When we (my brother Jerry, and soon after, my current partner Don Rowe, and I) started our business in 2001 I remember thinking about how noisy the benefits technology market was. There were so many benefits type technology vendors calling on benefits brokers that most people’s heads were spinning. The mantra of the day was “use my technology” and you will have a competitive advantage. And the vendors would sometimes directly say, but more often simply imply, that “if you don’t use my technology then I will partner with the broker down the street and take your business”. I really hated that sales strategy though it worked for many. The vendors capitalized on the brokers fear of losing business.
When it came to things like benefit websites I wondered if anyone would ever use them, or more so, if anyone cared if anyone used them. I remember one broker telling me he was spending $100,000 per year on benefit websites. I asked him why he was wasting so much money when you can buy the same thing for $10,000. He said, “it doesn’t matter, it helps me win business”. Is that what this market was all about? I didn’t want any part of that. Here we are 15 years later and 76% of employees still don’t understand the term co-insurance, so I guess nobody is looking at them.
Our mission was never to just sell technology. What we really wanted to do was use our knowledge of how to apply technology to solve a business problem and our knowledge of the HR technology space to help employers simplify the administration of their Payroll, HR, and Benefits and expand employee self-service. This would free up time in HR, enabling staff to work more strategically and have more time for their employees. It would also deliver a communication and administration system to help employers bring new products and information to their employees. Over the past 15 years we have helped over 1000 employers find and implement HR technology solutions. Technology was the tool but our goal was to help get better outcomes. We really wanted to make things better for employers and employees.
It had also been our vision to help employers help their employees create better work-life balance and be happier at work and/or at home. If you are going to work hard to get through life I guess you deserve to be happy. I often tell the story of an employee of mine, a 23-year-old single mother, who one day called me crying because she could not get to work. Her car did not pass inspection because her tires were bald and she did not have the $500 for new tires. I proceeded to give her my credit card to buy new tires so she could get to work. I imagine my father, who with my mother, raised seven kids and often worked three jobs six and a half days a week had his share of stressful days, though he did not show it. And I wonder if he had an outlet when things got tough. He did this for 40 years. I don’t know how he did it.
I am not telling this story to let you know how nice a guy I am because I know this type of story plays out regularly in businesses across America. The bigger story is that most employers know that employee happiness and stress impacts productivity. And as an employer you hate to see hard working dedicated employees struggle to make it through a day. Life is not easy and one’s personal life and business life often conflict.
One problem is that over time we somewhat strayed from our initial vision. In Simon Sinek’s book, “Start with Why” he says your How’s and What can change but your Why’s should not. Unfortunately, we slowly strayed from our Why and became a technology consulting business and not a business that actually helped employers simplify their world and help the end employee create better work-life balance. Today the term being used is employee “well-being”. While many employers were buying technology with good intentions, many of them did not have the capacity to leverage the technology in a meaningful way. They may have improved HR operations to a degree but the outcomes had fallen way short of their goals. The technology was supposed to be a means to the end but it became the end. We advised employers on technology but our business did not follow it through to the very, very end. Did the employer ever reach their objective? Most don’t.
The other day I met with my staff to discuss our vision, our Why. I asked some people why they think we as a business, exist. One of my employees said, “to make brokers lives easier”. Another said, “to give brokers a competitive advantage”. It was enlightening and said a lot about where the business has drifted. I told them I do not wake up every day hoping to make brokers lives easier or to give them a competitive advantage. We think we what we do can provide a competitive advantage but that is not our Why. It is not what drives me or my partner. We also did not start the business to simply advise clients on technology or sell software. We started because we wanted to help employers help their employees.
Working with brokers is our How! Making it easier for them to help their employer clients and the employees is one of our tasks, our What’s. But it is not our why. The initial thought was that if we can pool resources and work collectively with local companies (Brokers and HR consultants) that shared the vision we could deliver a great solution to the market. We could centralize buying power and services. We could work with brokers to deliver the onsite local service. Sure we could leverage technology along the way but that was not the end. The technology is simply another tool, or resource, no different from my staff or the staff of our broker partners, to help employers create a better HR world for themselves and their employees.
For most workers they probably don’t go to work because it fits with their Why. If you are living paycheck to paycheck one’s Why is to do whatever it takes to pay the bills and support one’s family. A noble cause. I am pretty sure my father was not thinking of his Why. He just did what he had to do. In today’s environment employees are also more financially strapped with large college loans, increased health care costs, some still suffering from the housing crisis, and flat wages. For many, things are worse, not better.
The opportunity and need to help employers and their employees is greater than ever. The technology has advanced to become more user friendly and more engaging to employees. The number of vendors providing products and services in the HR area has expanded and range from new HR technology, to employee loan programs, online EAP programs, wellness, and more. And the daily use of mobile technology by individuals has exploded. However, the challenges for employers in the HR area are also greater as more laws, a more complex workforce, and emerging technologies have made HR even more chaotic with even less time available for change. They need help and not just someone who drops technology off at the front door. As many may have heard me say before, employers are needing landscapers not just lawn tractors.
So in 2015 we decided to re-focus our business and return to our initial vision, but this time we are doing it a little different. We are now laser focused on delivering better outcomes by providing services, not just technology, for employers and their employees. We don’t want to sell technology that nobody uses or deliver programs to employees that few ever use. The focus is on delivering the outcomes that will make a difference in their work-lives. We want the HR person to have less stress. We want employees who need help with some financial issue to have an outlet. We want the CEO to have actionable data. We want employees to understand their benefits. We want them to use their technology in an optimum way. We want to help.
To accomplish this, we felt we needed to combine centralized services with local services. We needed to add the staff with the skills but also needed the scale, and buying power. And we needed partners who share the vision and are as vested in delivering great outcomes as we are.
This new organization is called ProHCM. We view ProHCM as a franchise model of a national HR/Benefits/Payroll technology and services company with brokers as vested owners and service providers in their markets. ProHCM is a collection of Human Capital Management experts working together to deliver products and services that will guarantee better outcomes. It is a team effort.
So to those brokers out there that want to be a part of something unique, join us to create some better days for HR and their employees!
Excellent post. Your “why” isn’t any different, or shouldn’t be, then a benefits broker.