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Focus groups – worth the investment?

December 8, 2015

Running an employee survey isn’t cheap. So it’s hardly surprising that when we suggest that investing in a series of focus groups, that clients will sometimes say no. Surely as specialist consultants we know what items to include in a questionnaire? And if we don’t, the Management Team will claim to be well aware of the issues which concern employees. So why do we need to ask them?

There are several reasons; not the least of which is that a survey is normally intended to be an example of consultation, of listening, a demonstration of an interactive style of management. Hence it makes sense to ensure that the topics to be explored are ones which are of interest or concern to the potential respondents. If they reflect only the interests of the organisation’s management, the exercise may be seen as one which is of little direct relevance to employees and – understandably – binned. On the other hand, if the questions address matters which are close to the hearts of the workforce, the response is likely to be high.

Underlying this question is a fundamental value – that seeking and responding to valid feedback is core to organisational success. Most businesses are committed to the principle that customer feedback is vital to their success. It should therefore make perfect sense that the people who deliver that success should also be listened to and their perspective understood. The organisation that is in constant touch with its key constituencies is bound to be more successful than one which turns a deaf ear to one or more of those groups.

So focus groups are a hugely valuable tool for hearing at first hand just what is on the minds of employees. The data generated will invariably provide valuable insights which will inform the design of any survey questionnaire (and ultimately guide management decisions). AND the fact that they have been run will send a powerful message to employees confirming that their views matter and that the organisation will do its best to respond to and support them.

Yes, surveys are worth conducting, even when the questionnaires are designed remotely. But how much more reliable and useful they can be if their design is based on up to date, first-hand input from a sample of people from across the organisation. And they’re more likely to convince the workforce that they have the active support of a responsive management.

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