Employee Engagement Focus Groups – An Underutilized Tool

Employee Engagement Focus Groups – An Underutilized Tool
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Do You Take Advantage of Employee Engagement Focus Groups?
Employee engagement focus groups are used to actively involve employees in designing solutions to improve their own engagement and retention.  Done right, they can bring clear, fresh, and implementable ideas on ways to effectively address the results of your employee engagement survey.

Why Employee Engagement Matters
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 disengaged counterparts.
  • A decrease in engagement can result in a 1-2% reduction in both operating margin and net profit.
  • Highly engaged work forces 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.

What Is a Focus Group?
The dictionary defines focus groups as a demographically diverse group of people gathered to participate in a guided discussion about a particular product, or to provide ongoing feedback on a political campaign, television series, etc.  In other words, most focus groups are about gathering feedback.

From an employee engagement perspective, focus groups are a bit different.

Yes, they are a gathering of deliberately targeted people who participate in an actively guided discussion to elicit input, feedback, reactions, and perceptions.  But the real goal of employee engagement-related focus groups is to actively involve employees and their managers in the design and implementation of meaningful and practical solutions that will improve employee engagement, performance, and retention.

Why Employee Engagement Focus Groups Are Valuable
Few organizations are as good at implementing what they learn from engagement surveys as they are at administering the survey. In fact, recent research by CEB found that 80% of business leaders do not believe that their engagement surveys are driving meaningful business outcomes.  This is not surprising. Designing and administering a survey is much easier that getting an entire 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 an underutilized approach that has worked for many of our clients, employee engagement  focus groups.

When you have analyzed your survey results and identified the critical few engagement areas that need improvement, why not actively include your employees in the plans 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.

Five Steps To Implement Employee Engagement Focus Groups
Here is how to involve your employees in improving engagement through employee engagement focus groups:

  1. Create Boundaries of Empowerment
    Before you let people brainstorm engagement and retention solutions, leaders must be clear on what areas are in play.  You do not want employees to spend time discussing compensation if it is not up for debate.

    Invest the time for leadership to agree upon and communicate what is possible for employees to start, stop, and continue so they focus on what is possible to change.

  2. Identify Representative Employee Groups
    Ideally every employee should have an opportunity to review the data and 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, either keep the number per group at twelve or less or have a design that works well for more people.

    Many organizations encourage different departments, locations and teams to set up their own focus groups to come up with suggestions on how to meaningfully improve engagement.

  3. 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.
  4. Select an Effective Facilitator for Each Group
    In addition to understanding employee engagement and how it fits into business and people performance, each facilitator should have enough business acumen and experience in facilitating complex and nuanced discussions so that they are (1) respected by the group and (2) can help come up with practical and implementable solutions that make sense.

    In general, we recommend that managers not be facilitators in order to allow for a more free exchange of thoughts and ideas.

  5. Set Up a System for the Groups to Share Ideas and Monitor Progress
    Transparency and information flow is a proven way to hold leaders and employees accountable for following through on commitments. Use dashboards to consistently track progress and pulse checks to track employee engagement trends.

The Bottom Line
Inviting your employees to participate in employee engagement focus groups increases commitment and speed of implementation.  You will know you are on the right track when employees notice positive change as a result of the last survey, know the specific action plans to address issues raised by the last survey’s results, and believe leadership is committed to responding to the survey results.

To learn more about how to improve employee engagement, download 7 Tips for Managers to Increase Employee Engagement through Communication

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