Understanding your team members’ candid insights and observations can create an engaged team that is excited for the organization’s success.

By Denise Scott

Hanging in your hallway is the diligently crafted statement of why your organization exists and what you want to accomplish. But people typically don’t look at statements on the wall for clues about how they should behave at work. They watch others.  

How did my coworker just treat that resident that was calling out for something? How did my boss speak to me this morning? What’s happening when my supervisor isn’t looking. These speak to the real culture in an organization.   

You can ask your staff for insights through satisfaction surveys. But quantitative surveys can only uncover so much information. How do you find out what is truly going on in your organization? How do you know if those mission, vision and value statements on the wall are just that, decorations on the wall, or if they are actually being carried out by your team?

Getting an Accurate Read

To get an accurate read on your culture, you need to hear directly from employees at all levels. But chances are few, if any, employees are willing to open up to their boss. People fear retribution, dislike being the squeaky wheel and prefer complaining to their friends about what would make the organization better.  

Understanding your team members’ candid insights and observations can create an engaged team that is excited for the organization’s success. It’s a critical step in ensuring that your mission and goals are clear and actionable.  

Offering people the opportunity to share their experiences helps you, as a leader, to see what is going right so you can do more of it. It also lets you address damaging trends that may be undermining your outcomes and reputation.

The Reasons

Focus groups can be used for countless reasons, including to:

  • Determine if and why employees are engaged

  • Find out the reasons for staff turnover

  • Explore how residents feel about the support they receive

  • Uncover if and why family members would recommend the organization

  • Gather feedback from short-term patients to improve the customer experience

Questions are asked and subsequently answered with no hidden agenda or persuasion. Information is reported back anonymously in order to ensure confidentiality and remove the fear of retribution.   

In the hundreds of focus groups that Denise B. Scott has conducted, we have found that during the sessions trust in leadership is nurtured along with teamwork. Just the mere act of hosting focus groups creates a feeling amongst employees of “this organization cares about me.” Often employees upon listening to a team member from a different department or shift remark, “I never knew that you had to do that!”  

Unknown or unnoticed information is shared and the results can be used for addressing challenges, furthering the mission, and making strategic decisions.  

Conducting Sessions

When discussing with organizations if focus groups are right for them, we often share the following tips:

  • Select a Facilitator
    This is a critical first step for the success of the groups. Do not waste any participant’s time, and the accompanying payroll dollars for staff, by choosing someone that is not fit for the task at hand. The person should be a skilled facilitator without any vested interest in the feedback being shared. If they aren’t, attendees will not be honest and the facilitator might unknowingly act defensive or make assumptions based on what he or she already knows about the situation.

  • The Right Environment
    The sessions facilitated by Denise B. Scott typically last 45 minutes to an hour and are always held in a private room with a door. While it may seem insignificant, the room set-up can support or hinder participants’ feedback. Create an environment where chairs are in a circle, or around a table, to encourage open communication. Schedule groups with the appropriate time needed to enter and leave the room. (If you are conducting patients and/or resident groups be aware that they often take a little longer to gather and exit the room, and additional space in the schedule prevents them from feeling rushed.)

Be Aware

When considering focus groups in your organization look out for the following that could potentially pose an issue:

  • Opting for an Online Survey
    Those participating in an online survey can filter what they will say instead of responding quickly with their first reaction, especially if there is a lack of trust in the organization. They will also type less than they will say, resulting in less meaningful input. Listening to others in a group speak also encourages lots of, “That made me think of . . .” from participants, a phenomena that can’t occur while sitting alone at a computer.

  • Unrepresentative Groups
    It’s nearly impossible, and usually not feasible, to talk to 100% of any group. Look for a representative sample of the group you want to hear from, whether it’s patients, residents, family members or staff. Select participants randomly and look for a cross-section of your group so you don’t hear from just one perspective. While it’s nice to hear from all of your raving fans, you are missing out on valuable information from those that think differently. Talking to the day shift only will not get you insights from the team that works nights.

Done right, focus groups are an incredible way to assess what is happening in your organization. You many think you know exactly what’s going on, but chances are you will be very surprised by the amazing simple things that are making a positive or negative impact on your team and customers. Want to know what people want and why they feel the way they do? Just ask! To get an accurate read on your own organizational culture, click here to download the focus group tip sheet we share with all clients.  

Denise Boudreau-Scott, MHA, LNHA, specializes in organizational assessments that result in engaged staff and residents, as well as better financial and clinical outcomes. Find out more and sign up for free tips at http://www.denisebscott.com.