Now that we have less than a year to deal with the ramifications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, what are you doing to engage your clients in a meaningful discussion to prepare them for the decisions that need to be made? It's not as simple as asking, "Pay or play?" The answers to both questions are correct depending upon your client's needs and what they are trying to accomplish with their benefits decisions.

So where is a good place to start? Focus on what your clients value most about the employer-employee relationships. Until you know what your client's values are, how do you know what you should recommend? You need to understand their business issues and their culture. What business challenges are they currently facing?

Still not sure what I mean? Well, let's take an obvious example. You have two clients. One is a warehouse operation with minimally skilled labor that is provided minimal training and it's a high-turnover labor force. The other client is a very large physician practice with highly paid medical professionals in multiple disciplines that needs low turnover to sustain its business operations.

Clearly the value they place on their human capital, their employee talent, is likely to be quite different. The first employer likely views its workforce as a commodity that is expendable and readily available in great numbers, particularly in a soft economy. The second employer values the talent that was recruited at some considerable expense and views its human resources as a sustainable competitive advantage. One might "pay" and one might "play". One may reduce the work hours of a majority of its workforce and the other might be interested in establishing a wellness program. But until you engage your client in a strategic discussion about their values, needs, challenges and goals, you will never know what to recommend.

 

Future outlook

So, what should you do? Set an appointment with your client. After recapping what went well and what could be done differently, engage the client in a high level discussion of what they want to accomplish with their benefits program over the next three to five years.

Once you have the dialogue going, suggest that a well-thought-out game plan or road map needs to be drafted. It will commit all of management to a longer range plan and provide great assistance internally in the budget planning process. That can be a key selling point as part of the process. It provides a logical and methodical approach to benefits planning, and makes you their invaluable business adviser. This will enable the plan redesign and new voluntary benefits to be integrated.

Schedule a strategy session with all the interested and necessary parties in attendance. Your role will be to facilitate the discussion. Be creative, but be real. Only once you understand their real issues can you provide proper counsel regarding PPACA implications and decisions.

It's not as easy as plugging in some employee headcount data into a calculator. If you think it is, you will be replaced by a technology solution, whether it is a health exchange or an online tool. Your clients need your advice and counsel to navigate the decision-making process. And you have made yourself indispensable as their business adviser. Greater client retention, more satisfied clients and additional revenue. Now that is a winning combination.

Kwicien is managing partner at Baltimore-based consulting and advisory services firm Daymark Advisors. Reach him at jkwicien@daymarkadvisors.com.

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