As a company devoted to building better workplaces, finding and implementing the right balance of benefits for our team is important to us. From health and wellness benefits to our RRSP matching platform, it’s all about ensuring our people have access to the benefits they need when they need them.

Last year, our people team realized our benefits service provider wasn’t meeting the needs of our organization. Sensing there were gaps in our plan, we recognized the need to change it.

When to move on to a new benefits program

When deciding to change your benefits provider, a hunch can’t be your decision-maker. Gaining insight into your people, communicating with your team and key decision-makers, and arming yourself with data is the best way to investigate what is and what isn’t working.

As your organization grows, the demographics of your workplace and your people’s needs change and evolve. What once worked isn’t working now. Whether you hear it through the company grapevine, or via direct feedback – once the chatter starts, it’s time to take action. Your response should be swift and efficient. There’s nothing that degrades HR’s credibility more than inaction to feedback. If you’re debating whether or not to test the waters and evolve your benefits plan – this is your sign to go for it.

Implementing a new benefits program in six steps

1. Discuss the changes you want to see

Before you begin the legwork, have conversations with your people team, executives, and leaders. How do you want to augment your plan design? Where do key people fit in, and when do you want to begin the strategic process?

Once you’ve got the approval of your team to start, you’re ready for the next step.

2. Align on budget expectations

There’s a misconception that changing your plan design (or provider) will automatically mean a price increase. That’s not always true. It is possible to implement plan changes and stay cost-neutral. In some cases, a change in provider might even save you money!

At Avanti, we realized our old benefits program didn’t provide basic dental coverage and focused too heavily on health-spending accounts. With the new plan, retaining a high degree of flexibility, adding base coverage, and staying cost-neutral within the first year were our most important objectives, and we made sure to clearly communicate that to our benefits broker.  Making the right trade-offs requires research (see tip #4) and the right benefits broker (see tip #3) will help you gather the data to make the right decisions.

3. Seek a benefits broker

No one will understand the need for a new plan quite like a benefits broker. Your benefits broker will help you determine your benefits philosophy – the necessities your organization cares about, what you want to keep from your old plan, your goals for the new plan, and what you want to get rid of.

A broker will walk you through the entire process of analyzing your plan to create the new one. They also have access to a wealth of data points, benchmarks, industry standards, etc. that you can use to inform your decision. Plus, they’re an amazing sounding board for weighing your options.

4. Getting it right for your people

This is the most important step. What does your workforce value? Which demographic group is the largest? How will you prioritize your focus areas with your new benefits program?

To get into the things that matter the most to your employees and know what needs to be reworked you need to directly ask your employees.

Follow up by analyzing your workforce demographics and assessing what competitors are doing. How are they providing sufficiently for their workforce? Is it your goal to do better?

And, you can’t go wrong with a data-driven and data-backed approach.

At Avanti, we performed the following to ensure we were hitting the right targets:

Demographics analysis

A demographics analysis – otherwise known as a workforce evaluation summary – will help you realize who you’re building the plan for, and therefore your focus areas for the new plan.

We looked closely at career stage, age groups, and family types. Developing career stages based on your workforce is similar to creating personas when you’re marketing to prospects or clients. We broke it down to entry-level, mid-career, established, and pre-retiree stages – each of them associated with a specific age group.

What we found is that over 41% of Avantians fall into the mid-career stage, which coincides with the 30-44 age group. This state of the life-cycle is when people are heavily focused on growing their families, so we were able to determine that a good chunk of our people were on the cusp of transitioning to family status.

We didn’t stop there – next, we built a probability calculator. Pulling data from Statistics Canada around family size and fertility and applying our own demographic, we found that 5% of our people were expected to grow their families this year. The theoretical forecast for each year is that as we grow as a company, this rate should also grow.

These combined rates demonstrated which demographic group we should predominantly cater to. You want to focus on the career stage and age group that the majority of your employees fall into, whether that’s singles coverage or pre-retiree individuals. Keep in mind, this plan is applicable to Avanti, it’s crucial you do your research to ensure what is right for your organization.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking helps you realize where there’s room for improvement, and where you can make compromises.

With our benefits broker, we compared our old plan with regional competitors to discern where we were above market, below market, and at parity with the market. Taking the results and employee testimonials into consideration, we created a priority list of changes, reallocated funds, and made trade-offs between the most important and the least important aspects to employees.

Our goal throughout this process was to remain cost-neutral. The trade-offs helped immensely, to the point that we were actually under. We realized cost savings by moving to a different service provider and tweaking our plan design. A lot of people in HR are convinced cost is a concern and barrier in making the case to their executives to revamp their benefits plan. Assuming that changing your plan automatically means higher costs is a huge misunderstanding. We’re a prime example that that’s not always the case. Realizing cost neutrality is a possibility and your benefits broker should work with you to meet that goal.

Employee surveys

To get to know our people’s needs, our broker helped us build and conduct a health benefits survey. We correlated the results with results from other prior surveys we’ve done. The results informed our decisions about our plan changes. They helped us understand what our employees prioritized as the most important and the least important (in regards to benefit plans) and where our employees wanted to see a change in our plan. Hearing from our employees helped us validate the hypotheses we drew from the demographics analysis and benchmarking exercise.

Hearing from your workforce directly is absolutely vital when creating a plan designed for them.

5. Go to RFP and choose your vendor

At this point, you should have a set budget, specific goals, and know where you want to go with the plan based on data and feedback. What’s next? Go to RFP. Your benefits broker will do this on your behalf. They’ll vet the RFP submissions according to your criteria and put forward their top recommendations to you.

When you’ve received a fair amount of RFP submissions, you’ll want to choose the right vendor – one that will meet your goals and budget and provide the best experience for you and your employees.

First, put thought to a comprehensive list of criteria for vendor selection. What things should you look for in a vendor to ensure they’ll help you achieve the perfect benefits plan? Start with pre-determining your deal-breakers, so you know you’re not settling for less.

This is what we looked at before making our decision:

User experience

You want the best experience for your employees, and we do too. That’s why we sought a vendor that would provide us a progressive, modern user experience that makes it smooth and easy for our employees to submit claims, get reimbursed, receive benefits – the whole package. What you want to avoid is an overly complicated interface that’s hard to access and workaround. Get to know your vendors well – how long is the troubleshooting process if problems arise? Do they prioritize customers? If they have self-serve options, even better.

Customer service

From the admin side of things, a vendor that takes days to respond is simply unacceptable. If you and your HR team find yourselves reconciling mistakes made on the vendor’s end without any help, you’ll know it’s the opposite to look for in your new vendor. During your vendor demos, watch out for technical aptitude – is your contact capable of navigating their own site or application? Are they able to efficiently navigate the virtual meeting tool? This may sound irrelevant, but in the era of Zoom, it’s something to take note of. If they’re struggling – beware, these are red flags. We also wanted a vendor with reporting functionality, to be able to pull information ad hoc whenever we needed it, instead of having reports only available at certain times of the year.

Roadmap

Ask your vendor about their roadmap. What’s their outlook for the next 2, 3, 5 years? What are their future plans for app/site enhancement – do they even have planned updates, or are they sticking to their soon-to-be-outdated interfaces? The most prolific vendors we looked at had significant upcoming changes planned for future iterations of their products, continuously investing and striving to improve them.

Now that you have your top picks, meet with your chosen vendors, make a final decision, and set a go-live date.

6. Annual/mid-year check-up

As the final step, be sure to complete a check-up after the implementation of the new benefits plan.

Hold a company-wide meeting to discuss what’s going well, share people’s perspectives, and discuss how smooth the transition was and if there were any roadblocks.

After that – you’re done! Now, you can celebrate the successful implementation of your new benefits program and a happier workforce.

Additional resources

Is your HRIS system meeting your needs? Here is some additional reading on making the switch to a new platform:

Need to change more than your benefits provider?

Is your payroll and HR software holding you and your team back? Check out these tips on how to ask for new HRM software for your organization.

READ 7 STEPS FOR SWITCHING YOUR HRIS PROVIDER