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Focus Group Feedback

A hearty thank you goes out to the Office of Human Capital employees who participated in the recent focus group sessions that I facilitated as part of my graduate school research. These focus group sessions were conducted as part of an overall organization assessment that explored strengths and preparedness of the Office of Human Capital. For those reading this who I haven’t met, let me introduce myself. My name is Joan Michel and I am a graduate student at Penn State University in Organization Development and Change. I also run a business in Baltimore that provides professional services to government agencies and nonprofits. As part of the course on Organization Assessment, I’m really happy to be working with Office of Human Capital as my case study. The study consists of observations, interviews, and focus groups and is primarily looking at organizational strengths and preparedness to assume new consulting roles.

If you missed the live focus group and would like to contribute your opinions to the assessment, please fill out this Google form. Only seven easy questions.

Model and Method 

As Human Capital professionals, you may be interested in the model used for structuring this assessment. If not, I’d encourage you to skip ahead to the more interesting Focus Group Feedback section. In organization development, there are lots of different theories and reasons for using different models for assessing an organization. My visualization of the model closely resembles a battery, which is why I’ve named it the “Double A” Model of Organizational Analysis. You have my permission to make fun of this graphic – it might be the silliest I’ve come up with in a long time. I’m no Brian Barth!

Anyway, as the graphic shows, your customer requirements are considered an “input” and are filtered through the perspectives of your leadership and organizational strategy. You work your magic in the transformation phase and create a product or service (output) that meets the customers’ requirements. But quality of your customer deliverables is not the only output of your organization. Quality of life is also an output. Individual well-being and career satisfaction, group morale, and contribution to the higher NARA mission are important outputs of this organization.

 

The Focus Groups were conducted on Friday, July 10, 2020, at 10 a.m., and Monday, July 13, at 1 p.m. Five people participated in the first and six in the second. In all, we had four women and seven men. The group was also racially diverse with six White and five Black employees. Ages ranged from 30 – 60 (estimated). Employees were located in St. Louis, MO, and in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. The 11 employees were distributed across three teams. We conducted the meetings over Google Meet. Meetings lasted one hour each.

Focus Group feedback

The focus group responded to a total of 12 questions that fell into five primary categories:

  1. Strengths – Our perception of what we do well as an organization
  2. Opportunities – Our perception of what our customers want and need
  3. Aspirations – Where we see our organization in the future
  4. Consulting Defined – Our perceptions of what it means to be a consultant or business partner
  5. Vision – Our definition and understanding of our vision statement (“build our future through our people with innovation, collaboration, and a relentless focus on customer service”)

If you missed the live focus group and would like to contribute your opinions to the assessment, please fill out this Google form. Only seven easy questions.

Strength: To broadly summarize, the focus groups named communication as the top strength in Office of Human Capital. Specifically, the communication that takes place internally to H – among team members and between teams. Focus group comments also saw communication from senior leaders and supervisors as a strength. Somewhat related to communication, transparency was seen as a strength and something H is doing really well now. Several members mentioned the new structure of Office of Human Capital as being a strength. View the complete set of responses to this question here.

Opportunities: What do we think our customers want and need from us? What do they need us to do very well? Many responses mentioned some aspect of customer service and further improving customer service skills. Improvements include learning to listen to customers and asking the questions to get at the root of the problem so the right solution is presented. One participant said they’d like to hear customers say, “You know, those people in HR really go out of their way. They service me like they would service their family.” Another opportunity for H is to serve our customers at a strategic level, not just tactical level. “We can start making some of those radical changes that need to be made across the agency,” said one participant. View the complete set of responses to this question here.

Aspirations: There were two primary aspirations stated by participants for the Office of Human Capital. The first was that H has “a seat at the table,” meaning that Human Capital is participating in the meetings where human capital decisions are being made – from reorganizations to disciplinary actions. The second aspiration is that H is a “force multiplier” in that they are teaching their customers to do the work, not necessarily doing it for them. “We can share best practices, standards, template and then wok with people in field to give them the tools they need.” View the complete set of responses to this question here.

Consulting Defined: There was less agreement on the definition of a consultant. Several participants indicated that they didn’t think the word consultant was correct in describing human capital professionals. Others said they were unclear on what that meant, especially in an operational context. In general, participants who had a clear picture of consulting considered themselves already working in that capacity. In a separate interview, consulting was defined in this way: “A consultant is someone that will hear the problem that the customer has, come up with numerous options to address it, and work with the customer to get to the end result.” It is clear from the divergent responses to this question that the competencies and behaviors of consulting need to be more clearly defined. View the complete set of responses to this question here.

Vision: Focus group participants had a clear understanding of the vision statement. “Always finding ways to cut the red tape, get rid of paper, and turn 20 steps into three,” said one participant. Another saw it as making incremental improvements on existing processes. And another said it is borrowing best practices from other agencies. One participant characterized the vision statement as a three-step process of innovate-collaborate-customer service. The discussions around the vision statement were enthusiastic, which says that employees appear embrace the vision of H’s future. View the complete set of responses to this question here.

Force Field Analysis

Lastly, as a group, we completed a force field analysis that explored factors that will help Office of Human Capital reach its ideal state and factors that may be holding the office back from this goal. Download the pdf here. In the middle of the graphic chart we have Human Capital’s ideal future state where we are fully living up to our vision statement and having tremendous impact. On the right side of the chart we are listing what restraining factors are keeping us from reaching this goal. What is causing resistance or pushing against us as we work toward that goal? On the left side, we list strengths that work in our favor – factors that are forces for change. What can we apply to help us weaken the resistance? What strategies for change does this make you think about? Are there initiatives that will help us move toward that goal? Very interesting conversation! I welcome additional comments on this at jcm792@psu.edu.

What’s Next

If you missed the live focus group and would like to contribute your opinions to the assessment, please fill out this Google form. Only seven easy questions.

There are several next steps in the assessment. I recently completed a customer assessment of seven NARA leaders and will be comparing customer expectations and requirements to those discussed in focus group sessions and H management team interviews. This data will be compiled into a final report and include a set of conclusions/recommendations based on the study. What is more important than my conclusions, however, are yours. I welcome your input on any part of this assessment or ideas for strengthening the organization. Send me a note at jcm792@psu.edu with your feedback.

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