An employer–service provider relationship during implementation is not so different from a marriage. It requires effort on both sides and, sometimes, needs the intervention of a third party — a “marriage counselor” — when things get off track. We offer these tips for employers and service providers to help ensure the best-possible outcome when implementing new technology (and to avoid hiring expert consultants, such as Gruppo Marcucci, to put on the hat of a marriage counselor to help save the relationship and ensure a successful implementation).
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What to do to avoid hiring me
Posted on 05/06/2019
Our team of consultants wear many hats, including the hat of a strategist, personal shopping assistant, researcher, risk assessor, overseer, optimizer and many more. I confess, however, there is one that I wish we didn’t have to wear and that’s the marriage counselor hat.
When we wear this hat, it’s often because the implementation of a new HR and benefit technology platform has gone off the rails and the employer and service provider are both looking to the other to assign blame and/or to fix the resulting mess. That’s about the time we hear from a benefit advisor, looking for a third party that understands the complexities of the implementation process, the importance of change management, the roles of the various stakeholders and, especially, the dos and don’ts for a successful software implementation.
While it’s easy to tell people what not to do, we are optimists and therefore this article focuses only on what you, Ms. Employer, and you, Mr. Service Provider, can do to support a best possible implementation outcome. We also offer a few thoughts for the benefit advisors who call us.
DO your homework. It all starts with the RFP. You must thoroughly understand your requirements (and their complexity) before you can assess and select a best-fit provider. Focus on real needs and understand how technology can address those needs and avoid the distraction of bright shiny balls.
DO know what you’re really buying. You’re buying much more than just technology. You’re also buying integration, security, change, culture, innovation and more. Be smart about it.
DO commit sufficient resources. Implementation is not a little side task to add to someone’s already full plate. Hire a contract worker or a consultant to manage implementation or to pick up the workload of a current employee assigned to the task. Calendar the entire process, committing time for testing, troubleshooting and other activities beyond just meetings.
DO secure executive-level support. This may be critical to getting the necessary resources or support if/when the unexpected happens. Related, embrace change management (and make sure the C-suite is on board). New technology means new ways of doing things — likely new processes, policies, staff responsibilities/structures and more. If there’s no C-suite support for all this, you might as well keep your old technology or paper process.
DO pull together the right team. Make sure all stakeholders are at the table from the beginning, including those who will be impacted downstream.
DO have your data in order. Know where it will come from and ensure that it’s clean. The “garbage in, garbage out” analogy applies here.
DO define what “success” (and failure) looks like. This is critical to managing the relationship with your provider and, potentially, responding to executive-level concerns. “Success” may be as simple as employee benefit ID cards go out on time. “Failure” could be the payroll file doesn’t work and employees don’t have deductions taken out of their paycheck. This will help put the inevitable minor issues into perspective.
DO have an escalation procedure in place with the provider. Make sure this happens before the project begins, which will allow providers to address problems quickly and efficiently.
DO raise your hand. If a couple weeks into the implementation something feels off, discuss it with the provider. The implementation team may not be a good cultural fit or priorities not aligned. Be reasonable, but if you really feel something is wrong…it probably is.
DO facilitate third-party resources. Connect the provider to any third-parties related to implementation, e.g., carriers or other tech providers, to help them build relationships critical to a successful outcome.
DO leave your baggage at home. If you’ve changed providers (or even provider teams), focus on the current situation and needs and what the current team can deliver to respond to those needs.
DO understand that the provider is not going to do all the work. Implementations don’t just magically happen. View the implementation process as a partnership that requires an investment of time and attention.
Service Provider DOs
DO facilitate a strong hand-off from the sales to the implementation team. Make sure the implementation team has read the RFP and connected with the sales team in advance of a client meeting to ask questions, clarify, get insights, etc., to help establish a confident client relationship.
DO invest in a face-to-face client meeting. This may not be needed on-going, but early in the process it can go a long way to building a productive partnership.
DO come to the kick-off meeting organized. Have a prepared agenda and adhere to it. Plan for supporting technology, as needed (think screen shares), if you’re not in the same room.
DO allow enough staff capacity. An overcommitted implementation team almost always spells trouble, usually beginning with communications, spiraling to problems that can be expensive to correct.
DO prepare a timeline. Identify key milestones, the role of the client and the impact of getting off schedule. Help clients understand the impact on the project if they fail to deliver on their commitments on schedule. Stay organized throughout the process to identify issues when they are easy to correct.
DO discuss an escalation path (on both sides). Also discuss assumptions and expectations around escalating work, i.e., what constitutes an escalation-worthy situation.
The role of the benefit advisor. The role of the benefit advisor in implementations varies, including no role at all. In most cases, advisors are not paid for their involvement, creating the potential for mis-aligned expectations with the client, who may be unaware that the advisor’s expertise may not extend to implementation, and of the liability/risk associated with a broker’s non-contractual involvement.
Our advice to benefit advisers is to limit non-contractual participation to ensuring the provider and the employer have a clear understanding of each other’s roles and have established lines of communication. The initial kick-off meeting typically is a good opportunity to do this and to wind down their involvement in the project.
Beyond this, if any of the parties (employer, technology service provider or benefit advisor) identifies concerns that can’t be resolved within the group, DO call us if you would like to discuss how our independent expertise can help deliver implementation success. If each party adheres closely to the list of DOs outlined here, however, it’s unlikely outside assistance will be needed. That is OK with us. While the marriage counseling hat is one we hope not to wear too often, it is a comfortable fit for us and has been well-broken in over our 20 years of industry consulting.
Gruppo Marcucci (GPM), a division of Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc., provides outsourcing intelligence and associated consulting to stakeholders in the Benefits and HR Technology & Outsourcing industry. Our in-depth understanding of the service provider market and our vast experience sourcing and implementing solutions is key to our clients achieving full operational success.
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