… unless you are prepared to do something with the answer!
The problem with asking for feedback – whether by survey, focus group or some other method – is that once you ask, you can’t un-ask (just like you can’t really ‘recall’ an earlier email…).
If you seek feedback, you need to make some quick changes in response, or else the process will lack credibility. Leaders who surpress uncomfortable results undermine themselves, and end up creating organizations with the responsiveness of a recalcitrant teenager.
Three quick points:
1) Focus group responses always include complaints – it’s easy for managers to get defensive. Help managers to hear the feedback for what it is – valuable steering information amid the noise of some venting – and you will do much to ensure you get where you want to go more quickly.
2) Don’t run sampling as a one-off exercise. Have your focus groups cycle through an alternating series of sampling sessions and fast feedback/responses. Usually, complaints, problems and missteps are not a huge issue as long as you respond to them. They are better seen as opportunities to demonstrate that the business is listening and has the will to live up to its claimed values.
3) What if employees ask for the earth? They sometimes will, but interestingly, you can often respond by saying that “we have heard and considered the message but are not going to do what you want.” People accept that a surprising amount of the time, as long as they feel they have been heard and you give them a decent explanation.
It’s also important to remember that in most organizations I’ve seen, it takes two or three iterations before people start to trust that the company really means it when it says “we are listening.”