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What’s On Your Mind?

How Staff Focus Groups and Surveys Can Answer That Question!  

How well do you know what your staff likes and appreciates about your on-site dining facilities?  Could you use a boost in daily participation at your cafés?  Are you thinking of rolling out a new concept or a coffee bar that you never had?  Do you know why your staff goes off-site to some favorite spots for lunch?  Do you need to justify a new direction for your foodservice or maybe a new facility altogether?

These questions, and many more, can be answered by conducting focus group sessions with small groups of staff representing a cross section of the firm.  Follow those sessions with a brief survey available to each staff member, and you are on your way to finding the answers.  In no time, you will be able to plan for changes and improvements to your current operation, develop a new café or coffee bar, or finally take that step to whatever you may have on the horizon.

Focus Groups – The First Step

The point of the focus group is to explore the mood and satisfaction levels of staff members.  First, develop a list of discussion issues that are relevant to your staff.  For example, perhaps you have heard that the menu items are getting a little stale or are too ordinary.  You will want to address this issue.  Or maybe staff members are talking about the new coffee bar or C-store kiosk in the next building over.  Again, it is important to address new services that staff might like to see in their facility.  Then invite a cross section of staff members to form several groups, of no more than 8 to 10 participants each, so that you can explore their thoughts and opinions.

As you start the session, let the group know that you are taking notes on the issues raised and assure them that no names will be recorded.  Lead the discussion, but allow participants to explore other areas that they feel are important to them. It may be just what you need to gather subjective input since, by its very nature, the focus group allows for free discussion amongst peers.  Good notes will be critical for further action.

Positive Results

A children’s hospital in the Southeast was struggling with an old facility that they had jury-rigged, converting the patient tray assembly kitchen into a room service operation.  This converted kitchen created flows that were very difficult to manage, causing errors in meals ordered and delays in patient deliveries.  These issues were explored in focus group sessions and as a result, short-term improvements were recommended as a stop-gap measure prior to a planned remodeling project.

A second hospital in this complex recently opened with a streamlined café and room service patient tray assembly kitchen.  Focus groups were conducted to assess staff satisfaction and identify any other issues they might have.  The focus group sessions brought out a fundamental clash between the dietary department and the physicians.  While the dietary department’s overriding mission was to provide healthful meals to the child patient, the physicians desperately needed children to eat something after undergoing chemotherapy.  These patients craved comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets.  They were not as interested in more healthful food choices.  The focus groups identified this important conflict for the hospital to address.

Step Two – The Survey

Focus groups also guide you in developing an effective survey. While the focus group sessions gather qualitative information, a survey collects quantitative information.  The survey collects statistical information that confirms the directions you want to take for the foodservices.  For example, armed with this statistical information you can decide if a new menu item will be popular or which new concept will be most acceptable.  It can also provide feedback on areas of dissatisfaction, which will allow you to rectify the problem immediately.

A survey can be easily developed and posted on your firm’s website.  The survey should be brief, no more than 15 questions, to encourage a higher number of responses.  You should include a couple of questions to verify the respondent’s department or job type, so you can ascertain that all groups are represented proportionately.  You will be amazed at all the useful information you can gather.

Positive Results

During the programming of a major Midwest corporation’s new headquarters building, a survey was conducted of the employee population at their existing headquarters to determine where they eat and the types of food they like.  The subsequent results gave the design team great insight into the employees’ preferences, which confirmed the preliminary plans for the servery.

Show You Care

At the completion of a survey, it is very important to distribute or post the results, or a summary of results, for all to see. It sends a message to your workforce that you really do care about their wants and preferences, and helps with overall communication and satisfaction levels.

These simple methods can go a long way as you work to identify issues, keep your foodservices current and popular, and they serve as great aids in planning your next new facility!

By:  Theodore Farrand, FCSI, FMP

Director of Management Advisory Services | Washington, DC

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