HR and benefits professionals have perfected the art of creating surveys. In fact, they’re often the default for eliciting employee feedback because it’s far less intimidating to conduct a survey than it is to lead a focus group, have one-on-one conversations with employees, or conduct usability testing. But we encourage you to try other methods to get a richer level of understanding. When you have a conversation, allow people to speak freely. When you do usability testing, observe how they actually interact with a website or mailer. You’ll get more nuanced and specific information, naturally. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be collecting employee feedback—in person—in no time:
- Choose Your Participants Strategically
- Say ‘Thanks’ and Provide Context
- Don’t Ask Leading Questions
- Moderate the Conversation
- Conduct Focus Groups in Teams
- Keep Your Usability Testing Simple
Choose Your Participants Strategically
For some topics, like Medicare enrollment, the group you talk to will be tightly defined. For broader topics, such as attitudes toward health care or saving for retirement, you’ll want a good cross representation of age, tenure, and gender to account for multiple viewpoints. For focus groups, you want no more than 10–12 people per session, so there’s time for everyone to share their opinion. With interviews and user testing, it should be just you and the employee.
Sometimes, surveys are sent to broad audiences. That can work for general topics like “How satisfied are you with X?” But we also encourage you to use surveys to get more specific feedback. For example, if you’re curious about what motivated someone to try a new program, or enroll in a certain medical plan, ask only those people who actually tried the program or enrolled in the plan. Since what people say they do and what they actually do are often different, you’ll have a better understanding of their motives when you survey only those who have actually completed a certain action.
Say ‘Thanks’ and Provide Context
Thank the participant or participants for joining you, and remind them of the context in which their insights may be used. That will allay any concerns they may have about confidentiality and sharing their opinions. Provide an overview of the subject you plan to cover, as well. This can be something as simple as: “Hi, I’m Mary from the HR department. We’re trying to better understand what types of financial education would be helpful for you as we determine what programs to put in place.” With one-on-one interviews and user testing, offer a little bit more about yourself; it will encourage employees to open up. If you’ll be recording any of the activities, make sure to get consent before you record.
In focus groups, there’s no need to have everyone introduce themselves—although we do suggest name tags, in case employees would like to direct a specific question to another participant.
With surveys, a quick 1- to 3-sentence introduction at the top of the survey will suffice: “Thank you for your recent participation in XYZ Company’s Annual Benefits Enrollment. So that we can continue to improve our offerings and processes, we invite you to complete this brief survey. It should take no more than 5 minutes of your time.”
Don’t Ask Leading Questions
Leading questions are ones that prompt the desired answer. Your moderator or interviewer should have adequate knowledge of the topic to keep the conversation on track and avoid prompting specific answers when following up. “Do you think HSAs are a good way to save money?” is a leading question. “What’s your opinion about HSAs and saving money?” is not. One quick tip— leading questions can often be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” (which is another type of question you’ll want to avoid!).
With usability testing, you want to see how people navigate a website or interact with content or a product. Your key insight will be how they get to the information you ask them to find or the action you desire them to take, so be extra careful not to drop any hints. And as hard as it may be, resist the urge to jump in and help guide them along.
By their very nature, surveys provide more protection against leading questions because they don’t involve an interviewer or moderator.
Moderate the Conversation
In focus groups, you’ll want to make sure everyone has time to speak. Often, you’ll have one or two more outspoken employees who can quickly dominate the conversation. To help prevent this, direct questions to certain participants as a way to encourage—and give space for—others to contribute.
During interviews, moderating means sometimes having to rephrase a question if you’re not getting answers of substance.
In usability testing, if the person you are observing has come to a complete stop, then that’s good information, too, and resist the urge to help. You’ll know how people would interact with the prototype, were it real.
Conduct Focus Groups in Teams
With larger focus groups, arrange for another team member, in addition to the moderator, to be present to take notes. That person is unnecessary in one-on-one interviews if the interviewer is comfortable taking notes.
Keep Your Usability Testing Simple
Usability testing is most commonly associated with websites. It’s a very effective way to learn whether or not a proposed navigation structure makes sense to your employees. But it can also be used on prototypes. Or to discover if one description or explanation of a complicated concept is better than another.
The goal of usability testing is to give employees a sample of something that you’re thinking of putting out into the world, and then to see how they interact with it. It could be an illustration of how a health savings account and a high-deductible health plan work together. Or a chart that shows how an employee stock purchase program works. Or, perhaps, a proposed website site map. Show it to employees. Ask them to interact with it. Then, watch what they do. Can they find the information you asked them to locate on a website? Maybe you have two versions of something that explain the same complicated concept. Do they gravitate to one over the other? Body language alone can tell you a lot about what people are experiencing.
Whatever your user testing involves, you’ll want to record the interaction. That way, you have another opportunity to watch the interaction and observe what you may have missed while you were in the room—and share it with others. Technology has made this surprisingly simple to do. All you’ll need is a laptop with a camera or a webcam in a conference room.