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The Secret to Health Management Program Sustainability: Why Getting It Right the First Time Isn’t Good Enough


Let’s say you’ve done a great job of launching your employee health management program or completed communication around open enrollment. The initial results are positive — engagement is high and early results are positive… But after the initial excitement energy of launch and/or open enrollment has ebbed and organizational priorities shift, how do you keep your health management efforts from becoming a memory? Better yet, how do you shift wellness from a one-off corporate initiative to a long-term pillar of the corporate culture?

I recently had the opportunity to moderate the “Pathways to Sustainability” panel discussion at the 2012 HERO Forum. The panel included some truly experienced health management professionals and long-term industry experts including Catherine M. Baase of The Dow Chemical Company, K. Andrew Crighton of Prudential Financial, and Hank Orme of Lincoln Industries.

Program, initiative, or strategic business objective?

I started out the discussion by asking our panelists and the audience to think about their health management endeavors and whether they would consider them a “program,” an “initiative” or a “strategic business objective.” What I heard was surprising and encouraging. All of our panelists indicated that their efforts in health management are not a mere program, but are truly business initiatives. Some noted that population health reaches even further – with definitive health management strategies spanning multiple areas of the organization. This is important, and a clear area of consideration for employers that are undertaking health initiatives with their populations. I encourage you to define your approach to health and align your strategic steps accordingly.

The secret to health management program sustainability: planned evolution and integration with overall business objectives.

What came across loud and clear in our discussion is that programs that don’t evolve to meet changing requirements tend to become stale and poorly utilized and may create more pressures around demonstrating the value of the investment. Every element of your health management program should have a planned evolution to keep it fresh and innovative. That means continually thinking ahead, planning your next steps, evaluating your course, and adapting where necessary. Here are a few key areas to focus on that will help you keep things fresh.

Metrics and data – Determining your progress against goals is probably one of the best ways to determine impact, gaps, and opportunities. If you didn’t achieve your goals, check to be sure they were realistic and then take steps to update and determine areas of progress or lack of progress. Take a look at risks by geographic area and location. Look for outliers and consider targeted initiatives. Compare health risks in those locations to safety or absence data. Understand the story the data is telling and plan accordingly.

Incentives – Develop a phased incentive strategy that drives engagement over time.What motivates people once may not be enough to keep them interested in following years. But don’t just adjust rewards – consider increasing accountability by asking your population to engage in meaningful activities to earn rewards in subsequent years

Innovation– Keep your program fresh with new enhancements that drive engagement. Consider incorporating new technologies such as digital health coaching applications, remote monitoring devices, and mobile-enabled resources that match consumers’ needs. Tap into local opportunities. Leverage social connections and identify new ways to breakthrough barriers.

Communication– Don’t neglect your wellness brand. It’s important to keep things new and exciting by giving your wellness program communications a face-lift every few years. Update your communication design to help breathe new energy into your program. Utilize new and old ways of communication. Voicemail system messaging and word of mouth are still great resources for communication. Provide key talking points for leadership and champion networks. Ensure you have year-round messaging, not just during open enrollment or when things change.

Culture — Engrain your initiatives in organizational principles so health management evolves over time as the company does. Wellness tentacles should reach everywhere, from hiring and on-boarding, to facilities planning, management performance reviews, and even social outlets. Consider tying employee energy and performance to your health program – incorporate productivity in non-standard ways.

Feedback – Solicit feedback from employees through focus groups, surveys, and anecdotal input to help you understand their perceptions and barriers to engagement. Continually evaluating your wellness program’s value proposition will help you keep it relevant to changing employee needs.

Health management in the workplace has come a long way. Never stop looking for ways to improve and entrench your objectives into the overall organization. Stay close to management on progress and up-to-date on industry business and health management trends. Continuing to find ways to intersect these will continue to keep the foundation you are building – or have built – strong.

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