7 ideas if you're up for the all-you-can-eat buffet

Uncategorized May 20, 2020

The following is an excerpt from my May 19th weekly email. I cautioned readers up front that it was a true miscellaneous thought download. Enjoy! Subscribe here

Navigating shelter-in-place and information (& emotion) overload feels hard because it's hard. May I present you a participation trophy?

In many ways, with no place to go, life's never been so simple.

On the other hand, I'm having a tough time turning my brain off.

So. Much. Thinking.

It's a different kind of tired than I used to feel 2 years ago when I was doing risky things like flying around the country meeting with people. 

This week's email is an all-you-can-eat buffet. I have a lot of thoughts that I need to download and test with you.

The positive? Something for everyone.

Downside? It might feel too long, chaotic and unfocused...like the feeling I get at brunch when looking at sushi, french toast and potato salad. 

Scroll for a glimpse of what's on my mind. And...

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Today's pandemic challenge? Leading while learning 🤓

Uncategorized Apr 29, 2020

2020 goals hadn’t included running a consulting and crisis (and psychic) hotline out of my dining room…Consider me the EAP plan for the industry. This week’s pattern?

The novelty of shelter-in-place is gone.

Stress is as experts wrestle with how to guide customers without models, benchmarking and 5-year strategic plans.

My advice? Don’t waste energy worrying about what your client will think when they find out you don’t have all the answers in a global pandemic.

Nobody has done this before. Nobody has the “right” answers that can be audited and validated, today, when decisions have to be made.

Clients hire you to be led, and they fire you to be led.

They never cared as much about your whizbangcontrabulator risk machine as you did. They valued how you led them through the decision-making process. As you did confidently ... with your tools.

Now’s the time to rely on your skills and available resources. Walk the client through what you know,...

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Don't hoard toilet paper or good ideas 💡

firm operations sales Mar 18, 2020

I'm checking in from the Bay Area where I'm "staying-in-place" for at least three weeks with the husband, kids (21 & 16) and 2 foster puppies.

We're already discussing the "family tattoo" we're each getting at the end of this adventure. Suggestions? 

I've been trying to decide whether to work or sanitize our canned goods. ‍Do people really need an update from the BenefitsLady in the midst of this chaos? I've rewritten this 10 times the last few days.

Here's my current thinking. Your clients are stressed. My clients are stressed. There are things we can do and offer that will help others. We shouldn’t hoard toilet paper or our talents. Now is the time to crowdsource ideas and positive energy in the employee benefits community.

It will be different, but let’s stay engaged and connected.

This morning I caught up with an industry friend for an hour for a casual Zoom coffee. I’m looking at my calendar and scheduling connections with people who...

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Do you celebrate the badass?

Is "risk-taking" rewarded in your office?

How about celebrated?

We've been talking about the employee benefits strategic planning cycle. Our industry needs to change and that involves some risk.

Lately I'm hearing variations of these themes:

  • Practice leaders want their teams to be more assertive & innovative.
  • Teams want "management" to get focused and make creative investments.
  • Benefits Solutions are frustrated brokers aren't quicker to adopt new offerings.
  • Benefits Solutions & Brokers complain that their mutual clients are afraid to make changes.

We're a group that takes pride in protecting our clients. The insurance industry beckoned us saying "hey, if you like certainty and avoiding risk, come on over and build a career over here" and now we're surprised at how easily we can talk ourselves out of trying something new if we're not careful.

You know I'm right. At least a little.

When someone introduces a new solution or tackles a challenge, does...

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2 tips to increase confidence in a strategic planning meeting

Uncategorized Feb 20, 2020

In a prior post, I asked you to pay attention to a critical number and that email generated a lot of conversation. #TTFR

What triggered the most feedback? 

You might be too light on thinking time if...

You haven't factored in the team's (yours and the client's) experience levels and mindset. Industry veterans don't realize how their desire to protect the benefits program from disruption is a roadblock to progress. How will this impact your client, if at all? #blindspot

I don't have a magic wand and we can't give ourselves brain transplants. We CAN try a few tactics to get unstuck.

Be honest

Don't pretend you're comfortable if you're not. You can acknowledge to colleagues, benefits solutions and even (gasp) the client, that some aspects of innovation push you into an atypical sandbox.

You're a protector, after all, committed to steering your client away from risk. It's not a surprise that introducing unproven (at least to you and your firm)...

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1 critical number to monitor before a strategic planning meeting

firm operations growth Feb 13, 2020

Next up? Strategic Planning

Did you catch Bill Murray's Super Bowl commercial? The movie Groundhog Day reminds me of the Employee Benefits lifecycle. We recover from the "busy season" and launch into the "strategic planning" cycle with clients. Rinse and repeat.

Didn't we just update that PowerPoint deck? Erg. Here we go again.

There's a number I'd like you to pay attention to as you're collaborating with your team for this next phase in the Benefits cycle.

What is your thinking to formatting ratio?

I've noticed that some teams spend more time formatting their PowerPoint to look strategic than thinking strategically about their client's priorities.

Where would your clients fall on the chart?

It's important to present ideas in a modern and professional format. However...

Clients don't hire you to create PowerPoints. They want your guidance and PowerPoint (or whatever you use) is simply a tool to support a strategic conversation.

You might be too light on thinking time if:

  • Someone...
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Are you the firefighter or the arsonist? 🔥🧯

firm operations growth Feb 04, 2020

Most employee benefits professionals report spending their week putting out fires. In my 30-year accidental career, I’ve been a carrier rep, broker, managed brokers and now consult to carriers & brokers. I’m empathetic to your competing priorities.

I usually include a firefighter slide in my presentations to illustrate how this phenomena impacts our business. 

It’s hard to get the right solutions to the right customers at the right time if your hair, and business, is on fire.

Last week I spent time in Phoenix with a carrier’s sales team. As I was organizing my thoughts, I couldn’t help but think of Lady Gaga. And her former fiancé who is on Chicago Fire. 

BTW, in addition to Tito’s and weeknight Sauvignon Blanc, my guilty pleasures include too much tv and my weekly subscription (print - I’m old school) of US Weekly. I know these things.

If you’re a fan, you know he’s obsessed with what’s causing the...

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Something to consider as you plan for 2020

growth operations sales Nov 13, 2019

A perk of being a high school football team mom? I get to observe teen boys in their natural habitat (without being TOO embarrassing) while handing out Gatorade and cheeseburgers.

It's also a great way to get to know parents. Another team mom and I compare notes about selling professional services (she's in legal) while doing our team hospitality gig. Industries that sell expertise share a lot of the same challenges (and upside) if they can modernize.

At the banquet Friday night, she used a term I'd never heard when talking about her new team. She said they'd usually relied upon "anecdata" and were stressed as she pushed for detailed analytics.

Anec-what? Anecdata = Anecdote + Data

Am I the only one who hasn't been using this term? I love it. Apologies in advance to my clients who are going to hear this term a lot in upcoming strategy sessions.

It's defined as "information that is presented as if it is based on serious research, but is...

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3 Things I Noticed Watching A Team In A Slump

operations sales Nov 06, 2019

I went to the Warriors game Monday night and stayed out a bit too late. Oops.

The game got me thinking, though...

How do you show up when you (or your team) are in a slump?

I'd been warned that the highlight of the night was probably experiencing the new Chase Center and that the Warriors were going to lose (again) since they've been plagued by injuries.

But, the rookies didn't get the memo that they were underresourced and going to be outplayed. We were treated to a high energy experience and saw their first home win of the season. 

Do this career "thing" long enough and eventually, you'll have a losing season. It's hard to get your juju back and I was thinking about what behaviors I look for to have confidence that a team is taking steps to shift momentum. 

Recruiting & Coaching - We know it's critical to have a strong bench, yet few invest (money, time and energy) to develop a sustainable and measurable process to find and onboard talent....

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Take the "Feedback 5" Challenge

Warning. There's no turning back. Once this is on your radar, you'll be like two of my original foster puppies. You won't be able to look away.


5 words are routinely used to give feedback that are useless (at best) and destructive (at worst) without context and follow up. 

"They need to be more/less _______________."

More (or less) what? I'm glad you asked.

She needs to be more approachable, assertive, creative, collaborative, confident, engaged, independent, open-minded, present, sales-focused, strategic or technical. Or she needs to be less aggressive, conservative or negative. You get the point.

I don't know what someone really means when they say these things. And most of us are not great guessers.

Worse yet, the person on the receiving end of the "feedback 5" usually has zero idea what happened, how to fix it or when they'll have done "it" the right way, enough times, to change perception. 

The "Feedback 5" may be part of a...

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