"Think Creatively": Benefits Outside the Box with Pixar's Former CHRO Lori McAdams
You have had such a unique experience, leading HR at companies like Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Electronic Arts (EA). Looking back on your career, what would you say are the three "golden rules" of effective benefits leadership?
First, know your population. As a benefits leader, your employees are your customers. That means you should be very familiar with their needs, both present and future.
Second, know your stakeholders. If you want to keep the ball rolling on getting your projects approved, funded, and implemented, you need to organize your information and processes in a way that makes sense to the people who make decisions.
Finally, think creatively. Don't be bound by what others are doing or what the benchmarks say. By thinking outside the standards of what everyone else is doing, and paying attention to your customers, you can offer a benefits selection that's not only valuable, but unique.
Pixar is known for a company culture based on constant brainstorms, experimentation, and creativity. How did you take that emphasis on creativity to heart when designing and deploying benefits to Pixar employees?
If you look at most agile and thriving companies, you'll see they have one thing in common: they accept change and are willing to take risks. Change is inevitable, but the way you adapt to that change — that's where creativity comes in.
When a company embraces creativity and change, then they have to embrace failures as well. Sometimes things don't go as planned, and that's okay. That's especially true for benefits. You can do all the right research and all the right due diligence, fully believing that you know what your population will want, and then they may not utilize it after all. When that happens, you can't be afraid to pivot and try again.
When benefits are done well, they eliminate everyday stressors and provide the space for your employees to think creatively. Instead of spending time and energy searching for in-network doctors, calculating out-of-pocket estimates, or worrying whether they can afford a certain prescription, great benefits take those worries out of their hands. In its place, they're left with the headspace to focus on bringing their best ideas, solutions, and contributions to work.
You're joining the Nava Benefits Advisory Board at a pivotal moment in the HR and benefits sphere, as millions of workers across the US are actively looking to make a career change. Can you tell us about your ethos on benefits and how HR leaders can leverage them to boost employee satisfaction and retention?
Benefits are perhaps the least understood piece of total compensation. They're taken for granted. That's because benefits done well are invisible. They're there when you need them, and they don't bother you when you don't. But because good benefits can easily fade into the background, many people can find them difficult to understand or they may not fully utilize the programs offered.
My ultimate mission in benefits is to maximize these programs to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of employees, while keeping costs manageable. Still, you don't just want to provide a robust offering — if you want employees to use it, you need to market it.
All too often HR teams miss opportunities to market their benefits. Whether it's distributing collateral, or sharing updates online, or holding live lunch-and-learn sessions, or featuring testimonials, it's very important to help your employees understand what's available and how to use them.
Not only are we in the midst of a Great Resignation — we're also quickly approaching a new year. People ops pros everywhere are preparing for 2022 while simultaneously trying to predict what their employees will want and need moving forward. What area in benefits do you think will gain more attention in the coming 12-24 months?
I think that what employees really need from their benefits is relatively intangible: flexibility, control over where and how they work, and other changes that help make them feel more comfortable in their position.
And right now, this is exactly what the workforce is demanding. The war for talent is very real, and employees are making big decisions about whether they should stay or go. Often those decisions are based on whether their positions (and their benefits) give them the flexibility to support work-life balance.
I do believe that the vast majority of people come to work every day wanting to make a contribution and do a good job. Employers need to trust that they know how to do that. I'd like to see more companies introduce benefits to reinforce that trust.
You're clearly passionate about benefits that promote wellness and reduce stress for your employees. If there's ever been a time to make things easier on employees, it's right now. What advice do you have for the small to midsize business HR leaders reading this, who want to provide better support for their employees but may not have the resources to significantly expand their benefits offering?
Start by talking to your employees. It could be a formal survey, focus groups, or casual anecdotes. You should know what they value and need from their benefits.
Then find the right partner. Your broker should help you select the program that fits your population's needs, and then fit it into your budget. They should lead the charge to maximize everything: your dollars, your time, your utilization.
As much as I love benefits, I also know that I'm not the expert — they are! So I've always counted on my broker for their expertise and support in building the right program.
What role can brokers play in transforming and reforming healthcare?
I've always seen my broker as an extension of my team, supporting us throughout the whole benefits process: from research, to decision-making, to delivery.
First, they should look at what's happening in the world, big picture. Then put it into the context of our geography and competitive landscape; what are other companies doing? How can our benefits match (or surpass) what others offer?
Finally, focus in on the individual company. Work with us strategically to build benefits as part of our total rewards. Help us find the right providers and delivery methods to achieve our goals.
And how can Nava lead the charge to make this vision a reality?
I've always walked away from relationships with partners who felt the need to be "selling me" all the time, constantly touting their expertise. That doesn't really build trust with the client.
Instead, be transparent about what you're bringing to the table, and don't be afraid to admit when you don't know something. It's okay if you need to research something to give clients the best information.
And have fun! I always enjoy working with brokers who I can go out to lunch with, and talk about our lives. It shouldn't be all business all the time. Let's have fun together!
We're so thrilled to welcome you to the Nava Benefits Advisory Board. What do you hope to accomplish through this partnership?
I want to make a difference! I'm hoping that my thoughts and experiences can help drive Nava's mission forward — because I'm really excited about the opportunity to disrupt how benefits and brokerages work.
In essence, I want to help Nava shake things up, in a good way!
Have a question Lori didn't answer? Our team can help.
The brightest minds in healthcare and employee benefits have joined Nava Benefits on our mission. Learn more about the Nava Benefits Advisory Board.