stay interviews
It’s late Thursday afternoon and you’re wrapping up some paperwork, ready to head into the weekend when your best hygienist peeks her head in and asks to speak with you. 
“Of course, come on in,” you say, preparing yourself for yet another vent session about her issues with your newest dental assistant. Closing the door behind herself, she turns to face you with an almost solemn, nervous look on her face. “Great, here it comes––she’s about to ask for a raise…” you think to yourself, just as she glides down into the chair. 
“I’m giving you my official notice. I’ve accepted an offer at another practice,” she says. Your face is blank as you proces her words. 

[Silence]

You reply: “I’ve been thinking about the raise discussion we had a few months ago, I haven’t forgotten. It just wasn't the right time, but I have crunched some numbers and think we can make something work.”

[More silence]

Does this sound like a familiar scenario? Or a familiar fear you have as a dental hiring manager or practice owner? If so, then read on –– because it’s avoidable. And these days, no one can afford to lose good team members at the peak of the talent war. 

Stay Interviews Retain Dental teams

By the time a dental team member reaches the point of actually walking in your office and giving their notice (or even requesting a raise in some cases) it’s too late–– you’ve already lost them and often nothing you say will bring them back. Most likely, it took them a while to get to this place after much consternation and consideration.

In most cases, an owner or manager missed the signs along the way. Had they been addressed, it may have resulted in a different outcome. And that raise you didn’t give them because you worried you couldn’t afford it or that others would also start asking for raises? Well, it’s really gonna cost you now. A Gallup study cites that the total cost of replacing an employee is equivalent to one-third of their salary. And that’s not counting the team disruption, distraction, unrest, and production loss of the dental practice. But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Thriving businesses are using a tactic called “Stay Interviews” to retain their best people. 

What Are “stay” interviews? 

A stay interview is exactly what it sounds like–an interview to get someone to stay in your employment. It’s an infrequent, proactive step that rapidly and loudly signals to employees that you value them and hold them in high regard. It’s retention-based vs. recruiting-based and preventative instead of reactive

Stay interviews should happen consistently, and not necessarily with every dental team member – just the ones that are deemed critical to the practice and that would be painful to the team, managers, and profitability of the business if they left. A good interview should be a humble experience for a manager and a freeing and cathartic one for the employee. 

A stay interview is not … 

  • A performance review. An annual stay interview is a good cadence, but don’t confuse a stay interview with the annual performance review. The spirit of the meeting is not for the manager to tell the employee what they need to do to improve or even to give them glowing reviews for doing a great job. It’s to get them to share their experience of what it’s like working there. The stay interview is an opportunity to listen, without offering excuses for their concerns or laments. It’s not about the owner, the manager or the practice. It’s about them and only about them. Consider it research time. The intention is to uncover the greatest threats (and opportunities)  so that you can go away and figure out what changes (if any) you need to make to maintain their employment and keep your dental practice thriving.  

enabling a stay interview process in the dental practice 

When done effectively, a stay interview feels like an open, honest conversation where team members feel safe communicating their desires and disappointments. Welcoming the grievances with as much gratitude as the positive feedback is how you win at these conversations. The grievances are where the gold is and where you can make changes for the better of your practice and office culture. This kind of exchange helps retention and also fosters great trust between you and your team. 

  1. Determine who you need to conduct a stay interview with on your team. Think of the high-performers, the long-timers or anyone you suspect may be unhappy, and who you really want to keep on your team. If you have a new team member, rather than conduct a stay interview, you should be doing a 60-day check in with them. 
  1. Decide who will lead the stay interview. It makes sense for managers to conduct these interviews since they probably have a stronger, more trusting relationship with the people in their team than HR. However, if it’s the manager, bear in mind that they might need to receive a short training on how to hold a stay interview. 
  1. Make a follow up plan. Not doing anything about the feedback given is worse than missing the opportunity to conduct a stay interview and being blindsided by a valuable team member’s departure. Let team members know when you plan on following up with them about their feedback. If that date comes and you don’t have plans in place to make changes that would address their issues, that’s ok as long as you are in open communication with them about it. That shows you take them and their concerns seriously, and you care and are continuing to work on a plan of action. 

Preparing for stay interviews 

  1. Setting it up: It should go without saying that you should ensure you have a private space and have allotted enough time to do the interview, maybe going to lunch or going outside if you have a seated outdoor area.  
  1. Structure the time. Create a stay interview template so that each manager follows the same structure and each employee gets asked the same questions. 
  1. Be consistent. Try to stick to the same interview format within the team interview. 
  1. Ask relevant questions. As obvious as this may seem, it’s also the core of an effective stay interview. We’ll list some example questions below.
  1. Take notes. You’ll need them later and they will help distract you from feeling defensive or becoming reactive if something comes up that triggers you personally or professionally. 
  1. Recount and what you heard. Provide them a recap so they know you listened and they feel heard. Before they wrap up the interview, managers should summarize the employee’s key reasons to stay or leave to avoid misunderstandings (you can add this to your stay interview template so you won’t forget).  

starting questions to ask 

It’s good to start with some easy ones to break the ice and get the conversation going. Answers will vary widely here depending on your practice and the person’s personality. If they have trouble answering these questions, then prepare yourself for the more provocative ones ahead because, well, you’re likely to get an earful. 

  • What is the best part of your job? 
  • What do you look forward to most when you come to work every day? 
  • Is there something that would make your job even more satisfying? 

Move onto the harder ones now and, when you do, be sure to preface them with “I know this is a bit awkward, but this conversation will help me understand what I need to do to keep you happy and here, so…” 

  • What do you dread about work every day? 
  • When was the last time you thought about leaving the company? 
  • What situation made you think of leaving? 
  • What would tempt you to leave the company?
  • Would you recommend our company to job-seeking friends?
  • As your manager, what can I do more or less of?

neutral questions 

  • What part of your job would you cut out straight away if you could?
  • What is the one thing over all else that has kept you here? 
  • As your manager, what can I do to help you and make your job less stressful or challenging? 
  • Do you feel challenged? 
  • Do you feel like you’ve been given clear goals and objectives? 
  • Are you growing here? 
  • Which of your talents are you not using in your current role? 
  • Do you have enough tools and resources to do your job properly? What’s missing?
  • Have you ever been tempted to leave the practice? 

In addition, make sure to ask questions that will help inform you about the true state of your dental office culture. 

  • Do you feel valued and recognized on the dental team? By the dental practice?
  • How would you like to be recognized for the work you do? 
  • What do you feel we can be doing better as a dental practice?
  • What could we add or get rid of that would make the daily operations easier?  
  • Which software/tool should we get rid of? Which tools should we get?
  • What would make the office a more fulfilling place to be 40 hours a week? 

After the stay interview 

Once you’ve conducted all your interviews, which hopefully happened in close proximity with each other, it’s time to put pen to paper. Review all the interviews, looking for patterns and trends, both negative and positive. Incorporate the positives into your job postings for any active positions you recruit for. This is the kind of insight that potential team members like to see and is probably your office’s best selling point. Also, you can use this feedback to provide more of what makes employees happy and engaged. 

The negative things that come up more than once need to go to the top of the priority list in terms of what changes to make. Notice the differences in the negative responses. Notice the difference between an internal threat and an external one. 

Follow up and commit to making the changes you can, knowing you can’t make them all or be all things to all people. You can’t compete with someone moving out of state. Most likely the one you’re competing with to keep your best employee is yourself. So the answer is in changing something within the company; the office culture, the work itself, eliminating team drama, or maybe the direction of the company. For further information, refer back to our recent blog: Dental Job Satisfaction Poll Reveals How to Boost Retention & Engagement.  

Knowledge is power. Get more of it with stay interviews to take control of the health of your dental team. 

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