Employer Choose To Facilitate An Employee
Although many people may think anyone in an organization or in HR can effectively facilitate an employee focus group, nothing could be further from the truth. Facilitating effectively takes a certain skill set that we do not all naturally possess, such as the ability to remain neutral, respect all opinions and keep a group of hopefully talkative employees on track. A facilitator also needs to be familiar with the topic at hand, enough to recognize important tangents as well as unrelated ones. Asking questions to elicit meaningful responses without leading answers or stifling conversation will also be necessary to facilitate a successful meeting.
The facilitator plays a key role in a focus group. He or she does much more than merely ask questions. The facilitator is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the session. If the facilitator plays his or her role effectively, a meaningful result is much more likely.
The following are a few of the major skills a good facilitator should have:
Gate-keeping. The facilitator invites (and limits, as appropriate) input to ensure that varying points of view are given an opportunity to be expressed. It is very easy in any group interaction for one or two points of view to dominate. In fact, this will be the most natural outcome if an intentional effort is not made toward balanced participation. Each participant must have an equal opportunity to share his or her views on a particular topic.
To achieve this balance, the facilitator must work toward establishing a “norm of participation.” It is normal for at least some participants to be hesitant at the beginning of any group discussion. A good facilitator uses gate-keeping to invite participation in a nonthreatening manner. Having each participant’s name clearly displayed on a name tag or tent card so that he or she can be called on by name is useful. The facilitator can also help foster this norm of participation by calling on one or two participants he or she believes are likely to speak up without hesitation. Once others see that input is received without critique and that being called on carries no embarrassing penalty, a balance of participation is much more likely.
Process guarding. The facilitator must ensure that the focus group operates within its purpose and that the rules are followed. The facilitator pays attention to the process while allowing the participants to generate the content (actual views and opinions). Objectivity is extremely important. The facilitator must remain neutral while the group generates and clarifies its own views of the issue. A good facilitator simply refuses to give opinions or steer the group in any one way.
Interviewing. Asking good questions is perhaps the most important task of the facilitator. Starting the group off with thought-provoking questions helps incite discussion. Following participant comments with related questions helps foster reflection and insight. Sensitivity to participants is also crucial. The facilitator must be aware of when a participant’s comment was perhaps misunderstood, when a participant may not have had ample opportunity to complete his or her thoughts or when a participant does not seem to be saying what is on his or her mind. Probing questions (e.g., what, why, when) are useful here, as is the technique of paraphrasing and repeating back specific comments or emerging themes so that they may be clarified and validated.
In general, managers should not facilitate groups of their own direct reports, as employees will not likely be as open or honest as they would be otherwise. When employers do not have someone in the house with the capabilities to run a successful focus group, outsourcing a facilitator is a common practice