January 24, 2012
I’ve been railing against the best practice notion for the last year (read Avoiding the Comparison Trap of “Best Practice” and 3 Meaningless Health Management Phrases). In part it’s because results achieved with what passes for best in wellness — from needs assessments to environmental audits to structure to incentives — have been only marginally better than those from programming that makes no attempt to reach these bars.
We see wellness service buyers and vendors get so locked into the “right” way to implement a program that they fail to do what’s smart and staring them in the face. A case in point is the oft-cited “Make nutritious food available in vending machines” when there’s really no sensible reason for most workplaces to even have vending machines. Simply removing them automatically improves workplace eating habits because people bring healthier food from home. Try it; it works.
I’m not suggesting you stop looking for, or learning from, other successful wellness programs. To parallel Picasso’s quote — good health promoters borrow, great health promoters steal. So as you seek and apply great wellness program ideas, just don’t expect them to come from a list (no matter how well cited) put together by a sometimes self-serving organization.
But here’s the biggest reason I’m anti-best practice… It can suck the imagination and drive out of otherwise talented health promoters. It creates a checklist mentality, where managers go down the page making sure they’ve got this and that. The net effect is a program with blinders on, often spending money to find answers they already know, and failing to invest resources in things that work, but don’t show up on the checklist.
This approach is the comfortable choice. After all, how can anyone blame you for weak results if you’re following best practice?
Forget what you know for a minute and ask yourself … if you were going to design a healthy workplace from the ground up, what would you do?
|The Comfortable Choice||The Uncomfortable Choice|
|Spend a quarter of your budget on an assessment that ultimately tells you your population needs to move more and eat more vegetables.||Invest the money in activities that actually get people to move more and eat more vegetables.|
|Hire a consultant to do a culture audit to tell you your culture isn’t very healthy.||Take what you already know about healthy culture, then sell the idea and the steps to make it happen — beginning with top management.|
|Provide cash or high-dollar incentives to boost participation.||Drop all high-cost incentives; instead, meet face to face with every employee group to sell the idea that good health is a shared responsibility and its own reward — for them and the organization.|
|Shorten the length of wellness campaigns because completion rates are higher for shorter programs.||Dig deep by talking to participants to find out why engagement trails off as time goes by, then invest the energy to maintain participation for longer periods so the healthy behaviors become habits.|
|Complete an expensive claim analysis to learn your healthcare expenditures pretty much mimic national patterns.||Conduct 1-to-1 screenings that give employees immediate feedback on their personal health risks and provide a teachable moment as well as a chance to triage them to the most appropriate wellness resource.|
|Rely solely on your health portal or internal wellness website to promote your services.||Get out from behind the desk (you + your staff/volunteers/advocates) to press the flesh, giving your wellness program a face and a name.|
|Conduct multiple choice wellness surveys where answers are skewed by the options presented.||Ask open-ended questions like What worked best for you? What can we do better? Then read and categorize every comment to get a less biased picture of what people really care about.|
|Send out a management survey, then build your programming around it so you can meet the needs of your stakeholders.||Develop your vision with appropriate justification, then sell it from the top down in individual meetings.|
In each instance, the uncomfortable choice requires some risk and a lot of heavy lifting. You’ve got to put yourself out there, figuratively and literally, and work harder than if you make the comfortable choice.
If you’re satisfied with the results achieved to date, don’t change a thing. But if you want to break out; if you want to do something extraordinary that has the possibility of producing amazing results; if you want to do better than best practice, take some time this month to consider some uncomfortable choices.