Focus groups

Focus groups

A small selection of people who are asked to give honest opinions on a situation or product in an open forum. Should be cross-functional (representing more than one department/location). Uses group interaction to gain insight into why certain views are held.

Employee Focus Groups: A reality check for your communication strategy

The full and original article was published on International Association of Business Communicators

Even if research is not your strength, focus groups can generate useful, unbiased feedback to support your strategy. It’s natural to view the world through filtered lenses. We all perceive information uniquely. When you’re conducting employee research, you may be unconsciously biased in the way you seek input, which leads to inaccurate feedback. In any circumstance where communication is required, always remember the audience is processing information from the perspective of how it will affect them. Keep that thought squarely in mind and it will help you ask questions of the group that lead to the truth you are actually seeking.


Preparing for a focus group

  1. Invite a random sample
    Invite more people than you think you’ll need, because not everyone will accept or show up. An optimal size is eight to 12 participants per group. And, of course, the more focus groups you can conduct the better.
  2. No bosses
    Ensure there are no boss-employee relationships in your focus groups. That’s a surefire way to kill candid feedback.
  3. Offer an incentive
    Food often works. Or try giving away an employer-branded item as a thank-you.
  4. Explain in your invitation
    Explain what will happen and how the feedback will be used and emphasize that comments will remain confidential. Your focus group should run no longer than 90 minutes to two hours.
  5. Create a moderator’s discussion guide
    Have someone review your guide to ensure you’re going to get the answers you need (again, not necessarily the answers you want to hear).
  6. Be prepared
    Take notes or use a laptop to record the discussion. It’s even better if you have a colleague there to listen and take notes for you so you can focus on facilitating the discussion.

In some circumstances, lots of negativity from participants is welcomed. Call these participants the cynics (not to their faces, of course). Cynics can be helpful when you’ve already developed messaging and you need to know how it’s going to resonate with employees. Ask your human resources buddies to handpick some of the most negative, unhappy people for your focus group.
Getting feedback from cynics provides other delightful bonuses including:

  • If a cynic understands your communication, a majority of your audience will, too.
  • You might win over someone. There’s no better evangelist than a former cynic.


During a focus group

  1. Ensure that participants feel comfortable
    Remind them that their feedback is confidential. Explain how you’re recording their comments: laptop, video, audio, etc.
  2. Have name cards
    Provide name tags at each place setting so you can call participants by name.
  3. Someone may dominate the conversation
    It happens frequently. Make sure you call on others who are quiet, because they might give you that one nugget of insight that transforms your communication. A pleasant way to diffuse the talker is to say, “Thank you for the input. I’m interested in feedback from the rest of you. Mike, do you agree with those statements? What do you think?”
  4. Have the participants participate in show and tell
    Show samples of proposed communication and let participants comment. Or ask them to get creative and draw for you what they would develop if they could. You might be amazed at what they create.


After the sessions

  1. Send thank-you notes
    Tell them how their input may be used. You’ll build trust when employees see that some of their input was used to take action.
  2. Complete your notes while they’re fresh in your mind
    Do it as soon as you can after the focus group. You’ll remember some of the things you didn’t capture initially.

Credit: The full and original article was published on International Association of Business Communicators

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