5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Using Internal Employees as Descriptive Panelists (and a few reasons why you should).

Sensory scientists are frequently tasked with managing internal descriptive panels using employees as trained panelists.  There are a variety of reasons why this might be a great idea, one being that the panelists are likely to be present in the building most days.  That’s incredibly convenient when you may not have consistent work for the panel.

Additionally, scientists may find that training transforms the team of product developers and marketers into passionate experts in the flavor, texture or feel of their categories.  Moreover, are many well-documented benefits of using common language to describe products and packaging; most importantly, this common language provides consistent messaging for consumers and deeper knowledge in translating consumer feedback into actionable direction. 

Finally, panelists who are also employees may develop a deeper appreciation for your sensory department, and understand the value of the data you uncover through your research.  However, it’s certainly not all positive,  there are a few reasons why having independent, non-employee, dedicated panelists is preferable.  Let’s discuss!

1. Conflicting Loyalties
Internal employees are just that: employees with their own corporate responsibilities and objectives.  Participating in panels may not always align with their own success in the office. These conflicting interests may result in employees who may be occasionally disengaged in panel responsibilities.

2. Inconsistent Attendance
Perhaps because of conflicting loyalties or just busy periods at work, employee panelists are not always available during panel meeting times.  This has a negative impact on finalizing descriptive data on time when the panel leader is constantly scrambling to schedule a make-up evaluation with busy panelists.

In an extreme scenario, you may find that panelists are not available for a few months at a time thus becoming out of practice and requiring additional retraining and calibration to ensure that their data are sound.

3. Bias/Influence
One of the foundational elements of any descriptive panel is our belief that they are inherently objective; as close to an instrument as a human can become.  Consider then the place of a product developer on a descriptive panel. Are they able to ignore deep knowledge of the product? The answer is absolutely for some, not so much for others.

Some employees may be aware of consumer complaints about a product, or fully knowledgeable about the months of development work that have gone into a new product launch. It takes careful test planning by blinding products or siloing product research and information from panelists to ensure that potential bias is minimized.

4. Difficult to Incentivize
In a panel made up of independent non-employee panelists, there is a traditional hiring scenario in which panelists are paid a set amount for the hours that they work.  In the internal-employee scenario however, incentivization is often more difficult to manage. We’ve seen all manner of compensation schemes from the simple candy bar reward, to a complex point system which allows participants to “shop” from an online store with more variety.  In some cases, providing gift cards carries potential tax implications so they are not an incentive option.  Either way, the incentive for the employee panelist is not always straightforward, and finding a non-cash compensation that is perceived as valuable to employees is often difficult and time-consuming.

5. Limited Talent Pool
When creating your panel, one of the most important tasks is ensuring that all potential panelists have the acuity to perform on a descriptive panel.  While nearly everyone can be trained to evaluate products not everyone is a good fit. Whether they are anosmic to certain categories or have a poor disposition for the required tasks, being able to filter through your panelists is a useful tool to build the best functioning panel possible.  Often in a panel staffed by internal employees, panel leaders find themselves in a somewhat desperate situation. Due to a limited number of employees (smaller office or plant setting), they must take all who express interest or availability.  While this no doubt results in some stellar panelists it’s also likely that some under-performers make it through as well.

Staffing a panel is difficult, and certainly more complicated when a sensory scientist or panel leader is asked to use internal employees as panelists.  However, there are always other options.  Regardless of whether internal or external panelist is selected, Sensory Spectrum has trained thousands of panels over the past 30 years.  Our expert trainers will support you in the development of a descriptive panel.  Another route is to use Sensory Spectrum panels that can evaluate all sensory modalities and categories.  Our panelists are trained and validated as part of our ongoing commitment to delivering high-quality data and results to our clients.  Regardless of whether you use us, or your own internal or independent panelists, the job of a sensory scientist is full of complexities and challenges that keep life interesting.

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