Focus Groups: An Underutilized Step in Engaging Employees

The word "focus" is in red in the center of other blurred words in black

Employee focus groups can bring clear, fresh and implementable ideas on ways to effectively address the results of your employee engagement survey.

More leaders are wisely paying attention to employee engagement these days. They understand that engaged workers are over 40% more productive and effective than their unengaged counterparts. Imagine the difference that can make in an organization’s performance. And the reverse? A decrease in engagement can result in a 1-2% reduction in both operating margin and net profit.

Highly engaged workforces advocate better for the company, give more discretionary effort, look forward to coming to work, help their teammates to succeed and perform at higher levels. All of which makes a strong argument for testing the waters and finding out, with an employee engagement survey, just how engaged your employees are.

But then what? Few organizations are as good at implementing what they learn from the survey as they are at administering the survey. This is not surprising. Designing and administering a survey is much easier that getting an organization behind the critical few actions required to improve employee engagement. We have written a lot about “doing it right” in terms of communicating and deploying the survey and then being ready and willing to act upon the results. But here, we want to throw out a suggestion that has worked for many of our clients…employee focus groups.

When you have the results of your survey, have analyzed them and come up with the critical few engagement areas that need improvement, why not include your employees in the plan to go forward? Show that you value the input of those who will be most affected by the changes. With their on-the-job experience and insight, your employees can help formulate implementable and meaningful action steps for improvement.

Here is how to involve your employees in improving engagement:

  1. Identify representative employee groups.
    Ideally every employee should have an opportunity to shape the steps required to improve employee engagement. But at a minimum, make sure that every employee group is represented and, for the purpose of good and all-inclusive discussion, keep the number at 12 or under. Many organizations encourage different departments, locations or teams to set up their own focus groups to come up with suggestions on how to meaningfully improve engagement.
  2. Act quickly.
    Organize the groups as soon as possible after the employee engagement survey results have been reported. Do not wait for the perfect time. There is no such thing. The faster you get people identifying and committing to meaningful actions, the better.
  3. Select an effective moderator for each group.
    This person should have experience in facilitating discussions and should be someone respected by the group. We recommend that managers not be moderators in order to allow for a more free exchange of thoughts and ideas.
  4. Set up a system for the groups to share their ideas and monitor progress.
    This is a way to hold leaders and employees accountable for following through. Check in periodically to see what progress has been made against their plans for improving employee engagement.

Inviting your employees to participate in focus groups engages them immediately in the improvements. They feel valued and begin to act as owners of the company’s culture.

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