In his landmark book, “The World is Flat”, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman revealed how countries around the globe are increasingly interconnected by business, and that to flourish in the economy of the future we all must learn to embrace the fact that we now live in a global economy. That interconnectivity has been prominent during the recession. As the U.S. economy stumbled in 2008, the world financial markets were impacted as well, further emphasizing the reality of financial interdependence.
This is often perceived as a negative development – whether it is U.S. jobs shipped overseas or the fact that U.S. creditors are countries who may not always seem to have our best economic interests at heart. Regardless, it is a reality that we now depend on this foreign investment and trade – but so does the rest of the world. This dependence has its benefits, as well. The need to effectively generate commerce between disparate continents and cultures has the added value of bringing people together for a common purpose – economic growth.
That’s no more evident than the development of Assurex, a corporation that Parker Smith & Feek joined in 1982. Assurex was founded in 1954 and was predominately North American based. It was established to provide private brokers with a network to help them deliver service to their clients across state lines and to share best practices in their respective firms. In 1998, recognizing that U.S. clients were increasingly conducting business outside the country, Assurex adopted what was then seen as a bold, and controversial strategy. We began to rapidly expand our network beyond North America, beginning with a number of key, high quality firms in Europe. Rebranding itself as Assurex Global (AG), the network continues to expand to every corner of the globe. Today there are 107 AG partner/owners on six continents, comprising the third largest insurance distribution system in the world.
This has been significant for PS&F. Our clients have established operations around the world as well. The only continent where we don’t conduct business today is Antarctica. It would be impossible for us to provide service to our international clients without a network like AG.
I have the privilege of having chaired the AG Board (2003) and serving as a Director since 2001. I could never have imagined how that experience would have enriched my business career. I just returned from our spring AG meeting in Dallas. Serving on our Board are principals from our network partners in Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and India. The chance to interact and transact business with them, to learn about their firms, their best practices, and their cultures has been immeasurable – for me and for PS&F.
As I said at the outset, it has been enlightening to see how the need to be competitive in today’s global economy transcends most issues around culture and politics. Business has created a platform by which diverse peoples find commonality in the need - the requirement - to work together. AG is a microcosm of that reality. It teaches you that there are far more similarities than differences among countries. Rather than being threats to each other, we now become partners in business.
A couple of years ago if you had asked me about that whole “social media” thing I would have told you that it was a cute little thing the non-geeks use to pass the day away. In the internet world I am an old web dog who has been coding web sites for over fifteen years so I had no need for that social stuff. When I wanted a blog, in 1998, I built it from scratch. When I wanted a family photo album, a decade ago, I programmed the database to do it. Have fun playing Farmville, folks, while I do “real” web work, okay? But then a good friend showed me how wrong I was.
Sure, I knew how much the kids (even the middle aged ones) loved social media and how it allowed anyone to post a story, share a video or build a survey with a few mouse clicks. The number of sites out there that fall into the “social media” definition is overwhelming and seemingly everyone is collecting their favorites and spending their free hours on them every day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites
Aside from trying it out and learning the ropes I generally categorized that as something for everyone else. I program my own sites because we have an emotional and technological investment in this existing infrastructure built around an online identity we have developed for years. The information we are posting also needs to be under our control and handled the way we want it to. Clearly social media is not for us.
My friend and programming partner on the other side of the country, Ryan Deeds, started explaining to me what I am missing by ignoring this online phenomenon. The world wants to access posts through the key blogging networks so it interfaces with the tools they use every day. They want to access pictures through the major picture databases so they can select favorites and view photos on their WiFi picture frames. For content creators these tools have features for adding new information and backing it up that would take us countless hours to create on our own. Why create my own backup system for my SQL Server, ASP, DotNetNuke or Drupal site when these developers have already coded it for us?
Ryan brought online his own site connecting to Twitter accounts so that users could not only access the information (and continue to track them) with a click of a button, but it also allowed all of us to communicate and get to know each other better. One simple little piece of code allowed his existing web site to integrate with the outside world, saving everyone from having to create yet another login or type in a silly verification code while also allowing us to discover each other. It was such a simple yet brilliant concept that I spent the entire weekend kicking myself for not thinking of it first.
With Ryan’s advice I started playing around with Flickr, an online picture database. Then it an afternoon “Doh!” moment the light in my brain switched on. Why use my own database infrastructure and limit my editing and access to my own code when I can use Flickr and simply build their code into my own site? A couple of days later I had transformed my family web site where all of the pictures are connecting to our Flickr Photostream and displaying them in through HTML and a Flash engine.. Suddenly my visitors can comment on pictures, mark their favorites, access them through countless devices and we can add photos directly from my phone. Best of all, I suddenly do not need to worry about coding pages for taking various picture forms, backing up databases, connecting with an ISP that can hold all of that data since Flickr did it all for me.
Why stop there? I started to wonder about my personal blog site and why I am maintaining my own infrastructure. Why not use Blogger as the back end pointing to my own design so visitors can organize the information, pull it in an RSS feed, comment on stories and then I could maintain them with the countless tools they make available. Suddenly I can upload a blog entry, have it automatically send out a Twitter entry for me while connecting to the photos and videos I want directly from my cell phone. My audience can subscribe to my submissions, organize favorites from all the blogs they follow and comment on the items without needing to create a login or type in a verification code. All I have to give is a minimal amount of coding and an open mind.
It has been a wonderful learning experience seeing that you can continue to have your own web site design but get all of the benefits of these sites with relative ease. If you have a publicly facing web site with a local database of photos or where you are coding your own polls or perhaps maintaining stories or other content, it is time to consider using a social media site as your base infrastructure. All it takes is a little creative thinking and you can harness the power of these third party tools while you continue to keep the web presence and end the day with a more vibrant and popular destination for everyone to use. Trust me, if this old web dog can make it work then you can as well.
Employers and health plans spend a significant amount of money on incentives designed to improve employee health, but many are disappointed with the results. While employers want their workers to improve productivity and reduce absences, and health plans want individuals to adopt healthier behaviors and reduce their risks of developing chronic conditions, costly incentive-based programs oftentimes fail to achieve these results.
Financial incentives are widely used as a means of motivating individuals to take action to improve their health. Incentive payouts typically take the form of cash or cash equivalents, such as gift cards, reductions in premiums, or co-pays. As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, group health plans will be able to give premium reductions of up to 30% to employees who participate in wellness programs, starting in 2014. Today, payers typically reward actions such as taking a healthcare risk assessment (HRA), signing up for a wellness program, or speaking with a disease management health coach. A few payers have begun rewarding actual behavior change outcomes, such as reaching a normal blood pressure or achieving a body mass index reduction of 10%.
There is increasing evidence that, when applied correctly, incentives can be somewhat effective in driving behavior change. The real problem is that when not designed or applied correctly – as is most often the case – incentives can be a waste of money, deliver a false sense of accomplishment to individuals, and distract employers and health plans from retooling their efforts to create effective programs to improve health and productivity.
In a recent survey by the Healthcare Intelligence Network that captured the latest trends in health and wellness incentives from 139 organizations. Almost two-thirds of survey respondents — 63 percent — offer health and wellness incentives for participation in health promotion programs.
The top five programs that have shown the most positive response to incentives are:
As you evaluate implementing incentives to motivate your work force to consciously choose to live a healthier lifestyle, consider the design and application of the incentives and pay close attention to best practices to achieve the desired results. A thoughtful, well designed incentive program can clearly be effective in driving positive behavior.
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