Leadership Lessons from Ajax #16: Staying

September 20, 2009 by Ken Nowack

“I shut my eyes in order to see.”

Paul Gauguin


Ajax is now a little over 6 months old on his journey to become a guide dog for the blind.  We are working hard every day with him to focus on basic commands and to socialize him to the world around him.  A tough command at his age is “stay.”  This command is an important one for him to learn and a challenging one at this time as he wants to “wander” and continue when we take him out for a walk.  “Staying” is something he will need to master in order for him to be a successful guide dog for the blind.

Top talent in organizations today also have to be encouraged to “stay” as it’s a major loss when these “A Players” depart voluntarily.  Recently, Salary.com Inc. released results from its fourth annual 2008/2009 Employee Satisfaction and Retention Survey.  Some of their major findings are pretty interesting:

  • 35% of all employees are at dissatisfied with their jobs.
  • Approximately 65% of employees admitted to passively or actively looking for a new job (employers believe the figure is 37%)
  • Employers overestimate the degree of extremely satisfied employees nearly 2 to 1.

It’s pretty typical that when talent informs us they are moving on to another position we conduct an “exit” interview to try to understand their motives and receive feedback about what they liked or disliked about the organization.  My good colleague and friend, Dr. Bev Kaye (author of the best selling book “Love em or Lose em”) has coined the term “Stay Interview” to focus on those in the organization that you can’t afford to leave.

The “Stay Interview” is an approach to use only with your “A players” to uncover their “signature strengths” and motives that will, when properly matched with job assignments and opportunities, facilitate their engagement and commitment to the organization.


The first thing you really need to do is determine who your “keepers” really are.  Think about those high performing talent that have future potential to grow and contribute to the organization’s success.  If they chose to leave tomorrow, the “hole” they leave behind would be a deep one to fill or replace their talent and skills.

Once they are identified, just follow the steps below to help these high performers become even better over time:


Here are some other “stay” interview type of questions to identify what keeps your talent engaged and committed to the organization as well. Examples might include:

“What about your job is energizing?”
“What is draining?”
“If you won the lottery and resigned what, if anything would you miss about your job or the company?”
“What was one thing about a prior job you loved?
“What can I do to keep you?”
“What might entice you to leave?”

So, what are you waiting for?  Schedule an appointment and conduct a “stay interview” with your top talent.  You might just find that these individuals appreciate the interest and time and think twice about looking elsewhere, particularly when the economy turns around.

At least for Ajax, we hope his “stay” with us is only short enough to enable him to be a gift for someone who will see the world through his eyes…Be well…..

[tags]guide dogs, seeing eye dogs, Guide Dogs of America, leadership, executive coaching, performance, layoff, social support, mastery, expertise, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack, envisia, deliberate practice[/tags]

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

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