7 Steps: How to Run a Successful Focus Group
The most successful Focus Groups are a benefit to everyone involved: participants feel that their views are heard and valued, and the organization gains tremendous insight that market research alone cannot provide. Whether you’re wondering how to conduct a Focus Group with employees or reaching out to the wider public, follow a few key guidelines and you will be on the right road.
Don’t underestimate the role of the moderator
Actually, this role might need to be doubled up, with a moderator who takes on the mantle of devising probing questions and drawing out members to share their views, and an assistant who is free to take in-depth notes, including details such as participant body language. Nonverbal cues can give deep indications that participants don’t voice; research by Gorden goes into detail about the huge variety of nonverbal data types, covering everything from posture to variations in the volume, pitch, and quality of their voice. Providing the moderator with a helper who can tune in to these details can let you record valuable information that might otherwise get overlooked.
It’s tempting to “lead the witness”, but try not to
You may go into your Focus Group with an idea of what participants will say, but try not to pose questions in a way that guides respondents towards a particular reply. Focus Groups are all about uncovering motivation and potentially unconscious thinking and biases; genuine insights and ideas can come out in the course of a discussion, but try not to state those ideas directly, or you could stifle the natural outcome of the Focus Group and lead the answers.
Good moderators can deflect back to participants with questions
What if you kick off your Focus Group with the best intentions of allowing participants to speak their minds without muddying the waters with your own thoughts, and they quiz you for your opinions on the topic at hand? Experienced focus group moderator Brooke Niemiec advises moderators to deflect back to participants by answering a question with a question. Instead of answering direct questions, the moderator takes this opportunity to probe, saying, “What do you think?”
Employee Focus Groups should cast their net wide
Workforces are diverse in terms of role, background, responsibility, knowledge and more. It’s important to bring in Focus Group participants that are a true cross-section of the organization. You may worry that senior employees and juniors could have a negative effect on each other, but if that’s the case, gather participants together in select, curated groups. Focus Group expert Debra Corey reminds us that this cross-section shouldn’t just include role type or seniority, but cultural, ethnic and community diversity, especially where an organization has a global workforce who may bring different insights and cultural sensitivities to the focus group. Your global team’s differences is one of its strengths: don’t forget to take advantage of this strength in your Focus Groups.
Running short on time? Narrow down your Focus Group questions
We’ve written elsewhere about the most effective Focus Group questions, including Probing, Follow-up and Exit questions. But what if you don’t have the time to craft and exhaustively analyze feedback from a full-scale Focus Group? David Pitre advocates using a rapid-fire approach that gives the organization the benefit of Focus Group feedback without “the baggage associated with a comprehensive study.” He recommends setting a single statement that summarizes what you’re trying to learn (“what do employees think about a recent HR announcement?”), settling on a venue (online is okay), narrowing participants to a certain type (for example, managers with more than one year’s experience), and including just a few questions closely related to your single statement. This is all about rapid results, and David’s overview is a good guide if you are pressed for time.
Whether you are conducting a rapid-fire or in-depth Focus Group initiative, don’t forget to let participants know in advance that you genuinely want their views and that you won’t stifle the discussion. Also, remember to share results afterwards, especially where employees are involved. That’s the best way to prove to participants that they truly have been heard — and you’ll also increase the likelihood that they’ll agree to participate again in the future.