Management by walking around and talking to front-line workers was made famous by Tom Peters. The concept boils down to making employees – or any stakeholders – a partner in the decision-making process.
That same inclusionary concept is embedded in the research techniques of one-on-one interviews and community roundtables. Stakeholders are interviewed or participate in a group discussion to inform decision-making, whether it’s for a business, project or major initiative.
Too often, research is dismissed as interesting, but not imperative. Just as Peters demonstrated the power of management engagement with workers, one-on-one interviews and roundtables perform the same role by giving decision-makers relevant, timely findings to inform their decisions.
In our world, we say no communications plan is strategic unless it is based on solid research. The same holds true for business plans, policy initiatives, marketing and messaging.
You may know what you want to say, but you should know what people are willing to hear first. That insight can shape how and where you say your piece. It also can influence who says it.
Given how important knowing in advance the attitudes of your target audience, it is surprising how often research is thrown overboard because it is costly, time-consuming and “unlikely to reveal anything new.” That short-sighted, overly self-confidence perspective has come back to bite many executives, marketers and politicians in the bum. It is an unforced error because one-on-one interviews are one of the least costly and most effective types of qualitative research.
Peters counseled his corporate client executives to get “up close and personal” with their subordinates, especially workers who interface with customers, but have no institutional channel to relay what they discover. Peters also recommended top executives work full shifts with the production staff so they could see first-hand working conditions, process snags and wasted motion. His goal: To create horizontal relationships that allow a free-flow of information.
Trained researchers have the skill to coax insight out of people they interview or whom they moderate in a group discussion. Researchers start with a set of questions designed to spark a conversation, which can expand beyond answering a question to provide invaluable context and perspective. Interviews and group discussions also offer visual clues about emotive reactions to certain issues, words or imagery.
Interviewees, especially if assured they won’t be quoted directly, are typically very forthcoming. After all, most people like to be asked their opinions. They appreciate the chance to answer questions and explain their answers.
Reports based on one-on-one interviews or group discussions don’t contain percentages because this is qualitative, not quantitative research. You are getting their views expressed in their words. The actual words interviewees use are just as important to hear as their answers to the questions.
Executives are hired because they are expected to know how to run their respective organizations. However, many decisions stretch the knowledge or experience of top executives. They need fresh, relevant information to inform the choices they must make. One-on-one interviews and group discussions can provide the information and insight executives need for smart, collaborative decision-making.