To have credibility when discussing strategic employee communication with senior management, proposals need to be supported by facts. Focus groups are usually held to gauge opinions about certain issues and ideas for solutions to problems. On occasion they are used to form the basis of the questions on staff surveys and customer surveys. Externally research firms use focus groups either to gauge public opinion about products or services. It is a good format as it allows you to explore issues further and sometimes you will discover issues or ideas you hadn’t considered prior to the session. As the facilitator, your role is to lead the discussion but leave the actual dialogue to the participants, bringing them back to the main issue if they have gone off on a tangent or ensure that all the topics that you wanted to cover within the allocated timeframe are covered.
Basically groups of 8 – 10 people are selected with the same selection parameters such as job level, type of job, or with customers of the market segment they represent. When interviewing employees using focus groups you need to compare the outcomes of different groups, i.e., sales managers, sales representatives, call centre sales staff. This will provide a more accurate indication of what all levels of employees who interact with a particular customer segment consider an accurate reflection of customer opinion.
CHECKLIST FOR IMPLEMENTING FOCUS GROUPS
When implementing focus groups for an employee communication strategy you need to do the following:
- Be aware that focus groups are not the same for each organisation, they need to be tailored to suit individual circumstances
- The focus groups should be held in like groups, for instance managers in one team, supervisors another, employee groups by department in others
- You should interview 10% of the employee base where possible to form an accurate sample of employee views, alternatively if you have a large number of employees, then at least a representative sample will provide the data to form the basis of a questionnaire
- When focus groups with employees are held there is a perception that something will happen as a result. Therefore you need the support of the CEO and reinforce that the reason for the focus groups is supported at the highest level in the organisation. For instance you maybe about to implement a customer focussed strategy and the focus groups will provide you with the data you need to set the platform for the project. The worse case scenario is setting expectations amongst employees and then not delivering and with focus groups as the employees have taken time out from their work and participated in discussions they will expect to see an outcome
- Greater objectivity is achieved when the focus groups are conducted by an external firm as participants are more likely to open up and express the way they really feel
THE MAIN STEPS IN FOCUS GROUP RESEARCH
- A planning meeting to identify the objectives, problem areas and scope of the research
- Guideline timetable to develop the selection of focus group participants and timetable for interviews
- Individual management interviews
- Preparation of the employee communication strategy
- Presentation of findings to senior management
- Implementation of recommendations
STAGES OF THIS RESEARCH
A minimum number of individual half hour interviews with management are held to find out what they think about the issue you are researching and what level of employee involvement they would support.
Employee Focus Groups
Ten percent of employees from all areas of the company are interviewed in focus groups, eight to ten participants in each group. Each session is of one and one half hours duration and rather than a structured questionnaire being used, a subject outline is introduced and questioning follows on from this point.
When interpreting the findings from the management interviews you need to identify what they will support in terms of employee involvement programs and why or why not, opinions on the business issue you are researching and the basis for that view. The focus groups will provide you with trends in answers and also indicate which areas of the organisation are most supportive and enthusiastic and will be a good starting point for your strategy. Focus groups of employees will provide you not only with information about what they know about a new initiative but also on what basis they have come to that conclusion.
The most important piece of information for any employee communication professional is to find out why employees have a certain view on a particular topic. Once you know this you can start to put together the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle and will quickly identify the key pieces that are missing. It is on this basis you then put together your employee communication strategy for any new initiative, whether implementation of an IT system to major business transformation.