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Chapter 5 – The interview

Interviews and questionnaires are the two most basic audit methodologies. Interviews give high-quality
information that can be probed in detail in a face-to-face relationship with the employee. You can learn
about people’s perceptions, auditors are able to gauge the people giving the information, which lets
auditors assess the value of that information. Objective is to get as much information possible and to
identify the range of responses in the organization.

Advantages of interviews
In-depth interviews have five qualities that make them a unique audit instrument.
1. Familiarity: auditor develops first familiarity with the people and their work process  gets to
know the organization in ways not possible through any written media;
2. Fuller discussion: good interviewers probe interviewees until they obtain complete
descriptions and understand the interviewee’s thinking;
3. Serendipity: “is there anything that we should have talked about that I have not asked?” 
gets some of best information about unanticipated idiosyncrasies of the organization;
4. Interviewee reward: face-to-face interactions are rated as being more pleasant than written
questionnaires, so the interview contains an intrinsic motivator;
5. Organic nature: during the audit you can grow, be refined, and change in light of new
information.

Limitations of interviews
Interviews have three inherent disadvantages:
1. Time: interviews are time-consuming, which makes them expensive;
2. Analysis: information from interviews is more difficult to code, analyse and interpret. How
many people have to mention the same problem or strength for it to be considered significant?
3. Perceptual data: interview data basically comprise perceptual reports of how interviewees
see the organization, and these perceptions often need to be verified.

Scheduling two rounds of interviews


Auditors can maximize the organic nature of interviews by scheduling two different rounds of
interviews. These rounds are separate entities that may occur days or weeks apart in order to tap
developments in the organization  provides the auditor with a perspective over time. The preparation
culminates in an interview guide (a list of general questions to be asked of all respondents)  allows
auditors to achieve consistency across interviews and flexibility. In the following, each round of
interviews and the accompanying interview guide in terms of purpose, agenda, questions and
structure are analysed.

Interview purpose
First round of interviews (explanatory) familiarizes the auditors with the organization, its people, and its
communication as a task process. These interviews help accomplish two basic things:
1. They provide a general orientation to the organization that lays a foundation for everything
else done in the audit.
2. They identify areas that need to be probed further, either with a questionnaire or in a second
round of interviews.

The second round needs to be more issue-orientated. Several weeks should elapse before the
second round is scheduled  new discoveries prompt new questions, and the interview guide need
not be static: let it grow with the understanding of the organization. At all costs, one should avoid
revealing any information whose source could be identified.

Interview agenda
An agenda for an interview is simply a list of topics to be covered in the interview  once the
purposes are stated, then the next task is to identify what topics can be explored to accomplish those
purposes. Once the topics are developed, then it becomes necessary to frame questions about each
of those topics.

The auditor’s goal is to understand organizational performance in all its complexity. Brache offers four
general questions that might serve as a general agenda under which auditors could group interview
questions:

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1. What are the external variables that influence organizational performance?
2. What are the structural variables that influence performance?
3. What are the human variables that affect performance?
4. What are the variables that are both structural and human (e.g. conflict resolution)?

Each round of interviews may have a different agenda. After all, the topics to be explored depend on
the issues uncovered.

Questions for an interview guide: the interview questions should reflect the agenda. Auditors should
carefully craft and choose questions that will give the kind of information they need. Although the basic
guide lets auditors obtain comparative information, it is also possible to adapt the guides: new
information is supplementary as well as comparative.

Six guidelines for developing an Interview Guide:


1. Ask primarily open questions: open questions put few restrictions on how the interviewee
answers  designed to get people to talk at length so that they can give in-depth information
concerning what they think about the organization. Closed questions restrict the respondents
in terms of length of response and the topics covered (yes-no, agree-disagree)  useful for
classifying people’s answers on questionnaires;
2. Draw the interviewee out; probe skilfully: a probe is a means of asking a respondent to
explain the answer in more depth;
3. Avoid focusing on the negative: develop the positive points as well;
4. Adapt questions to specific levels or even to specific people: we often modify the
interview guides for managers versus nonmanagers, because managers have access to
different kinds and levels of information;
5. Do not reveal what you find out about the organization: interviewees may try to induce the
auditor to thell them what others have said in previous interviews;
6. Let the guide grow; do not let it become static: add new questions or modify those that are
not yielding much information.

Interview structure
The placement or order of questions makes a difference in how respondents answer them. The
following guidelines are useful for thinking about the structure:
1. Begin each interview with an orientation: (1) make personal introductions, (2) describe the
general purpose of the audit, (3) assure interviewees of confidentiality, (4) state briefly how
the interviewees were selected, (5) explain briefly how one would like to conduct the interview
and (6) suggest ways in which the information may ultimately be used;
2. Start with the job: people find it easy and enjoyable to talk about their jobs, so opening the
interview with a discussion of the job motivates conversation  permits the auditor to judge
how much information is needed from this individual and how to interpret the answers;
3. Probe general areas before getting to specific ones: a good interview should begin with
broad questions and become increasingly specific  funnel  allows the auditor to get a
better idea of the respondent’s frame of reference.
4. Do not permit the guide to restrict the interview: the purpose of the guide is to ensure
consistent coverage of topic areas.

Interviewee selection
The general guideline is to interview enough people from sufficient areas of the organization to give a
comprehensive view of the communication. When organizations have more than 50 employees,
auditors may elect to interview an employee sample. Sampling is a scientific method of selecting
people to participate in the audit. To make generalizations about the total organization on the basis of
a sample, it helps to make the sample (1) representative, (2) random and (3) stratified.
1. Make the sample representative: a representative sample is one in which the auditors have
selected the interviewees so carefully that whatever the auditors would have found out by
interviewing everyone can be discovered from the sample. To be representative, auditors
must interview a sufficient number of people (10/20% of an organization that employs 150-200
people and 10% if there are 1000 employees).
2. Randomize the sample: complete randomness means that every employee has an equal
chance of being included in the sample. Randomizing the sample eliminates potential bias
that might occur if auditors select people on any other basis;

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3. Stratify the sample: an assessment is a time for all sides and all segments to be
represented. One way of doing this is to choose a stratified sample: ensures that every
segment of the organization is included.

How to select people and why  stratification.


1. Interview key people: managers have more communicative contacts by the very nature of
their organizational roles. Therefore, auditors should strive to interview all its people in key
positions;
2. Invite volunteers: volunteers think that they have valuable information to share, and
frequently they are pleased that someone will take the time to listen to them;
3. Allow for contingencies: accessibility is a key factor in selecting interviewees. Not everyone
is equally available due to vacations, shifts etc.

Scheduling time and place


It is wise to have a liaison in the organization set up schedules and contact people. The length of the
interview can vary widely, depending on the individual. Workflow is another consideration in
scheduling. Arrange times when people are most receptive to interviews. Where the interview takes
place is negotiable: the location should be selected to assure privacy, to stimulate free communication
and to be convenient for the interviewee.

Conducting the interviews


Good planning is necessary for collecting accurate, useful information about the organization. The
best planning will not help if the interviewers are not skilful or cannot be trusted. Important
considerations both for and about interviewers are discussed next.
- Select competent interviewers who can be trusted: it is useful to validate that the
interviews did indeed occur;
- Train interviewers to use the interview guide: explain to interviewers the relevance of each
one. It is also important that interviewers are familiar with the guide, so they can ensure all
questions will be asked even if the order is not followed;
- Set a nonthreatening climate: set the tone by explaining the purpose behind the interview
but raising questions in a conversational way;
- Probe thoroughly: advantage of the interview is the opportunity to probe for in-depth
information, skill in probing is the interviewer’s ultimate art. Directive probes are pointed
questions. They can take many forms: (1) elaboration (when the answer is incomplete), (2)
clarification (useful when terms or concepts are unclear), (3) repetition of the question
(when interviewees give a verbal response that does not really address the question), and (4)
confrontation (when people seem to contradict themselves). Nondirective probes are
merely designed to keep the employee talking. They include a number of nonverbal
behaviours such as maintaining eye contact, nodding one’s hand, or leaning forward with a
look of interest. They also include verbal expression (“I see”, “uh-huh”) and internal
summary (interviewer summarizes for the person what the interviewer thinks has been said
and the conclusions that have been drawn).
- Motivate the interviewees: a motivating introduction to the interview is absolutely necessary.
Interviewers must establish their credibility from the start  accomplished through personal
introductions and an explanation of the interviewer’s objectives and how the auditor will use
the information;
- Anticipate problems: interviewers can also be prepared to encounter occasional problems.
One common issue is the decision whether or not to explain a question or word. Another
problem is coping with the silent or overly talkative employee. A third problem is the difficulty
of remaining objective (neutrality and objectivity should guide their responses). Finally,
interviewers face the problem of their own boredom, because they hear the same thing over
and over again. It is a challenge to keep responding with interest, but it is also a necessity.

Recording information quickly and systematically


It is imperative that interviewers register the information they have obtained as quickly as possible. No
interviewer’s memory is trustworthy when faced with keeping straight the results of many interviews.
After each interview, a written summary should be formalized. It should include at a minimum the (1)
name of the interviewee, (2) date, (3) position of interviewee, (4) answer to each individual question,
(5) interviewer’s subjective reactions or observations and (5) questions or areas that should be
explored further in subsequent interviews.

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Synthesizing the response data
After conducting many interviews and listening to many answers, the auditor has to determine what all
this information means. It can be quite frustrating to try to make sense out of the various perceptions
so that the conclusions really describe the organization. Procedures that may be helpful in
synthesizing the data:
- Set aside time for the interviewers to discuss what they are discovering about the
organization: can take place at the end of each interview day. Such processing is a useful
tool for checking and refining perceptions;
- Develop a summary sheet for each question: auditors should begin to analyse the
answers’ content in categories. Then they should look at the range of responses in each
category. At the end of this process, the interviewing team should try to write generalizations
that an be made form these answers;
- Keep the first analysis descriptive: do not go beyond the data. Watch out for the tendency
to make inferences about why things happen as they do or to provide a rationale for a given
behaviour;
- Analyze the data from each round of interviews separately: it is important that some
tentative descriptive conclusions be drawn after the first round of interviews  provide targets
to be checked by the collection of additional data;
- Look for qualitative interpretations: we are only somewhat interested in numerical data
gathered from the interviews, so it is not necessarily appropriate to report frequency counts of
how many people gave what response. The frequency of related comments may indicate how
widespread or intense a problem is;
- Draw conclusions across questions: the goal is to obtain a good view of the entire system.
This view cannot be achieved by looking at answers to individual questions. Therefore, one
must examine data intuitively across all dimensions to see how things are related.

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Chapter 12 – Focus group interviews

A focus group is a collection of 6-15 people, led by a moderator, who engage in an intensive
exploration of some general questions or concepts planned by the auditor. This interview involves a
group, so the focus is on how member’s perceptions build on one another.

History
Originally, focus groups were used extensively for making marketing decisions. While most of them
continue to be conducted in face-to-face group settings, some are now conducted via the Internet. The
following subjects suggests some of the ways focus groups have been used, like testing website
usability, naming a product and a university class, testing brand image and differentiation and
designing logos for organizations.

Political usage has also increased  politicians use them to sample opinions about any political issue
relevant to a campaign. Focus groups are also suitable for analysing many aspects of organizational
communication  use focus groups to investigate a number of different communication issues. Also
manufacturers often want to anticipate reactions to their advertising. Focus groups are also extremely
useful for assessing the organization’s internal communication  a focus group enabled us to provide
concrete examples of where communication was perceived to have broken down.

One of the strengths of focus groups is that they provide much-needed-insights for planning the
implementation of new processes and plans. Focus groups can also be tremendously useful in
understanding organizational communication issues from the perspectives of the participants. The
communication interaction within the focus group provides the auditor with added insight that would
not be gained in interviewing employees one-on-one.

Nature of the focus group interview


One of the distinguishing characteristics of the focus group is that it taps qualitative data. The auditor’s
use of a focus group gives him an opportunity to explore in depth the scope of reactions to a given
person, procedure, or concept. It is important to note that the auditor should be trying to discover the
range of responses, not consensus of the group. Listed below are some of the ways this qualitative
research technique can be used in conjunction with an audit:
1. The interview focuses on subjective experiences for the purpose of ascertaining
interviewees’ definitions of the situation in which they were involved;
2. It can be conducted as a preliminary step to determine what needs to be surveyed or
quantified;
3. It is often used as a means to secure information to interpret the results already
obtained from a quantitative analysis;
4. Group selection is very important  collecting data can be dangerous if a biased group
is used;
5. It uncovers differences in perspectives as well as the factors that influence these
perspectives.

Advantages of focus groups


Focus groups have some very special advantages over other data-gathering techniques. These
advantages include:
1. Efficiency: greatest advantage  in 1-2 hours the auditor can obtain a great deal of
information from a number of respondents;
2. Free association: give respondents a chance to talk freely, without the restrictions imposed
by systematic questioning;
3. Reliability checks: provides some quality control and reliability checks as participants
provide some checks-and-balances for the opinions of one another;
4. Economy: eight people can be interviewed in 2 hours, whereas individual interviews would
certainly take more time than that;
5. Flexibility: the study design can be modified while it is in progress  allow for probing hat is
not possible with questionnaire responses;
6. Speed: one can generate conclusions soon after the group interaction  include observations
of interactions between some of the key liaison individuals in the organization;
7. Participant satisfaction: focus groups tend to be enjoyable communicative interactions for
the participants.

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Challenges of focus groups
The following disadvantages are mentioned as potential difficulties. Some of them are not inherent
weaknesses of the focus group technique, but rather are weaknesses in the way they are used:
1. Realistic interpretation: comments must be interpreted in context as auditors try to get a
“feel” for the organization and as they try to draw out the subtle, complex aspects of
organizational processes and relationships. The focus group is highly dependent upon insight
and interpretation and is susceptible to subjective bias on the part of the researcher. The
auditor must try to discover the range of responses, so they have considerable latitude in
selecting what is relevant to a given conclusion;
2. Difficult to generalize: small sample sizes often make it difficult to generalize to a large
population. The important element is to use focus groups to get insight into the organization. It
is difficult to assign statistical meaning to focus group data, but an auditor can certainly gain
understanding of the processes involved in the organization;
3. Lack of depth: the interviewer is not able to explore each person’s thinking, background, and
experience in the depth that he or she might in a personal interview. Presumed pressure for
socially acceptable responses often distort the reality of the way people describe the way they
feel;
4. Group personality: each group develops its own dynamics which from a unique group. Some
produce good discussions and some do not (this can be a common occurrence);
5. Confidentiality: confidentiality is totally lost. One can assure privacy in a personal interview.
Some people are inhibited from sharing, knowing that someone from their own organization
could publicize what they say on a given topic;
6. Time limit: the time limit is 1-2 hours, so there is not enough time to probe everything that the
moderator might wish to probe and it might not be possible to probe topics as systematically
as the moderator wishes;
7. Interpretation: comments must be interpreted in context as auditors try to get a “feel” for the
organization;
8. Aggravate the conflict: it is possible for a consultant to encounter a situation where the
climate is so emotionally charged in an organization that a group discussion might aggravate
the conflict (a consideration when choosing to use focus groups interviews).

The effectiveness of the focus group may be influenced by the skill of the auditor. That is why
examining the protocols and suggestions for facilitating a focus group are so important.

Focus group protocols


1. Keep the objectives in mind: the first step in any assessment process is to analyse your
objectives and identify the organizational issues that you wish to understand more thoroughly.
Developing your objectives will ordinary lead to a concrete list of questions to ask or topics to
explore (“What forms of communication at ACME have been particularly helpful to you?”);
2. Solicit respondents for the focus groups: an auditor has an advantage over the people
who do market or political research because organizational members may expect to
participate and do so willingly:
- Determine the number of people to be interviewed;
- Determine the composition of the group.
To obtain the most valuable qualitative information, participants should have some unifying
elements out of which true discussion can grow. Auditors should be aware of the bias that can
be introduced to the data by relying solely on volunteers. There are three rules of thumb to be
considered in determining the composition of the group:
- Consider people’s status in the organization because including managers and
non-managers in the same group can inhibit the exchanges;
- Select a group with some common experiences (or levels of responsibility) in the
organization to facilitate productive interactions;
- Make certain that focus group membership includes representatives from most
major units, geographical regions, or division of the organization.
3. Call potential participants: call each potential participant and explain what a focus group is
and why this person is being invited  provides legitimacy for the forum and may allay fears
people have about being selected to participate;
4. Choose a length for the focus group: participants need to know how long they can expect
to be in the group. The size of the group has a direct bearing on the length of time that it
should meet for;

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5. Arrange the group setting: the two most important considerations of meeting place are (1)
ease of assembly and (2) an environment that facilitates interactions. In terms of facilitating
interactions, arrangements must be made to (1) ensure privacy for the participants, (2) make
them comfortable, and (3) enable them to see one another and interact freely;
6. Schedule carefully: hard part of assembling a focus group from within an organization 
time demands vary from organization to organization;
7. Determine the number of groups to conduct: no formula for determining the number of
groups to conduct (percentage of employees, one employee per division etc.).

Facilitating a focus group


In some ways, the facilitator is the most important determinant of the success of a focus group 
combines the best skills of communication, psychology, leadership, and decision-making. There are 8
specific challenges for moderating a group:
1. Stay focused on the objective: remember the purpose and be guided by it  have a
thorough topic guide that outlines what is to be covered;
2. Orient the group: (1) respondents will generally be motivated by the potential for them to
have an impact on their organizations, so explain to them how important the auditor’s mission
is and how essential their participation is. (2) It is also necessary for the facilitators to establish
their own credibility at the beginning of the session. (3) People will need an orientation to each
other  let them identify themselves. (4) Participants will need some orientation as to what is
means to participate fruitfully in such a group. Explain to participants from the outset that
focus groups are designed to tap a range of responses and that achieving consensus or
agreement is not the objective;
3. Control the pace of the group: keep visible the careful plan that facilitators have for the
discussion  it should reflect your best planning for the topics that need to be explored.
Control does not mean domination;
4. Deal sensitively with group problems: it is very likely that problems involving group
dynamics will occur. Listed below are some of the greatest challenges:
- Domination of discussion: some individuals may be the first to comment on any
topic, and they may even try to keep the discussion oriented toward their points of
view  invite directly different people to speak. Domination also occurs because a
person is simply verbose  deal with them to be directive, ask closed questions, and
probe for specific or concrete information;
- Wallflowers: you can draw wallflowers out by asking them directly for their opinions
or experience;
- Tendency toward compromise: keep reinforcing the idea that the focus group is not
meant to arrive at consensus or a decision that everyone can support. Exposing
differences is key to the successful understanding of the organization. Keep probing
for differences while suggesting it is okay to disagree;
- Persistent negativity/positivity: some dissatisfied people tend to be dissatisfied
about almost everything in the organization. When a person is negative continuously,
you must refrain from reacting defensively or from fully discounting the person’s
opinions;
- Digressions: some respondents persistently make irrelevant comments that easily
lead the group off the topic. This could be caused by the participant’s (1) need to grind
a particular ax so the same topic always keeps coming up, (2) poor listening ability, or
(3) inability to follow a discussion. Without correcting the person directly, you can use
transition phrases to bring the group back to the topic (“As we were probing a moment
ago..” or “That’s interesting, but the basic question is..”);
5. Probe in depth to cut through superficial opinions: unlike a questionnaire, a focus group
allows you to uncover the reasons behind an opinion rather than just to discover the existence
of the opinion. Do it sensitively (“Tell me more about that experience..”). Take the time to
probe individual reactions. Never ask for “sensitive information that should not be shared in a
group or could be harmful to someone if it is shared in a group”;
6. Use controversy positively for effect: facilitators get the richest data when people disagree
and have to explain the reasons for their disagreement, so they may try to spark some
controversies (e.g. state an extreme position to see if anyone will disagree);
7. Involve all members: ensure that everyone has opportunities to participate  call on people,
rotate the discussion etc.;

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8. Choose a variety of techniques to prompt discussion: build discussion so that you are not
necessarily always asking the questions. Keep people interested by using some common
techniques that facilitators draw upon:
- Visual aids: showing a picture or one word on a screen is a nondirective way of
probing for people’s definitions and feelings;
- Laddering: the line of questioning starts at a general level, but each answer leads to
more specific probing;
- Pictures/cartoons: people have to describe what is going on in the organization by
drawing a picture and sharing it  benefit is in the explanations given in the
discussions;
- Role-playing: role plays can be incorporated by asking people to demonstrate briefly
the opinion or attitude of others. The role plays present opportunities for further
discussion;
- Metaphors: “if one’s friend were a car, what kind of car would he or she be?” The
answer reveals how one thinks of the friend;
- Script writing: if one were to tell a story about this company, what would it be about?
Who would be the main characters? The heroes? The villains?;
- First impressions: you can get interesting diagnostic information by asking people
what they first think of when they hear a word or see a picture;
- Concrete experiences: while perceptions are important, good facilitators can also get
members to reveal some of their personal experiences. The focus group collects
some of the critical incidents.

Analysing the focus data


The most obvious data will be the observations and notes that the facilitator makes during the group
interactions. During the group interactions, it is often impossible to take all the notes that one might
want to take. Yet facilitators can enhance these notes in two ways:
1. We recommend that another person be retained as the note taker during the entire exercise;
2. Making an audiotape of the interactions. This is not only unobtrusive, but it can provide you
with a means of obtaining verbatim comments.

The main form of analysis for focus group data is content analysis, using one of two methods:
1. Auditors immerse themselves in the data and let ad hoc categories develop spontaneously
from their consideration of the data. After typing a label for a theme and list all the comments,
it is possible to write a general definition for that theme;
2. If objectives are clearly identified, auditors arrange the comments to fit those pre-planned
categories.

Avoiding common analytic problems


1. Minimize the statistics: because people were not necessarily selected on a representative
sample basis, you can’t say “60% of the focus group participants..”. Keep in mind that in focus
groups auditors are trying to find the range of responses that help them make sense of the
organization;
2. Focus groups are designed to probe the depths of what is thought or felt or
experienced: it is easy to examine comments at their face value without probing the
subtleties of what was actually meant;
3. When several focus groups are used, one needs to look at the themes that cut across
the groups: and not just report on the groups individually. You have to see the larger picture
that emerges across group discussions. Synthesizing these themes adds value to the picture
that emerges and helps one think about crafting the final report;
4. Objectivity is never a deterrent to realistic understanding: there is always the tendency to
let the auditor’s biases guide the analysis. In the focus group, one strives to represent the
subjective understandings of the organizational members, to present their views of the
organization and its processes;
5. Prioritize and limit what is covered: if auditors become aware of certain important themes,
they should limit their analysis to these.

Preparing a final report


The final report will have the following eight sections whether focus groups are used alone or in
conjunction with other methods: (1) Executive Summary, (2) Background, (3) Objectives, (4)

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Methodology, (5) Disclaimers (e.g. explaining the limits of the qualitative research), (6) Findings, (7)
Conclusions and Recommendations, and (8) Appendices.

Conclusion
Focus groups are an important tool for audits, because of their considerable and unique strengths 
qualitative data that gives in-depth information in an efficient manner. You get information that
explains how an organization works. Their effectiveness depends on the skills of the facilitators. They
must be people who plan meticulously, listen analytically, probe thoroughly, analyse objectively,
banter good-naturedly, and report truthfully.