Winning at the Politics of Wellness

Some people love politics while others would rather have a root canal. Regardless, the campaign model holds several ideas you can use to strengthen your wellness program.

  • Set an election day. Every wellness program strategic goal should have its own election day — the day you determine whether you won or lost; some will be annual, while others will be longer term. Just as in politics, there’s much to learn from winning or losing, reaching the goal or falling short.

  • Grease the skids. The easiest way to engender support is to thank people for participating. Just as savvy politicians follow up with phone calls and handwritten notes thanking campaign workers, health promoters need to set aside time for reaching out personally to participants.

  • Get your message out. Successful politicians aren’t shy about repeating their message, over and over. Health promoters have a tendency to believe that sharing their vision once or twice means the population they serve actually knows it. That’s not true. Decide your main message — healthcare cost savings, productivity enhancement, valued benefit — then repeat it often, backed with supporting data from surveys and program evaluations.

  • Behave like the challenger. Although there’s no apparent “opponent,” don’t be lulled into believing you’re an incumbent for life, no matter how successful you are today. The next CEO, new competition, or rise in oil prices could be a threat to your program. Continue to build the business case for health promotion with successful services so you can weather any change in your organization’s political mood.

  • Shake hands and kiss babies. There’s an unfortunate side effect of enhanced electronic communication: many health promoters are less visible than they were a decade ago. People may know your name, but haven’t met you or had a conversation. When it comes time for a vote of confidence — like supporting the wellness program when benefits are being cut back — it’s a lot easier to vote against the function without a face.
  • Get the easy votes. Wellness managers sometimes obsess over reaching the hard to reach, to the detriment of reaching the easy to reach. Establish a strong base by designing and marketing your services first to those most likely to participate. Once you’ve got a firm base you can go after the undecideds. And don’t waste time on the hard opposition (those who think your programs are a waste of resources). You’ll never change their minds; don’t spend time and energy you could use to expand your base.
  • Prepare for the debate. Share regular or annual presentations/reports on your program’s success — and prepare, just like the candidates. Do your homework, have the facts and figures at your fingertips, anticipate the inevitable naysayer (the person in the audience who’s just looking for a chink in your armor), and practice. You want to be as confident in your delivery as you are in your record of achievement.