How brokerages can overcome internal difficulties with new ben admin

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More and more brokerages are going online with benefits administration technology. While not all systems or implementations are created equally, there are similarities to the implementation process no matter which vendor a brokerage chooses.

In addition to implementing with clients and prospects, which most agency leaders think about a lot, it is important to get implementation right within a firm’s own ranks.

Once a brokerage chooses a system, job No. 1 will be implementing it within its internal team. Just like anything new that a company tries to introduce, there will be some colleagues who are more in favor of the change than others. Adopting an online benefits platform will prove to be transformational for any agency, but just like any change, it will involve an exercise in change management by leadership.

One good first step is to buy a copy of the book “Who Moved My Cheese” for each member of a brokerage’s team. The book has been celebrated as one of the best for getting teams ready for change. It uses a simple parable involving two mice to reveal important truths about how to deal with change more effectively, meaning a firm can implement change with less stress and more success. It is a short, simple read. If the whole team reads it, leadership will find that the team will refer to it often during the adoption of the new platform.

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A great next step is to train the team on the verbiage to use when things are not working with the benefits platform as expected.

For example: “I clicked on ‘Start open enrollment.’ I expected to get a notification that employees could now enroll. Instead, it told me that I needed to confirm the employee benefit deductions for the ‘managers’ subgroup. I’m not sure why it is telling me to do that, can you help me understand why?”

To be clear, the above language is taking the place of the following: “This system doesn’t work, there’s a bug, there’s a glitch, I hate this thing.”

In all likelihood, a brokerage is not going to pick a system that doesn’t work. It is likely that whatever system the firm chooses will have many thousands of users and will have done many thousands of open enrollments. To say it doesn’t work is likely not accurate.

It also makes the individual, his or her colleagues, and the team at the software company feel worse. Change is already stressful — if simply choosing different words to describe a problem can relieve some of that stress, then those different words should be chosen.

Change-averse colleagues
Even taking these steps might not be enough to manage your most disgruntled colleagues. You may have some individuals on your team whose desire to keep things the way they are is so strong they simply cannot keep their complaints to themselves.

If you have someone like this on your team, it is necessary to have a direct conversation. This conversation should take place in a private, one-on-one setting.

The following is suggested verbiage for that conversation. In this example, we’ll call the difficult colleague Kevin.

Brokerage leader: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been very negative about implementing our new system.”
Kevin: “Yes, well, given that I’m now going to have to support software in addition to insurance, there is a lot to be negative about.”
Leader: “I think you know this — but just to make sure — you know that the agency went to a lot of expense, right?”
Kevin: “Yes.”
Leader: “And you know that thousands of employers and employees use this platform, including agencies who use it for all of their clients and are able to do more with fewer service team members, right?”
Kevin: “Yes.”
Leader: “Do you think that we are going to cancel our contract?”
Kevin: “No.”
Leader: “OK, so then what is the purpose of the negativity and complaining?”
Kevin: [awkward silence]
Leader: “There is not a purpose, and it is making this harder than it needs to be. Can you please stop?”
Kevin: “OK.”

This will be a difficult conversation, but not dealing with it will be more difficult in the long run. The brokerage’s leadership team should also bear in mind that having this conversation once will likely not be enough. It’ll be necessary to follow up to praise Kevin when he handles a difficult situation related to the software in a positive manner, and also pull him aside and remind him in private if another demonstration of bad behavior arises.

Ideally, there won’t be a “Kevin.” Hopefully, everyone on the team will see the need to make this transition to the same degree that leadership does.

That said, one thing to ask when evaluating the different online benefits platforms is to what degree are they going to support the firm and its team through this transition? Is there an opportunity for in-person training? What does the initial implementation look like? Getting off on the right foot internally is the best way to ensure that implementing the new technology with clients will go as well as possible.

This blog is adapted from the book “Online Benefits Technology: The Strategic Broker’s Guide.”

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