Author Archive

Giving Thanks At Work Beyond Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
Renee' Watkins, HR Advisor

Renee’ Watkins, HR Advisor

In today’s post, Advice and Resolution team member Renee’ Watkins shares the many reasons why employers should be giving thanks – and not just around Thanksgiving.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is typically the time of year when we take a moment to count the blessings in our life and give thanks.  Often, the word “thankful” seems less than adequate to express how we truly feel and does not completely convey our gratitude.  There are so many things for which we should be grateful.  In fact, we should try to take stock of the sources of gratitude in our lives and demonstrate our gratitude on a daily basis – not just at Thanksgiving.

Begin a practice to take time out of each day and tell those around you that your life is better because of them. Naturally, we always appreciate our significant others, our children and special friends.  Many share their thanks and gratitude to colleagues at work.  When did you last thank a fireman or police officer? Have you acknowledged a member of the armed forces lately?  There are those you do not see every day that also deserve your thanks.

Even good leaders can forget to acknowledge the contributions of their followers in the workplace.  Taking your team’s work for granted can strain a relationship over time.  In a much quoted Gallop survey, they found that fewer than one in three American workers could strongly agree that they had received praise from their supervisor in the last seven days.   In an uncertain economy and competitive job market, it is essential that our workforce, business partners, clients and suppliers hear directly from us that their contributions to our success are recognized and appreciated.  Take time to say “thanks.”  It is such a simple thing to do and yet so meaningful to the recipient. A genuine thank you is priceless.

Experience has taught us that when you acknowledge and appreciate the people around you, they work harder, perform better and care more about the people around them in return.  The simple and meaningful act of showing gratitude can have a powerful “ripple effect” in both business and in the daily lives of those who directly and indirectly support your success in life.  Adrian Gostic and Chester Elton, authors of The Carrot Principle, conducted a 10-year motivation study, in which more than 200,000 employees and managers were interviewed. They found that when managers are considered to be effective at ‘recognizing’ their employees they:

• have lower turnover rates than other managers

• achieve better organizational results

• are seen to be much stronger in goal-setting, communication, trust and accountability

This Thanksgiving, remember to extend a special thank you to your coworkers. Not only will it mean a great deal to them, but they will likely return their gratitude in kind! With a simple “thanks”, you will be building a sense of gratitude and appreciation that can outlast the Holiday season and ultimately embed itself into your company’s culture.

For further information as to how or why you could be showing gratitude in the workplace, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Traits that Define Positive Leadership

Thursday, November 19th, 2015
George Ports, Senior Executive and HR Advisor

George Ports, Senior Executive and HR Advisor

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” 

-General Douglas MacArthur

Can leaders demand  respect simply because of their position or title? The obvious answer to this question is NO.

Leaders earn respect leading by example, “Do as I do” rather than “Do as I say do”.  They earn respect by being up front and honest with their employees, treating them with “dignity and respect”.  Dignity and respect go both ways.

I have been in the Human Resources area for nearly 42 years.  Over the years , I have made  observations  of  actions and behaviors that in my opinion define “positive leadership”.    They are as follows:

  • Positive leaders are people builders, they are in the construction business, not the demolition business.
  • Positive leaders are fair and consistent when administering organization policies and procedures.
  • Positive leaders encourage an open two-way flow of communications.
  • Positive leaders do not leave their employees in the dark creating an atmosphere of anxiety and insecurity.
  • Positive leaders recognize the need for responding to employee issues/concerns in a prompt manner.
  • Positive leaders work in conjunction with Human Resources to ensure that internal pay equity is maintained among employees.
  • Positive leaders take up for their employees, stand behind and support them when necessary.
  • Positive leaders never take credit for employee accomplishments and ideas—they always give credit and praise where such is due.
  • Positive leaders work diligently to create an atmosphere of teamwork, a culture where every job and person is important, avoiding a “we/they” relationship.

Imitate these traits and you will find employees who work for you because they want to, not because they have to. If you want to learn more about how your business can cultivate these qualities within its employees, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Conflicts Of Interest: 3 Recommendations For Business Owners

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

The post below is a guest blog from Todd Yates who serves as partner and CEO for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

Conflicts of interest can present themselves at any time, in all aspects of our lives. Where is the line drawn? It requires keen observation to identify them followed by great discipline to abstain from taking part. Many professions have procedures set up to help identify potential conflicts and to guide the involved individuals around them safely.

For example, attorneys search within their firm to see if there are any situations where they could be representing another entity that would create conflict with the representation they are providing for you. Real estate professionals have to disclose if they are working as the agent of the buyer/seller or both. Your CPA will not serve as your auditor as well as your tax preparer.

When it comes to employee benefits, how do you ensure your advisor is really serving as your advisor – not with some other entity’s interest in mind?

My first recommendation is to examine your contractual agreement. Does it clearly identify the services that your broker will provide and outline payment? Does it explain who will pay compensation? If you aren’t paying it, who is? What influence might this paying entity have on your broker’s behavior? Is the method of payment in alignment with your best interest? For example, if the broker’s compensation is a percentage of premium, does it make sense that they would earn more as your costs go up? Does that align with your interest? At HCW, we have full transparency around our compensation in all of these aspects.

My second recommendation would be to examine the products your broker is recommending to you. Does that representative have any influence, other than your needs, impacting their recommendations? Our industry is notorious for brokers getting into the product business. At HCW, we refer to it as the manufacturing business. If your broker goes out and buys a product, or private labels a product, does that bias their opinion?

We have seen many examples of this over the years. The most recent phenomena is brokers buying private exchanges and/or HRIS systems. Once their organization made this investment, I wonder how many of their clients suddenly became “perfect” candidates for this solution? We have seen it with brokers that deliver FSA services, Cobra services, HRA services, etc. Are they ever going to direct you to another vendor’s service over their own? As the old saying goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

My third recommendation is to evaluate the relationship with your broker and the insurer/reinsurer for your organization. Is your broker serving in a conflicted role there? A great example of this is the emergence of captives. Some brokers have elected to create their own captives. In this case, the broker has likely engaged the services of several third parties to create the captive, but by leading the direction of the captive and the underwriting decisions, whose interest are they really representing? When it is time to negotiate your costs with the captive, are they advocating on behalf of your best interest, or on behalf of the captives’ interest and all of their other clients that are in it? Inherently there are two sides to this negotiation and being on both sides is a conflict of interest. A captive may be a great solution, but have your broker find one that doesn’t position their interest against yours.

At Hill, Chesson & Woody, we understand and embrace that we are in the advice and guidance business. Our clients hire us, expect us to learn their business, the accompanying strategy of that business, and identify methods to create employee benefit plans that align with that business strategy. That is our product! In order to remain clear of conflict we steer away from the previously mentioned scenarios. The only time we elect to break this direction is when we cannot source solutions in the marketplace to provide the outcome our clients need. Then, and only then, will we build a product.

A recent example is HCW’s enrollment services unit. The market was not responding with good solutions for middle market employers. As a result, we elected to build our own service here. We used other company’s HRIS tools and then built the complimentary professional services to accompany it.

Staying true to these principles is hard when you are looking for differentiators amongst brokers. Many firms depend on creating these products to make themselves appear exclusive in some way. I would encourage you to step back from your relationship and look for these types of misalignment and conflicts of interest. Taking the time to evaluate your relationships will help you ensure your broker is only aligned with the best interests of your organization.

Using Collaborative Learning to Increase Critical Thinking

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Strong collaboration in a work environment is crucial to the success of any company. However, how much thought is given to learning collaboratively? When professionals are paired together in small groups, collaborative learning encourages the achievement of professional goals. According to Virginia Tech’s Journal of Technology Education (vol.7 no.1), collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. This concept is not something new; rather a notion measured and proven over many years.

The act of exchanging ideas within small groups not only increases interest, but promotes critical thinking. The members of these small groups are allowed the opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning and strengthen their ability to actively and skillfully conceptualize information. We currently live in the world of the continuous “busy.” Being in a group such as this allows the learner to slow down, share, listen and evaluate themselves and others.

Participants in collaborative learning environments experienced the following benefits:

  • Improved understanding of issues presented
  • Shared knowledge and experience
  • Receiving and giving of helpful feedback
  • Higher level thinking ability
  • Openness to new perspectives

The time spent participating in collaborative learning opportunities also affected the social and emotional well-being of participants in the following ways:

  • Problem solving felt easier, and almost enjoyable, in a relaxed, trusting environment
  • Greater responsibility – not just for self but for the group as well
  • New relationships built and growth of professional network

Consider enhancing your critical thinking skills within the workplace by incorporating collaborative learning amongst peers. If you have any further questions as to how your business can encourage collaborative learning, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.


The Journey from Zero to Sixty: Part One

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

In today’s video blog, CAI’s Vice President of Membership, Doug Blizzard, begins his discussion about the journey small employers take, from hiring their first employee to their sixtieth. Doug starts by breaking the journey from zero to sixty into four phases, and will discuss the first phase, up to roughly 10 employees, in today’s video.

Doug explains that the key to this first phase is survival. For the CEO, this first phase will be the busiest time of their lives. From taking on hiring, firing, financing and managing, Doug succinctly described this phase as “chaotic.” In order to make it out of this most trying period, Doug suggests small businesses must:

  • Hire carefully: find employees who will fit the established culture and are willing to take on a range of responsibilities as the business grows
  • Solidify your work culture/policies: Create your first employee manual and other workplace documents as your near 10 employees
  • Lay out a clear plan for growth so that each employee understands his or her role and stake in the company’s ultimate success

Doug closes by reminding small businesses to stay abreast of state and federal regulations in order to protect themselves from harm. By following these steps of hiring the right people and laying out a clear plan for your company’s culture and future growth, Doug believes you will make it through the challenges of this first phase. But once you do, how will you handle the next challenge? Find out next time as Doug lets us in on the secrets to tackling Phase II.

Put Your Mistakes Under the Microscope to Improve Your Work

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015
Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer column, The View from HR.

We spend too little time celebrating our workplace mistakes. They deserve dissection, truth and reflection. Too often they receive denial, excuses and burial.

There is so much focus today on finding your strengths. Consider the common parenting advice to use only reinforcement in redirecting child behavior. There is even a movement to replace “weaknesses” in the time-tested business SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis because the word is too harsh!

This over-emphasis on positive is having a negative effect!

Mistakes are the mothers’ milk of change and growth. All the praise in the world (while it feels nice and has good effects) will not create needed change. Mistakes have the power to mold our thinking and our skills in ways that triumphs never will.

If you define mistakes broadly, and not just as small errors and omissions, they include bad habits and unproductive traits. Until you decide to understand and own your mistakes, the path to improvement remains hidden. Robert Frost wrote of the road less traveled. A truthful and open review of mistakes (big and small) is the less traveled, and shortest, road to real improvement.

Open discussion

Celebration of mistakes means applying the same passion to weaknesses as you bring to successes. Think of a person at work who takes their mistakes to the team or manager, and has responded well to criticism. Did your opinion of them go up or down? Did their impact at work improve or decrease?

Owning your mistakes and using them to grow makes good things happen.

Learning from mistakes is the most basic benefit of owning your mistakes. Only skeletons come from buried problems.

Trust develops between you and others if you are just as willing to discuss your problems as your strengths. Imagine what could be accomplished if everyone behaved this way!

Open discussion of mistakes and needed changes helps you work harder to improve. Think of it like telling your friends you stopped smoking.

Ownership of all behaviors, good and not-so-good, is the best way to demonstrate to others the treatment you expect in return.

Early recognition

Skilled managers know how to help employees make the most of mistakes while preserving a motivation to grow. Less-experienced managers need proactive help from the mistake-maker to maximize improvements. Every manager should be pleased and impressed if you bring your mistakes to them in the right spirit and with a plan of action.

Owning mistakes may include early recognition of a skills gap or a troublesome personality trait. Both can be improved if addressed early. Allowing a reputation for poor aptitude or attitude to harden can make success at any workplace difficult. This is an important discussion to have right now with your manager to get on a corrective path.

So many of us hide our mistakes that there is little danger of overdoing all this openness. Employees who acknowledge problems and work toward solutions get the best work opportunities. It starts with owning all your mistakes, big and small.

For additional guidance, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

3 Tips To Diversifying Your Recruiting Efforts

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

recruitingIn today’s post, CAI’s HR on Demand Consultant Cynthia Daniel shares 3 strategies to help your business freshen up its recruiting process and secure a wider range of talented candidates.

As a recruiter, my goal is to locate the best qualified candidate for each position. Failure to do so may result in our clients having employee nightmares for weeks, months or even years! While it would be very easy to rely on the same old methods of recruiting for each organization, using a variety of sources and tactics has proved invaluable to me as well as our clients!

3 ways to recruit the best candidates:

  • Pay attention to the role that you are recruiting for. When recruiting for a new position it always helps to assess the situation. We know that if we are looking for our next Vice President, we probably won’t be able to look in the same place as we would for our Forklift Driver. Knowing where to look is key to finding that right person quickly!
  • Don’t forget about your current employees. Your internal employees may be looking for developmental opportunities within your company, so don’t count them out just yet.  Know your workforce and who may be qualified for some of your open positions and get your managers involved if you need to as well.  Recruiting internally can cut costs, boost employee morale and productivity!
  • External recruiting, however, is still a great choice when you lack qualified internal employees.  There are many sources you can pull from including local universities, unemployment offices, veteran’s offices, professional membership organizations, LinkedIn, college alumni offices, search firms, internet job banks, outplacement agencies, and many more. Yes, some of these outlets can be pricey, so know your budget and what you can afford.  But in turn, some are free or have minimal costs associated with them.

If you’re using the same old tactic over and over again and it’s not producing the candidates you want… maybe it’s time to try something new. You must think differently and act differently to get different results. What are you doing to think differently and act differently about recruiting and hiring? If you aren’t thinking and acting differently, I can guarantee you that someone else is.

CAI’s recruiting team is dedicated to helping you with all of your recruiting needs. Whether it’s learning more about strategies for recruiting great talent, having us recruit for and fill your vacant positions, or simply answering a few questions, we’re here to help! Please feel free to contact our recruiting team directly at 996-899-1140 or




Study Finds Workplace Rudeness is Highly Contagious

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Sick woman at work drinking coffee

In today’s post, CAI’s Vice President of Membership Doug Blizzard shares the uncomfortable truth regarding the spread of negativity in the office. 

Peak flu season is still a few months away, but there’s another type of bug flying around the office that is just as contagious—and perhaps more harmful  – workplace rudeness.

Remember the old adage that if you give a smile chances are you’ll get one back?  Well, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, rudeness is just as contagious – and in it can be more harmful because it won’t just run its course and go away on its own. The damage it does is longer lasting, even permanent if you do not do something about it.

Researchers from the University of Florida did a study of behaviors among graduate business students about behaviors that came out as they practiced their negotiating skills with classmates.  Each student practiced with several other students over a period of weeks and then the students rated each others’ behaviors. A key finding was that those who judged their partners as rude were more likely to be judged as rude themselves. In other words, rudeness was contagious.

The study showed that rudeness activates a network of closely-related concepts in individuals’ minds. This activation influences individual’s hostile behaviors.  Another interesting finding of the study is that you don’t need to be the victim of a rude act to catch the bug. Employees who simply witness a rude act are likely to be rude to other employees.

“What we found in this study is that the contagious effect is based on an automatic cognitive mechanism — automatic means it happens somewhere in the subconscious part of your brain, so you don’t know its happening and can’t do much to stop it,” explained the study’s lead author, Trevor Foulk.  “Anything from simple insults to ignoring a co-worker, to purposely dis-including someone or withholding information,” can create the toxic environment, he added.  “It doesn’t just hurt your feelings,” says Mr. Foulk. “Experiencing or witnessing rudeness hurts your performance.”

A whopping 98% of workers say they have experienced workplace rudeness, with 50% percent of people experiencing these behaviors at least weekly, according to the study.  Any and all kinds of rudeness, from simple insults, to ignoring a co-worker, to purposely dis-including or withholding information from someone, can create the toxic environment.

Not only does rudeness negatively affect the workplace; it has also been linked to more stress at home.

Organizations’ cultures, like those of entire societies and nationalities, are the sum total of learned behaviors and the social and business values they reflect. People in the organization observe these behaviors in its key leaders and each other. Intuitively they associate the behaviors with success, they adopt them themselves and they pass them on to new members. It is an intuitive process that nurtures and sustains itself unless and until the key leaders change the key behaviors to new ones that reflect different values.  Rudeness is a behavior. As such it can be changed, and the toxic culture it creates will change along with it. But the leaders are the ones who have to start the process and sustain it.

Keep smiling and be respectful to one another. That is not just a happy-face platitude; it is a real-world strategy that helps build a winning culture and improve performance in organizations.  For more information about how you can build a more positive environment at your workplace, please call our Advice and Resolution team today at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

The Six Most Common Talent Management Mistakes

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Emotional Intelligence

In today’s post, our HR Business Partner Tom Sheehan shares the top mistakes your business needs to avoid when managing talent.

Talent management encompasses a broad spectrum of talent initiatives including workforce planning, recruiting, onboarding, performance management, development, succession planning, total rewards, and others. The goal of talent management is to create a high-performance, sustainable organization that meets its strategic and operational goals and objectives.

HR leaders play an active role in aligning the organization’s talent with its business objectives. Over the years I’ve seen six common talent management mistakes that reduce organizational performance.

1. Paying Below Market Value for Talent

When the demand for talent is high and the supply is low it can be very difficult to attract ‘A’ players. Often the candidate pool will be filled with those who are unhappy or already out of a job. When you pay below market value for talent, you tend to attract the wrong people, the ‘C’ or worse players. This will force you to make hiring decisions based on some of the most mediocre talent in the marketplace.

2. Maintaining a Long, Arduous Hiring Process

The purpose of a hiring and interviewing process is to identify the top potential prospects for a position. It should not be an endurance contest for the candidates. When the total hiring process lasts 2 months from start to finish, the organization will struggle to hire good talent. A good hiring process should last no longer than 3 – 4 weeks, any longer and good candidates will leave the process. Good talent will decide to stay where they are, they will find other opportunities to pursue and they will take other jobs. Make it a priority to keep your hiring process down to 3 – 4 weeks or less to insure you don’t lose the best talent.

3. Hiring Based on Interviewing Skills

Unfortunately, the majority of hiring today is based on the interviewing skills of the candidate and the personal chemistry developed during the interview process. The hiring manager often allows the personal chemistry with the candidate to influence and possibly drive the hiring decision. There are many individuals out there who are ‘professional interviewers.’ They can eloquently answer any question, explain why they got downsized and make it look like it was a promotion. Keep in mind, they are so good at interviewing for a reason, they have had lots of practice at it.

4. Lack of Defined Career Paths

When the goal is to hire top talent, it is imperative to map out the potential career path available, even if the path is dependent upon many variables. As long as the possibility exists, the position will hold a much higher chance of attracting the caliber of talent desired. This is not only important for hiring but also for keeping existing top performers from getting dissatisfied and happy with their career growth with your organization.

5. Not Interviewing When Empty Seats are Filled

It is often normal for organizations to stop all recruiting once their current open positions are filled. Not a good idea. With a low unemployment rate, there is a shortage of good talent. If you wait for the next opening to arise, you will slow future hiring to a crawl. Never stop interviewing for those positions which are most mission-critical or those with frequent turnover.

6. Tolerating Low Performers

GE made a practice each year of letting the bottom 5 -10% of the performers go in every division. The idea was to replace them with “A” players, thus continually creating an influx of strong new talent. It might feel good to have an organization where everyone is happy and there is no goal pressure. However, allowing poor performers to miss performance targets year after year has tremendous consequences.  It conditions the company and the employees to accept and tolerate unacceptable performance and drowns the organization in a sea of mediocrity. Poor performance management and lack of employee accountability can degrade your talent level in a hurry.

Should you have any further questions regarding how to manage your talent, please call our Advice and Resolution team today at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Study Shows Possible Negative Effects of Special Enrollment Periods

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Blog 015 PictureThe post below is a guest blog from Jay Lowe who serves as Principal, Health & Welfare Consultant for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

Recent data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that enrollment in Marketplace plans during Special Enrollment Periods (SEP) continues to increase. Between February 23 and June 30, 2015, CMS reports that close to 950,000 people enrolled in coverage. Under the ACA, a qualifying life event allows someone to enroll in Marketplace coverage at that time. One does not have to wait until the normal open enrollment period that begins November 1 for coverage to be effective January 1. The SEP could be triggered by such things as loss of group coverage, birth of a child, marriage or divorce. While this is a provision of the law that ensures Americans will not have to go without coverage, the SEP could prove to play a big part in the rising rates of the individual market year after year.

The Good and the Bad

The data in the CMS report suggests that during this SEP timeframe those enrolling tended to be younger than average. This can account for things like children aging off of their parents’ plans and parents enrolling their newborns in coverage. This is good as those that are younger tend to be healthier and have more predictable costs year in and year out. Insurers like this as the premium they pay in helps to offset the costs for those that have more health-related issues and tend to use more healthcare. Insuring the young, healthy population is a vital piece in helping to keep Marketplace costs lower and something that the insurance companies count on when determining rates every year. But the SEP provision for the Marketplace can pose a potential problem for these insurance companies.

So that insurers can more accurately determine the risk of their blocks of business and set rates accordingly, the ACA provides for an open enrollment period once per year. Without an SEP, a person is unable to enroll and must wait until the beginning of the next calendar year to have coverage. The problem that the SEP creates is now people can buy coverage outside of the normal annual open enrollment period. While the addition of the younger, healthier members is good, the SEPs also provide an opportunity for unhealthy members to join. The ACA requires insurance companies that participate in the Marketplace to provide coverage to anyone who enrolls. No longer can somebody be denied coverage or be rated up based on a health condition. While many who enroll during an SEP are young and healthy (which the insurance companies like), there are many who are sick and unhealthy. The insuring of this unknown risk poses a big problem for insurers as they are unable to adjust rates during the course of the year based on the medical conditions of those entering the plans. Members who enroll during an SEP get the same rates (based on age and plan design) as those that enrolled in the annual open enrollment period.

Ultimately, insurance companies may be forced to raise rates as claims and loss ratios go up. The SEPs provide a much needed avenue for people to buy insurance coverage. But what will this do to rates? As we enter in to the third year of the Marketplace it will be interesting to see how the insurers continue to respond to constant dilemma.