7 Habits of Highly Effective Employee Benefits Strategy & Open Enrollment
  • Benefits Strategy

7 Habits to Create a Highly Effective Benefits Strategy & Open Enrollment Experience: Part 1

Early in my career I was introduced to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and was forever changed. If you’re not familiar, Covey presents seven universal habits in his method to being the most effective by aligning yourself to what he calls “true north” principles. All of the powerful principles that Covey shares can be translated to our role as HR and benefits leaders in creating a highly effective benefits strategy. 

Recently, I was able to co-opt these principles in my role as Director of Benefits and Wellness at Benefitfocus. This past year was my first in this role and I was tasked with creating a brand-new benefits experience for our associates. My objective was to shift our paradigm to become the benefits gold standard. Primarily, it was through intentionally putting our associates first and designating them as our “True North,” and it was also by showcasing how to fully optimize our platform, products, and services – starting with our associates. From this shift was born our “Customer #1 Initiative” – where we treat our associates as a top priority and give them the opportunity of being the first to experience the gold standard. 

I’m a believer in sharing ideas with others so we can all learn and grow in our profession. So, here are the ways I incorporated the seven habits into our benefits strategy at Benefitfocus:

Habit 1: Be Proactive

The first habit of being proactive is described as the habit of choice. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure that we were choosing to fully utilize all of the cutting-edge technology applications and services in the Benefitfocus toolbox. So, just as we were settling into a new plan year, I jumpstarted brainstorming about our next open enrollment.

Starting with an assessment of our current platform and systems, we did a full gap analysis and identified areas where we were being reactive in our communications. We also found that we weren’t offering our associates all of the decision support tools available. By doing this early in the year, we were able to put a timeline in place for a well-rounded communications strategy and implement a variety of optimization tactics to go live prior to 2019 Benefits Open Enrollment.  

And, in true proactive fashion, our dates for a fall open enrollment were set by springtime – a major win that helped set us up for success down the road!

Be Proactive Tip: We created our 2019 Benefits Open Enrollment theme during the summer and sent a Save the Date announcement to our associates a month prior to open enrollment kick off!

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

The next habit is one that focuses on vision – beginning with the end in mind – and one that’s important to embrace in creating a successful open enrollment. 

What I’ve found is that creating your ‘end in mind’ is best accomplished by relying on data-driven insights and surveys that you can then incorporate into measurable success metrics. I knew that I wanted to foster a world-class Customer #1 experience during our open enrollment event, but I had to break that overall objective down into metrics that would define victory for us. After studying the findings from our gap analysis, those success metrics ended up being defined as:

  • An earlier open enrollment communication launch date
  • New decision support tools implemented in the enrollment workflow
  • New lifestyle benefits being offered
  • Continued migration to our HDHP options  

Additionally, as I started to fashion the ‘end in mind’ with our 2019 Benefits Open Enrollment, I used the Requirements Navigator, a Benefitfocus tool that allows me to digitally share my expected outcomes with my customer success team and outlines the steps we need to take to reach the finish line. We incorporated my key results and built out communication and configuration timelines with important target dates to keep all of the moving pieces aligned. One of the greatest aspects of the Requirements Navigator is that it serves as a historical archive for me every year so I can see what decisions were discussed and review the actions made towards achieving our end state. 

It was also essential for us to share our ‘end in mind’ with our executive teams and associates to cultivate the buy-in needed to take our consumer experience to the next level.

End in Mind Tip: Share your vision with your executive team early in the process to make sure you are staying aligned with the overall objectives of the company and meeting their expectations to prevent misguided efforts and work.

Learn about the trends influencing employee benefits in 2019, and the concrete actions employers, carriers and brokers can take to prepare in this on-demand webcast.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

The third habit of ‘putting first things first’ is also known as the habit of integrity and execution. In our busy lives of never-ending meetings and exploding email inboxes, it’s easy to lose sight of investing time into the important rather than just focusing on the urgent. 

When building our Customer #1 benefits strategy and open enrollment experience, I knew that communication was a top priority. I wanted our associates to feel that we were making communication a top priority and that we wanted to help them become better consumers of their health care options. Plus, if we spent the time creating a comprehensive communication plan, that would help avoid frustrated employees, lead to fewer crises and allow us to breathe a little easier as we kicked off our open enrollment events.

So, we established that employee communications must provide all of the information in a timely manner along with making the messages engaging and easy to understand. I worked with our creative team to design a sports-themed open enrollment, and we incorporated fun football lingo into our messaging and graphic designs, including:

  • A save the date announcement being in the form of a sporting events ticket
  • Calling our benefits fair a "Pep Rally"
  • Using email subject lines with phrases like ‘Block and Tackle the Unexpected with Accident Plans,’ ‘A Winning Drive Strategy with Consumer Driven Health Accounts’ and ‘Protect Your Blind Side with ID Theft Protection’ 

We also invested time and effort into making sure our benefits platform was completely revamped and ready to go for open enrollment kick off as it serves as the hub for all benefits information. Not only that, but it also provides the foundation for our execution and follow through throughout the rest of the year. As a part of this, we took advantage of Content Manager within Benefitfocus Marketplace and were able to redesign the navigation experience for our associates. As a benefits administrator, the pages were extremely easy to build and update with new plan information, videos and carrier website links. Through those changes, we were able to make sure all of the consumer information was at our associates’ fingertips.

Put First Things First Tip: Never underestimate the importance of designating time for planning and prep work to prevent the urgent crises in the future – make communicating early and often a top priority.

This is part one in a two-part series. Read how we adopted the last four habits into our benefits strategy and open enrollment experience here.

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