Hello, my name is Karl, and I love insurance. (group: Welcome, Karl)

I’m a self-described insurance geek, and I have been for years. My family has learned to not involve me in the planning of family events, as I enjoy predicting exactly what will go wrong during activities. I call it risk management, they call it irritating.

In the pie charts of projected ACA coverage, one slice really bothers me. I have always wondered who the people in the “Still No Insurance” slice are. What would push someone to NOT have insurance? I’m enough of an insurance geek and risk manager I just couldn’t fathom it. Fresh data came out on September 30, 2013 from Gallup: they surveyed more than 5000 uninsured Americans of various types, and asked whether they plan to get insurance or pay the fine for not doing so. 65 percent said they would get health insurance, 25 percent said they wouldn’t.

I wanted to find out who these risk scofflaws are that reject everything I hold dear. I didn’t have to look far – I found an example behind the counter at my local camera store. The head cashier has always been very cordial and efficient, an apparently intelligent person with a basic, professional mindset. Or so I thought.

I was wearing my dress shirt with “Gregory & Appel Insurance”. She overheard me talking with the owner about the opening of the Marketplaces and how it may affect their options. She pointed to the logo on my shirt and announced “I will never get health insurance, no matter what they say. I’m healthy, I don’t go to doctors and I certainly don’t need insurance. Not gonna do it.” Wow. That stopped me in my tracks.

Maybe I’m too close to it. Maybe I know too much. I spend hours each day keeping up with the flood of details involved in constructing the health insurance delivery systems. I work on crafting explanations for business, and communication materials to help the buying public understand the subject. I felt all of that crumbling as I faced an actual insurance denier.
I tried a question. “What if you get hit by a bus, and are injured for life. What then?” “My family will take care of me. We take care of our own. Besides, I’m very careful, and won’t get hit,” she said.

“What about auto insurance. Do you believe in that?” “No. I only have the minimum, and wouldn’t have that if I could get away with it. Just like my health, I never have accidents.” Her voice was rising in pitch.

“I sense you’re angry about all of this,” I noted. “Where does that anger come from?” “Why should those of us who are healthy and safe and good drivers help the ones who aren’t? Why should I help pay for the health claims of sick people, if I never get sick?” I asked if she might feel different if she was 50 and asthmatic, rather than 30 and no chronic conditions. “Ask me then. I don’t intend to be sick.”

“Okay, I get it. You’re independent. Do you consider yourself a part of a society that helps each other, or a nation of one?”
“Since I don’t want help, and I don’t need help, I guess I think all Americans should take care of themselves. We shouldn’t need to help each other. I think insurance is just a scam in general, as is welfare.”

Ah. A fiercely independent citizen who resents helping others. We’re seeing a lot of those these days, and it may explain a lot about the slice of the pie that will still be on the outside of the health insurance system in the future. I had one final thought, just to confirm my observations.
“So, am I correct that you would make a poor lifeguard? You wouldn’t want to get wet to save a drowning stranger?” She paused, thought, shrugged, and said “I Guess so. They should have learned to swim. Not my problem, that’s not a job I’d ever take.”

About one in six Americans is without health insurance. It will be interesting to see how that number trends as the marketplaces open and the ACA comes on line. I will be asking that clerk about her status and insurance outlook every time I visit, and will report back if any wisdom emerges over time.

I’m optimistic about most things, but…


A good marketing idea works on several levels, right?

So, i picked up dry cleaning this morning. They offered a nice cup of fresh coffee with my order. Happy to! A few minutes later the lid leaked a little, and i had to change shirts.

Brilliant on their part – give a gift that causes more use of your service. Kind of like a dentist offering hard candy…


I wish you could have been there.  I was riding an airport shuttle on a recent business trip, and reluctantly started a conversation with the guy in the sport coat and trendy tie next to me.  I say reluctantly, as you never know how these conversations can go.

We traded answers on “What do you do?”  He: Policy Consultant for the US Government.  Me: Human Resources Consultant.

He perked up.  “Say, do you know much about Obama Care?”  I shrugged and offered I might.  “I’ve been working with a bunch of policy wonks in a think tank for 9 months, and none of them can explain the real purpose of the Affordable Care Act.  Frustrating.”

We were approaching the end of the bus ride.  As we stood up to get out, I turned to him and said: “It’s really quite simple.  The act intends to give existing insurance companies slightly more than 30 million new customers, many of whom are healthy.  For that, the insurance companies have to take everyone.  No exclusions, no carve outs, no lifetime caps.”  I stepped out of the bus.

He caught me at the next door.  “Is it really that simple?”

I kept walking and he kept up.  “Of course not.  But you asked what the purpose was, and that’s it – expanding coverage.  If you read the whole law – and I have – every sentence can be put in one of three categories.  Expanding coverage, improving quality of care, or finding ways to pay for it.”

He blinked and stopped.  He had an honest look of wonder on his face.  “Who ARE you?”  I shrugged.  “Just some guy…”

As I walked off, he said “You should get on television and tell that to the American People…”  I smiled and waved.  My good deed for the day.

My takeaway?  There needs to be more and better communication out there about these issues, done in ways that are tailored to each audience.   Experts like his policy wonks in the think tanks are too close.

When you’re inside the bottle, you can’t read the label.

Man on the street - explaining Obamacare, one citizen at a time...

Man on the street – explaining Obamacare, one citizen at a time…

Just came in off the road from several conferences. My brother noted that the customer service motto for most modern airlines appears to be “…We’re not happy ’till your’re not happy.”


A comment on modern air travel

Over here! Help! Heloooo! Over here!

It sure seems that data is a big topic – in Washington DC and in our lives in HR.

One of the better sessions I attended at SHRM13 was on data analytics.  Those that know me would find it normal that I would be geeked up on data and how to analyze.  Also, with the “perfect storm” of the ACA and new data technologies, this is one of the few areas of hope for guiding wellness programs and bending the cost curve.

On a secondary based level, the advent of reference based benefits will require a ton of data.  It’s on the horizon, and headed our way.

So, what did I learn?  I was amazed at how many of my fellow attendees had no idea the level and sophistication of data analytics that are out there for use.  Most of them have a broker relationship, but from the volume of “I had NO idea” responses, many of those brokers are either not sharing the data, or do not have a basic level of sophistication on data analytics.

The leader of the session, Cecile Alper-Leroux of Ultimate Software, said that one of the best examples to use of data analytics is the recent movie Moneyball.  She said it is a great example of how data can be used as a game-changer (literally) and provide a competitive advantage.  In the movie, by analyzing non-traditional statistics, the Athletics assembled a competitive team for one-fourth the cost of a normal team.

Key point: “With data analytics, you can understand people and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and end up some great results like lowering labor costs or raising productivity.”

The interesting part of the presentation was not the basic examination of data analytics on past info and plotting trends, but rather taking the data and looking at the future.  This is a significant mindset shift from reacting to changes to “what can I do to change these predictions?”

An example was shared from retail, where a data model was built that attempted to predict which employees were likely to leave the company.  The actual resignations were tracked, and the model appeared to be 90% accurate.  This enabled the organization to target the high performers that were predicted to leave early in the process, and the organization was able to retain a high percentage of them.

An example I will be working on are implementing benefit costs transparency tools, and the issue of reference-based benefits.  Data analytics are a key part of making it work, and I will be spending a lot more time on the subject.  Let me  know if you want more information on transparency tools, and I will share what I have learned.

Now, off to hustle to another session…almost done!

Wear comfortable shoes and plan for traffic jams near the escalators.

Wear comfortable shoes and plan for traffic jams near the escalators.



Now that I’ve been immersed for a few days, here are some notes:

1. The talent shortage is real. Nearly every presentation has either a statement referencing the fact that finding good people is tough, or a rhetorical question in the first 5 minutes along the same lines.

It almost feels like we are in a giant 12 step group. “Hi, i’m Karl. I can’t find good talent in my new hires.” “Welcome, Karl.”

2. I hit a nerve with my Monday presentation on using the ACA as a catalyst for organizational change. Have had several people stop me in the halls and share happy thoughts about what they were now going to do when they got home. Nice.

3. Any conference with 7am sessions should have free coffee in the halls. And it should be GOOD coffee. With large cups.


Today we had a moment of learning, followed by several moments of real panic.

Daniel Pink was on the big stage, and I was scribbling notes in the dark.  The problem?  I was on right after him (much smaller room) and whole chunks of his fresh research was perfectly contradictory of whole sections of my presentation.  I had data that was so 6 months ago, and it was going to be a problem.

He was reviewing his new book To Sell is Human – and it was fun.  His presentation was like his writing style –  engaging and highly accessible. At times, he offers simple metaphors and incorporates a perfect amount of humor.

His basic premise is simple: he argues that humans spend considerable energy each day trying to get others to do
what we request: purchase, buy in, comply, agree to and even obey. One professional he interviewed stated it succinctly: “Almost everything I do involves persuasion.” Whether you directly sell products, participate in teamwork efforts, attempt to direct the behavior of others or run your own business, you are, in effect, selling or more specifically, moving others to do

Pink details the dislike most of us experience with the typical professional sales approach (think used car salesman) and labels it “the white-collar equivalent of cleaning toilets – necessary perhaps but unpleasant and even a bit unclean.” He reviews the historical protocol for selling and determines that it is officially dead.

The immediate access to information via the Internet has completely altered the balance of power in direct sales exchanges. Consumers know far more and will, in the middle of your sales presentation, look up what you just said on their smart phones.

I felt the old adage of “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” summed up the notion: if people like you, don’t feel threatened, believe that you are listening (rather than waiting to speak) and respond by acknowledging needs and desires…well, it all seems obvious, doesn’t it? But that is what Dan Pink does best: redirects our attention to what seems obvious but not necessarily occuring, supports it with research-based evidence and then completes his pitch with storytelling, offering human examples to seal the deal.

He then then put up the ABCs of the new world:

A: Attunement – seeing the world from the viewpoint of the other person

B: Buoyancy – keeping your energy and message “up”

C: Clarity – delivering concise, powerful summaries

He then took 5 examples to flesh out the core story line, adding layers to the cake.  All of these were both wonderful in that they added real depth – and scary in that they contradicted points I had imbedded in my presentation that was due to be delivered next.

For example, I had included the research that introverts outsold extroverts, due to listening skills.  Dan’s data said no, the sales volume of those two groups was identical.  The real winner was a third set of thinking types, the Ambivert.  The one in the middle with both attributes.  Makes sense.  I like it.  Had to add it.  There were about 5 of those data points, all welcome but all causing me to type quickly.

I’ll be buying the book.  And, I’m sure glad I went to the program prior to mine.


Yes, this is a big conference.  I’m sitting here in a football field sized group of our HR tribe, and I can’t see the edge of the room.

A bigger message – there don’t appear to be a huge bunch of Hoosiers up here.  Not that I have a great way to sample the number, just not seeing a lot of familiar faces;  Will keep looking.

You would think with the proximity it would be easy to get here, but I think there is a deeper reason.  It’s our State Conference. Simply put, the Indiana State Conference is almost as good, but mostly closer to home (unless you live in the region) and a heck of a lot cheaper.  I have asked several attendees how much their total bill is for coming, and the answers have all been over $2000.

The Indiana conference is less than $400, and many of us can get a hotel room in Indy for the cost of valet parking and a hot dog in Chicago. The quality of the speakers?  About the same.

I’m sitting here to listen to Daniel Pink (can’t wait!).  I’m excited because I got to meet him last year, in a wonderful executive event with a few hundred thought leaders.  Where?  The Indiana State Conference. I love the Annual Meeting, but we’re very lucky to have the success of the Indiana State Conference.  Find it a www.indianashrm.org.

The crowds have been huge...

The crowds have been huge…

Many of the conference participants went to fine restaurants last night.  Some went to vendor receptions with high end food and drink.  Mark Records and I hit the high life.  We bypassed all of that, hailed a cab and headed to North Clark St., home of the Weiner’s Circle for a grilled Chicago treat.

Mark went for the Polish with mustard and bright green relish, I had the usual – a Chicago dog.  Fabulous.

The grill crew is happy to provide commentary and verbal abuse along with your order.

The grill crew is happy to provide commentary and verbal abuse along with your order.



I attended the opening session, keynoted by Hillary Rodham Clinton. I didn’t write it up immediately, as i wanted a little time to reflect, and also to report on the “buzz” that would emerge.

I expected a loud, positive “buzz”. Mot so. The buzz, while positive, was not loud. I guess it boiled down to a perception that it was a good, well researched presentation. Expectations were high, and Hillary did fine. Just not an earth-shattering keynote.

What did i scribble while she talked?

Compliments. “HR knows what it takes to provide workers with the flexibility to care for children and aging parents. You also know what must be done to provide affordable health care to everyone.”

Big applause on health care.

No remarks on run for prez – she sure looks presidential in sincere blue suit.

Pointed out big importance of womens issues in the workplace, globally.

The best part of the presentation was 10 minutes of Q&A with SHRM CEO Henry Jackson.

Key points:

1. We’ve got to fix immigration. We educate students and then don’t let them stay. It’s a key economic issue.

2. Leadership is a team sport.

3 You can’t win if you don’t show up.

4. A whisper can be louder than a shout

5 Follow the trend lines, not the headlines

In closing, CEO Hank pressured her to return to our conference next year. She sidestepped that one nicely.