Interview with Chief Solutions Officer, Buck – Steve Coco

HR Metric Cross-functional team

1. Tell us about yourself and your role in Buck?
I Started with Buck in 2011, from there moved into a variety of consulting leadership roles—from technology and organizational change management to founding the management consulting practice at Buck. As interim CEO, I led Buck through our recent divestiture and am now excited to be Buck’s Chief Solutions Officer. Officially, that means I’m responsible for all thing’s growth and innovation at the new Buck. Account Management, Marketing, Client Strategy, Sales, Digital/Technology/Innovation and Thought Leadership – to meet our clients where they are and drive the best organizational performance while ensuring our clients deliver on their promise to employees. Solutions is also responsible for looking out ahead for Buck and our clients – I often say the future is one of customers – so, to leverage the best futurist thinking and add an element of collaboration – I enlisted a few experts on my team to “have a conversation” about the questions. Rebecca Atamian; our global client discovery and strategy leader, and Mike McQuarrie, our Digital Workplace pioneer. Given their backgrounds and their intimacy with our clients’ needs and the market, their perspective on the subject matter is instrumental.

2. How is application of technologies empowering HR Sector?
While for years we were helping our clients build a business case for why they needed technology to effectively manage core HR processes, I’m glad to say we’re finally seeing almost every client using at least a core HRIS to manage data. And clients are increasingly interested in how to do more (vs. “just do something”) with their technology landscape.

The latest technology shifts, particularly with new cloud based HCM solutions, are forcing a wave of simplification and uniformity. Highly customized legacy platforms are being replaced by simplified standardized solutions that make it easier for HR systems to interact with each other and with employees.

However, it’s fair to say that while things are trending towards “simpler” and usability is greatly improved in best-in-breed solutions, the HR technology landscape is still complicated by those best-in-breed solutions for specific HR needs leading to environments that still have disparate user interfaces and discreet data models. I read a recent survey from EY that indicated the average client is still supporting more than 10 different HR technology platforms. The next big push will be to link best-of-breed offerings to have a more unified experience and improved analytics for HR and employees. The most cutting edge HR organizations we work with are connecting disparate systems and/or sets of people data, giving them the ability to do more than just “manage” the data. I could talk at length about the fascinating insights they’re gaining from these efforts, but that’s an interview for another time!

3. Why do you think employee satisfaction is gaining more focus from the organization?
Well, thanks to the likes of Amazon, Uber, and Spotify, we’ve all come to expect the opportunity to provide feedback instantaneously… on our “customer” experience. And I’ve been saying for several years now that

HR is increasingly going to be in the role of a marketing team whose customer is their employees.

At Buck, we talk about the importance of the two-way social contract between employees and employers—and employee satisfaction is a fundamental part of that contract. Just like between any company and their customer. So there’s a cultural shift underway for one thing.

There is also definitive research showing the importance of employee engagement to organizations. Not just on turnover, but on productivity, quality, profitability, and customer satisfaction. You can now draw a direct connection from engagement to your organization’s bottom line. Satisfaction is one of many factors successful organizations monitor to accurately reflect engagement and since we’re increasingly in a position to quantify its impact, it is getting a lot more focus than it has in the past.

We also believe that satisfaction across a wide range of employees is difficult to create, sustain, and to measure. An “engagement survey” in isolation can be influenced by many factors, including the questions asked, how the survey is administered, the response rates and the emotions of each person at the time of capture, so relying on this method alone can be misleading as to true organizational sentiment. Feelings are not facts, so it’s important to take advantage of the ability we now have to integrate factors such as behaviors, business outcomes, and employee interactions—in addition to surveys to truly understand what impact your technology, programs and policies are having on employees.

4. How does data-driven approach help in providing better services to the clients?
With the modern HR technology landscape, we are better able to integrate analytics and machine learning, which helps us identify areas of opportunity. We see this most frequently as it relates to efficiencies throughout the HR service delivery model that otherwise might go unnoticed. For example, in one client scenario our analytics engine identified a correlation between portal usage and the volume of calls placed to the call center. It accurately predicted that adding content to the portal designed specifically for terminated employees deflected calls to the call center, which (from that audience) would otherwise last an average of 45 minutes. Multiply this by your typical turnover rate, and you have a measurable savings in operating cost. Having broad access like this to a variety of HR data and being able to apply our analytics capabilities to those data sets in aggregate helps us look at a range of delivery and technology areas within our clients’ business and accelerate the pace of innovation by simplifying the identification, modeling, and implementation of new approaches that improve the efficiency and quality of our services. As they say “data is power” – in this case the power to serve our clients better and better!

5. How do you develop a healthy and wealthy workforce for your clients?
The key is not the quantity of data you put in front of employees. It’s making that data point help the employee make the right decision and ultimately achieve the right outcome for them and for the organization. In many cases, that requires presenting fewer, more relevant data elements along with better communication that is individualized to the employee. If I am an employee that doesn’t smoke, putting information in front of me about smoking cessation is unnecessary and may obscure more relevant data about managing my diabetes in the most effective manner. That same philosophy of personalization applies across the spectrum of HR from onboarding to retirement, the data and message should change based on the employee’s situation, behavior, and desired outcome.

The correlation of data from multiple sources play a big role in personalization. For example, an employee who is looking at their retirement could also see what their total compensation picture looks like and based on thoughtful data presentation, we can motivate an employee with a history of unused HSA funds to reduce their health savings contribution and increase their contribution to their retirement vehicle by highlighting the impact of such a change over their career. Personalizing the message to the employee is extremely important to drive desired outcomes and make for a healthier workforce.

This is another example of HR in the role of marketer of services and programs. And providing a customer-grade experience to employees.

6. Can you explain how employee benefits contribute in the process of employee satisfaction?
Benefits can certainly have an impact on employee satisfaction, but that’s hardly the only factor. We’re finding that it’s increasingly about “total wellbeing”, which requires considering all aspects of the employee’s health, wealth, and career. Benefits are one piece. Understanding how the benefits you offer are driving (or not driving) employee outcomes is critical for long-term employee satisfaction. And getting employee input on which benefits have the greatest perceived value to them is also critical to their satisfaction – at least in the near-term.

Using our total rewards and employee value proposition solutions we have helped clients evaluate the perceived value of elements of their benefits offering and have found in several instances there is not always a direct correlation between what employers spend and what employees’ value. For example policies around flexible work arrangements often have a higher perceived value by your employees than many other more costly offerings in your portfolio. Having ready access to this data and a continuous feedback loop to measure success, organizations can maximize their investments where it has the greatest impact on employee satisfaction.

We also tend to find that employees assign value to benefits based with a short-term view and may not consider their own long-term needs, which is why a good benefits plan design considers both the employee viewpoint, as well as the organization’s objectives. For example, in at least one study conducted for a large CPG organization, millennials indicated they have nearly no interest in healthcare benefits… while they also indicated having serious concerns about their ability to save and manage a financial shock in the future.

Bottom line-employee satisfaction is driven by much more than just benefits. And “perception is reality” when it comes to satisfaction… until it’s not! Employers do still have an important role to play in designing benefits programs that meet employees’ short-and long-term needs.

7. How do your services help in better employee engagement?
Employee engagement is not simply employee satisfaction. It is about the employee being closely aligned and invested with the organization’s goals and objectives. And willing to go the extra mile. Engagement can be the single greatest contributing factor to productivity, quality, and even customer satisfaction. A recent Gallup meta data analysis showed stark differences in engagement levels between top and bottom quartile organizations. Highly engaged organizations had 20% higher productivity, 21% higher profitability, 59% lower turnover, and 40% higher quality scores. The facts are convincing.

Philosophies for garnering and sustaining employee engagement are many and varied, but key to every theory is communication. Many aspects of engagement require a continuous communication loop between employer and employee to ensure each employee is aware of the corporate strategy, how their work fits in and contributes, as well as providing feedback to supervisors, managers, and leadership about the organizational sentiment. The communication to the organization must be coordinated, reiterate consistent messages, personalized (relevant), and timely. And-the greatest challenge in our constant state of information overload… it’s got to get people to read it! Buck is doing some very cool things-if I do say so myself!—with augmented reality, text messaging and more to get the attention of busy and distracted employees. More broadly-speaking, Buck is helping organizations define and refine their messaging to maximize the personal impact and leveraging both technology solutions and more traditional channels to get the message out-and measure the outcomes. True engagement if you will.

8.What are your technologies and services on which you bet upon?
It is an exciting time at the new Buck. We’re rolling out innovative solutions that integrate our capabilities in consulting, administration and technology services. And we’re committed to delivering positive outcomes for both our clients’ businesses and their employees. Our portfolio is broad and deep so picking just a few elements is like asking a parent which child is their favorite. With that tough decision to make, I’ll focus my answer to your question on markets where we’re expanding our offerings.

On top of launching an enhanced People Analytics service which I referenced earlier, another big area we’ve invested in this year is in both the delivery and platforms for U.S. health & welfare administration—we’ve recently opened a new shared services operation in Indiana and have integrated some significant innovations in our H&W platform. Another area of expansion is in our analytics practice where we are rolling out new technology which provides us a more efficient model when connecting disparate client HRIT solutions and provide strategic insights to our clients and our consulting teams. Buck is also focused on the emerging market for integrated HR service delivery through the use of our employee engagement hub and HR digital workplace offerings that help our clients significantly raise the bar on the employee interaction model without having to completely transform their current infrastructure. Most of our clients appreciate that approach!

9. How do you differentiate your services form your competitors?
Buck’s culture, enthusiasm, and our integrated approach to consulting, administration, and technology position us really well against our competitors. We are the perfect size as an organization to be bold in our solutions, to be nimble in our adjustments to an ever-changing market, and confident in our ability to take on any challenge or issue for our clients. None are too big or too crazy-in fact, we’re working with an organization right now on a project that could change the face of the entire healthcare landscape. And we were the only firm willing to take it on. Because pushing the envelope is what gets us all out of bed in the morning.

10. What advice would you like to give to the Tech. Start Ups?
Instead of building a best-of-breed experience in a new niche-which will mean you’re just one more in an increasingly crowded best-of-breed environment-find a way to integrate the other best-of-breeds.
That’s what our clients will continue to need more of as we look ahead. And since Buck is 102 year old startup, we are in the kitchen with you.

11. Which Book are you reading these days?
I’m actually re-reading “Let My People Go Surfing”-in light of Buck being relaunched as a “100+ year old start up”, it seemed a good time to refresh myself on Yvon Chouinard’s journey. And what it takes to build a company with a lasting impact.

Tim Ferris is also one of my favorite authors and I recently gave “Tools of Titans” to my team, asking each team member to share one of their own favorite “tools” – we heard quite a variety!

Steve Coco Chief Solutions Officer, Buck

Steve Coco is the Chief Solutions Officer of Buck. He is responsible for all things growth at the new Buck. Sales, Account Management, Marketing, Client Strategy and Technology, Innovation and Thought Leadership - to meet our clients where they are, and drive the best organizational performance while ensuring our clients deliver on their promise to employees. Before joining Buck he has experience of working at Conduent HR Services as a President and General Manager.


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