ERP projects and business transformations are exciting ventures for organizations. However, this excitement is almost always accompanied by apprehension. With this apprehension comes questions like: Will my employees reject the proposed changes? Will managers support me in this venture? Will this initiative be successful?
For many companies, these questions will only be answered days or weeks after the project begins. However, organizations have a powerful tool that can help them answer these questions before the project commences: focus groups.
Before we talk about how to conduct a focus group, let’s take a look at the definition of a focus group and some of the pros and cons.
What is a Focus Group?
A focus group is a gathering of stakeholders who are selected to participate in a planned discussion intended to uncover perceptions about a particular topic in a non-threatening environment. In the context of organizational change management, focus groups are one critical activity to include in your change management plan, especially if you’re preparing for an ERP implementation.
Here are some key terms to understand:
This includes employees, managers, executives, customers and anyone who might be impacted by the topic of interest.
Agendas and relevant training materials must be created in advance. In addition, the meeting date must be set at a time that encourages maximum participation from the stakeholders.
The objective of the focus group is to pull information from stakeholders. There should be an open floor for discussion to encourage maximum participation.
This is one of the most important aspects of the focus group definition. The focus group must be designed in a way that allows participants to feel free to discuss potential pain points. One way to ensure this is to conduct different focus groups for employees at different levels to ensure they are not filtering their opinions due to their managers being present.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Focus Groups
Much attention has been given to focus groups across the change management community. What is change management? It is the process of looking at the human side of change. Attention has been given to focus groups, because, if orchestrated correctly, focus groups can yield valuable and actionable information. Following are some advantages of using focus groups:
- They help obtain information about personal and group opinions.
- They provide the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.
- They can save time and money when compared to the cost of individual interviews.
- They can provide a broader range of information than individual interviews.
While there are distinct advantages to conducting a focus group, there are some disadvantages, as well:
- Disagreements between group members and irrelevant discussion can distract from the main topic.
- Focus groups findings can be difficult to analyze.
- Some participants might not be willing to share their opinions due to fear of backlash.
How to Conduct a Focus Group
In order for a focus group to be most impactful, it’s important to follow a defined process. One way to approach focus groups is with the following six-step process:
Step 1: Define the Purpose
- Clarify the purpose of the focus group.
- Define the expected outcomes.
- Verify that focus groups are the best way to gauge employee perceptions.
Step 2: Select the Participants and Leader
- Select participants based on who will be most impacted by the change.
- Select no less than four people but no more than 12 people. The ideal group size is 6-8 per focus group.
- Invite participants with a positive message and inform them of the benefits of participating.
- Select a focus group leader who is outside of the organization, so employees aren’t fearful of backlash.
Step 3: Manage the Atmospherics
- Select a meeting location appropriate for discussion to avoid outside interruptions.
- Develop and produce the required materials for the meeting, including training pamphlets, project one-pager, etc.
- Assign a note taker for the focus group.
Step 4: Develop the Questions
- Determine the number of questions necessary to fill the duration of the meeting.
- Develop deep-dive questions focused on the why, how and what.
- Ensure the questions are open-ended and do not lead participants to certain answers.
- Design a session agenda.
Step 5: Conduct the Session
- Clearly state the scope, purpose and desired outcome of the focus group.
- Emphasize that anonymity will be paramount when sharing results with executives.
- Focus the discussion on the key topics.
- Utilize the deep-dive questions to probe into pain points.
- Listen for comments that are vague and seek clarification.
Step 6: Analyze the Results
- Review the minutes and reach a consensus on the top priorities.
- Identify patterns in responses and general themes.
- Identify reasons for disagreement and agreement.
- Develop a summary report of the key findings to share with executives.
4 Tips for Finding a Focus Group Leader
As mentioned earlier, the focus group leader should be someone outside your organization. Often, this is a change management consultant. Following are some tips for finding the right person to conduct your focus groups:
1. Find Someone Unbiased
The atmosphere of the focus group is set by the focus group leader. It’s important to find someone unbiased who will seek to create an atmosphere where participants feel safe to speak freely.
The ideal leader never dismisses comments as “bad ideas” or “illogical” because they understand that the goal of focus groups is to gauge perceptions.
2. Find Someone Organized
There must be a clearly established closing time for discussion, so all participants know they have a specific window in which to share their opinions. This is why it’s important to find a focus group leader who is organized enough to plan and adhere to a schedule. For example, they should be willing to interrupt (politely) and redirect tangential topics to focus on the topic of discussion.
3. Find Someone Experienced
The focus group leader must be well-versed enough in the topic of interest to react to participants’ comments. The leader must listen deeply, think carefully and be empathetic to each participants’ opinion.
4. Find Someone Who Understands Group Dynamics
The vividness effect is a well-researched phenomenon in cognitive psychology that describes how peoples’ opinions are often shaped by highly graphic and dramatic situations. This phenomenon can directly impact focus group observations and conclusions.
An example of this can be seen in group sessions where there is a very animated and emotional participant. Often, this individual can rally opinion to align with his beliefs, thereby skewing the potential for accurate conclusions.
The focus group leader must be prepared to quell this type of behavior and redirect emotion into productive conversation.
How Will Business Transformation Impact Your Employees?
If you’re wondering how your ERP implementation or business transformation is going to impact employees, focus groups are one way to find out. This is just one of many organizational change management tools companies can use.
Readiness assessments also are helpful. The insights revealed from assessments like this can be used to convince executives to invest in critical change management activities, such as communication planning and end-user training.
Change is never easy, but with guidance from change management consultants, like Panorama, you can minimize change resistance. We’ll help you prepare for and conduct focus groups, enabling you to understand and address employees’ fears. Contact us below for a free consultation.