Staffing Management

Dear Workforce How Do We Use Focus Groups to Roll Out a CDHP?

By Staff Report

Sep. 7, 2011

Dear Meeting Is the Message:

Focus groups are a good way to learn what employees really think or how they really feel (and those two are really different). A focus group is helpful when introducing a consumer-driven health plan. You may be concerned about how employees will react to the news if they are “strongly encouraged” to select that option. You may be worried that they will have a difficult time understanding how a CDHP works. And you may suspect that they see it as a sign of more drastic benefits decisions to come.

Who Should Attend?

The ideal focus group consists of 15 to 20 participants, which is a good number to manage for a discussion. Invite people to participate, but do not force them to do so; it is hard to get enthusiasm by mandate. You should also try to get a cross section of your workforce, both in terms of geography (if you operate in more than one location) and seniority/responsibility. Consider these separate focus groupings:

• New employees (on board less than a year)

• Short-term employees (less than 10 years)

• Long-term employees (more than 10 years)

• First-echelon supervisors

• Midlevel leadership

If you really do want to hear it all, encourage some of your more outspoken employees to sign up. But never mix supervisors with the employees they supervise. Candor and honesty will go right out the window.

Who Should Lead the Focus Group?

Here is a hint: not HR, and not company managers. If you want people to open up about the organization, the last person you want facilitating a focus group is someone they perceive as “working for the other team.”

Using an outside facilitator—someone who is seen as objective and who can introduce the questions or topics for discussion—is desirable, and then you should step out of the way. A good facilitator never influences the discussion, but rather “tees up” the topic, stands back and listens. The facilitator should encourage the participants to speak, ensuring that everyone gets a chance and no one dominates the conversation.

The facilitator should also have a “recorder,” a person whose sole role is to type/transcribe the discussion as close to verbatim as possible. This requires having a previously approved discussion guide (see below) loaded into a laptop computer that captures the focus group’s collective commentary.

What Do We Talk About?

The discussion guide should lay out the topic or topics you want to explore, and which can reasonably be covered in the amount of time (one or two hours is best) allocated for the focus group. Developed and approved by the organization’s human resources and leadership team, the discussion guide should consist of questions that require more than “yes” or “no” answers. They need to be designed to help you understand the “why, what and how” of the topic.

A good focus group discussion will often lead into peripheral topics beyond the discussion guide. While it is the responsibility of the facilitator to ensure the conversation does not stray from your objectives, allowing it to expand when relevant can provide important background about other employee issues and concerns.

The Ground Rules

Every focus group must have some ground rules. Before it begins:

• Describe the purpose/objective of the group.

• Reveal what will happen with the participants’ input after the focus group is over.

• Remind people that they need to respect one another. Everybody will get a chance to talk, if they just wait their turn.

• Emphasize that the policy provides total confidentiality and no attribution. Participants can say anything they want. The facilitator will not reveal who said it. Although the recorder will transcribe every word, the “script” will have no names.

• Tell the participants, “What happens in the focus group stays in the focus group.” No matter what anyone says, it is not to be discussed afterward.

• Explain that the focus group is not chartered with making changes; it is chartered with collecting information, ideas, concerns, observations and whatever else is pertinent to the subject(s) at hand.


Focus groups are a great way to find out what employees, managers, supervisors and even retirees think. They can provide in-depth information that can help your organization implement a CDHP by introducing concepts, providing clarity around actions to be taken, answering questions, addressing concerns, providing education and gaining buy-in. Focus groups are an effective tool to engage and learn from your employees. Good luck and good listening.

SOURCE: Tupper Hillard, The Segal Co., Tempe, Arizona

LEARN MORE: Even before Congress passed a national health care law in 2010, some experts warned that CDHPs were doomed to fail.

Workforce Management Online, July 2011Register Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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