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Employee advisory committees promote benefits buy-in

BY Joanne Sammer

When it comes to designing and communicating employee benefit programs, employee input and involvement can be a boon. After all, one of the best ways to gain buy-in for and to communicate employee benefit programs is to use peer-to-peer interaction. If a group of employees supports these programs and makes it a point to tell other employees, organizations can build buy-in for programs and changes more readily.

How organizations structure this employee involvement varies. Some opt for the simplest type of employee input in the form of employee focus groups and surveys. Others establish a task force to promote a specific benefit offering, such as health promotion programs. Still others create broad-based committees that assess an organization’s total benefits mix.

Employee advisory committees, as the name suggests, meet regularly or as needed to provide input on benefit programs and other issues affecting employees and the employment relationship. Some of these committees are highly formal, with set terms for members, regularly scheduled meetings, and minutes taken and shared. Many unions, colleges and universities, and public-sector employers maintain employee advisory committees, but they can play a role in almost any organization.

Getting the most out of a committee

“When used strategically, employee advisory committees can have demonstrable, positive impact by providing the employee point of view on benefits,” said Anita Doncaster, a partner with consulting firm Aon Hewitt in Charlotte, N.C.

If an organization is going to use an employee advisory committee, it needs to be prepared to take the group’s feedback and concerns seriously. Not all employers are willing to do that. “The deterrent is that many employers may not always be in a position to take the advice of employees serving on an advisory committee so they are hesitant to seek their opinions,” said Doncaster.

This is certainly a risk, but an employee advisory committee can yield important insights into what employees want and value in a benefits program. “Employers do not want to be spending money on a program that few employees use or care about, and it can be a mistake to change or cut programs that are considered sacred cows by employees,” said Kelly Jones, senior vice president with Sibson Consulting in Cleveland. “If the committee tells you what programs fall into either of those categories, you can more confidently eliminate or cut back on less-valued programs and use that money to invest in something that is more important to employees.”

Picking the right people

One of the most important decisions to make when establishing a committee is deciding who will serve on it. The employees serving usually do not have a strong grounding in employee benefits programs, how they work, and the issues and decisions involved in designing and administering these programs. This can make it difficult to communicate to the committee the employer’s rationale and decision-making around certain issues, such as plan design and cost sharing.

“Employers should consider choosing people who are natural leaders — not necessarily named leaders in the organization but people who have influence in the organization,” said Doncaster. “I would also choose people who are not natural leaders but who are thoughtful and who are considered high-potential employees.” The rationale is that keeping high-potential employees happy is a crucial role for employee benefits. By having these employees on the committee, the employer gains insight into what a high-potential employee wants from the benefits program.

Perspective is also important. In some cases, committee members might come in assuming that the employer does not have employees’ best interests at heart. To overcome this, HR and benefit professionals need to be transparent and explain the issues. This requires time and effort that can pay off if it ends with the committee’s support for planned changes and programs the organization wants to communicate.

Committee members become de facto ambassadors who can help communicate benefits issues to other employees. Moreover, the messages these ambassadors send are likely to be well received. As employees themselves, committee members have had the same questions as their peers and will seek to answer those questions in a way that makes sense to peers

Taking it seriously

Employee advisory committees can fulfill a number of roles for an employer. However, for the committee to thrive and its members to contribute wholeheartedly, the employer should be as transparent as possible in its dealings with the committee and should be ready to act on its findings and recommendations or to explain why it cannot or will not do so. “This needs to be a transparent process for there to be any credibility,” said Jones.

At the same time, employers need to be clear upfront about the committee’s purpose and mandate and how the company is going to use the committee’s input. This includes the rules for the committee: how frequently it will meet, where, and so on. “It is the employer’s job to help the committee understand what is happening in the organization and how the committee’s input will help resolve those issues,” said Doncaster. “Don’t try to manipulate their data or input, and don’t try to spin any negative messages that need to be delivered. If an employer does anything like this, the advisory committee members are likely to be less inclined to be open and honest.”

Joanne Sammer is a New Jersey-based business and financial writer.

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Oldcastle renames masonry unit

BY Ken Clark

Oldcastle Architectural, a leading producer of concrete masonry products in North America, has renamed its high-density, pre-finished architectural concrete masonry unit Cordova Stone, according to a company announcement. The rebrand is part of the company’s research and development in artisan stone veneers.

The adoption of the new name Cordova Stone signifies the end of the company’s sale of the product under the Prairie Stone brand. Oldcastle Architectural plans to unveil additional artisan product offerings in the coming months under the Artisan Masonry Stone Veneers brand.

Manufactured by Northfield Block, an Oldcastle company, Cordova Stone achieves the look of natural stone by using all natural aggregates. Whether in a veneer or through-wall application, Cordova Stone is suitable for both commercial and residential projects.

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A new primer on paint marketing

BY Ken Clark

The other day, an HCN editor received an email from Cambridge — the one in England. A senior analyst and Ph.D. was asking for an example of an adhesive, paint or sealant product that has “transformed the market.”

Two thoughts came to mind.

1.) A feeling of pride. Our readers will be glad to know that PhDs in Cambridge — hailing from a place called “Cambridge Science Park” located on none-other than “Milton Road” — have turned to Home Channel News. What is one to do but accept the compliment and the reputation as a go-to source for knowledge and analysis and ready examples of case studies.

2.) A blank. Couldn’t think of any examples.

But after some reflection, an example dawned on me. A couple years ago, when Masco’s Behr division introduced its Behr Premium Plus Ultra paint with its promise of “paint and primer in one,” a transformation occurred. Here was a product that was soon to be studied, imitated, criticized in some quarters, envied in others, and — to a certain extant — demanded at paint counters everywhere.

Footnote here: It was actually our friends at Ames Research Laboratories that were first to market with a paint-and-primer-in-one product, according to Ames’ Peter Carey. The product, Ames Paint & Prime, came out about 20 years ago. But it took Behr and its Home Depot partners to make the phrase “paint and primer in one “ a household name.

Now here’s the news flash. Sherwin-Williams this week introduced a new high-end paint in the mid-$60-per-gallon price point. The company’s VP marketing research and design Karl Schmitt used the following terms to describe the new paint: “revolutionary,” “best in class,” “game changer” and “breakthrough.”

I was ready to bet $5 that Schmitt was about to drop “paint and primer in one” to his marketing pitch. 

I would have lost. 

I brought up the omission to Sherwin-Williams’ VP product development Steve Revnew — a man whose very name conjures the image of sales growth. He said quality, sustainability, color, consistency and performance were the goals and the buzzwords. “Paint and primer in one?” Not so much. 

“In most cases, a good primer combined with good paint works best,” he said. 

Few will disagree. But will Americans spend $60 per gallon for a new line of paint that doesn’t offer the one-coat-fits-all mold in an ultra-competitive paint market? That’s a question for those with Ph.D.s in reading the future.

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