Many organizations overlook the benefits of conducting a focus group. Although they might appear to just be an open forum for employees to complain, a focus group is one of the most time and cost effective ways to gather honest information and feedback from employees. Though upper management consists of highly talented and intelligent individuals, they are often out of touch with daily processes and tasks that are affecting their employees. Focus groups are a great way to gather a snapshot of daily obstacles, areas for improvement, and potential solutions coming directly from those who know most day-to-day operations.
What is a focus group?
A focus group usually consists of one facilitator and anywhere from 6-12 employees. Sessions usually take place for 90 minutes but can also be extended to several hours. The general objective of a focus group is to get feedback from employees on a variety of topics. For example, a focus group can be formed to gather opinions about a new software program being used in the office. Focus groups can also be utilized to help improve retention, get feedback regarding onboarding processes, strategic plans, or for topic where feedback is wanted. Focus groups should feel relatively casual and open, as this type of atmosphere makes participants feel more at ease and are more susceptible to create discussion.
What is most important when conducting a focus group?
Once it has been established that a focus group will take place, it is important to give participants as much information as possible. Be specific about time, location, what will take place, and a brief overview of the topic. The more informed participants feel, the more comfortable they will be. It is extremely important that all participants are guaranteed anonymity. Without this, employees will likely feel uncomfortable and may fear backlash or repercussions from management, which will affect the quality of information gathered. The goal of a focus group is to gather a wealth of honest information in a short period of time. By interviewing people together, it also provides a better environment for openness, discussion, and brainstorming. Employees will not feel singled out and will be able to bounce thoughts and ideas off one another.
The role of the facilitator is critical. The best case scenario would include a third-party individual outside of the organization acting as the facilitator. Because this person would not be affiliated with the organization, participants would be less likely to fear backlash and would be more trusting of the individual. By having someone removed from the organization, more honest feedback is often provided. Difficult conversations can occur in focus groups; a facilitator with no affiliation helps promote open dialogue and limits “sugarcoating” of what’s really going on.
If an outside consultant is out of the question, utilizing someone as far-removed from the group as possible within the organization is ideal. The goal is to find the most neutral person possible to conduct the session. The key component of the facilitator is to ensure unbiased feedback. With smaller companies (less than 500 employees), most people know each other on some level- making unbiased, honest feedback more difficult to gather. Utilizing a professional is recommended as they are trained to be unbiased, protect the participants, and provide an accurate report to management.
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