Mind-numbing presentations

Yesterday I walked out on a presentation I was invited to about changes in technology. This is not the first time I have done this. I have come to the conclusion that I have only so much time and power in my batteries and I won’t waste it on a boring and lack-lustre presentation. So what drove me out the door? The presenter spent most of his time talking to the screen effectively reading the script of the presentation to his audience. There was little interaction between him and his audience. He spoke in a monotone and just rambled on. The problem is that many workshops and seminars I attend look and sound like this. If you are going to spend financial resources on planning these kinds of events to attract new clients why not put the additional effort to captivate them by building a presentation that disseminates information in a way that uses humour, drama and gets the participants involved in the presentation. When you get in front of an audience and just read the deck it says you really didn’t prepare or you really don’t care that much. That’s a terrible message to send out to you audience. When choosing the member of your staff to give a public presentation pick someone who is confident and speaks well in front of people, not someone who is introverted and uncomfortable in public situations. You only get one opportunity to make a great impression and these kinds of interactions can work to attract to new business or send potential customers running in the opposite direction. I am sorry to say that more often that not I underwhelmed at the seminars and workshops I attend. People start putting more time and effort into your presentations.

Things I Have Learned During The Pandemic

Since the pandemic started nearly eight months ago I have come to the realization that in spite of all the doom and gloom we hear every day in the media that life goes on for most of us in a somewhat altered state. So what have I observed? For some sectors this has been been disastrous and others this has been a boom. Technology has allowed many of us to continue our business activity although now we work remotely from home offices. I know in talking with other business people some are feeling a sense of isolation from the world. My daughter who works in marketing and sales was expressing frustration in not being able to meet face-to-face with her clients and just plain burnt-out from spending 7-8 hours a day standing in front of a screen talking into a camera. I understand her frustration, but on the flip side I asked her how she would feel about having only a phone and fax machine to accomplish her daily objectives, that was our reality only 20 years ago, so technology has eased some of the communication glitches during this pandemic. The other thing I have noted is in my frequent virtual meetings with C-Level managers in their home offices is that they appeared to be more open and relaxed than in a typical office setting. I find the conversation and information flows more easily than before, perhaps because we are all going through these trying and difficult times together. One other thing that the pandemic has made me realize that there has to be a seismic shift in certain kinds of businesses going forward if they are to survive in the future. For example restaurants, bars, live entertainment, and retail have to re-imagine how they will deliver their product to consumers in post pandemic society as we are likely to change the way we live, work and interact after this virus subsides and we wait for the next one make its appearance.

Drug plan lessons from the U.S.

This article was from coverage of the Benefits Canada 2011 Face-to-Face: Drug Plan Management Forum, held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Dec. 1, 2011.

Magna International Inc., a global vehicle part manufacturer and assembler with a workforce of 104,000, has a decentralized management structure that allows every division to run as a separate entity, said Arthur Fabbro, the organization’s director of total compensation.

Typically, drug plans in the organization’s U.S. divisions have a three-tier design comprising generic drugs, preferred brands and non-preferred brands.

In Canada, a two-tiered system—formulary and non-formulary drugs—prevails. Mail-order pharmacy, in its infancy in Canada, “plays a huge role in containing costs in U.S. plans.”

According to Fabbro, Canadian drug plan providers might also learn from these common U.S. practices:

adjudicating pharmacy claims;

conducting safety checks and drug utilization reviews;

negotiating preferred price and rebate arrangements with drug manufacturers;

negotiating preferred pricing with retail pharmacies; and

conducting regular reviews to discuss trends, explore and implement plan design strategies, and develop clinical programs.

Future plan design modifications may include out-of-pocket caps, electronic claims submission and automatic generic substitution. “If we could raise generic substitution by just 5%, we could cut major costs,” said Fabbro, who also gave the thumbs-up to clinical and utilization management programs. “These programs hone in on where the costs are hitting our plans,” he said, “and there’s no question they lead to more cost-effective outcomes.”

Custom Group Benefits Plans: Why They’re Not Just for Big Business

I am often surprised by how many companies and advisers believe that a customized group plan is beyond the reach of small business. While this may have been true many years ago, it’s certainly no longer the case.

To understand why, we need to go back in time.

Clearly, administering group benefits plans is a computation intensive activity. Imagine tracking every plan parameter, every claim and every payment for thousands of employees and companies. Add to that the associated regulatory requirements to maintain records and comply with audits and we start to understand the complexities. As a result, group benefits plans could only feasibly be administered by large insurers with entire rooms filled with computing machines or large employers with the resources to manage their own plan.

Consequently, only very large companies could afford to build and administer customized plans for their business. Smaller companies had little flexibility and little choice in terms of plan design. The only options were to choose from commoditized plans offered by the large traditional insurance companies. It was an acceptable solution, but not the best solution for a small business.

But advancements in technology allowed a new breed of group insurance administrators to emerge. They are the Third Party Administrators (TPAs) who began offering third party Administration Services Only (ASO) Plans.

I have built my business to be lean, nimble and flexible to serve small business well. Successful companies with under 100 employees can finally have access to affordable customized employee benefits plans strategically designed for their business. I offer a level of service and flexibility once exclusively enjoyed by larger businesses.

Virtual Meetings our New Reality

So for the past five months I have been forced by the pandemic to change the way I interact with the people in my life both professionally and personally. My new reality and I am certain, yours is using one of the many platforms available to meet virtually. Though not always ideal they still allow us to communicate, interact and even conduct business. In talking with some of my business colleagues some of them feel that virtual meetings allow them to be more productive and spend less time in their vehicles tied up in traffic jams trying to get from meeting to meeting. Others complain that virtual meetings don’t allow them to read body language and facial expressions that a face-to-face meeting does. Personally I find that although there are certain drawbacks like screens freezing from time to time, that for the most part I have had productive meetings using platforms like Zoom or Webex. I also noted that many people I have encountered on these virtual meetings appear to be more relaxed and open in conversation. In addition they have conveyed to me that for the most part they have been able to continue their business activities using virtual meetings. Looking back when this technology didn’t exist, business would have been in an even more difficult place than we are currently experiencing which is pretty dire. There are no perfect solutions, but virtual meetings have been for the most part been one of the better innovations of the past decade.

Overcoming Obstacles In Times of Upheaval

 

I am not surprised by our current circumstance of living and working in the midst of a global pandemic the warnings had been coming from scientists for years. What has been surprising to me has been the resilience, tenacity and creativity of many of the business people I have been speaking with over the past several months since COVID 19 has started. Yes the toll on business and lives has been substantial and it will take a great deal of time to recover from this, but we are learning new ways to conduct business and interact with one another. I am struck with the positive attitude and willingness of people I interact with to find ways to negotiate their way through a complex and difficult and for most of us a new reality. For me I have been working from a home office for more than two decades so there was no big adjustment for me on that front. The thing that bothers me the most in the current state of affairs is the lack of direct human contact. Platforms like Zoom meeting and Google Hangouts are a great alternative and allow one to conduct meetings and get much done without the hassle of traffic jams, but I miss the face to face contact. That being said I am adapting to doing business in the virtual and I am a grateful for the digital platforms and programs that allow us to continue to operate our businesses in spite of a serious and sometime deadly virus. I am struck by the ingenuity and creativity I am witnessing daily as I engage in stimulating conversations with business leaders and founders.

Life Insurance 101 The true cold hard facts

I have held off writing this blog for quite some time because I simply did not want it to appear self-serving. The truth is there is a lot of fact and fiction out there regarding this simple but powerful product or as I call it contract for money. At the very basic level it can provide your family with money to carry on after you die.  The simplest and least expensive form of Life Insurance is term insurance, but for a young couple with a few kids 10 year renewable and convertible term is the cheapest and best way to go. Once a couple has reached its 40’s the next best approach is to re-examine the need and then determine if it might be required for another 20 years. If that is the case I often recommend that 20 year term renewable and convertible might be the way to go. It is a little more expensive than a 10 year term, but over a period of 20 years will cost less than the renewal rate of your existing 10 term when it rolls over. The next question I am asked often is how much do I need? The simple answer is as much as you can afford without compromising other daily expenses you have to put aside. The truth is that if you are earning anywhere between $50-100,000 one million dollars of insurance is not a lot insurance. How can I defend that position simply because if one were to invest the principle at today’s low-interest rates the annual income would probably not be more than $30,000 gross before taxes. If one were to spend the capital amount of $1,000,0000 it would be gone in 10 years to produce a $100,000 living allowance to a family or 20 years if $50,000 was taken out annually. Just to demonstrate that the cost of $1,000,000 is not as expensive as you think I did a survey on some software I use to illustrate to clients competitive premiums from competing Life Insurance companies. A healthy 35-year-old non-smoking male would pay about $45 a month for $1,000,000 and a health 45-year-old would pay about $92 a month for that same coverage. A more complex but scientific way of calculating insurance needs can be calculated by working out a monthly budget that the family needs to live on and then figuring out the capital that it would take to sustain that lifestyle over certain amount of time. Other things to be aware of that you might or  not need but that a commissioned insurance agent will show you is a waiver of premium rider which simply means that if you become disabled the insurance company will pay the premium of that policy. My take on this benefit is if you already have disability insurance through work or on your own then this additional rider may not be as valuable to you. There are sometime accidental death and dismemberment riders which I don’t have a lot of use for because the majority of deaths are by natural causes, so you are probably throwing your money away on this one. The other favorite rider you will be a small amount of life insurance on your children. I am kind of neutral on this one as the probability of losing a child at a young age is quite low, but the cost of funerals has been quite inflationary, so you may want to give this one some consideration. That is all for today. In a future article I will talk about the upside and downside of permanent insurance and how to use life insurance for estate planning purposes.

You don’t have to spend big to train your employees

Employees also seek companies that support their growth. In a recent survey, PwC Global asked millennials what they look for in an employer. “Opportunities for career progression” was the number-one response, followed by salary and financial incentives. Excellent training and development programs ranked third on the list.

A strong workforce, combined with on-the-job education, can make training less intensive and time-consuming. It doesn’t always require formal seminars or workshops. And it responds to individual needs, which can dramatically slash costs. Here are a few ways to empower your employees to learn and share knowledge without breaking the bank.

HIRE SLOWLY AND SELECTIVELY

Venture-backed companies often use hiring sprees to scale up fast. But if you have the choice, take your time. Look for people who share your values. Watch for kind, curious, knowledgeable applicants—even if they don’t possess every hard skill on your wish list. Hire for attitude, then create internal programs to nurture talent and fill in the gaps.

For example, all our new hires answer at least 100 customer support requests during their first month on the job. We want them to understand our users intimately, what they need, how they struggle, and how we can better serve them. This hands-on training also immerses them in our culture and ensures they’re prepared for any role in the company.

ENCOURAGE IN-HOUSE MENTORSHIP

Effective collaboration can move mountains. According to research from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, organization-wide collaboration—which crosses functions, perspectives, or levels—can boost energy, creativity, and productivity, and lead to happier, less stressed, and more engaged employees. Drawing different people together also keeps knowledge out of silos.

On a tactical level, pair junior team members with more experienced staff, either on a per-project basis or for a set period each week. We call this “copiloting,” and we’ve found that it has helped employees solve problems and hone skills.

Make sure that you check in regularly with your mentors to ensure they’re not overwhelmed and can still tackle the work they love. You still need to make sure that you empower them to say no, direct people to online resources or fellow team members, and minimize unexpected disruptions.

FORMALIZE KNOWLEDGE-SHARING

In addition to off-the-cuff learning, standardized processes can increase training opportunities. For example, we hire at least 100 interns every summer—many of whom become prized employees who know our organization inside and out.

We also offer a New Grad Training Program, where employees who are just beginning their careers spend four days a week doing support tasks and one day working with a mentor. Participants receive homework and feedback as they gain practical skills. Every six months, they can re-interview for any position in the company.

No two organizations are the same, so you need to assess your training needs and look for creative ways to fulfill them. Once you step out of the traditional “training” mindset, you can begin to see new structures and systems that don’t necessarily come with hefty price tags.

SERVE INDIVIDUAL NEEDS

Instead of investing in broad, company-wide training efforts, consider a more responsive approach. Send employees to niche courses, sessions, or events. Bring in specialized consultants to work with a core team. Afterward, ask attendees to share what they’ve learned through presentations or project-specific collaborations. Offer training that serves individual needs, but reinforce and reward a culture of cross-pollination.

“Train people well enough so they can leave,” said Virgin founder Richard Branson, “treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” 

 

You Can’t Do It All or The Reason To Delegate

In my role as a leader and member of a non-profit organization I wear many hats, but I have also come to the realization that sometimes I take on too many tasks. I am not superhuman, I have some skill sets and I do some things well and others just okay. There are others on the board that possess knowledge and abilities in areas that I just don’t excel at. In recognition of this I have learned to step back and either asked them to step up and do what they do best for the good of the organization of the people we serve. Sometime they just offer to take on a project or task without me or someone on the executive requesting their expertise. In thinking about the positive effects of this kind of interaction and process it is two-fold. One it reduces the stress on the leaders of the group as it frees up some of their time to spend on other initiatives. Second it creates a feeling of trust and positivity in the group as team members are given the responsibility to take on major tasks and use their talents and skills in the areas where they excel. At a recent event our organization planned and executed that went exceedingly well, I stood at the back of room and just enjoyed the moment knowing that it was total team effort that had created magic that had unfolded before my eyes. I know as owners or executives we crave control, but we must learn to trust in the skill and talent of our team and let them make important contributions to the success of our organizations.

Keeping Your Employees Happy Isn’t Always About Higher Pay — Here Are 6 Alternatives

It often takes a small fortune to find someone who’s truly great at what they do.

Yet, many business owners make the mistake of not treating their employees right — and then they pay dearly for it.

There are many reasons why employees leave their companies. Maybe they are overworked, or maybe they can’t stand being micromanaged, or maybe they simply don’t feel challenged enough. One way or another, a valuable employee leaving incurs a tremendous cost, since then you have to spend resources on finding and training his or her replacement. So, how can you ensure that this doesn’t happen to you?

Below you’ll find six ways to show your employees your appreciation and keep them happy.

Verbal praise

fascinating experiment was conducted by Dan Ariely in an Israeli semiconductor factory. Workers were told productivity targets and then allowed to choose between a voucher for free pizza, a $30 cash bonus or a compliment from a boss in exchange for hitting their goals. Which group turned out to be most productive? The one that received a compliment as a reward!

It sounds counterintuitive, but it seems that a lot of employees prefer verbal praise over gifts and cash, which means that it should be your go-to employee recognition tactic. How often do you verbally acknowledge the great work that your employees are doing?

A lot of managers feel weird about giving compliments and avoid praising their employees, which leads to problems. Think about it: If you don’t acknowledge the good things, but tell people off for their mistakes, how does that make them feel? Employees who feel unappreciated are much more likely to leave your company than ones who feel valued and respected.

So, next time someone performs well, give them some praise. It’s even better if you acknowledge him or her in front of the entire team (remember, praise in public, scold in private!).

Non-monetary gifts

Another interesting takeaway from the previously mentioned study is that people seem to prefer non-monetary gifts over cash bonuses. Seriously, who could have guessed that employees would be more motivated by a pizza voucher than by $30, with which you could buy two pizzas?

But, it shouldn’t be so surprising. There’s plenty of research showing that cash bonuses don’t really work.

And people are indeed more motivated by gifts. A study by Swiss and German researchers revealed just that. “The researchers found that gifts were far more motivating to short-term employees than unexpected cash bonuses, effectively paying by themselves with productivity,” explains Ray Fishman in the Harvard Business Review.

So, use gifts to show your appreciation. They don’t have to be expensive. Things like pens, stationery and books make great gifts. Or, if you want to spend a little bit more, watches are still a popular choice.

It also doesn’t have to be a physical thing, either. You can always use services like Tinggly to give an experience (which allows you to gift experiences from making gelato in Italy to exploring a volcano in Hawaii). Or, you can gift someone software or digital products by giving them an AppSumo gift card (AppSumo is like a Groupon for entrepreneurs and features discounts on various tools and resources). This is especially useful when your team is remote and gifting intangible gifts is easier than shipping physical items.

Constant challenge

Have you considered that the reason an employee might be underperforming might simply be that he or she is bored?

You want smart people to work for you, right? Well, here’s the thing about smart people: They need constant intellectual stimulation. It’s great when an employee constantly breezes through the tasks that you assign to them. But, have you considered that they might be getting bored after a while?

How can you provide just the right amount of challenge? So, make sure that you set goals that are realistic but still make your team stretch a little bit. That way, you’ll prevent your employees from twiddling their thumbs, and keep them constantly engaged.

Optimal work environment

Have you ever wondered why companies like Facebook and Google spend millions upon millions of dollars on their work environment?

A shabby work environment can really be a demotivator to even the most motivated employees. Your employees probably spend at least eight hours a day in their workplace. What are they surrounded with?

An easy way to show your employees that you appreciate them is to provide a work environment that is pleasant to be in: clean, comfortable and with plenty of opportunities for recreation.

Is the office clean? Are their chairs comfortable? Do they have all the tools that they need? Are the computers up to date? Is there a kitchenette? Are there snacks? Is there a recreational area? You get the idea.

It has also been shown that employees are happier in a workplace environment over which they have some degree of control. For example, at Facebook, employees can adjust their own desks based on personal preference, and teams can use whatever workspace layout they see fit for their project. All this leads to higher work satisfaction, so don’t hesitate to give your employees more autonomy when it comes to their work environment.

Company retreats

Did you know that Buffer organizes company retreats three times a year and one year Buffer spent $111,874 on a company retreat in Sydney that hosted 26 people?

You might be wondering why a company that prides itself on being lean would spend so much money on something that is seemingly non-essential.

Well, in a company blog post entitled “Why The Buffer Team Goes on Multiple International Retreats Every Year,” Buffer co-founder and CEO Joel Gascoigne explains that, among other things, it allows them to meet each other in real life: “There’s something magical that happens when you meet in person. In a retreat setting it’s even more powerful. We have casual meals together and do activities on off days. We can learn about what makes each other tick and what our true passions are.”

Company retreats are a great way to get some work done while also relaxing, getting to know each other better and doing fun activities.

All this helps employees bond with each other and promotes a positive social environment and a company culture where people are not only coworkers, but also friends. Plus, a company doing something fun like that makes employees feel more appreciated!

Promotions

According to a study from Korn Ferrry, 63 percent of employees would prefer to get a promotion with no raise than a salary increase with no promotion.

Your employees need to feel that they have a direction and that they are advancing in their careers. Are you promoting your employees on a regular basis based on their performance?

When employees are aware that their efforts are being monitored and rewarded, they will be much more likely to go that extra mile. So, make sure that they know that there are opportunities for those who work hard and produce results.

Ask yourself, would you want to work in your company? Would you be happy with the workplace environment, social atmosphere and career opportunities? Would you feel that your efforts were recognized and your contribution appreciated?

You have to treat your employees right if you want them to stay. Make sure that they feel valued and appreciated. Then you’ll have happy employees — and happy employees are productive employees.

A Few Simple Strategies for a Complex World

Over the years I have attended workshops and read books and articles about the complexities of doing busy in our modern and fast-paced world. Every once and a while I step back and take a deep breath and ponder. Sometimes I think we just overthink and create complex models and structures on how to achieve exceptional results. In many instances business is based on human interactions. The need to resolve client issues, to improve client interactions, or to revise product offerings can be facilitated through the simple act of regular and open communication with clients. Too many businesses don’t follow a regular course of talking with their clients on a regular basis to find out how they are faring in the clients’ eyes. They also fail to simply ask what else can we do better or provide that we aren’t doing currently. People want to be consulted and they want their input to be considered. We get caught up in the latest business models and buzzwords, but in essence at the core of every business is the human element. I am not casting aside the importance of business research, I am saying that we often overlook the human element at the core of every business no matter how big or small. The communication between one or more people in a positive and meaningful way can truly be the difference between a successful business or one that fails.