Category Archives: Entrepreneur

7 ways to increase employee satisfaction without giving a raise

A few years ago when employees became dissatisfied with their organization they would quit and get another job. Today, with placement opportunities very low and unemployment extremely high, very few people opt to quit and leave. As a result something much worse is happening within organizations.  Employees “quit,” but they stay.  In the last year, overall job satisfaction in the U.S. has declined significantly. Employees feel stuck in their current jobs and their dissatisfaction with the organizations they work for increases.

However, not all organizations are experiencing these dismal results. A recent assessment of employee satisfaction by one of our clients showed a significant improvement over past years, though this company was not immune to the effects of the recession. Examination of the data showed 7 factors that created this positive increase in their satisfaction, even during the economy’s poorest times.

1. Consistent Values. In some organizations, employees observe that core values appear to be abandoned when the economy is poor. Leadership values seemed to apply in good times, but to dwindle or even disappear during stress. This organization, however, held tightly to its core values as the economy turned. Employees began to more fully appreciate those values as well when they saw what was happening in other companies during difficult times.

2. Long Term Focus. This company clearly saw the recession as a temporary problem, and maintained its focus on the longterm objectives. The recession had a significant impact on the longterm objectives, but it created new opportunities as well. Employees don’t mind going through difficult times when they believe there is a brighter future ahead.

3. Local Leadership. company recognized that the major source of satisfaction or dissatisfaction came from what happen in each work group. Every manager and supervisor received a clear assessment of the satisfaction of their employees and was challenged to find opportunities to improve.

4. Continuous Communication. People tend to communicate less during bad times, when in actuality, they need to communicate even more. This company increased its efforts to communicate and share important information. If there was no good news to share, they would share the reality of their current situation.

5. Collaboration. Groups made significant improvements in their ability to share resources and work together. This reduced costs and increased efficiency.

6. Opportunities for Development. Because the pace of work was slower, people had the opportunity to learn new skills and develop new capabilities. This organization took advantage of the slower time by challenging employees with “stretch” job assignments. They also increased formal training.

7. Speed and Agility. With less budget, everyone saw the need to move quickly and take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace. Speed of decision was emphasized.

Clearly, it is a fallacy to assume that bad times equate to lower job satisfaction. As our research illustrates, it is simply not true. The organization we described made significant gains in satisfaction and commitment during one of the worst financial times in history by doing the right things, and doing them well. These improvements helped the company create substantial financial momentum during the challenging economy as well.

The moral of the story is this: Many organizations wait for an economic and business turnaround to measure the satisfaction of their employees, but they are missing a great opportunity. By assessing now, they can build on the current opinions in any economy and can make the changes that will help them capitalize on better financial times. The activity also instills greater trust: By asking for opinions now, you are showing your employees that you’re not just asking for what you want to hear, but rather asking for what you need to be hearing as well. So what are you waiting for? If you value your employees’ satisfaction, the time to be asking for their feedback is now.

Update on Exchanges, Obamacare and progress

I am pleased to report that the Federal Marketplace and the New York State of Health site (the two I use all day) are actually working.  It takes about 15 minutes to set up your account (if I do it- it will take you longer to understand the questions).  Then it will take me about 15 minutes to walk you through the options, explain them, and help you make a decision.

Remember – (Almost) Everything has changed.  More expensive plans, coupled with higher deductibles, are what everyone is talking about and they are a reality.  The rules have mostly changed as well.

One of the sneaky changes this year that I do not hear much about (yet) in the media is how the Networks have changed.   Obamacare has a large focus on cutting expenses and controlling costs, and to do this, network size is shrinking.  Hospital selections are being reduced.

You can no longer assume that your network has all the doctors and hospitals in it that it had in a couple of weeks ago.  There are preferred hospitals with higher deductibles for other hospitals;  preferred networks that – if you go out of the preferred network – you pay more for other “in-network” doctors, etc.

All in all, it appears chaotic, but we have a handle on it and are getting our clients enrolled where they need to go.  If you have questions (who doesn’t!) just give us a call.

 

HealthCare.gov: Your Reminder Not To Skimp on Quality Assurance

This is a great reminder to Business owners, from Entrepreneur Magazine

 

With millions of Americans still unable to access the troubled Obamacare sign-up site, HealthCare.gov, it was no surprise when the man who oversaw the rollout, Tony Trenkle, announced on Nov. 6 that he would be stepping down. The site was overwhelmed with traffic when it went live on Oct. 1, and only six people were able to sign up for health insurance there on that day, according to documents released by the U.S. House of Representatives. The White House won’t say how many sign-ups have happened since then, but the site is still so buggy the President himself has advised people to enroll by phone instead.

Experts in the information technology industry say the flawed HealthCare.gov debut can be summed up with two words: quality assurance (QA). Or rather, lack thereof. QA, once a staple of software development, if often given short-shrift when projects have limited funding, short deadlines, or both, as was the case with HealthCare.gov. But many observers say the industry can learn valuable lessons from the site’s debut about the importance of prioritizing QA.

In its simplest terms, QA is a systematic process of monitoring a technology project while it’s being completed, to ensure at every step along the way that all the stakeholders—most importantly the final users—will get the product they’re expecting. It’s often more involved than it sounds, however. “First you have to be able to communicate the customers’ needs to the members of the development team, then the project manager needs to monitor the team on an ongoing basis to ensure it’s delivering what the customer wants,” says Dan Katz, vice president of technology for McClean, Va.-based INADEV, a provider of mobile technology.

One key to making QA work, Katz says, is effective communication—a challenge on projects like HealthCare.gov, which involved stitching together information from multiple stakeholders, including state health agencies, insurance companies, and the federal government. “With such a massive project, the overall architecture of the application needs to be really well planned out up front,” says Katz, who spent the early part of his career as a web developer for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. Then there needs to be a continuous hand-off of information among all of the parties that are contributing to the site. “You need a lot of opportunity for peer review and for catching problems before something is packaged up and delivered,” Katz says.

Successful QA teams should include not only software experts, but people with a deep understanding of the industry the site will be serving, says Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a New York-based software quality analysis firm, and the director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality, which is working to develop QA standards. “If you know healthcare, you know all the different weird things that can happen when people sign up for accounts, and you can be prepared for those,” Curtis says. “Part of functionality is understanding all the possible different conditions that the site has to be ready to handle.”

QA often goes by the wayside when there’s a tight deadline for delivering the final site—most definitely an issue with HealthCare.gov. But experts watching the botched rollout from the sidelines believe the problems could have been averted if the White House had staged the project rather than putting up the full site all at once. For example, they could have put up a bare bones site on Oct. 1, perhaps allowing visitors to set up accounts but not to sign up for particular plans yet. Then more sophisticated capabilities could have been layered on to the site over time, giving the QA team more time to test them before unleashing millions of consumers onto the site.

“This was such a huge project that I do think they should have had checkpoints along the way that said ‘Phase 1 will include this, Phase 2 will add this, and Phase 3 will be complete,’” says Brenda Hall, CEO of Bridge360, an Austin, Texas-based software developer. “One good risk mitigator is to start with lesser functionality.”

Hall was so disturbed by the HealthCare.gov rollout she blogged about it on Oct. 30, urging software developers to learn from the fiasco and never crimp on QA. “The way of the world today is quick, quick, quick because we’re so connected,” Hall says. “I don’t think pushing quality aside is the answer. Plan for it on Day One. There’s really no excuse to not integrate quality into the overall process.”

 

Political Theatre, or “solution?”

Yesterday, November 14, the President made an empassioned “Mea Culpa” speech.  He “accepted responsibility” for the disaster that is Health Care Reform, acknowledged that the law is raising costs, eliminating options, and that more than 5 million are losing coverage because of it.

And then, he made it worse.  He said that he was going to allow people to keep what they have another year.  There are many things wrong with this statement, but the biggest is this – He is once again misleading the American People, and adding another layer of confusion to this mess.   Isn’t that how we got here in the first place?  Have we not had enough pain already, without giving people hope that, somehow, he could wave his magic wand and make it all go away?

Lets look at the facts:

1)  The law doesn’t allow him to do that. Congress passed this law, and they will have to amend it to allow for this to happen.  After months of denying publicly that Obamacare cannot be changed “because its the law” suddenly it can be changed?  While I doubt the republicans would be crazy enough at this point to oppose this (there is a vote today in Congress), anything is possible in a Congress with a 9% approval rating.  The only thing they can technically do, without legislation, is to look the other way…

2)  What he really said in the fine print is that he will “allow the states” to “allow the insurance companies” to let people keep plans that do not meet minimum requirements.

“The president’s proposal would allow insurers to offer plans in 2014 that were previously slated to sunset this year, but require the companies to let consumers know how — if at all — their policies don’t comply with the minimum benefits of the Affordable Care Act, according to a source briefed on the proposal.”

The problem here is that, for four years, insurance companies have spent literally billions to comply with all the mandated changes.  Now those changes are in effect, software is changed, systems and changed, staff is retrained – NOW – 45 days from full implementation – they should change everything back?

3)  Putting two “allows” into a sentence does not make this – in any way – a guarantee.  “Well, maybe the insurance companies will agree to do this, if maybe the insurance commissioners in the states and the state legislatures and the Governors allow them to.”  So what, actually, did you really do?  Any business owner knows that this is cheap talk.  “Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear a thing you’re saying.”  There is no action being taken here.

Immediately, insurance commissioners all over the country (except California) announced they would not allow this to happen.  The National Association of Insurance Commissioners said the move “could threaten the viability of insurance markets…”.  In many cases, companies have left entire markets and have no approved products in the states where people have just been told “they can keep their plan.”  Some companies have completely gone out of the business and have no ability to “come back.”

4)  Eventually, the President admitted that, now if people couldn’t keep their plan it would be the states fault, and not the fault of the law.  So really, this is a last ditch effort to “pass the buck” and give them someone else to blame?  It would be very sad, if in fact it wasn’t so hurtful to so many Americans.

THE WORST PART of this is the timing – Employers and individuals are in the middle of making final decisions about changing their coverages.  They know have to decide if they should move forward with what we know are the new plans, new rules, and new rates – or to wait and hope that somehow this last minute change will give them a reprieve.  Employers in NY really have to make decisions in the next week about changing for 12/1 or going to the new plans on 1/1.  Individuals all over the country – already confused, unable to get onto the exchange, now have to absorb yet another confusing factor and try to interpret what it all means to them.

Call me if you have concerns or questions.  My crystal ball is still broken, but I will hold your hand as we walk through the dark forest together!

THE MAJOR RETIREMENT PLANNING MISTAKES

Why are they made again and again?

Much has been written about the classic financial mistakes that plague start-ups, family businesses, corporations and charities. Aside from these blunders, there are also some classic financial missteps that plague retirees.

Calling them “mistakes” may be a bit harsh, as not all of them represent errors in judgment. Yet whether they result from ignorance or fate, we need to be aware of them as we plan for and enter retirement.

Leaving work too early. The full retirement age for many baby boomers is 66. As Social Security benefits rise about 8% for every year you delay receiving them, waiting a few years to apply for benefits can position you for greater retirement income.1

Some of us are forced to make this “mistake”. Roughly 40% of us retire earlier than we want to; about half of us apply for Social Security before full retirement age. Still, any way that you can postpone applying for benefits will leave you with more SSI.1

Underestimating medical expenses. Fidelity Investments says that the typical couple retiring at 65 today will need $240,000 to pay for their future health care costs (assuming one spouse lives to 82 and the other to 85). The Employee Benefit Research Institute says $231,000 might suffice for 75% of retirements, $287,000 for 90% of retirements. Prudent retirees explore ways to cover these costs – they do exist.2

Taking the potential for longevity too lightly. Are you 65? If you are a man, you have a 40% chance of living to age 85; if you are a woman, a 53% chance. Those numbers are from the Social Security Administration. Planning for a 20- or 30-year retirement isn’t absurd; it may be wise. The Society of Actuaries recently published a report in which about half of the 1,600 respondents (aged 45-60) underestimated their projected life expectancy. We still have a lingering cultural assumption that our retirements might duplicate the relatively brief ones of our parents.3

Withdrawing too much each year. You may have heard of the “4% rule”, a popular guideline stating that you should withdraw only about 4% of your retirement savings annually. The “4% rule” isn’t a rule, but many cautious retirees do try to abide by it.

So why do some retirees withdraw 7% or 8% a year? In the first phase of retirement, people tend to live it up; more free time naturally promotes new ventures and adventures, and an inclination to live a bit more lavishly.

Ignoring tax efficiency & fees. It can be a good idea to have both taxable and tax-advantaged accounts in retirement. Assuming that your retirement will be long, you may want to assign that or that investment to it “preferred domain” – that is, the taxable or tax-advantaged account that may be most appropriate for that investment in pursuit of the entire portfolio’s optimal after-tax return.

Many younger investors chase the return. Some retirees, however, find a shortfall when they try to live on portfolio income. In response, they move money into stocks offering significant dividends or high-yield bonds – which may be bad moves in the long run. Taking retirement income off both the principal and interest of a portfolio may give you a way to reduce ordinary income and income taxes.

Account fees must also be watched. The Department of Labor notes that a 401(k) plan with a 1.5% annual account fee would leave a plan participant with 28% less money than a 401(k) with a 0.5% annual fee.4

Avoiding market risk. The return on many fixed-rate investments might seem pitiful in comparison to other options these days. Equity investment does invite risk, but the reward may be worth it.

Retiring with big debts. It is pretty hard to preserve (or accumulate) wealth when you are handing chunks of it to assorted creditors.

Putting college costs before retirement costs. There is no “financial aid” program for retirement. There are no “retirement loans”. Your children have their whole financial lives ahead of them. Try to refrain from touching your home equity or your IRA to pay for their education expenses.

Retiring with no plan or investment strategy. Many people do this – too many. An unplanned retirement may bring terrible financial surprises; retiring without an investment strategy leaves some people prone to market timing and day trading.4

These are some of the classic retirement planning mistakes. Why not plan to avoid them? Take a little time to review and refine your retirement strategy in the company of the financial professional you know and trust.

 

Reeve Conover can be reached at 877-423-9990 or Reeve@ReeveWillKnow.com

 

This material was prepared by MarketingLibrary.Net Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

 

Citations.

1 – moneyland.time.com/2012/04/17/the-7-biggest-retirement-planning-mistakes/ [4/17/12]

2 – money.usnews.com/money/blogs/planning-to-retire/2012/05/10/fidelity-couples-need-240000-for-retirement-health-costs/ [5/10/12]

3 – www.forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2012/08/10/americans-clueless-about-life-expectancy-bungling-retirement-planning/ [8/10/12]

4 – www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/personal/shop-smart-avoid-seven-common-errors-in-retirement-plans-635633/ [5/13/12]

 

 

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Reeve Conover is a Registered Representative. Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/dealer member FINRA/SPIC. Cambridge and Conover Consulting are not affiliated. Licensed in SC, NC, NY, CT, NJ, and CA.
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