to complex challenges. When employees believe in their organization, their leaders, and the purpose and importance of their work they are better able to navigate change, and more likely to stick around.”

I then asked about exit interviews and whether they are as important as onboarding to maintain relationships. “Exit interviews are great, but ‘stay interviews’ are even better,” she said. “Asking your current employees why they stay in their roles, what would make them leave, where they want to develop, etc. not only provides actionable insights for course correction, they help employees to feel seen, heard and recognized. Creating employee experience at every stage of the employee lifecycle is critical to not only retaining talent, but enabling them to do their best work and serve the business.”

Executives are increasingly looking to maintain good relationships with former team members. Dew said that it’s not only good practice, it is becoming an imperative. She said that company alumni programs create a community of former employees who can become brand ambassadors and advocates, and referral sources. They may also be boomerang employees who one day return to the company bringing new knowledge, skill sets and expertise to their roles. 

“The time when we can afford to treat employees as ‘semi-disposable’ and end our relationship with them just because they don’t work for us is well and truly over. Our people aren’t single use plastic water bottles, they are hugely valuable investments that we can never afford to simply discard,” she said. 

And how do the functions of communications and human resources collaborate during organizational change, particularly in terms of maintaining a strong company culture and employee experience? Dew said cross-functional collaboration between all people-related corporate functions is critical, especially in times of change. “These functions have traditionally been siloed, and in the case of HR and communications specially, treated as tactical rather than strategic,” she said. “However, no company in the world wants to be in a position where they are taking a tactical, piecemeal approach to creating culture and employee experience anymore. World-class people and communications functions are simply not a luxury or a nice-to-have if you’re counting on hiring and retaining top performing talent.”

“Cross-functional collaboration is a force multiplier – when you have HR, communications, IT, DEI, operations, change management and any other corporate function with a role to play in employee experience working together you will inevitably build a stronger, more resilient business,” she said.

As the conversation came to a close, Dew said that with the economic downturn it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that a shrinking economy and potential reductions in workforce will make great employee experience and communication less important. It is, in fact, the opposite, she said. “During challenging times you need your people to be even more engaged, resilient, innovative and high performing. For a business to weather these storms everyone who works there must be rowing in the same direction. This isn’t easy to achieve in the best of times, so I don’t recommend waiting for the dark clouds to gather before building these capabilities!”