Engage your team with mindful stay interviews

We conduct behavioral interviews to uncover the mindsets, values, self-awareness and coping skills of prospective hires, with questions like, “Tell me why you want to work here?” But why do we stop asking questions that help our teams think through their personal strategy?

Most leaders want to converse with their direct reports about engagement and most employees welcome it. But managers don’t know where to begin.

Base for engagement

In Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s book “First, Break All the Rules,” the manager’s role as a catalyst is to 1) select the person, 2) set expectations, 3) motivate and 4) develop. If you can’t do all four well, their research shows you’ll never excel as a manger.

Companies spend a small fortune evaluating employee engagement. But if your employees answer “yes” to their six closed-ended questions, you have the beginnings of engagement:

1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?

2. Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right?

3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing a good job?

5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?

Constructing criticism

But this baseline isn’t enough to build high performance. People need to hear six compliments before they register one negative comment as helpful and not personal criticism. Knowing that, how do we remember to give specific accolades about small wins when leaders don’t need that feedback for high achievement? “Great job!” doesn’t cut it.

Most executives don’t need positive feedback, but they do find negative criticism difficult to take. The message they hear is “I’m not good enough.” Guess what? Your employees hear that, too.

Build connections

Your connection to your employees is a lifeline to success. Be human. Allow employees to be imperfect so they feel safe to disclose mistakes. You’ll have process improvement, instead of failed outcomes.

Ask open-ended questions to demonstrate that you care about employees’ development, you recognize their talent and you want to position them for success:

  • What about your job gets you out of bed in the morning? Where do you feel you are growing/stagnant in your role?
  • Where is our organization letting you down? Lifting you up? What needs to change?
  • Where am I letting you down as a boss? Helping you? What needs to change?
  • Do you feel you belong here? Why/Why not?
  • Where do you see yourself making the greatest difference? Where would you like to? What talents do you have that we are not fully using?
  • What keeps you here? What might entice you away?

The goal is for employees to have ownership of high-impact work. Listen to them. Take “can’t” off the table. Engagement will follow.


Mary Lee Gannon, ACC, CAE is the president of StartingOverNow.com, a coaching firm that helps people get off the treadmill to nowhere for optimal performance in the corner office. Mary Lee is an award-winning mindful executive strategist, ICF certified coach and author. She has 20-plus years as a CEO leading organizations worth up to $26 million within 60,000 employee organizations, as well as coaching executives on how to achieve mindful confidence, connection and calm to enjoy the rewards of excellence and more time with the people who matter while it still matters.