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Contents

A. Introduction F. Process overview
B. Purpose and background G. Multi-level analysis
C. Conducting studies H. Analysis of emotional content
D. Methodology of studies I. Analysis of conscious content
E. Groups composition J. Recommendations & Implementation


A. Introduction

Knowledge GroupsTM are a refinement of the more well know focus group. They consist of group meetings in three areas referred to as Interface Management ScienceTM development groups, RAPID Knowledge GroupsTM (Rapid Assessment Prototype Image Development Knowledge Groups), Knowledge MarketingTM groups and groups with slight modifications from these models. The methodology for these groups is laid out in detail in the following pages. Knowledge Groups™ begin with a request from our corporate clients. The request of our corporate clients is to evaluate the impact and interpretation of a set of communications from them to their customers, members, or clients or between divisions or areas within the corporation. These sets of communications may include face-to-face, telephone, documents, PC displays, video, television, or other interfaces referred to here as "media interfaces." Our corporate clients then use this interpretation of impact to facilitate communication that will carry their true motives to their customers or employees. The aim is to change the media interface to more efficiently accomplish the flow of information needed to drive business behavior and choices, customer and employee satisfaction, and efficient use of business resources for product and service development and sales.

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B. Purpose and background

The purpose of conducting a Knowledge GroupTM study is to formulate an understanding and recommend change by means of asking a series of carefully designed questions and analyzing employee or customer reaction in a focus group setting. The questions put to the group members have several distinctive characteristics: They follow our well documented and studied approach to human communication and change (Lankton, 1980; Lankton and Lankton, 1983, 1986). They are goal directed. They are sequenced so that multilevel information can be gathered and analyzed. They elicit both verbal and nonverbal responses that can be carefully studied. Such a scientifically designed approach yields the greatest amount of useful information regarding the attitudes, perceptions, motivation, values, and resources of the group members with the aim of changing the media interface to more efficiently drive business behavior.

Customer and employee satisfaction is a top priority. Our corporate clients provide superb services and products to their customers in a variety of industries infamous for indifference to the customers. Yet customer and employee satisfaction ratings are often in decline. It can be assumed that many factors contribute to the rise in dissatisfaction and complaints. Among these may be the changing culture that seems to glorify victimization and support entitlements at the expense of personal responsibility. However, other factors within the control of our corporate clients may also be major contributors. These factors include the choice of or lack of media used to communicate, the criteria used for motivating attention and behavior, the wording of communiqués, the expectations created in employees and customers, and the message carried by the words, look, and feel of the corporate culture or management style.

It is most appropriate to have corporate mechanisms, such as letters, phone calls, brochures, selection criteria, and so on, in place as a sort of "communication and knowledge superstructure" which provide convenient communication, knowledge flow, and marketing. However, the means of communication and media interfaces must secure satisfaction, creativity, commitment, and reduce risks of losing customers or employees in the 90's and beyond. Furthermore, it is most desirable to do this if the maintenance of those knowledge exchange mechanisms is not excessive. Finally, the actual wording of such communication and its visual impact must be engineered to reduce misunderstanding and complaints while also changing behavior in the most efficient manner. These studies are intended to provide a solid foundation for guidelines to address these purposes and dovetail with larger reengineering efforts.

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C. Conducting studies and reporting

Studies are usually a part of a larger combined effort of a Knowledge Engineering project. As such, the projects are fundamentally based upon information acquired from Interface Management ScienceTM development groups, RAPID Knowledge GroupsTM or Knowledge MarketingTM groups to rework areas of business communication. The goal of each study is to use behavioral science expertise to determine the thoughts and ideas as well as attitudes and emotional disposition of our corporate client's employees or customers with whom improved knowledge flow is the goal. The deeper level analysis is accomplished by observing the verbal and nonverbal presentations of the members. Finally, the data from the groups are compared and contrasted to that obtained from control groups. The data collected and interpreted is used to provide the most scientifically engineered training or business media interface reengineering possible to reduce misunderstanding, dissatisfaction, and complaints, and improve business behavior and decision making.

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D. Methodology of studies

The concept of focus groups emerged in the early 1940's as a way to discern thoughts and feelings upon which consumer decisions were based in marketing and to reactions of service personnel to training films. Since that time focus groups have been found useful in evaluation at any point in a research effort and provide answers to a variety of topics. These topics include the following: Background information on the topic, interpreting data, learning how respondents think or feel about a topic, diagnosing potential problems, brainstorming new ideas, interpreting quantitative data, and facilitating further research areas and product designs.

Knowledge GroupsTM provide a more in-depth manner of acquiring knowledge and their methodology will be outlined here. The interaction with the group facilitator provides an immediate and rich source of data in the respondents' own words. At the same time Knowledge GroupsTM allows the facilitator to make maximum use of the data provided by the nonverbal reaction of the group members and add in-depth understanding of the verbal content and the mixed motives of the respondents when necessary.

Group setting and viewing

During group sessions corporate representative usually sit behind one-way mirrors and conduct observations and video taping. Video and audio tapes and transcripts of groups are subjected to content analysis for occurrence of key words. This provides quantitative data regarding ideas, issues, problems, and emotions as well as the qualitative data. Redundancies and relationships between those frequently used words are searched to provide information regarding priorities of values among the individuals and within the groups. Video tape reviews validate the deeper experiential meaning or operational intent behind selected words and their use in context.

An additional method of analysis is recording key words found in the transcripts. These key words and all conceivable tenses and permutation of the key words are searched, their frequency of use counted, and finally, the results recorded and charted. That data is charted and organized and an in depth interpretation of that information is made for the purposes of Knowledge EngineeringTM and Knowledge MarketingTM.

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E. Composition of groups

Pre-selection Questions and Tactics

Independent researchers have suggested that a pre-group inventory be conducted (Quiriconi & Durgan 1985) and in some cases that it can be done by phone. While the convenience in such phone questioning is usually obvious the singular use of a phone contact is often essential. Telephone contact is arranged by our corporate client and expedites the confidential selection of participants. Part of the verbal survey includes a judgment that possible participants are each coherent in the expression of ideas and any persons with severe cognitive deficiencies can be deselected.

Frequently we use a personality trait paper inventory which is administered after verbal pre-selection (LaForge & Leary, 1956. The results of such questionnaires can help prevent an accident of personality composition that overly dominates a group or in other ways causes unproductive conflict (Lankton & Lankton, 1986). Any necessary correction or maintenance due to inappropriate composition would be handled in the group by the facilitator.

Composition by background

Since highly compatible group members perform tasks more effectively less time is needed for group maintenance (Sapolsky, 1960) and it can be expected that careful demographic selection will improve the problem solving aspects of our groups.

Composition by duty

For many Knowledge Groups, especially the RAPID Knowledge Groups´┐Ż and Knowledge Marketing´┐Ż groups require the presence of executive management or the senior-most officers in charge of select areas of corporate knowledge. This composition often becomes a challenge to group maintenance but results in the outcome of increasing rapport between members separated by organizational divisions. It is necessary to have all members who deal with the area of knowledge being studied present in the group. Their collaborative efforts improve the problem solving aspects of our groups toward the end of collectively co-creating a correct model of reality within the organization.

Composition by gender

Many studies demonstrate that the interpersonal dynamics of the group as well as the quality of data is influenced by how issues of gender composition are handled (Aries, 1976, Ruhe, 1978, Hoffman & Maier 1961). For example, men will be more competitive in an all-men group and tend to speak to individuals personally. Women, by contrast, will tend to speak to the group as a whole and be more cooperative. In an all-men group we might expect the competitive aspect to cause an overemphasis upon the negative characteristics of complaints with our corporate client's concerns. Realistic assessment of the meaning of data when it is shared in an all male group atmosphere can be subject to greater interpretation based upon other observed nonverbal factors such as time-dominance, frequency of interruptions, volume of presentation, hesitancy, and more subtle facial and postural clues (Lankton & Lankton, 1983). The gender mix is desirable in most Knowledge GroupsTM and, therefore, is a welcome result of proper screening.

Composition by social power

The final consideration regarding composition is what group dynamic theories call "social power." This factor may apply to our corporate client's "employee groups" more than to "customer groups" since a certain political climate exists in each corporate culture. This climate will dramatically effect the value placed on offered information from group members. A case in point comes from one study for the Air Force (Torrance, 1954) which shows that even when low ranked personnel had correct solutions to tasks faced by the group these people had little influence on group decision making.

Selection of members

A method of "convenience sampling" is usually conducted to recruit participants who have been identified as belonging to the desired area of study. A cooperative relationship with our corporate client produces a letter of invitation and responses. Follow up phone calls further identify potential group members. The members are stratified along lines of age and gender as much as possible.

Environmental Considerations - Location

Groups are held in locations convenient to the subjects. The settings are chosen so they are modest and comfortable. Some findings indicate that ideal settings are basically those which are nondescript with regard to pictures, statues, props, or items that might distract from eye contact and which might in some way trigger or facilitate introspection and withdrawal. Other spatial arrangements and interpersonal distances were appropriate for focus group interaction. The weather and local or world news events occurring near the time of the group meetings need to be taken into account as they can skew the interaction or mood of the group. Coffee and refreshments are usually served and continually available to the participants during the meetings.

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F. Group Process Overview

An "interview discussion guide" is used for each group. After the usual formalities of introduction, the group leader turns the group's attention to the question of how to construct a communication which accomplishes our corporate client's goals. Following comments and ideas along that topic, members are then asked to comment on the impact of the wording, and suggestions for improvement where necessary. Finally, the members are asked to pass judgment on the value of media interface to our corporate client. Note that this questioning appears at the end of the groups and not at the beginning. Asking such a question in the beginning would set a stage of presupposed doubt about the practices in question. Instead, group members begin by investing their own creativity into ideas that could improve the practice with no supposition of anything other than success. Further, by making public statements concerning solutions to the proposed goal each participant could be expected to seek cognitive consonance for their role of publicly stating ideas and therefore find value in the continued practice. Finally, given this agenda, a negative attitude would have come from the participants unprompted by the structure of the interview. Thus the most foundational question would not be contaminated by a lead given from the facilitator.

How the groups progress

Modifications unfold naturally for each group according to their composition. Some modify the agenda to extend the initial time to accommodate processing (expressing) feelings pertaining to the goals. Other groups are able to more rapidly begin commenting on the targeted goals.

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G. Importance of multilevel analysis

By means of hearing and viewing both the verbal content and psychological process, the essential meaning from the participants individually and collectively, can be better understood. The goal in this writing is to have a high level of confidence about the lucidity of the extrapolated interpretation and conclusions. Weighing the group's presentations in light of each group's dynamic process corrects for biased data and increases confidence in the conclusions. People often use verbal expression to convey what they consciously think and only provide a few verbal clues about the deeper experiences by which they are also motivated. Some of the clues are contained in the (unconscious) choice of sensory based verb and predicates and still other clues are provided by gesture, expression, posture, and incongruent conduct [This will be seen two illustrations below].

For a more complete analysis, we ought to pay additional close attention to the feeling states being expressed and that these are not likely to be translated into the words participants use to express their cognitive thoughts, memories and expectations. Instead we should expect to find much material deleted from the speech which makes its way into expression in the form of bilateral incongruence of body movement, face muscles, gestures of identification (head nods, eyebrow lifts, lip movements, color changes, etc.), muscular tension, and other fine and gross-muscle postures. A case in point is shown in the following illustration that shows the nonverbal expressions of anger by a male group participant who never verbally expressed this feeling.

Displaying anger which was never mentioned

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H. Analysis of emotional content

These observations provide an understanding of the roles people can take and how they switch between them as a result of the communication from our corporate customers. Much is known in the practice of psychology about the effects of emotion that is the result of role switching and also interpersonal dynamics. The most predictable aspect of role switching will be an unexpected and undesired emotion. This is sometimes called a transactional game sequence (Berne, 1966, p. 227), for instance, and such analytical schemes come into play during this part of the study.

This part of the research looks at the emotional material which provides the context for what group members conclude and think. We select from the verbal reports, nonverbal behavior, and interaction styles of the group members several major emotional areas to analyze. The analysis of emotional content relies upon personal observation perhaps more than quantitative data. For instance an analysis might target the following eight common emotions: anger, confusion, control, embarrassment, helplessness, pleasure, suspicion, worry.

Anger/irritation:

Anger and irritation that has an aggressive edge is present to the extent that individuals perceive they have been victimized.

Confusion:

Confusion is due to a recognized ambiguity or a dramatic surprise. Confusion is not an emotion that will long survive. People will attempt to resolve the difficulty of confusion by resolving to another emotion. It can be expected that these will be unpleasant emotions like worry or suspicion.

Control need:

Control needs are probably the single most significant area of feelings in most groups. Control needs go out of control when factual material, needed to make appropriate decisions is deleted. In other words, lack of information and knowledge exacerbate this problem.

Embarrassment:

Embarrassment is a true reaction from people who feel some sense of threat to their self-image as a result of a particular experience.

Helplessness:

When a person understands from implication or explicit statements that they are expected to take action but that action is not understood, the result is helplessness.

Pleasure:

When an experience, especially one that is unexpected, helps solve a problem or fill a need people experience being pleasantly surprised or pleased. Note that this is not used in the sense of comfort, pleasure, or such a passive state. Furthermore, the experience is greatly mixed with attitude and cognition and is not a "simple" emotion. In fact, it is not a true emotion at all but is included here due to the obvious report of this experience and its desirable characteristics in a majority of groups.

Suspicion:

Some individuals will become suspicious when logical or even emotional data is lacking. The determination of who will become suspicious versus those who will become confused, helpless, or worried, in large part, is a matter determined by the previous learning history of the individual.

Worry:

Worry is a cousin of depression. This can be expected when there is a perceived threat to one's well being. Some individuals will internalize threat rather than become suspicious when data is lacking - these people will report being worried. The bottom line for worry is an inability to determine consequences from the information received.

In each group, the relationship of these feelings to the expressed goals is crucial. Customer and employees seldom account for their emotions correctly - that is, as a consequence of inappropriate information exchange. Instead, people interpret their emotions as a true evaluation of their relationship with the company, service or product. It is essential for our corporate customers to address these concerns by their improved communication process or content if attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and business behaviors are expected to improve.

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I. Analysis of conscious verbal content

The verbal content from the members which was not about emotional experience provides sometimes incongruent but always useful information regarding expectations, problems, and ideas. Thus, a meaningful analysis of the conscious content occurs within a larger subject area of the emotional context as seen. Using ideas at only the surface level runs the risk of making improvements which do not satisfy the motivations which lead to the complaint, idea, or suggestions.

Recognizing the nonverbal aspects of language and the dynamics behind the "unconscious" selection of the verbal content provides a more complete understanding of information in any setting. The resulting "process information" will lead realistically to solutions that will satisfy employees and customers. The "process information" view provides a look at a larger context within which all of the "content" data is generated. Making changes which will satisfy both the conscious mind concerns and the unconscious motives for the concerns - making changes that simultaneously satisfy both - provides the most efficient business solution. This approach simplifies complex corporate problems.

Communication Process:

A word count analysis provides a quantitative method for judging bias and priorities existing in each group. The process analysis of sensory-based verb choice, for instance, provides an example. Consider the chart below taken from a recent Knowledge GroupTM study.

Chart of Unconscious Content

When we compare the groups the question of this difference arises. That is, "why would Group 2 be much more visual in expression of experience compared to Group 1?" The result of having one's normal communication frustrated will result in increasing the sensory range measured in sensory based verbs and predicates (when the individuals are flexible enough to do so). Here, then, is a quantitative measure of the frustration created by corporate communication in the employees studied in Group 1.

Range of Topics:

The second way in which the conscious verbal content is analyzed is a study of the range of topics brought up by each group. Topics are assigned a name and the occurrences of those topics are counted and organized by assigned name. When the group text is counted all occurrences spoken by the moderator of the group are removed. Therefore, only comments from focus group members are tabulated. The result is a quantitative measure of the priority of customer or employee concerns.

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J. Recommendations and Implementation

Ultimately, making and implementing the recommendations made from the Knowledge GroupTMstudy are the most important aspect of the activity. The recommendations are carefully drawn from every bit of qualitative and quantitative data. It is important that each recommendation be behaviorally specific and backed up by evidence taken from the group interviews and documented in the study. Each set of information taken from the interviews and analysis is carefully prepared as knowledge for direct action to be taken. In some instances our corporate customers take the action directly. More often, the recommendations for actions are approved by our corporate customers and implemented for them by further consulting activities. For instance, this may consist of implementing new communication interfaces according to the specifications and requirements assessed during RAPID Knowledge GroupsTM, changing transactional sequence in the corporate culture, redirecting marketing material or tactics according to principles of Knowledge MarketingTM, reducing the ambiguity of communication content, increasing the realistic information that might serve as needed guidance, reengineering the verbal and visual content, providing guidelines for reviewing the communications logic used in employee or customer communication, etc., determined uniquely within each corporation. Post-implementation focus groups, or the more elaborate Knowledge GroupTMare often conducted to measure the changes in satisfaction when details beyond that provided by corporate survey mechanisms are needed.

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References

Ares, E. (1976). Interaction patterns and themes of male, female, and mixed groups. Small Group Behavior, 7, 7-18.

Berne, E. (1966). Principles of group treatment. Grove Press. p. 227

Hoffman, L. R.& Maier, N. R. F. (1861). Quality and acceptance of problem solutions by members of homogeneous and heterogeneous groups. Journal of Abnormal Behavior and Social Psychology, 62, 401-407.

Lankton, S. (1979). Practical Magic. Meta Publications, Inc., Cupertino, CA.

Lankton, S. & Lankton, C. (1983). Answer Within. Brunner/Mazel, Inc., NY.

Lankton, S. & Lankton, C. (1986). Enchantment and intervention in family therapy. Brunner/Mazel, Inc., NY.

Leary, T. (1957). Interpersonal diagnosis of personality: a functional theory and methodology for personality evaluation. New York: The Ronald Press.

McDermott, Robert F. (1991). "Service come first: An interview with our corporate client's Robert F. McDermott. Harvard Business Review. Sep.-Oct. 1991., p. 367.

Quiriconi, R. J. & Durgan, R. E. (1985). Respondent Personalities: Insight for Better Focus Groups. Journal for better data collection. Vol. 25, pp. 20-23.

Ruhe, J. A. (1978). Effect of leader sex and leader behavior on group problem solving. Proceedings of the American institute for Decision Sciences, pp. 123-127.

Sapolsky, A. (1960). Effect of interpersonal relationships upon verbal condition. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 60, 2441-246.

Shaw, M.E. (1981). Group dynamics: The psychology of small group behavior (3rdEd.). McGraw Hill, NY.

Torrance, E. P., (1954). Some consequences of power differences on decision making in permanent and temporary three-man groups. Research Studies, 22, 130-140.

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© Stephen R. Lankton, 1995, 1996, 2000.
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