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free-ranging conversation with steve boese on benefits websites

January 13, 2010

in free-ranging conversations (interviews with wellness innovators)

this interview is part of an ongoing series of conversations on wellness with wellness managers, providers, communication professionals, and innovators.

steve boese wears many impressive hats: blogger at steve boese’s hr technology, host of hr happy hour, professor at the rochester institute of technology, and his latest chapeau: director of products, community, and on-demand services with knowledge infusion, a leading hr technology consultancy. and did i mention, he loves bacon?

i sought out steve to talk about how companies can best employ technology to support their health and wellness efforts.

where would you advise company’s to begin, given that most companies aren’t starting from scratch?

many legacy intranets and even some portals are beyond fixing. most started the same way, with forms and pamphlets that may or may not have been edited and customized for this format slapped up on the website and behind a firewall. it’s essentially an electronic conversion of paper documents. and the truth is, they’re probably no more accessed here than they were on the paper rack.

i’d advocate considering open-source and/or commercially available solutions. realistically, the very large organization isn’t likely to embrace open-source, but licensing solutions are available that can speed the development process. the other benefit of commercial software is the ecosystem of support and development resources that can be leveraged as the company evolves and requirements change.

the employee’s experience as a consumer is driving the requirement that enterprise technology work like consumer technology. companies need to consider how they can make their intranet experience like facebook’s. i’ve heard anecdotes of companies simply abandoning “dead” intranets and moving to new, more social and collaborative platforms. many companies already have lively employee networks going on these platforms. the value from these social networks is the give and take and two-way nature of the platform. instead of emailing changes to benefits—the responses are private in nature—why not let employees communicate upward and to each other? that’s the real benefit.

exactly. i love the idea of using ning to rally employees around issues of importance to them—similar to tudiabetes—and issues important to the business, like chronic conditions. still, many companies are fearful that employees will share bad information about how benefit plans work or say something horrible about the increase in premiums, for example. (note: my next conversation with michelle james of intel talks about their experience with benefits blogs.)

that’s classic big company philosophy of “we’ll share what they need to know when they need to know it.” they’re just not thinking about more openness in general.

besides the dead intranet, technology adoption is still an issue. how can companies reduce or eliminate this barrier?

in technology adoption, ease of use trumps everything. any type of technology you want people to use—if it requires training, you’re doomed. you’ve just created a second barrier, the first being change. if benefits open enrollment has always been paper-based and handled by hr and you’re now introducing a technology-based process, you have to manage the change and make sure that employees see the benefit to themselves and the organization. if the technology itself is not simple and intuitive, you’re going to have adoption issues.

what are your ease-of-use guidelines?

simple designs are the best. don’t clutter up the tool with features just because the system has the capability. think about how your organization’s culture and employee attitudes can influence the design. some companies are very precise and detailed (like an engineering firm) and won’t mind lots of help text and context information on the system. other companies and cultures value process, and a design that prominently and forcefully guides employees through the process will have a good chance of success.

another recommendation is to create two sets of information: the information that employees need and that a job seeker wants. you don’t want to bury job seekers in details. a company should prominently feature those benefit programs that are a real differentiator. most job seekers don’t need to get into the granular details of the copay on a vision plan, for example. 

lastly, spend time in the testing stage working with as many employees as you can, from as wide a cross-section of the company as is possible. systems meant to be used by all employees are very different than what most IT and systems people are used to working with. get out from the lab and see what the employees really think before you roll out a new technology to thousands of people.

if you have a question for steve, leave it in the comments. he’ll answer them through next week. for more from steve on hr technology in the enterprise, follow him on twitter and check out his blog or this interview.

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more free-ranging conversations:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob January 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Nice post. Some good straight forward recommendations.

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fran January 14, 2010 at 11:38 am

thanks, rob. KISS, right?

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