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    Big Ideas from the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference

    I'm just back from the 2nd Annual Human Resource Executive Magazine's Health & Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, which was a fantastic three days of content and sharing of ideas on the most pressing and important topics in the areas of employer benefits, healthcare, and maybe the most important one - how healthier employees create better business results.

    To me, while the deep coverage and the analytical review of the various strategic decisions and then tactical execution challenges that most USA organizations are facing from the new Affordable Care Act rules and requirements, mostly due to (for an outsider like me), the almost impenetrable nature of what these new requirements actually are, were critically important to many attendees, it was the 'bigger' ideas that were presented at the event that will remain on my mind going forward.

    I was fortunate enough to help host and moderate the Conference's 'Ideas and Innovators' session, a fast-paced forum for leading thinkers in the benefits, healthcare, wellness, and modern workplace space to present (in rapid 5-minute 'Ignite' style talks), their own disruptive and new ideas that will be impacting how organizations address the crucial challenges in benefits and employee healthcare going forward.

    While all six talks presented in the 'Ideas' session were fantastic, (really you should have been there), I wanted to call attention to three of the most interesting or challenging 'Big Ideas' presented in the session, and share some links to additional resources for folks who might want to learn more and explore these ideas in greater depth.

    Dr. Zubin Damania - Dr. Damania presented a fantastic talk about his company Turntable Health, who are creating a health and wellness ecosystem focused on primary and well care. The big idea is really kind of simple - by doubling down on the investment and time spent on prevention and keeping healthy before you get sick, people and organizations will see dramatic improvements in things like hospitalizations, ER visits, and more. While the idea is simple, the execution is very novel, with Turntable being at the forefront of trying to change how we think about and deliver care in a broader sense. 

    Lindsey Pollak - Bestselling author of Getting From College to Career, and the forthcoming Becoming the Boss, Lindsey presented a compelling and actionable series of ideas on just how organizations can better engage the next generation of their workforces in health and wellness programs and activities. Drawing on research collaboration with The Hartford titled 'Gen Y Speaks', Lindsey proposed that organizations should more fully embrace the characteristics of younger workers (desire for personalization, preference for modern technology, and relatively longer 'time to financial maturity', etc.), as they design and implement benefits packages, wellness programs, and overall workplace design. As it turns out, not just Gen Y values many of these things as well!

    Brian Poger - Brian is the CEO of Benefitter, a company that focuses on helping organizations understand and and leverage the trillion (yes, that is trillion with a 'T') dollar pool of healthcare subsidies that are available. Brian's 'Big Idea' was truly challenging and provocative - that for many organizations and employees, that dropping employer-sponsored healthcare coverage altogether might be a win-win for both parties. Brian can help you do the math, but it just might turn out that for many employees at or lower than the median US income level, that dropping the coverage that you as an employer provide might be the next tool you can use to actually increase total compensation and improve access. Get in touch with Brian to learn more.

    I'd encourage you to check out the interesting work being done by Dr. Zubin, Lindsay, and Brian, as well as the other superb presenters at the Ideas and Innovators session.

    It was a really interesting and fun session with these and the other great presenters at the conference and if your job as an HR pro or leader touches how your organization delivers benefits or deploys programs meant to improve workforce health and well-being then you really should make plans to attend next year's Conference to be held in April 2015.

    Thanks to program chair Jennifer Benz and Human Resource Executive for putting on such a great event and for allowing me to play a small part. 


    Step up to a glamour job

    Spotted on the always fascinating Retronaut site this piece - 1965: "Step up from routine office work into a glamour job" that highlighted a vintage advertisement from that fine, fine institute of higher learning, LaSalle Extension University on the amazing potential career opportunities that awaited those willing and able to learn how to use a wondrous new technology - the Stenotype Machine.

    With the Stenotype Machine, and the skills required to translate every spoken word in the English language into a series of 22 weird characters, the ad promises that career minded folks, (and let's be honest here, LaSalle University is aiming this add only towards women), would soon be able to "Sit beside top corporation exectutives at board meetings and big conferences" and "Even cover conventions and courtroom trials!"

    The irony about this old ad, pushing the benefits of a new machine that would help someone learn the skill of being able to listen to a conversation or a presentation in real time, and translate the essence or the most important elements of what was being said into a new, concise, constrained, and kind of hard to figure out initially type of language, and do all of that instantly, is that it sounds almost exactly like what I, and lots of other people are doing, when they try and 'live tweet' conferences or events.

    But unlike the Stenotype operator that had to capture all of what was being said, the live tweeters only try to grab the most compelling bits of information - those highly tweetable phrases and comments that are meant to reflect the overall content and point of view of the presentation or event, but ultimately fail at doing both, primarily because we simply can't type as fast as the 1965 Stenotype machine operator, and second, because our constraints (140 characters, mainly), only allow for the simplest sound bites to be shared.

    But even with all that, there are some remarkable similarities to the pitch back in 1965 for Stenotype operators, "Sit next to big, important people and write down what they say!" and today's live tweeter, a kind of social media created spectator. Just like LaSalle Extension University (Did they have a football team? Go Extenders!), tried to convince women back then that sitting near powerful people was something worthy to aspire towards, I think for lots of folks that are sitting in audiences and trying to capture and crystallize what presenters are saying is the modern equivalent of a kind of reflected importance.

    Look, I am not knocking the idea of tweeting from conferences or during some kind of popular media, news, or cultural events. I do it myself. It is kind of fun. Sometimes you actually have something insightful to add to the conversation. Sometimes.

    But mostly or at least often it is just 'sitting next to important people and writing down what they say.'

    The 1965 version of that doesn't look like all that much fun as we look back. I bet one day we will look back at the 2014 version and say much the same thing.


    The new rites of passage

    Dads and sons have always had some kind of rite of passage, when the son proved that he was ready to be more of an equal, more of a grown-up. The old rites of passage for little boys used to be mostly physical, i.e. the son would finally defeat the Dad in one-on-one basketball or in an arm wrestling contest. Now it seems more and more that these rites of passage, or at least these more casual acknowledgements of a son or daughter moving up closer towards adulthood involve technology. Now these rites are likely to have as much to do with a parent, (like me, for example), breaking down and having to ask my son to explain how to adjust and align the apps on my new iPhone.

    And it doesn't stop with the iPhone - I have asked my middle schooler to help me with sound editing the podcast and music files on the HR Happy Hour Show, to use photoshop to fix some images I needed for a presentation, and even as my 'one-kid-focus-group' in my totally unscientific attempts to think about where technology might be heading and what kinds of tools and interfaces the next generation of workers might prefer. These, at least to me, are pretty serious, and kind of important things.

    But when I look back, just one generation, I can't imagine a time when my dad would have asked a 13-year-old me to explain anything important or help him with anything that really mattered in his professional life. 

    I helped by cutting the grass, shoveling snow, and performing various and sundry menial labor kinds of tasks that certainly helped my Dad out, but were not really meaningful or important in the larger sense. Sure, you can go on about teaching kids the value of hard work, of the value of dignity in that kind of work, and I get that. But it's just that I for one never have looked longingly back at my childhood and thought, 'Man it was great training for life, all that grass cutting and weed pulling I did back then.'

    I thought about this last week when the area where I live was hit with about one foot of wind-driven snow.

    Snow drifts the next morning were up to 3 or 4 feet in places, (including much of my driveway), and I had to spend a few hours digging out. My son was out of town on a school trip (Convenient!), so was not available to enlist in forced labor be taught the lessons and values of hard work.

    The entire time I was working on clearing the driveway I noticed exactly zero other kids out and about in what is normally a busy neighborhood. No kids shoveling their own driveways or walks, no kids or teenagers working the neighborhood with their shovels trying to earn a few dollars by helping residents dig out, no kids even outside playing in the fresh foot of snow.

    Back in the day an enterprising kid or teenager could have and would have tried to earn $50 or even $100 if he/she busted it all day with a shovel. But those days are long gone, I think.

    Today I bet all the enterprising kids and teens decided to stay inside on that snowy day - making their videos, learning to code, building apps, working on the next generation of amazing stuff that we will have to ask their help with in learning how to use one day.

    Have a great week!


    Ask this question first

    Winding down to the end of a long, and extremely snowy week here (Thanks Vulcan!), with a quick shot and sort of a companion to the first post of the week, 'The trouble with deadlines.'

    In the 'Deadlines' post, I submitted that when attempting to negotiate the completion of some task, the key information wasn't (just) how long the given task would take to complete, but rather how motivated your co-worker, colleague, supplier - whichever was about even starting, much less completing said task.

    So today I'm giving you the opposite side of the equation - most of us, no matter what kind of role we are in, are facing a barrage of 'asks'.

    Can you do this?

    Would you review this?

    I emailed you last week about this, have not heard back, so I am passive-aggressively forwarding the same email I already sent so you can see how serious I am in my desire to get an answer.

    What's the status of that?

    Did you speak to Molly about that?

    And on and on.

    Once your job starts to get a little complex, requires just a touch of individual judgment or discretion in not just how but in what order you attack the large list of 'asks' that keep coming, it can get really, really tough for some people, (Note: I am sometimes one of these people), to make those very critical to your success decisions about prioritizing and time management.

    So while it is so easy (and sometimes compelling) to turn towards the endless 'To-do list' each day, I think it makes more sense, or at least helps to offer some clarity and context, to ask yourself this one question each day, (or at least at the beginning of each week), before you take on anything, apply any 'productivity' system, or otherwise start the process of meeting other people's demands.

    Here's the question:

    What is the most important way to spend my time and effort?

    Asking this question, and taking just a half-step back from the 'list', where you'd be asking yourself a question like 'What task should I attack first?' is a way to remind yourself just what is it you are meant to be doing, what overarching goals are you working towards, and how your active decisions about time and task management will or will not contribute to those goals.

    And if a big part of what you are working towards are personal goals, then re-setting with that one question will naturally or at least usually force a re-alignment of the To-do list away from prioritizing the tasks that are mostly about other people's goals and guide you to keep your eye (and time and energy), on the things that matter to what you are trying to get done.

    I am not saying that you or me or anyone else should not be a team player, far from it, working on the team and contributing in a team setting might be extremely important to you and thus the 'asks' that come from this team context should fit the model of focusing your time in the most important manner.

    But it is also really easy to have these kinds 'Other people's most important things' asks to show up in your Inbox masquerading as 'Team' asks.

    And I think it is important to recognize that, and understand what the difference means to you, your career, and your success, and your happiness.

    Have a great weekend!


    How much does industry specific experience matter?

    Lifted from a comment left on Tuesday's 'Chocolate Foresight Activator' post was this question from commenter Stew, who wondered about my conclusion/observation that since Hershey didn't mention the word 'chocolate' at all in the job posting for this 'Chocolate Futurist' role, that maybe what they really wanted was the best marketer/planner/designer/strategist they could find, even if he/she didn't know much or even care about chocolate:

    This job scares me a little as it sounds more like the "Phillip Morris's" style job..

    i.e. you don't have to care about smoking - just love marketing.

    If you look at "Whittakers Chocolate" they would argue you should have a passion for the chocolate......and the marketing will follow.

    Another way of raising the classic question about industry specific experience, and its relative importance as a predictor of success in most types of support functions or back office roles.

    Or said differently, do you really need to have had 5 years experience as a chocolate company marketer, in order to qualify for a job as a marketing manager for say a jelly bean manufacturer?

    Or does someone's marketing functional experience generally translate across industries, making the fundamental or core marketing skills like demand generation, content creation, sales enablement, etc. the real prerequisites for success in most any marketing job?

    After all, a bright enough and motivated enough person can learn just about anything, (leaving aside for obvious reasons those highly skilled and really critical you don't mess up kinds of jobs like airline pilot, brain surgeon, point guard), so in the above example if an organization had a choice between a great marketer than did not know the candy business or a candy expert that did not know much about marketing, then which way should they go?

    But since no one has time, budget, resources to do much on the job training, we usually try to land candidates that meet both criteria - functional expertise and industry experience.

    We want candidates to show not only can they do the job, but that they can do the job here.

    I wonder how much of the 'skills gap' isn't masquerading as a 'industry experience gap?'

    What say you, how much, for roles that are generally pretty transferable from one domain to another, does specifc industry experience matter for a candidate?