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September 2008

Break Out Your Slide Rules!! The Hewitt Annual Health Care Cost Survey is Out...

I always celebrate the Hewitt Annual Health Care Cost Survey by going down to Circuit City to buy a new pocket protector.  Seems like no one is around to help me these days, but if someone is available, they haven't worked there long.  Go figure...

I jest, but the Hewitt Annual Health Care Cost Survey (I'm calling it the HAHCCS for short.. kinda likeSimpsons_doctor TPS reports) is always chock full of benchmarks that matter.  How much healthcare costs, what companies are paying on average on behalf of their employees, how much the same level of coverage is expected to increase in the next year, etc.    Good stuff, good times. 

We'll get the party started with the data below from Hewitt, who's putting the annual trend (that's increases for you who don't talk to brokers) at 6% for 2008, and projected much of the same for 2009 at 6.4%.  On the employee side, employee contributions (what employees pay out of their paycheck) increased from 2007 to 2008 by just under 10%, showing on average some cost shifting to employees.

It's a sick world when a 6% cost increase feels good, but all you have to do is look at the chart below, and see the period from 2001 to 2004 to understand why most of us will take 6%.

Couple of notes - all data below is from Hewitt, click here for the full summary.  National cost per employee indicates what the total cost is for the company based on the average number of covered participants for each employee (including the employee themselves), which I would estimate nationally in the 2.1 to 2.2 range.

Total Plan Costs


National – Percentage Increase

National – Cost Per Employee


6.4 percent



6.0 percent



5.3 percent



7.9 percent



9.2 percent



12.3 percent



14.7 percent



15.2 percent



10.2 percent



*Costs are plan costs (premium or budget rate) on a per employee basis. It includes employee contribution, but not their co-pays.

Average Employee Contribution for Coverage

According to Hewitt data, the average employee contribution in 2008 was $1,806, representing 22 percent of the overall health care premium and up from $1,645 in 2007. Employees’ contributions have more than doubled since 2002.


National                             Average Employee Cost



















*This represents the employee contribution to the overall health plan premium and does not represent out-of-pocket costs (i.e. co-payments, co-insurance).

So, compare and contrast, my friends, and sleep tight knowing you are doing what you can to keep coverage affordable for your employees.  Even if it means taking tough medicine like mandatory mail order, etc.   Sometimes you have to roll like that, to keep the benefit levels for all, where they are...

Being a Jerk at Work - Worth An Extra Lawsuit or Two?

You've undoubtedly known plenty of jerks at work.  Think about your multiple encounters with that type of person you've had over your career.  When mixing it up with a jerk in the workplace, you go through a normal cycle - you get mad, then pledge to stick it to them when you get the chance, then you cool down and resort to being the person you are - a logical professional who understands you are a bigger person than the jerk in question.

So you don't stick it to the jerk.  That probably reinforces the jerk's behavior, but you're a biggerZell3 person.  That's good.

Jerks are lucky that way.  Sometimes, though, the jerk keeps pushing and develops such a personal brand for being an outlandish cretin that someone gets fed up, channels Howard Beale from Network, and trys to stick it to the jerk.

Being an uber-jerk can cost you an extra lawsuit or two.

Case in point - Sam Zell.  Sam, your employees that you've been bullying are mad as hell and apparently ready to try to bring you down.  The rundown from the Wall Street Journal:

"One current and five former Tribune Co. employees accused the company and Chief Executive Sam Zell in a lawsuit Tuesday of mismanaging the newspaper-and-television concern, the latest sign of worker protest against Mr. Zell's oversight.

The lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles federal court, alleges Tribune and Mr. Zell have failed to uphold their fiduciary duty to the company's employee stock-ownership plan, Tribune's majority owner. The lawsuit also claims Mr. Zell and other Tribune officials have improperly raided worker pension funds.

"Zell and his accessories threaten to destroy the Tribune Company and its assets," the lawsuit says. "They are doing so illegally, without consideration for the employee-owners."

In December, Mr. Zell led an $8.2 billion buyout with an unusual twist: The stock plan, known as an ESOP, became the majority owner, while Mr. Zell invested about $315 million in exchange for a promissory note and warrants to buy 40% of the company. The deal weighed down Tribune with nearly $13 billion in debt, but the ESOP structure allowed Tribune to avoid most federal income taxes.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, encapsulates months of employee frustration about Mr. Zell and the buyout deal. As deteriorating newspaper advertising and the deal's debt weigh on Tribune, Mr. Zell has slashed employee rolls and pared news pages at company papers. He has invested in other areas of the company, including Tribune's local television stations."

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out, and also to see if the move emboldens others to lash out at Zell for what they consider to be a culture of intimidation and bullying. 

SuccessFactors - You're Hardcore, But I Love You Anyway...

Is it a layoff?  Or a purging of the untalented, unmotivated and/or those with a poor fit for their role?

If you're a fan of performance management and wish you could do more in your company to drive aHardcore performance culture, you've got to love SuccessFactors.  They produce on-demand software that allows you to have a dashboard of what's going on in your shop, regarding performance management.  Beyond simply tracking due dates, the solution allows you to see cascading goals, see the rating distribution across the enterprise, and throws a little succession planning flavor your way as well. 

There are lots of reasons to love SuccessFactors and others who provide similar stuff, including Taleo, Halogen Software and hopefully in a little bit, the TalentedApps team at Oracle.

Here's another reason to love SuccessFactors.  They apparently eat the dog food they make.  They may even drink the Kool-Aid.  From Ed Frauenheim at Workforce's Global Work Watch:

"SuccessFactors lowered its headcount from 736 at the end of 2007 to 694 at the end of March. The drop was a bit puzzling, because SuccessFactors has been one of the fastest-growing software firms around, selling tools that help manage employee performance reviews and other human resources tasks. Revenue nearly doubled last year, to $63.4 million.

The headcount issue prompted a question by a financial analyst during an earnings call earlier this year. SuccessFactors founder and chief executive Lars Dalgaard explained the situation as axing employees who didn’t belong.

“So we hired a lot of people in [the first quarter], but we just fired more,” Dalgaard said on the call. “We’ve been on a very aggressive hiring spree for a long time, and we’ve used our own products to find out the people that weren’t going to be part of the future.”

When I asked a company spokesman about the headcount change, he offered this explanation: “We get rid of low performers and/or cut our losses if some initiative is not working out, and that’s what happened.”

Pressed once more on the topic, the company said this in a statement: “The headcount reduction was not a layoff. We eliminated low performers and we eliminated a group associated with a vertical focused area that did not produce results (we will not provide specific, further info). “This is consistent with our pay for performance philosophy and aggressively managing our business for performance.”

If you read Ed's whole piece, he's locked in on the fact that it's a layoff.  To Ed's point, if the reduction is actually a layoff, SuccessFactors may have some issues here.

Work with me on this one.  Let's say for the sake of argument that SF hired no one during the three month period, which would mean they termed 42 people for the quarter in question.  If you went to the turnover report and the coding showed "Involuntarily Term - Poor Performance", then what SF is saying is true.  And that means the reduction was driven by them using their own solution, which is cool.

However, since a poorly performing department is cited as part of the numbers, some red flags go up.  Let's say they shuttered a department of 30 in these numbers.  If that's the case, they just splattered all who were impacted by that with the specter of being a bad performer.  That's bad form, and from a practical standpoint, not true.  In any universe with 30 people (my example), you'll have good, bad and average performers as part of the mix.

The truth is in the numbers.  If the shuttered department only accounts for 10% or so of those termed in the quarter, then the company is drinking the Kool-Aid.  If it accounts for a sizable chunk of those termed, it's classically inaccurate to throw the specter of performance on everyone in the department. 

Still, I love the fact that SuccessFactors would try to spin the headcount reduction as their culture being hardcore for performance management.  That means they're passionate about the space, even if they're being a little reckless in sharing performance data on those impacted.

Welcome to the wonderful world of being publicly traded, SuccessFactors! 

Culture Dead? Start a "Skunkworks" to Leapfrog the Lameness In Your Culture...

Let's say you've got a buttoned up firm where avoiding risk is part of the DNA.  Or you've got a subset of employees that has a great business idea, but the folks who have to approve it are worried about getting the splatter of failure on themselves or the company brand.

What do you do if you have a great idea but you can't get the company to take any type of risk?Skunkworks_logo

How about starting a company within a company?  I used to hear this called a "skunkworks".  Here's a rundown of a recent "company inside the company" project at PR firm Porter Novelli, complete with separate branding, via the New York Times:

"Porter Novelli, a leading public relations agency, is popping up on the list with a short-term, pop-up agency inside its halls, staffed by younger employees who have spent the summer creating campaigns for clients with fledgling businesses to promote.

The entrepreneurial pop-up is named Jack & Bill, after Jack Porter and Bill Novelli, who joined forces in 1972 to found Porter Novelli, an agency now owned by the Omnicom Group with 100 offices in 60 countries.

Eight Porter Novelli account supervisors and account executives — average age, 26 — have been running Jack & Bill on behalf of five clients that are receiving free services.  “We have an agency filled with millennials, with a need to feel empowered,” said Lisa Rosenberg, partner and managing director of the Porter Novelli New York office, referring to the demographic group, also known as Generation Y, born between 1982 and 1994.

“This was an idea they were tremendously excited about,” she added. “And as a senior manager here, it’s exciting to see the strength of our young people.”  One goal of Jack & Bill is “showcasing our digital-media expertise,” Ms. Rosenberg said, services “that we may not always get to do for bigger clients.”  So Jack & Bill has a microsite, or special Web site; a blog; and a channel on YouTube. The pop-up agency also has presences on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter."

The "company within a company" is a pretty cool approach to energize a segment of the troops, and I especially like it for some high-potential types as an investment in their careers.  It's also a great way to say "it's OK to innovate here" when all the other indicators say otherwise.

Don't think your firm will support a skunkworks?  That's OK, maybe you need to get entrepreneurial and do something on your own.  I started the HR Capitalist and FOT as skunkworks of sorts, and I'm a much sharper, more engaged professional as a result.  Do something on your own and maybe you'll end up doing exactly what you want to do with a portfolio career.

Famous skunkwork projects within companies - the first Apple Macintosh, the U-2 spy plane and the Motorola Razr phone, to name a few.

Go - get your skunkworks on.. 4 hours a week, get all the normal work done, ask for permission later...

Blackberries in the Bedroom - You've Lost That Loving Feeling...

It's official.  You're addicted and need to find a methodone clinic somewhere nearby.  Sheraton Hotels recently commissioned a study conducted by Studylogic, who surveyed 6500 workplace professionals via phone with an individual income of $50K+, 2+ business trips per year and a Blackberry or mobile email device. Five countries were surveyed, including the U.S. (1,500 respondents), China, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany.

It's notable because it shows just how far you have fallen, my friend.  Me?  I'm judging you right now,Blackberryrehabaddiction  not the other way around, so let's focus on YOU.

From the Sheraton study:

Most Folks Bring PDAs into the Bedroom; 35% Pick their PDA Over their Spouse

Just how technology-addicted is our society? A whopping 87% of professionals bring their PDA into the bedroom and, in a potentially related finding, more than one-third of folks surveyed (35%) say if forced to choose, theyd pick their PDA over their spouse! The vast majority of people (84%) also say they check their PDAs just before going to bed and as soon as they wake up, 85% say they sneak a peak at their PDA in the middle of the night and 80% say they check their email before morning coffee.

The Majority Love their PDA; Say New Technology Means More Time with Family

The Sheraton survey also revealed that, although were working harder and new technology means were never truly off the clock, it also enables us to spend more time away from the office and with family and friends. The days of being chained to a desk are over: 85% say that PDAs and cell phones allow them to spend more time out of the office and 79% feel they can be just as productive outside of the office as opposed to inside. Most people feel that technology gives them more quality time and flexibility with family and friends (84%), 77% say their PDA helps them enjoy life more and 62% love their PDA.

New Tech Makes Business Travel Seamless and Easier to Stay Connected to Home

Sheraton commissioned the work-life study to launch a new signature offering: Link@Sheraton experienced with Microsoft, a unique lobby lounge that enables guests to stay connected, work and socialize through free Wi-Fi and Internet-enabled computer stations, video-chats, televisions and daily newspapers. The vast majority of professionals surveyed (88%) say new technology makes business travel easier or more seamless and 85% say new technology helps them stay better connected to family and friends when traveling on business.

Ok, now we can talk about me.  The blackberry is and will be in the bedroom, but only if we're watching TV for an hour before getting some shut-eye.  On a serious note, the fact that the blackberry makes it easier to get to our kids' games, recitals, or whatever you feel is important is worth the intrusion.  Except for that "picking your PDA over your spouse stuff" in the study.

Of course, we want our spouse and the blackberry!  Why choose?

Hey Big Picture Boss - Can We Get Some Help Digging This Hole?

I've had a great career so far.  Learned lots and had lots of good mentors (including some incredible female bosses who kicked *** and took names).  My career has basically been spent in two places - in the field HR operations of Fortune 500 companies and in smaller, venture capital held firms.

One thing I recently paused to consider was the difference between leadership and management.  MyLumbergh1_2 experience has been that most folks have to try and be managers and leaders in smaller companies, because it's an all-hands on deck type of groove.  However, as the employee count in any operational unit of a Fortune 500 clicks past the 2000 FTE mark, there's an opportunity for folks to stop managing at the top and start leading. 

That's good, right?  Hold on there cowboy, maybe not.  From the always reliable Bob Sutton at Work Matters:

"As I have been reading these writings and research again, I have been bumping into an old and popular distinction that has always bugged me: leading versus managing. The brilliant and charming Warren Bennis has likely done more to popularize this distinction. He wrote in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader that  "There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial". And in one his most famous lines, he added,  "Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing."

As I have been reading the leadership literature again, it is becoming more clear to me that -- although I think this distinction is more or less correct, and is useful to a degree (one emphasizes the focusing on the bigger picture and the other on the details of implementation), I also think that it has unintended negative effects on how some leaders view and do their work.  Some leaders see their job as just coming up with big and vague ideas, and treat engaging in conversation about the details of those ideas or the details of implementation as mere management work that is "beneath" them, as things for "the little people to do." 

Moreover, this distinction also seems to be used a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the technologies their companies use and the people that they lead and to make decisions without considering the roadblocks and constraints that affect the cost and time line, and even if it is possible to implement their grand decisions and big ideas."

Interesting notes on the differences between leading and managing.  Another big key is understanding how leadership fits into growing those who report to you.  Let's say you come up the ranks and are now leading a department of significant size.  The first instinct many have when they first arrive in a leadership role is to be controlling and fail to delegate.

However, over time some may get used to the aspect of "leading" and to Bob's point above, lose sight of staying fluent/current in the technology and functional expertise that allowed them to ascend in the first place?

A true leader in my book is one who's secure enough to craft vision, then grow people by delegating and coaching on a daily basis.  Just as important, the true leader stays current in his/her craft, and even takes a chunk of the work of the unit or department and reports back on progress to those they manage in other areas.  Just to show them they're a player...

The leader that crafts the vision AND sports the skills, in addition to delegating, is the leader voted most likely to inspire confidence in your department/unit.

Could you be that type of leader?  Could Bill Lumburgh?   

Microsoft Focuses on Apple Stereotyping, Hopefully Fires Seinfeld...

A couple of weeks ago, I riffed over at Fistful of Talent about the new Microsoft ad campaign, designed to finally respond to the "I'm a Mac" ads that Apple has been using pretty effectively over the past year to BEAT MICROSOFT OVER THE HEAD and brand them as tragically uncool.

Microsoft needs a response to those ads.  Sure they need them for the marketplace, but they need aMacpcvista response just as importantly for another very important group - their employees.  For that matter, they need them to recruit more effectively.  It's Employment Brand 101, and whether it's your employees or prospects/candidates looking at your company, you're battling for mindshare and the ability to recruit, retain, and maximize the pride people have about where they work.

From Fistful of Talent:

"What my Microsoft sensibilities could use right now is a branding campaign that elevates Microsoft (or even a single division) to the level of the Mac/PC commercials.  I'm sure that would help with the employment branding efforts and morale in Redmond as well.

I thought Microsoft had a nice start with the "Hey Genius!"campaign, but I ultimately found that the advertising was really focused at the campus recruiting crowd.  So I sat and waited, until Microsoft finally announced they were going to spice up their advertising mix with Jerry Seinfeld.

Jerry Seinfeld?  Really?  Can Kramer and George Costanza come along for the ride?  After all, Microsoft is attempting to even the playing field with the Mac/PC spots, not a Hardee's commercial." 

Jump over to FOT if you want to see the first Microsoft spot with Seinfeld.  It's awful.

Fortunately, Microsoft rebounded quickly with a new ad campaign.  This one is less focused on star power, and starts with a take-off on the PC guy saying "I'm a PC, and I've been stereotyped."  It then proceeds to work through about 15-20 regular folks, plus a couple famous faces, from diverse backgrounds doing cool things with their careers, all saying, "I'm a PC", then adding what it is that makes them unique.

It's a big rebound for Microsoft.  If I'm a Microsoft employee in Redmond, I'm proud of these ads and where I work.  If I'm a candidate, the ads make me want to work there.

Mission accomplished from an employment branding standpoint, Microsoft.  Now keep it up, and don't forget to look up Will Ferrell and insert him subtly into these ads for some humor.  (email subscribers click through to see one of the new ads below).

You Talk Too Much, Homeboy You Never Shut Up...

So I'm filling a spot last week in our organization, white collar position (that's as deep as I'll go to protect the guilty and innocent), fun one to work because I get to talk to a lot of cool people who have done some groovy stuff in their careers.

Here's how the funnel went:

-Sourced 37 names that fit the profile within the state I was targeting...Talktoomuch1

-Shared the raw background of the 37 with the hiring manager by grouping them into 5 profiles so it wasn't overwhelming.

-Hiring manager likes 11 candidates from 4 profiles..

-I go into sales mode, smiling and dialing, and emailing.  Pump it up time ("I've got a great opportunity"...).  Remember how fortunate I am to work for a cool company, because everyone's interested...

-Phone interview 11 candidates, knock it down to the best 4 to present to the hiring manager and set up phone screens with the candidates and hiring manager.

-Hiring manager likes 2 the best, so we swiftly go into face to face interview mode.

-Candidate #1 is up, and blows the whole deal by domineering 95% of the air time in the interview.  Hiring manager calls me and says she's out.  "She can do the job", the hiring manager said, "but I don't think I would enjoy the association, because I think we would have a high maintenance type of employee."

So, there you have it.  Lots of good candidates, and this person wants the job, made it from 37 to 2, then promptly walks in to the interview and NEVER STOPS TALKING, with 5 minute rolling answers to each question.

To be sure, the candidate should talk more than the hiring manager in an interview.  However, the more white collar the position, the more you want the conversation vibe in the interview.  Good flow back and forth is key.  If you're a candidate reading this, give great detail to answer the question, but break around the 90-120 second mark to allow the interviewer to agree/disagree, or change the direction of the question and ask for further detail.  Don't worry, you'll still get your stuff in...

If you can do that, the interview will feel like a conversation, and the hiring manager's going to look at you like a colleague.  If you do nothing but talk and give big 5-minute answers, you've got no shot, especially if the targeted job is white collar and professional in nature. 

Or as the bards know as Run-DMC once said:

"Your mouth is big, size extra large..
and when you open it, it's like my Gaaaarage..."

Is that a haiku?  Probably not....  Seriously, STOP TALKING.  Take a breath once in a awhile, dude... 

And stop messing up my perfect search.  I want you to have the job!

Help Wanted - Witty and Sometimes Jaded Benefits/Wellness Professionals Who Want to Blog Weekly....

HELP WANTED - (4 Positions Available)

Progressive blogging organization is looking for witty and sometimes jaded professionals, in the Benefits/Wellness sector, to blog on a weekly basis, about their life as part of the machine.  New blog, as yet unnamed, to be launched to provide perspective of people conducting benefits management, wellness and associated activities in the field.


-A working position in benefits and wellness industries, focused on acquiring, aligning andBoss_2 maximizing benefits/wellness in your company, or on behalf of clients.

-Writing skills, plus the actual willingness to write and blog on a weekly basis.

-Personality and the ability to merge other resources and pop culture in writing, all in an effort to make it digestible for the commoners (that's me..)

-Ability to tell the world who you are while you are blogging - name, what you do, and where you do it.

-Skin thicker than that of a donkey, for the lashings you'll receive in the comments section.

Successful Applicants Will Come From the Following Areas:

-Inside companies who purchase benefits, inside vendors, inside brokers..
-Medical Plan Design and Utilization
-Consumer-Driven Healthcare
-Rx/Prescription Design and Utilization
-Legal Issues in Benefits Administration
-National Trending
-The World of being a Benefits Broker
-Retirement Plans
-Alternative Work Benefits (telecommuting, job-sharing, etc.)
-Voluntary Benefits

What You Get in Return:

-Membership in an exclusive, yet opinionated team that will undoubtedly make the dysfunction in your extended family look like an episode of "Little House on the Prairie".

-The ability to blog and share your thoughts without having to start your own site.

-Exposure of your ideas and brand in the online property of a cool blog that will have good initial traction.  If you're a current blogger, you'll also get enhanced exposure for your blog.

-A projected stipend per month that will fall somewhere between a night out at Denny's and paying your cable bill.

-The warm feeling of giving back to your profession with the professional distance that only digital media can provide.

Sound like you?  Interested in hearing more?  To apply, please confirm your interest in the comments section or email the Capitalist (that's me) at [email protected].

MDE - The Most Dangerous Employee...

One of my favorite voices on employee engagement is Judy McLeish of The Employee Factor and McDaniel Partners. 

Good presentation from Judy below regarding dealing with "bad apples" - employees who are poorWet_cat performers and disengaged.  We all know the "drag-down" effect poor performers can have on an organization, and of course the effect is multiple if they are disengaged and also vocal about being unhappy.

So you have to/should deal with poor performers for all the reasons Judy outlines in this great slide deck.

Me?  I'm awarding the title of "Most Dangerous Employee" (MDE) to an employee profile that's similar in many ways, but different in one very important way.

My MDE award goes to any employee on your team who is disengaged and vocal, but is an average performer of record.  This employee meets the performance expecations you have for him/her, but is still disengaged and vocal.  So the obvious call to action that Judy makes below for dealing with the performance issues doesn't apply.

Disengaged, disenchanted, vocal and performing at an acceptable level.  The most dangerous employee. 

How do you deal with it?  Hit me in the comments with your thoughts.  If there's enough interest, maybe we'll start a series on the MDE.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.