8 steps to running focus groups that ensure high returns on your employee referral schemes

We recently surveyed 100 employees to better understand the current landscape and shortcomings of referrals. Our survey base spanned multiple industries, geographic locations and job roles, with varying levels of seniority. We have now released the findings in a free whitepaper, “Rewarding Referrals: Strategies & Insights to Increase Employee Participation & Longevity”.

A critical first step to increase employee participation with your referral scheme is running a focus group. This allows you to get a thorough understanding of what motivates your employees not only to refer, but to engage with the scheme in the first place so you can formulate a referral strategy that will yield high returns.

why your referral scheme needs to be unique

Too many organisations create and implement some form of referral scheme, without ever engaging with the primary users, their employees.  However, we know from extensive experience that in order for it to work effectively, a business’ referral scheme needs to be as unique as their workforce is.  The referral process and the type of rewards must be tailored to the people you’re trying to engage, your employees.

For example, according to our findings, 88% of companies only offer money as a referral bonus.  This isn’t incorrect per se, but money won’t be the right motivator for everyone.  Do you really know what makes your employees tick?

using focus groups to get the information you need from your workforce

So how can you uncover what does motivate people?  Or, if you have a referral scheme in place, how can you really get under the skin of why people don’t engage with it so you can improve the process based on that feedback?

A simple survey might suffice (if you can get people to take the time to fill it out), but we have found that by far the best way to really understand your employees is to run one, or a series of focus groups with a cross section of your workforce.

There are two main purposes of a focus group.  To confirm ideas you already believe to be true and to uncover information and views you weren’t already aware of.

An effective focus group will lay strong foundations for a successful referral scheme.  Based on our experience, we’ve outlined the key elements for running a mutually beneficial employee focus group.

8 steps to running successful focus groups

  1. Choose your discussion topic carefully
  2. Plan your questions/discussion prompts in advance
  3. Prepare a focus group questionnaire
  4. Appoint a notetaker
  5. Select participants
  6. Kick off the discussion
  7. Get equal input from the group
  8. Analyse the results and feedback to the group

1. choose your discussion topic carefully

It’s important not to try to fit too many topics into the allotted time, as you’ll struggle to get the detail you need.  Select two key topics and keep those in mind throughout.  This will make it easier to refocus if you find the conversation is drifting.  These topics could be as simple as ‘what would motivate you and why’ and ‘challenges with the current referral scheme’

Quick tip – the optimal time for a focus group to remain productive is between 45-90 minutes.

2. plan your questions/discussion prompts in advance

In advance of the focus group run a briefing meeting with other colleagues organising the group and get a list of questions you’d like to get answers to.  Although the focus group discussion needs to be organic to uncover information you may not even have considered important, you need to be clear beforehand which questions are most important to create actionable information.

3. plan a questionnaire for your focus groups

Once you’ve planned your questions and discussion prompts, organise them into a questionnaire with plenty of space for notes.  Put the most important questions first, and keep in mind it’s more important to have an interesting and fruitful discussion than it is to get through all your questions.  You can always follow up later.

Quick tip – have a box at the end of each question specifically to highlight remarkable insights so they don’t get lost.

 

4. appoint a notetaker

It might sound obvious, but identifying the best person in the organisation to take high quality notes will be critical to ensuring the findings are clear.  Bear in mind the best person for that role may not be from within your department.

Quick tip – as well as having a notetaker in the session, audio or video record the session so you can refer back to it afterwards, just in case anything gets missed.

 

5. select your participants

It’s critical to gain the views of a wide cross-section of your organisation.  What motivates individuals in the tech department may not be the same as what motivates the finance department.  Gathering feedback from multiple pay grades is also important, as it could be the case that those on a higher wage are less motivated by money and more by time off for example.

Quick tip – in terms of the make-up of the group, in a larger organisation you might choose to run sessions with departments individually.  This is for two reasons.  One it may encourage quieter individuals to speak up as they’re amongst people they know and two you can have a more productive discussion as their views are likely to have more similarities – allowing you to use the time to drill down in a lot more detail.  In smaller organisations a cross functional group is probably more realistic.

 

6. kick off the discussion

To warm the group up, start off by asking a simple, open question.  As the conversation starts to flow, you can then begin to cover off more specific questions.

7. get equal input from the group

Be mindful that everyone’s opinion is important.  If you feel the discussion is being led by one or two more outspoken individuals, ensure you prompt quieter members of the group to answer and give them the time and space to do so.

8. analyse the results and feedback to the group

Hopefully your focus group has provided you with plenty of interesting angles, and actionable ideas to shape your employee referral strategy. After all of your focus groups have taken place compile and analyse the common themes and resulting actions.  Be sure to remember to feedback to the group (s) a high level version of the findings and the key actions you’re going to take.  This is important to ensure employees don’t feel their time was wasted and that their opinions were valuable to you.

At Real Links, one of the first steps we take with every organisation we work with is to hold focus groups with their employees.  We’ve run literally hundreds of these sessions, so if you think you might need support get in touch.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can transform referrals into a key source of hires download our whitepaper now.

the employee referral process

referral visibility

We recently released our findings based on a survey with 100 employees, which investigates the current landscape and shortcomings of employee referrals: “Rewarding Referrals: Strategies & Insights to Increase Employee Participation & Longevity”. One of our key findings was the necessity to include reward systems into your referral strategy in order to successfully increase referred hires from an industry average of under 10% to over 30%.

the referral process

Previously, we wrote about the types of rewards that can be used when providing bonuses for employee referrals. We found that while money is effective, there are many other forms that increase participation, such as time-off, personal development and experiential rewards. However, choosing the right type of reward isn’t the only factor that needs to be considered. When and how to reward referrals is equally important. Therefore, a clear, well-defined employee referral process that includes game mechanics, is what takes referrals from a passive benefit for recruitment teams to an active source of hard-to-reach candidates. In this blog, we will explore some of the dos and don’ts of the referral process.

when to reward referrals

Through our survey, we found that 34% of companies only offer rewards for referrals upon a hire being made with a further 65% once a referred candidate has passed their probation period. Only 1% of those surveyed said that their company rewards earlier in the application process. To put this into context, when considering hiring timelines (as seen below), it could take up to one year before employees are recognised for making a referral. In addition, since a majority of candidates will not pass the interview stage, most employees who have referred someone from their network will see no recognition for their efforts.

referral bonus timeline

a lack of transparency

Worse yet, due to the inability to easily track the status of their referred candidates in the hiring process, employees are left in the dark on the progress of their referrals. This is even more damaging, when considering that a number of employees will refer someone and never receive a reward, creating mistrust in not only referrals but also the company they work for. In fact, our survey shows that 83% of employees are unable to track the progress of referred candidates. This means that for most employees, their experience with referrals will be a negative one.

gamification & reward systems

Looking at game mechanics as an indication for how likely employees are to participate, it’s clear that instantaneous rewarding is a key factor to success. If the employee performs a positive action, in this case an introduction to a candidate, or the very first step of a referral, they need to be immediately rewarded. Here, microrewards are powerful, and when correctly used, result in employees continuously referring. It’s important to break down the application process and to incorporate gamification into the various stages of referrals.

For example, successful forms of rewards for when a referral is made could be raffle tickets, which result in a prize at the end of the month. The more referrals an employee makes, the more raffle tickets they earn, increasing their chances of winning. When a referred candidate moves onto the interviewing stage, another micro-prize could be offered. Even something as simple as a free lunch can be highly motivational. This lets you use gamification to experience much higher returns on your referrals.

a tailored referral process 

But do your employees prefer raffle tickets or a points-based system? Are they fans of leaderboards or do they dislike competition? Much like what type of reward to choose, the only way to know how to formulate your process is to ask your employees. At Real Links, the first step to creating our clients’ referral strategies is to hold focus groups with their employees. We rely on their feedback to create a referral process that increases participation and longevity. We then setup the gamification elements of our platform based on these results, ensuring that referrals are a key recruitment component in our clients’ organisations.

Interested in learning more about how you can transform referrals into a key source of hires? Download our whitepaper now.

what are the best employee referral bonuses?

We recently surveyed 100 employees to better understand the current landscape and shortcomings of referrals. Our survey base spanned multiple industries, geographic locations and job roles, with varying levels of seniority. We have now released the findings in a free whitepaper, “Rewarding Referrals: Strategies & Insights to Increase Employee Participation & Longevity”. One of the key focus areas of the whitepaper was to understand what the best employee referral bonuses are to increase participation in referrals over the long term.

the best employee referral bonuses

We’ve found that the biggest obstacle to successful referrals is participation and longevity through our past experiences working with clients. For this reason, it’s vital that a well-thought-out strategy is in place that includes reward systems. While most companies today, 88% according to our survey, opt to only offer cash bonuses upon hire or passing probation, our findings show that there are multiple other forms of recognition that are motivating, and often at a lower cost. These can range from raffles to beer and pizza parties to charity donations. However, according to those surveyed, the three best employee referral bonuses for increasing employee participation are time-off, personal development and experiences.

In this blog, we will be exploring these three types of rewards that can transform referrals into a key source of hires by increasing employee engagement:

time-off

While it’s true that even in our study money was the greatest motivator, time-off came second at 50%. Studies show that people who value time over money are happier.  People today have heavy workloads and busy personal lives. More and more people are reporting that time has now become a scarce commodity.

This speaks volumes for the potential in rewarding time-off for referrals. It’s not only a way to recognise employees for their efforts in sourcing candidates for your company, but it could also increase overall satisfaction rates, creating engaged employees. While employees will greatly appreciate a day-off for making referrals, it will also give them the rest they desperately need. The effects of employee engagement on productivity are well documented, with reports that highly engaged employees increase profitability by 21%.

Additionally, in the majority of cases it’s more cost-effective than a cash bonus, when considering that typical monetary referral bonuses tend to sit around the $500 – $1000 range, more than a day of annual leave for most employees.

personal development

Career development has become a key focus for people today. This is supported by our findings, which show that personal development ranks as the third most motivational award. However, employees today are less and less focused on a career within a certain company. People are job hopping more than ever before and this trend is expected to continue. Therefore, acquiring the skills they need to successfully make lateral moves, internal and external, make personal development one of the best employee referral bonuses.

Similarly, thanks to continual developments in technology, core skills constantly need to change. People today feel that their skills are going to date very easily, and in the majority of cases, they’re not wrong. This makes rewarding personal development, be that budget or courses, an extremely desirable, and therefore motivating, form of rewarding.

rewarding experiences

Trips, helicopter rides, scuba diving lessons, the list is endless when it comes to experiential rewards. The reason they can be one of the best employee referral bonuses is because experiences are far more memorable than money. People rarely remember what they spent their referral bonuses on. While employees appreciate money, the appreciation is fleeting. They also expect it, as most companies today provide referral cash bonuses. Experiences, on the other hand, are something people may remember and appreciate for the rest of their lives.

What’s even more powerful with these types of rewards, is that the positive memories gained from these experiences are associated with your company. This is not only extremely motivational, but also helps in retaining employees. Additionally, with a proper advocacy plan in place, experiential rewards can help your employer branding efforts. Everyone today is an influencer. A simple Instagram post from one of your employees with your company tagged in it about an experience you provided them is an endorsement like none other. This is one of the many ways that referrals can play a vital role in your employee advocacy strategy.

so what should I use to reward referrals? 

The options may seem endless. The truth is there’s a lot of different rewards that are effective, and unfortunately most companies’ rewards strategies are based on assumptions. This is one of the key reasons that referral schemes fail. For example, we recently hosted a focus group at a major recruitment consultancy we work with. Our assumption was that the competitive aspects of our platform’s gamification features would be well received. After all, recruiters thrive in and are used to a competitive environment. However, the opposite turned out to be true. They responded negatively to implementing yet another leaderboard. They had enough competition in the workplace. On the other hand, when we held a similar focus group for nurses, we were surprised by how excited they were at the prospect of competition. It was culturally unusual for them and therefore enticing.

The reality is that until you speak to your employees, everything around what, how and when to reward referrals is an assumption and a risk you can’t afford to take. The best policy here is to tailor your rewarding strategy to what your employees find desirable. The only way to truly understand what would motivate your employees to participate in referrals is to ask them directly. In our experience focus groups are an excellent method to understand how to tailor your referral strategy to fit your employees. That’s why they’re one of the first steps we take when working with clients. The findings from these focus groups then go on to dictate how we setup our platform, gamification and process.

While understanding what the best employee referral bonuses are is important, the entire rewarding process is equally paramount to success. When should you reward your employees for referrals (when a candidate starts inteviewing, upon hire, upon passing probation, etc.)? How do you use referrals to increase your recruitment pipeline? You can find the answers to all these questions and more in our free whitepaper, which will help you establish a referral strategy that increases participation and longevity. Read it today.

Employee Referral Rewards; Transforming Engagement

Employee Referral Rewards; Transforming Engagement

19th March 2019

Whether you work in an early-stage startup or a longstanding global corporation, increasing employee engagement and cutting costs will certainly be at least two objectives that everyone everywhere has in common. Employee referrals are the solution!

Often one of the most overlooked elements of corporate employee referral schemes are the rewards themselves. In an ever-evolving world, people care about more than just money and Amazon vouchers; it’s time to get creative.

We’ve been out in the market finding out which creative rewards would help boost employee engagement with referral schemes…

12 of the most riveting referral rewards around; just our way of helping you engage employees everywhere!

4 Cracking charity rewards; it may come as a surprise, but the majority of people love to give just as much as they love to get!
So here’s four great ways to give:

Plant a tree with The National Forest
Adopt a panda with WWF
Deciding vote: Company’s nominated charity
Donation to an academic institution of their choice

4 Scintillating social rewards; not only do social rewards allow for peer recognition, they can also benefit those very same peers and thereby foster further engagement!
So let’s get social:

Company drinks to celebrate your top referrer
Deciding vote: Team night out
Mention in company newsletter
Recognition at next company awards/retreat

4 Glorious gift rewards; innovation doesn’t always mean reinventing the wheel, sometimes it’s just about finding flashy rims!
So here’s four presents you might not offer at present ?:

Extra day of annual leave
Gourmet Cookery Course
Local Coffee Card (Based in London? I’d recommend Coffee Works)
Meditation Retreat

So now you know how to engage your employees through the power of rewards!

Interested in implementing a referral scheme or improving your existing one? Real Links can help!

If you’re looking to learn more, feel free to get in touch by emailing asher.austin@reallinks.io; I love a good chat!