community roundtables

One-on-One Interviews Create Partners in Decision-Making

One-on-one interviews share the same concept as management by walking around – turning interviewees, employees and stakeholders into partners in critical decision-making.

One-on-one interviews share the same concept as management by walking around – turning interviewees, employees and stakeholders into partners in critical decision-making.

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.

CEOs and managers would be wise to take time to meet with the employees they oversee to learn what they know and apply to inform management decision-making.

CEOs and managers would be wise to take time to meet with the employees they oversee to learn what they know and apply to inform management decision-making.

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.

 

Using Research to Find Out What You Need to Know

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is exactly the moment when you need to stop and take stock. Hubris can turn on a dime into expensive mistakes.

Market research and timely public opinion polling is often dismissed on grounds that “we already know the answer to our questions.” That may be true, but it could be a disaster for a business plan, communications strategy or a school bond campaign if it isn’t true.

Frequently hubris is cloaked as a budgetary concern. “We can’t afford conducting any research right now.” Experience shows that many businesses, nonprofits and public agencies can’t afford not to conduct research.

Cockiness can be the cousin of recklessness. Most executives wouldn’t think of making a major decision without legal or financial counsel. So why would they risk the fate of a new product, the design of a website landing page or the effectiveness of an expensive ad buy based on a hunch or a gut feeling?

Research can be overlooked because of unfamiliarity with all its different forms. Many people think of research as only telephone polls or focus groups. Those are common types of research, but there are many other options that may fit better with a project and a budget.

One-on-one interviews is a cost-effective way to gather reliable information. These interviews won’t produce pie-chart results, but they will generate useful perspective and context. Say an executive is ready to launch a new initiative. One-on-one interviews can test whether his top lieutenants are on board or have lingering concerns. A nonprofit is considering a name change. One-on-one interviews can help ascertain how much brand equity resides in the current name and the aspirations for a new name.

For consumer-facing businesses, follow-up online surveys can gauge customer satisfaction and identify problems with products, personnel or shipping.

Roundtable discussions, whether in lunchrooms or at community centers, are an underutilized form of research. You might think of these as informal focus groups where you can collect information directly from participants and view group interaction. Both can provide insight, either by reaffirming what you thought, countering your assumptions or uncovering something you never thought of before.

An old-fashioned idea, which remains relevant, is to walk around and talk to people. Ask employees what they would improve. Ask customers whether you are meeting their expectations. Ask vendors how you could do business better and more profitably.

Research professionals are valuable resources who can give advice on the type of research that matches what you need and what you have to spend. They also can assist on what questions you ask and how they are framed to avoid biasing answers and skewing results.

One final thought. Third-party research, whether in the form of surveys or interviews, can yield more candid responses, especially if the topics explored relate to bosses and their plans.

The fundamental value proposition for quality research is what helps you find out what you need to know, not just what you want to hear.