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How to use virtual focus groups to measure employee experience during M&A

Mergers and Acquisitions|Wellbeing

By Kelly Karger and Jim Leininger | July 10, 2020

Virtual focus groups combine the reach of an employee survey with the richness of a focus group by using engaging artificial intelligence technology.

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About our ‘Best Practices: Measuring Employee Experience in M&A’ series

Our four-part “Best Practices: Measuring Employee Experience in M&A” series covers three proven tools that can help increase the likelihood of M&A success: pulse surveys, virtual focus groups and high-performer interviews.

Organizations have used in-person focus groups for years to gather qualitative information in an interactive format. However, traditional focus groups have limitations, which are especially acute during mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and even more so amid COVID-19. Organizing them is often complex, requiring travel and logistics arrangements that may not even be possible today. They also take time to consolidate the results. And it can be difficult to determine if the views expressed are truly representative of the company as a whole.

Virtual focus groups help address these issues by combining the reach of an employee survey with the richness of a focus group. As the name implies, these are qualitative data gathering sessions conducted online, and are unique in that they leverage new artificial intelligence technology that is highly engaging for participants. As issues are “crowdsourced,” participants feel energized and often go on to become natural change agents for the topic discussed — essential for driving your change agenda in M&A.

This process also removes biases created by individuals who tend to dominate the conversation or influence the narrative with extreme views. With a virtual focus group, everyone has an equal voice.

How virtual focus groups work

A virtual focus group works like this: A facilitator poses a question to a large employee population — up to 1,000 at a time. The employees all respond simultaneously in real time (experienced as a typical online chat or text conversation) and then are shown a series of responses from others, two at a time, and asked to indicate which they prefer. Through machine learning algorithms and advanced natural language processing, the system immediately reports the results to the moderator, reflecting the sentiment of the group. The moderator can then probe further on the same topic to gain additional insight or move on to another question.

In addition to open-ended questions, virtual focus groups also can include traditional polling questions, which would be asked in the same way you may see on a typical opinion survey. Regardless of the type of question asked, the moderator can view the analytics live, segment the comments by key demographic groups and change their line of questioning, depending on how people respond. The process should yield rich insights, new ideas and understanding of critical employee segments.

Virtual focus groups should be considered a key part of the larger listening strategy that is crafted early in the M&A process. They offer a unique tool to measure the employee experience, leveraging all the richness and value of qualitative input at a speed previously only possible with a quantitative survey. These sessions can be especially useful in the transition phase to drive agile interventions that address priority areas, or as a stand-alone activity to inform change programs.

Next in our Best Practices: Measuring Employee Experience in M&A series: The critical role of high-performer interviews.


Senior Director, Global M&A

Director — Talent Management and Organizational Development

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