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In This Issue
The Perfect Brainstorm
What You Can Learn From Flipping Burgers
The Power of Surveys
SCS e-xpress May/June 2010
compass-2A Message from Sarah & Chris:

The theme of this issue is "taking your employees' pulse."  
Someone once said "Happy Employees lead to Happy Customers."  SCS also believes that "Employee Involvement leads to Happy Employees."  Successful firms have learned that incorporating techniques like employee brainstorming sessions and employee surveys into the normal business planning cycle helps employees feel more engaged in the overall planning process and direction of the firm.  Brainstorming sessions are frequently conducted following strategic planning or SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis sessions and used to solicit planning ideas or vet new initiatives.  Employee surveys can be used to measure job satisfaction, improve job performance or solicit input regarding specific company initiatives.  Direct conversations, employee interviews and focus groups can also provide meaningful employee input.  Keep in mind, however, that when employees are asked for their input, their expectations rise and they expect to see things happen as a result!  So...don't ask unless you intend to value their input and incorporate it into your business planning.   
As you read on, identify areas where employee input could benefit your firm and think about ways that you can take your employees' pulse.

We hope you enjoy our free SCS e-newsletter.  Please let send us your ideas and suggestions for future issues.  Have a great day!  
Where We'll Be
Los Angeles, CA
07/18/10 - 07/20/10
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08/22/10 - 08/25/10
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09/26/10 - 09/28/10
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10/06/10 - 10/08/10
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10/17/10 - 10/20/10
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11/07/10 - 11/09/10
Today's Tips
 Expedite your path to an ASPPA QKA or QPA credential and/or earn valuable Continuing Professional Education credits by utilizing ASPPA's online webcourses.
Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone knows how to say "I'm sorry."  Learn how to apologize at work, to clients and employees, and to loved ones.  Get your copy of The Art of the Apology by Lauren M. Bloom, JD, LLM.
Today's Quotes
Brainstorming is a mission-critical business skill for coping in a world of change.
Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can't expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don't exceed the employees' expectations of management.
- Howard Schultz,
Starbucks Coffee Chairman 
Today's Laughs
Sometimes I wonder why that Frisbee keeps getting bigger - and then it hits me!
We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.
The Perfect Brainstorm
A Real-life Success Story
  A small firm employed a tight-knit group of consultants, each with their own caseload.  The firm owner wanted to turn over the management of the day-to-day operations to the senior consultant.  The owner hired SCS to facilitate an onsite brainstorming session to solicit ideas from the group on the new management structure, as well as ideas on new software that was being implemented for payroll deposits.  Both the owner and the senior consultant were concerned that the session would turn into a forum for complaints about working hours and caseloads.  The employees were skeptical and wondered why they needed the session - after all, weren't they working well together?  The brainstorming breakout groups were created strategically to get folks working together better.  The owner and senior consultant did not participate in the sessions, in order to encourage open communication amongst the employees. 
The result:  Lively discussions ensued around how they could use the new payroll software effectively, which led to discussions about how to better automate other processes in the office.  Ideas flowed regarding innovative ways to allocate the EGTRRA restatements work and things they could do to better support the senior consultant who was being promoted to operations manager.  Working hours, caseloads and the management structure changes were given as specific topics for discussion, but the groups all agreed that those policies were working well and spent their time on technology and growth topics.  Their focus shifted from personal issues like flex-time to how they could help the company be more efficient and profitable.  When the entire group got back together to discuss their ideas, they were able to agree on priorities and suggest implementation strategies for the ideas.  The owner and senior consultant were amazed at the positive outcome from the session and agreed to implement many of their ideas.  The employees now "owned" the implementation and timetable for what needed to be done.  Most importantly, the employees felt that their input was valued and respected by both the owner and their new managerand they also felt they had positively impacted to the firm's future.
 What You Can Learn From
Flipping Burgers...
Valuing Employee Input

White Castle has managed to survive and thrive despite the "over ten billion sold" competitor in their midst.  Their strategy?  Sticking with a high-quality core product and communicating their values to their employees every day.  White Castle's owner, Dave Rife, says the company focuses on their employees even more than on their customers, and they value what they learn from their employees.  Dave explains, "We sat down a long time ago as a family and came up with what we call our vision, values and guiding principles, which is the cornerstone that we base our decisions on and run our company by. Our team members are the center of that."  In fact, White Castle values their employees so much, Dave recently went "undercover" on the TV show "Undercover Boss" to learn more about what his employees experience in their jobs.  Read more about Dave's experience here...
How can you learn more about your own employees' experiences and benefit from their knowledge of your operations?  One way is to get in the trenches - like Dave from White Castle did.  Successful institutions and TPA firms have employed similar "in the trenches" techniques by having top managers take calls on the front line or in the participant call center for one day a month.  Like flipping burgers, this hands-on approach is a great way to stay in touch with employees at all levels, creating opportunities to ask their opinions on issues throughout the day and to better understand the needs of their jobs. 
The Power of Surveys
Soliciting Employee Input
While ASPPA's Certificate and Credentialing programs provide a great way to measure your employees' technical knowledge, how can you measure how successful those employees are at applying that technical knowledge when they are on the front lines of plan sponsor and plan participant communication?  Are you aware of what issues they are dealing with day-to-day and what limitations they may be experiencing?  For example, participant distributions involve an understanding of vesting, rollover rules, disclosure notices, QDROs, internal company processes and plan document provisions.  Although facts can be found in textbooks and FAQs with answers can be stored in a well-thought-out company database, the employees may need some help in tying all the information together.  How can you uncover their needs so you can better provide resources to improve performance?
The key to a successful analysis of employees' skills is to utilize effective employee surveys in addition to industry assessments and exams [like those available with ASPPA's Retirement Plan Fundamentals (RPF) program and the more advanced Qualified 401(k) Administrator program].  With survey questions created to address issues identified through employee and management interviews, you can solicit input on a variety of topics related to performing day-to-day work.  While assessments and exams can sometimes be intimidating to employees, surveys typically don't invoke any negative emotions. By analyzing the survey responses, you can custom-tailor training solutions to address the issues uncovered in the survey.  In addition to a better performing team, your employees will realize you valued their input - and acted on their responses.  
What Our Customers are Saying...  
"What a refreshing change it was to have consultants who understood our business!  When Chris and Sarah arrived and we started the brainstorming session, they made us feel completely at ease and really listened to what we had to say. In just one half day session, they led the group and helped us refine our ideas so that implementation was realistic. The brainstorming ideas have already brought about positive changes in our workplace."
- Lori, Mid-west TPA firm
Power of 3 Retirement Industry Update Workshop

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