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In a Hurry to Get Employee Feedback? Use This Method

Alison Davis
Alison Davis

In a few weeks, you can complete a focus group project that gives you employee feedback.

You know the importance of getting employee feedback about significant issues; after all, unless you understand what employees are thinking, you can’t design programs that really meet their needs.

Although you would prefer to create an all-employee survey or conduct focus groups throughout the organization, there are many occasions when there’s just not enough time to take a comprehensive approach to employee communication measurement.

Some examples we’ve encountered

  • A financial services company was about to launch new brand positioning to employees, but members of the brand team found themselves questioning their assumptions about the best ways to share the change with employees.
  • The HR team at a healthcare company had been working for months on a new bonus program whose success hinged on managers playing an active role in coaching their team members. But through informal conversations, the team heard feedback that managers weren’t comfortable having discussions about pay.
  • The head of Corporate Communications at a consumer products company suspected that employees didn’t understand the corporate strategy, but she was having trouble convincing the president that he still needed to explain the strategy at the next town hall meeting.

These professionals knew that conducting employee research was essential to accomplishing their objectives, but they also knew they had limited time and resources.

The solution? Fast focus groups

Employee focus groups, of course, are an established form of qualitative research that brings people together for a guided discussion. In organizations, focus groups are an effective way to gather employee feedback to explore an issue, test a concept, follow up on the launch of a program and find out the why behind survey responses.

While it’s always ideal to plan a focus group project, sometimes, in the words of Nike, you need to “just do it.” So a “fast” focus group study usually involves no more than two focus groups. To save time in planning and execution, conduct them virtually or in the same geographic area.

Think a fast focus group project is right for you? Here are five steps to move fast to conduct this valuable research:

1. Establish a thesis

To get started, establish a central thesis—a single statement that summarizes what you’re trying to learn. A thesis helps you concentrate on your outcome as you move forward.

Thesis statements may be expressed as a statement or as a question:

  • What do employees think about a recent HR announcement?
  • Employees don’t seem fully engaged in our new quality initiative and we’re not sure why.
  • Why is retention so low at our production facility in Minnesota?
  • We aren’t sure which topic employees value most and would like to find out more.

2. Manage logistics

In a full-scale focus group project, you spend a lot of time managing logistics (choosing locations, managing travel, etc.); but when you need to move quickly, decide what’s most critical.

In a fast focus group project, hold sessions at the same location or use virtual platforms (like web meetings) to bring people together.

Recruiting participants is one of the most crucial steps to the success of a focus group project. In a typical focus group, participants should reflect the makeup of your organization. When you need to move quickly, however, you should think about limiting criteria to two or three categories. For example:

  • Employees who have been managers for more than one year
  • Salespeople in the Northwest region
  • Employees who attended orientation within the past six months

Once you’ve figured out who you need to talk to, ask someone in HR or a site manager to help you pull together a list of employees who meet that criteria. Ideally, you’ll have 10 to 12 participants per focus group. Since you’re quickly pulling together the sessions, you should invite at least twice the number of people you need to make sure enough employees attend.

3. Develop questions

With most focus group projects, you develop a discussion guide, the document (part script, part outline) used by the moderator to lead the sessions.

But since it’s time-consuming to put together a discussion guide, you may want to use a condensed document instead. For quick projects, create an outline of key questions. This ensures the moderator stays on track but saves you time in the planning stage. To build your outline, review your project thesis.

  • Create categories. Think about the two or three main things that you want to learn in your focus group. For example, if your thesis involves finding out what employees think about two proposed mission statements, you may want to explore: employees’ understanding of the current mission statement, their reaction to the two possible new mission statements and how the employees would connect with the new mission statement.
  • Draft questions. Once you have your main categories, think about the three to five key questions for each category that will help your moderator discuss the issue with participants. Avoid the temptation to add a long list of questions. The idea here is to give the moderator enough structure to facilitate the focus group.

4. Conduct the sessions

Even in a quick focus group project, conducting the sessions is a big undertaking. But you can move through the steps more quickly to save time.

  • Choose a moderator. The moderator can make or break a focus group. Since you don’t have a lot of time, you should look for someone who has moderating experience. Hire a professional if an experienced moderator from your organization is not available.
  • Document the session. Since the moderator should be focused on facilitating the discussion, he or she shouldn’t be expected to take notes, too. Instead, recruit a second person to attend each focus group to capture what participants say.

5. Create a quick report to summarize findings

Immediately after the focus groups end, the moderator and note taker should spend a few minutes to debrief. Then meet with your larger team to agree on key findings.

To share findings with key stakeholders, create either a short (one- to three-page) document or a three to five-page presentation. Include the following sections in your summary:

  • Introduction (briefly outline the situation and your thesis)
  • Research methodology (how the study was structured, how many participated, where groups were held, etc.)
  • Key findings (a statement of what you learned with two to four verbatim quotes to support each finding)

That’s it -- in just a few weeks, you can complete a focus group project that gives you valuable feedback about what employees are thinking. The result? You’re ready to take action to ensure your program is a success.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / nd3000
Alison Davis
Alison Davis Member
Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestle, Roche and Rogers Communications – reach, engage and motivate their employees. Alison sets the strategic direction for the firm, consults with the client on their toughest communication challenges and leads the development of new products and services. Alison has written or edited these groundbreaking books: 49 ways to improve employee communications, The Definitive Guide to HR Communication, and Your Attention, Please. Alison is a former online columnist for the New York Times and frequently writes articles for leading business and trade publications. A seasoned blogger, she is the author of the company’s Insights Blog and writes an online column for Inc. A sought-after speaker on communication issues, Alison has led sessions for such organizations as the Conference Board, Society of Human Resource Management and The International Association of Business Communicators. Alison earned her B.A from Douglass College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.