Bending the Health Care Cost Curve. Making Sure Your Plan Can Succeed


By DrScott – Posted on February 13, 2014 on

Final Blog in the How to Switch On Your Employees Series

Engaging and activating employees to become more proactive in screening for and managing medical conditions when an employee “Feels Fine” is a challenge confronting every employer. Many companies are figuring out how, resulting in lower costs and healthier employees.

The authors Dan and Chip Heath, in the book Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard, point to key variables in any change management effort. Using the simile of a rider guiding an elephant down a path to your destination, they share three areas vital to success. Here are the key variables:

1. Directing the Rider. The culture and beliefs of a company are vital in identifying what will lead to successful change management. Start by:

  • Identifying successful efforts in the past and understanding why they worked;
  • Scripting the critical, necessary moves – like moving to outcomes based benefit design; and,
  • Pointing to the destination – moving from providing insurance to providing a culture that supports proactive early intervention and saves lives to insure every employee is there for their co-workers, family, and friends.

Mistakes often made by employers in directing the rider include: Failing to get C-suite support; not appreciating the politics and informal power structure within a culture; not making the key moves clear; not communicating clearly and repetitively; and failing to articulate the goal in a way that employees can appreciate and will understand the relevance to their whole life, not just their time at work.

2. Motivating the Elephant. Rational understanding of what to do and why is only one aspect of successful change. Elephants are large, have momentum, and don’t like to change from the well-known, understood, and worn path. Turning an elephant requires:

  • Appealing to the “heart” to touch, move and inspire action. “I have a dream” and “We choose to go to the moon,” united and solidified a change far more than, “here are the three things to be done and why we are going to do them.” Share inspirational moments along the journey so employees appreciate the difference being made by this change.
  • Create baby steps. Trying to bite off too much too quickly will choke the process. We all know the joke, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
  • The importance of a learner’s mindset, being open to growth and change, is so obvious it goes without saying. However, making this as a theme of the change effort is often overlooked. To embrace a new way of thinking about proactive health requires a shift in mindset from, “providing insurance” to “insuring that we are doing what we know to do to empower employees to be healthy and productive at work and at home.”

This is an area of health benefit change that will need significant attention in most companies. As opposed to directing the employees (telling them what to do), motivating the employees requires the HR team to lean heavily on their EQ (emotional), SQ (social), CQ (cultural) quotients as opposed to only the IQ.

3. Shaping the Path. Employees are busy. Having to stop and figure out aspects of their life, like health benefits, which are not central to everyday success at work and home slows the development of “muscle memory”.  Answering the question, “How do I get employees to ‘do the right thing’ to utilize their benefits to the fullest”, without them having to “figure it out” every time is the challenge being addressed.

  • The environment must support the change, making it easier to do what you want them to rather than going back to their old ways. Healthy on-site cafés; on site, near site, or mobile clinics; starting every shift with injury preventing stretching or activity; and on site activity centers will all change the environment and have been implemented (in the right situation) with success.
  • Building new habits such as “contact your Health Pro” for any benefit related question simplifies and allows employees to confront new challenges in a “just in time” fashion with the development of one simple new habit.
  • Elephants (and employees) travel in packs. Behavior is contagious and reaching the “tipping point” where embracing the change you are advocating in the company goes from, “you did what?” to “of course, that is what we all do” does not happen overnight, but will occur.

As I wrote this blog, I received an email from a human resources director at a rural production facility:

“Hi all. I just wanted to let you know that one of our employees had one of his age and gender screenings due to the new benefit plan. An issue was found at an early stage and he will be having surgery to correct it and is expected to be 100%. He told me that if it hadn’t been for our new health plan he never would have gotten the screening and in about a year would have been in a much worse state. So, thank you for the new health plans.”

This is a recurrent theme. Plans that encourage and support effective change make a difference. If you enjoyed this blog series, I encourage you to read Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard. This blog only begins to scratch the surface of this revealing, well done book. The research and stories shared from Vietnam to radishes (and many others), in Switch provide more examples of how to navigate change successfully and will both entertain and motivate your team.

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