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How to Create a Winning Open Enrollment Strategy in 5 Steps

To the average employee, open enrollment may seem like a two-week time period. For benefits professionals, the reality is that you work all year long to prepare for it.

Although, the time that’s spent planning for open enrollment can be a particularly stressful one. Often, you have multiple, conflicting objectives to meet like mitigating rising health care costs, while maintaining a competitive benefits package and creating a personalized experience. In today’s consumer-centric world, it’s also not just about what benefits you offer, but how you’re presenting them and then, taking that even further, how you’re helping employees become good consumers of those benefits. Those pain points may seem front and center, but open enrollment also presents an incomparable opportunity for engagement.

Here’s the fine print. To realize that opportunity to its fullest, you have to connect the right tools to the right products with the right process.    

Let’s take a look at the five-step process to bring your open enrollment to life and achieve a winning open enrollment strategy:

1. Gather your data

Data can be your best friend. It can help you diagnose your condition before you prescribe a solution. As the most valuable place to start, you also benefit from having a variety of data at your disposal. 

First, you can get a clear picture with internal insights (i.e. your data snapshot). Benefit enrollment reports can give you insights into plan migration and counts, dependent coverage and more. Benefit utilization reports help you understand how your employees are using medical, voluntary and ancillary benefits as well as show you details around pharmacy claims. You can also take advantage of other data points like demographic information as well as others that are not always top of mind like salary, education level and gender. We’re in a time where five generations are coming together in the workforce, and that means you should consider how your benefits speak to these needs.

Taking it all into consideration can help you be more intentional with your benefits. For example, let’s say you realize you have a strong segment of employees that are female and in their 30’s. This information can help drive decisions around benefits that would appeal to them such as fertility benefits or childcare assistance. Finally, company culture can provide insights. Consider what your company’s overall vision is and then see how your benefits program can support that throughout the entire year.

Insights that you garner outside of what’s readily available to you are also key. This is where you can get feedback directly from the horse’s mouth by launching quick surveys through your company’s business platforms or through a more comprehensive, annual total well-being survey. And if you use a call center, you can glean insights from their utilization reports to help you identify trends you can address.

Once you have all of your data gathered, it’s time to conduct a full SWOT analysis. Your strengths and weaknesses are those you can address internally. Opportunities will come out of that analysis and can be complemented by what’s trending in the general benefits landscape or among competitors. Finally, your threats may be those external factors you don’t necessarily have control over like health care inflation, turnovers, acquisitions or others.

More benefits. Less administration.

2. Define your Objectives & Key Results (OKRs)

If you’re not familiar with Objectives & Key Results (OKRs), they’re a simple tool to create alignment and engagement around measurable goals. For open enrollment, OKRs help you more clearly define your mission or vision of what you want it to be.

Your objectives should be ambitious. In fact, they may even be uncomfortable for what you are trying to achieve. You’ll want to have at least two to three objectives, and for each objective, you’ll have two to three key results. Those key results should be measurable action items that can be graded by a number or percentage.

Here’s an example:

Objective: Increase health care consumerism
Key Result: Drive 15% greater utilization of GoodRx (pharmacy discount vendor)
Key Result: Drive 10% higher adoption rates of HDHP combined with HSA

As mentioned, OKRs are a tool to help create alignment. So, when starting down the path, you’ll need to pull in the right individuals. Typically, that means C-level executives. By presenting the data you uncovered in step one, you can outline what you’re seeing and your vision. Then, follow up with a short questionnaire to understand what they’d like to achieve. Ultimately, you want to make sure your time is not wasted and that everyone’s in agreement before you move forward.

What’s great about OKRs is that they’re a tool for alignment, but they also encourage accountability throughout every step of open enrollment. They are not intended to be private, but rather should be shared and updated on a regular basis to keep accountability in check and help elevate any issues before they have a significant impact on your success metrics.

3. Create your game plan

Your “game plan” is simply a fancier way of laying out the specific process you will put in place to achieve your vision.

This involves being very intentional about setting timelines, setting them early and sticking to them. Too often, there isn’t an open enrollment kickoff date in mind. Suddenly, it’s the end of summer and you find yourself scrambling to set a date, while competing with other company priorities. That’s why it’s important to look at a calendar and set the date early so you can then work backwards to implement other target dates associated with open enrollment such as the launch date for your open enrollment video or mass mailing.  

This is where you should be as specific as possible and also share your game plan so everyone is on the same page.

4. Rally your team

While many benefits professionals are on a powerful team of one or two people, you were never meant to manage open enrollment all on your own.

Whether you realize it or not, you already have a team ready to pitch in. Your vendors and partners are all an extension of your benefits team and should be pulled in. Share with them the “why” behind your strategy and help them understand the vision you’re trying to achieve.

Also, it’s important to build a team throughout your organization with representation from various departments and types of employees. That way you can recognize others’ strengths and creativity. Plus, it helps to build excitement and spread your open enrollment message as well as gain different perspectives.

When you build your team, the key is to communicate clearly and frequently. Using your OKRs, you can give immediate purpose to your meetings and use it as a framework to identify barriers and talk through your game plan.

Finally, make it fun! One way to do that is to incorporate rewards for those involved and attach them to key open enrollment results. 

5. Take action

You’ve done all of this great work to set you and your team up for success. Now, you just need to take action and make sure that your strategy is put into place.

Here are the key ways to put your plan into action and make it a reality:

  • Schedule utilization reviews with carriers and vendors today, and ask your executive team to join if available
  • Create and launch an employee survey
  • Reach out to potential partners that can help you address gaps
  • Pull together your open enrollment team and set your calendar
  • Meet regularly to stay on target

Ultimately, you want to bring your open enrollment to life. So, when you start planning your next open enrollment, consider implementing these five steps.

Find deeper insight on each of these five steps in the on-demand webinar, Developing a Winning Strategy for Open Enrollment.

About the Author

Misty Guinn is the Director of Customer Advocacy at Benefitfocus. She works closely with customers and stakeholders to build relationships and experiences that cannot be replicated anywhere else by designing programs that champion Benefitfocus’ brand, people and culture. She’s dedicated to consumer-centric design in creating innovative employee benefit plans, communication strategies and creative wellbeing engagement programs that foster the foundations of a healthier and more resilient workforce and community. In her previous role at Benefitfocus, she served as the Director of Benefits & Wellness where she established best practices in benefits engagement, education and data-driven strategies. She continues to contribute as a thought leader in employee total wellbeing and health care consumerism.

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