Written By: Krystal Clarkson, Director of Strategic Initiatives, P&B Live

onnect: www.linkedin.com/in/krystalclarkson/

Okay, let out your big sigh and just know that you aren’t the only person who looks forward to the new year simply because it means open enrollment is now in the past… at least for a few months.

Few things can be as stressful for your Human Resources (HR) department as open enrollment. But you can turn open enrollment into a simple process that saves everyone time and energy (this includes you).  Just remember the 4 “P”s of open enrollment and you will be wearing a superman/superwoman cape in no time.


When you finish with open enrollment this year, fight the urge to kick up your feet and relax knowing you have a few months to breathe. We all know that planning is the key to successful project management. So this year, when you walk into the office for the first workday of 2015, get to work.  Make a list of things successes and failures from this year’s open enrollment and plan to do it better in 2015. Translate this list into a communication that you can share with your entire team. Use this communication as an opportunity to recognize the people in your department who deserve a pat on the back for a DEFCON 1 circumvention or maybe a project MVP. When it comes time to share the pitfalls of the project, laugh about it, but also make it known that it is expected that you will all learn from your mistakes and avoid making them twice.

Once you perform your post mortem evaluation of the most recent open enrollment, you can begin to formulate a plan for 2015. It will be much easier to design an intuitive and innovative approach when your most recent attempt is fresh on your mind. Hindsight is always 20/20. Just make sure you use it in forward sight planning.


Preparation and planning are similar, but not the same. See the below terms defined.

Plan: any diagram or list of steps with timing and resources, used to achieve an objective
Preparation: the action or process of making ready or being made ready for use

So after you have written an EPIC plan for this year and you are feeling good about your offensive attack, make sure you also define all of the resources and gaps that need to be filled before you begin to make this plan successful. Be realistic about budgets and time allotments for certain steps in the process. There is nothing worse than missing a deadline that you set yourself because you had high hopes for productivity. How does your team track its project milestones? There are dozens of free and low cost applications that can help collaboration and communication across functional teams during a project cycle. This is the day of technology. Embrace it! One of my personal favorites is Asana. Check it out here: www.asana.com.

You can utilize these type of tools to make sure that everyone knows the project goal and it is clearly communicated to everyone involved. This is a good way to stay on task on multiple projects all at the same time. As you know, open enrollment wasn’t built in a day. It will always be a work in progress.


Okay, take a deep breath, and try to remain calm while you file through all of your vendor relationships in your head. Write each one down and rate them on 3 different criteria: Quality, Trust and Service. Make sure you have conversations early in the year with each vendor or supplier to ensure expectations for each of these categories are clearly set for 2015. If you know a supplier is getting canned, start your replacement search now. If your broker royally dropped the ball, get your switch out of the way early in this benefit cycle. This way you can get acquainted with a new partner and define a plan of action to accomplish your plan goals for this year. If cost containment is an issue because of high claims, your broker should be your biggest help in recognizing and addressing key issues. If your current broker isn’t actively helping you reach your benefit plan goals throughout the year, you might want to start some window shopping.

Your partnerships can make or break a successful open enrollment. Vendor management is one place you don’t want to procrastinate. If you have doubts about the relationship, touch base and set up a time to chat before you need them for something. This way, if a change is necessary, you don’t get stuck because of time constraints.

Precise Communication

So this is where your planning and preparation can bring you home to victory. As long as you use precise communication to your team and your customers (yes, your employees are your customers), your dreams will be realized.

Employee communication and engagement is a big topic of conversation in the HR world right now. If you are a large company, you likely have an entire department to help with this. If you are still small but growing, you may be HR, finance, and employee therapist while also trying to throw together the one-off flyer about open enrollment or work site safety. Whichever one you are, be precise. (Precise: marked by exactness and accuracy of expression or detail)


Early in the year, send everyone a calendar reminder for when open enrollment will be with a reminder one and two months in advance. According to a Global Workforce Study, 63{ea7427a437b28cbad7e7d899824905928e2417ff8c20d55929235e4c32efaa1c} of employers state employee communication is top challenge during open enrollment. There are ways to reach each person you need to reach. However, they may all be very different. Think of yourself as a marketing professional while you begin the planning and preparation for employee communications. You must be strategic. Mr. Smith in manufacturing is going to need a very different means of communication than Mrs. Rogers in administration. This is another place that you can really put your partnerships to work. Talk to your broker about how they can help or check out companies like PartnerComm (www.partnercomm.com) or ROC Group (www.rocgroup.com) to see how they can help.

I know, I know, I made it sound really simple, but I couldn’t possibly know what complexities lay before you. I promise, I do. As a director for an employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm in Dallas, TX, it is what I do.

Thanks for reading, want to chat?E-Mail me! kclarkson@pandblive.com Connect: www.linkedin.com/in/krystalclarkson/

I will leave you with a few things your employees wish you knew:

True Confessions: What Employees Want You to Know
Source: The ROC Group, Employee Focus Groups

  • No more, please, I get too much junk mail and too much information from my employer – I usually just toss it.
  • We have something called an HSA, an FSA and an HRA.  I’m afraid to enroll in these because I don’t understand what they are or how to use them.
  •  I have to figure out my plan options and what my husband’s company offers.  Then I have to figure out what we can really afford and what is actually covered.  It’s just too much to ask of one person!
  • One thing I know for sure is every year at the same time I get this huge packet of information that goes into great detail about my benefits.
  • If you’re going to change benefits, give us insight on what the change means.  We can’t change it but at least we understand what we’re getting. 

The ROC Group recommendations for effectively communicating Open Enrollment at your company:

  • Create “just-in-time” pieces (such as decision guides) to simplify the amount of information employees receive during open enrollment –  focusing only on the decisions that need to be made now  OR use “learning maps”, a forum for 2-way communication that can help simplify complex information
  • Create your communications strategy using multiple media (i.e. web site article, posters, digital messages, user guides, text reminders, postcards and whiteboard videos)
  • Create “aha” moments using neuromarketing techniques (e.g. a new field of marketing research that studies consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and effective response to marketing stimuli), to help to make your messages memorable
  • Be consistent – Use a central communication channel to make sure your messaging remains consistent and employees know where to go. This will allow for an easy way to streamline updates across all enrollment materials