The Power of Stay Interviews

October 2022 |

Ask your team periodic questions to build trust and engagement.

Jim DeLano, DVM, owner of Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center in San Ramon, Calif., was alarmed when an employee engagement survey he had commissioned revealed that his practice team’s engagement was only 22%. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average company’s engagement is 28%,” he says. “We were going great with customer reviews on Yelp, but we got hammered on this engagement survey.”

His leadership team worked hard to put systems into place to turn that around, including a concept they had encountered called a “stay interview.” When the survey was repeated 18 months later, the practice team’s engagement had soared to 40%.

“The engagement survey company told us they had never seen a company raise their engagement score by that much in that time period,” DeLano says. “And 18 months after that, engagement was still growing. I believe the stay interview was the driver of that change.”

Designed to improve team engagement, retention and productivity, a stay interview is completely different from a performance review—and far more effective, DeLano has found. He suggests five key questions to ask in a stay interview:

1. When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to? “Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what staff members care about when they come to work?” asks DeLano.

2. What are you learning here? Staff members want to learn and grow. Continual improvement and growth in their jobs ranked very high on DeLano’s staff satisfaction surveys.

3. Why do you stay here? “I found out from asking this in one stay interview that a veterinarian wasn’t planning on staying because his girlfriend wanted to move,” says DeLano. “So I knew he was leaving, and I had the opportunity to begin looking for a new hire eight months earlier than I would have otherwise.”

4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it? “It’s amazing some of the reasons you hear,” says DeLano, “and there are often little things that you can change.” For example, he bought FasTrak passes for three technicians who had long commutes, which cut their drive time in half.

5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you? The answers you hear to this question will give you actionable areas to work on and change.

Creating a Plan

At DeLano’s practice, new hires receive stay interviews at three months, six months and one year. Veterinarians receive stay interviews twice a year. He recommends:

Send questions ahead. Email employees the questions in advance, so they can think about their answers ahead of time.

Keep it separate from performance. “Let me tell you, vets want those performance reviews,” he says. “But you have to do those a different way, a different time.”

Check for alignment. Before the stay interview, have the manager write down what they think is important to the team member. Coming out of it, have the manager record the team member’s beliefs. Do they align? “If not, the manager doesn’t really know the team member,” says DeLano.

Using this process has helped turn DeLano’s practice culture around. “We’re nothing without our staff,” he says. “Managers have to drive retention by building trust.”