When the implementation of a new HR technology platform has gone awry, the employer and the service provider sometimes look to the other to assign blame and to fix the resulting mess. That’s about the time my phone rings and the voice on the other end of the line cries, "Help me, Rhonda!". While it’s easy to tell people what not to do, we are optimists and therefore I want to focus on what you can do to support the best possible implementation outcome.
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Insights from Gallagher’s HR & Benefits Technology Consulting Practice

Gallagher’s HR and Benefits Technology Consulting Practice wears many hats, including that of strategist, personal shopping assistant, researcher, risk assessor, overseer, optimizer and many more. I confess, however, there is one that I wish we didn’t have to wear as often and that’s the marriage counselor hat.

When we wear this hat, it’s typically because the implementation of a new HR technology platform has gone off the rails and the employer and service provider are both looking to the other to assign blame and/or to fix the resulting mess. That’s about the time we hear from a benefits advisor,  looking for a mediator that understands the complexities of the implementation process, the importance of change management, the roles of the various stakeholders and, especially, the dos and don’ts for a successful software implementation.

While it’s easy to tell people what not to do, we are optimists and therefore I want to focus on what you, Ms. Employer, and you, Mr. Service Provider, can do to support a best possible implementation outcome. I also offer a few thoughts for the benefit advisors who call us for assistance.

Employer DOs

DO your homework. It all starts with the RFP. You must thoroughly understand your requirements (and their complexities) before you can assess and select a best-fit service provider. Focus on your top needs and understand how technology can address those needs. Also, avoid the distraction of bright shiny balls.

DO know what you’re really buying. You’re buying much more than just technology. You’re also buying integration, security, change, culture, innovation and more. Be smart about it.

DO commit sufficient resources. Implementation is not a small side task to add to someone’s already full plate. Hire a contract worker or a consultant to manage implementation or to pick up the workload of a current employee assigned to the task. Calendar the entire process, committing time for testing, troubleshooting and other activities beyond just the status meetings.

DO secure executive-level support. This may be critical to getting the necessary resources or support if/when the unexpected happens. Related, embrace change management (and make sure the C-suite is on board). New technology means new ways of doing things — likely new processes, policies, staff responsibilities, structures and more. If there’s no C-suite support for all this, you might as well keep your old technology or manual paper process.

DO pull together the right team. Make sure all stakeholders are at the table from the beginning, including those who will be impacted downstream.

DO have your data in order. Know where it will come from and ensure that it’s clean. The “garbage in, garbage out” analogy applies here.

DO define what “success” (and failure) looks like. This is critical to managing the relationship with your service provider and, potentially, responding to executive-level concerns. “Success” may be as simple as employee benefit ID cards go out on time. “Failure” could be the payroll file doesn’t work and employees don’t have deductions taken out of their paycheck. This will help put the inevitable minor issues into perspective.

DO have an escalation procedure in place with the service provider. Make sure this happens before the project begins, which will allow service providers to address problems quickly and efficiently.

DO raise your hand. If something feels off a couple of weeks into the implementation, discuss it with the service provider. The implementation team may not be a good cultural fit or priorities not aligned. Be reasonable, but if you really feel something is wrong, it probably is.

DO coordinate third-party resources. Connect your service provider to any third-parties related to implementation, e.g., carriers or other tech providers, to help them build relationships critical to a successful outcome.

DO leave your baggage at home. If you’ve changed service providers (or even service provider teams), focus on the current situation and what the current team can deliver to respond to your needs.

DO understand that the service provider is not going to do all the work. Implementations don’t just magically happen. View the implementation process as a partnership that requires an investment of time and attention.

Service Provider DOs

DO facilitate a strong hand-off from the sales to the implementation team. Make sure the implementation team has read the RFP and connected with the sales team in advance of a client meeting to ask questions, clarify, get insights, etc., to help establish a confident client relationship.

DO invest in a face-to-face client meeting. This may not be needed on-going, but early in the process, it can go a long way to building a productive partnership.

DO come to the kick-off meeting organized. Have a prepared agenda and adhere to it. Plan for supporting technology, as needed (think screen shares), if you’re not in the same room.

DO allow enough staff capacity. An overcommitted implementation team almost always spells trouble, usually beginning with communications, spiraling to problems that can be expensive to correct.

DO prepare a timeline. Identify key milestones, the role of the client and the impact of getting off schedule. Help clients understand the impact on the project if they fail to deliver on their commitments on schedule. Stay organized throughout the process to identify issues when they are easy to correct.

DO discuss an escalation path (on both sides). Also discuss assumptions and expectations around escalating work, i.e., what constitutes an escalation-worthy situation.

The role of the benefits advisor

During implementation of new technology, the role of the benefits advisor varies, including having no role at all. In most cases, advisors are not paid for their involvement, creating the potential for misaligned expectations with the client, who may be unaware that the advisor’s expertise may not extend to implementation, and of the liability/risk associated with a broker’s non-contractual involvement.

My advice to benefit advisers is to limit non-contractual participation in ensuring the service provider and the employer have a clear understanding of each other’s roles and have established lines of communication. The initial kick-off meeting typically is a good opportunity to do this and to wind down their involvement in the project.

Do Contact Us

Beyond this, if any of the parties (employer, technology service provider or benefits advisor) identifies concerns that can’t be resolved within the group, DO contact us if you would like to discuss how Gallagher’s independent expertise can help deliver implementation success. If each party adheres closely to the list of DOs outlined here, however, it’s unlikely outside assistance will be needed. That is OK with us. While the marriage counseling hat is one we hope not to wear too often, it is a comfortable fit for us and has been well-broken in over 20 years of industry consulting.

About the Author

Rhonda Marcucci, together with Ed Barry, co-leads Gallagher’s HR and Benefits Technology Consulting Practice. Their team provides unbiased, well-researched HR technology and benefits administration consulting including sourcing advice and service provider capability audits. Rhonda’s extensive and broad-based experience in finance, accounting, administration, strategic planning, information systems, sales and marketing, and operations is instrumental in helping clients identify a comprehensive strategy and execute against it.

Consulting and insurance brokerage services to be provided by Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. and/or its affiliate Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. is a licensed insurance agency that does business in California as “Gallagher Benefit Services of California Insurance Services” and in Massachusetts as “Gallagher Benefit Insurance Services.” Neither Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., nor its affiliates provide accounting, legal or tax advice.