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Trust, but Verify

David P. Lind Benchmark“Fair and balanced.”

You hear this phrase from many different sources. It conjures up something within us that we all desire to have when making critical decisions. Understanding the pros and cons on any given issue is important to most of us. But do we really receive the “truth” or the “transparency” that will allow us to draw our own conclusions on the subject matter at hand? It really depends on the source of the information…so I believe.

The reason for this particular blog stems from a presentation that I recently gave at the “2012 Iowa Employment Conference” in Altoona. Much of my presentation focused on the health insurance trends in Iowa based on our annual studies. The trends by the way, are dismal at best, unsustainable at worst (another blog for later). When discussing potential solutions for employers, a few topics were breached such as consumer-driven health plans, wellness initiatives, and health reform measures. I mentioned that each topic will usually have many arguments (both pro and con), in addition to having both intended and unintended consequences. To know the subject matter well, I suggested to the audience to have a comfort level with their SOURCE of information (publications, media outlets, research organizations, etc.).

Much to my surprise, a hand was raised that followed with this question: “Which sources do YOU trust?” This question came out of the blue for me, but was asked in a thoughtful manner. I don’t quite remember my response that day, but since that presentation, I have had time to further reflect on this question. The word ‘Trust’ is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Another definition is “one in which confidence is placed.” I like both.

Regarding health care related stuff (including health insurance programs offered by employers), I TRUST a few particular sources. Each source has earned my trust over the years due to consistent research that attempts to factor out biases that typically are inherent in any type of research. Also, the authors of such research will generally disclose any potential outside influences that may mitigate the truthfulness of the results.

In no particular order, my short list of trusted sources is found below:

  • Health Affairs Journal – Many authors (national and international experts) write thought-provoking articles on highly researched thematic topics each month.  This is the gold standard because the information is fresh and relevant at all times. I also download their free podcasts and listen to them while I run in the morning. A subscription is necessary for this journal…but it is well worth the investment.
  • RAND Corporation – RAND provides objective research on many issues, including healthcare. Rand provides very innovative material…much of it can be found on their website at no cost!
  • Kaiser Family Foundation – Most information is at no cost…and there is a ton of information on many different health topics. A great go-to source!
  • Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care – The pioneer on the disparity of health care delivery in the U.S.

There are other sources that I highly value, but those sources (at least in my view) tend to be a level below the four mentioned above. Just know that the SOURCE of information is just as important as the content of the information being conveyed.

President Reagan adopted a signature phrase and made famous when discussing U.S. relations with the Soviet Union:  “Trust, but verify.” This phrase can also be applied to healthcare information and many other topics!

Finding Skilled Talent

David P. Lind BenchmarkSurvey findings were recently published by Deloitte Consulting LLP revealing the top five priorities in 2012 for U.S. employers relating to ‘Total Rewards’. Studies like this are helpful because it provides a glimpse into the national psyche of the corporate “mind” regarding compensation, benefits, perks and other direct/indirect payments to employees. This particular study is the 18th year of the Top Five Total Rewards Priorities series.

We all know that unemployment in this country is much too high (especially for those who are currently seeking employment). From this study, when 330 respondents ranked the most significant challenge facing their organization in the next three years, I was surprised to learn that TALENT SHORTAGE is the top challenge! We have high unemployment, but shortage of talent? This sounds a little counterintuitive to me.

What gives?

Deloittes’ explanation is that HR professionals “believe today’s surplus of job seekers has not translated to a talent surplus. Rather, employers are facing heightened competition for highly skilled talent that is not necessarily present in the large pool of unemployed.” About one quarter of the study respondents pointed to the shortage, motivation and retention of qualified talent, which is up from 16 percent in 2011.

According to the Deloitte study, here’s the list of the most significant challenges in the next three years:

  1. Shortage, motivation, and retention of qualified talent (25%)
  2. Rising cost of Total Rewards (21%)
  3. Health care reform complexity (18%)
  4. Uncertain economic conditions (10%)
  5. Total Rewards administration that meets or exceeds expectations (7%)

Having shortages in skilled positions is nothing new to employers. A labor surplus (due to high unemployment) does little to resolve labor shortage issues for key positions in some organizations (i.e. skilled production, engineering technologists, scientists, etc.). To fill these positions, employers will need to find new approaches to develop these skilled positions, regardless of the unemployment rate. Developing thoughtful training and recruitment initiatives, coupled with partnering with community colleges (and other vocational entities) will most likely help employers fill these skilled positions in the future. Vermeer Manufacturing in Pella has done just that by developing smart programs to fill these vital positions.

Without a doubt, Iowa’s workforce is our precious resource. We must continue to reinvest (and retool) in this resource to maintain competitive advantages here, nationally, and of course, internationally. We also must find ways to attract new people to Iowa and retain our existing residents…especially in rural areas. David Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, recently wrote a piece in the Des Moines Register addressing precisely this issue.

It just makes good sense.

Smart Phones – Smart Future!

David P. Lind BenchmarkIn March, on behalf of Humana, Inc., Forrester Research released their report, “Mobile Application Adoption Trends and Strategies To Engage The Workforce”. According to this report, the trend appears to be that more employers embrace the idea of interacting with their employees for personal and work-related activities using new technologies offered through smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.

Three key conclusions come from this report:

  1. An emerging demand for health and wellness mobile applications. Such applications enable employees to locate healthcare provider sites, track exercise activities, or monitor various biological conditions such as heart rates, glucose levels, and other health-related.
  2.  Mobile recruitment applications are emerging. Capturing candidate information during job fairs, interviews, or sharing video clips to candidates about specific jobs available within the organization.
  3. HR and benefits professionals implement awareness campaigns to promote employee adoption of mobile applications.  Purposes may include rolling out a new wellness campaign, incentive programs, and other new initiatives that are central to employment.

This report allows human resource executives and benefits administrators to look into the future when attempting to engage their workforce…using existing and new technologies.

Consider this:

  • About 17,000 health-related mobile applications are on the market*
  • By 2015, the number of mobile health service users are expected to reach 500 million*

Sprint launched a 12-week “Get Fit” challenge during the summer of 2011 and found big success using social media tools to engage employees to participate in wellness activities, such as weight loss, exercise minutes and pedometer steps. The estimated savings from this challenge, according to Sprint, was approximately $1.1 million. Partnering with ShapeUp, a wellness software company, Sprint used social networking tools that allowed employees to log their progress online through a website portal in addition to using mobile devices. Employees interacted with other employees throughout the country with friendly competitions – holding each other accountable. Sprint attributes a big part of the programs’ success to social networking. Social media tools can be a good thing when used appropriately!

Hmm, maybe it is time to learn more about what Iowa employers plan to do in the future regarding this new technology! Stay tuned.

*Stetler, Mark, “Trends in Healthcare and Medical Apps