The Power of Words
Mar 18, 2021

Hamlet: Act 2, Scene 2 [a room in Elsinore Castle]
Polonius: What is it that you read, my Lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

When it comes to delivering a polite, correct, and detailed tongue lashing, few folks in our business do it better than Joe Paduda. Two weeks ago Joe gently took to task a large part of the workers' compensation claims world in Managed Care Matters (It's not that hard, people. - Managed Care Matters ( ). He began: "Over the last few years I've been involved in multiple engagements with workers comp payers where their ‘vendors' just weren't performing." He went on to point out how so many service companies focus on doing what's good for them, for their sales top line and for their margin, and not for their customers. Of course, the ultimate customer is you, the risk manager.

There is a good deal of food for serious thought in Joe's blog and it got us to wondering why we, in the risk business, sometimes get the fuzzy end of the service lollipop. Buying stuff like machines, fasteners, raw materials, and so forth lends itself to creating precise specifications and measuring the goods delivered. But in the risk business we buy services like claim handling, broking, risk analytics and then we wrap them around often unique constellations of claims and risks, thus making comparisons - is this a good one or a bad one? - difficult. The reality of risk is often messy at best. I can put calipers to a machine component, but how do I measure the quality of a complex claim outcome? Right - the folks down the hall in Purchasing got the easy ticket.

We would like to recommend a test that we have found useful over the years since getting involved in this business back in 1976: the one word test. It works like this - ask your eager wanna-be vendor to tell you what is the most important aspect of their service in one word. Just one. Most sales people spout word clouds like a squid uses ink. It takes some serious thinking to define your offering in one word, but when both parties agree that they have the right word, you can both measure the delivered reality against that word.

For example, what, in one word, does a TPA sell? We think it comes down to this: decisions. A TPA is a claims decision engine and its quality is measured in the quality of the decisions it makes in handling claim after claim. If the decisions are consistently good, what else matters? Or another example: what does a provider network sell? They want you to think they sell discounts, but the only thing that actually matters is outcomes.

As a risk manager, you have created a whole ecosystem of service vendors. And, of course, your vendors have vendors as well. But what is the ultimate measure of each of these components for optimal overall performance? The one word test isn't magic but it can expose mismatched priorities very quickly. Ask your vendors. If they try to shuffle off the challenge (well, gosh, what we do is just too complicated to put in one word) (yeah, sure) or they come up with a word that doesn't resonate with your perception of what you need, maybe you should dig a little deeper.

As Joe points out, speaking to the vendor community, "Understand and solve your customers' biggest problems, and do it without adding to their workload. Or fail." Words are important. Use that to your advantage.

Hamlet and Polonius, as the Victorians saw them


Want to (Virtually) go to Boston?

Boston is a lovely city with a fickle climate. The weather in late March can be glorious sunshine or bone-chilling gloom - or both within any given five minute period. We'd like to suggest a Boston without tears event later this month - the Workers' Compensation Research Institute annual conference on March 23-24. This conference will be virtual, so you can tune in from your home office wearing your comfy pants and bunny slippers, should you be so inclined (no Instagrams or TikToks, please). Registration information is here, the cost is nominal even for non-members and the T&E is zero.

Why might you want to tune in? A few suggestions based on the agenda and our experience of many WCRI conferences over, lo, these many years:


First look at real COVID data - the WCRI's staff of crack researchers and statisticians will be reporting out on what really happened inside comp claims nationwide in the first part of 2020


Impact of COVID on the delivery of medical care - what were the knock on effects of COVID scrambling both in-patient and out-patient medical care?


Longer term - what are likely impacts of COVID on comp going forward?


Health equity and COVID vaccinations


And the rest of life - a look into current developments with opioids, patterns of PT and claim outcomes, and the state of the states


Oh, and this little item - the future of work and worker safety.

We have attended a few WCRI virtual presentations during the last year and they are well-run, organized, and professional. We expect the same high level of visual materials, some of which you might want to download for reference in your own analytics processes.

Events like the WCRI conference are doubly valuable here in 2021. Until last year, so many of these soirees presented by the usual alphabet soup of industry organizations basically added a few more footnotes to what we already knew. Now, with a year of COVID in the data hopper, there is a great deal of new information and ideas we need to wrap ourselves around. Comp based risks going forward are not just the same old stories with a fresh color palette. This year's meeting may well be the most important get together in a long time, as well as being the easiest and cheapest one to get to. Don't miss it. You need this information.

Talkin' weathah in Bahston


Quick Take 1:
Like Charity, Ergo Starts at Home

That's ergo as in ergonomics. As we have noted several times in these august pages, the exposures inherent in employees working from home are part and parcel of a risk manager's purview. This has always been true, but living in the World According to COVID gives a whole new urgency to the matter of implementing sound ergonomic design in home workplaces.

Recently, James Moore provided a neat overview on home office ergonomics in "Home Ergonomics Advice Reduces Workers Comp Costs". This article summarizes a presentation by Team Ergo which can be accessed through links in the text. It covers a broad array of issues from carpal tunnel (kids, don't try this at home) to computer-caused eye fatigue. Moore also looks at the actual costs of devices that can improve ergonomics for the home workstation and they are, for the most part, quite reasonable - especially when compared to a comp claim. Note also that there is no clear reason to assume that ADA/ADAAA requirements for reasonable accommodations in the workplace do not apply as well to the home workplace.

We have heard over the last several months a good many executives of companies both large and small talk about not going back to their pre-COVID concentration of people in large offices. The savings on lease/ rental space alone are impressive and margin-enhancing in many instances. If components of your enterprise are contemplating long term work from home arrangements, you might want to check out this short and painless article. For example, how many months of reduced office rent can it take to pay for a $17 laptop stand?

For some reason, a great many home office illustrations are from Germany.
This one offers a 30-day money back guarantee. Such a deal.


Quick Take 2:
HR and Strange Rites - Got Coverage?

A bizarre case from - where else? - California reminds us that risk can come in very unexpected forms. This present instance is not as unusual as we all might like to think. A service is contracted by corporate HR to provide management training for employees who are being promoted into managerial roles. So far, a so what, right? We all do this in some form. Ah, but what if some of the "course work" turns out to be a bit unusual. So unusual an employee files suit. What then?

The particulars of our example are not important, but what is noteworthy is that many personnel training courses can include some, shall we say, challenging materials. A couple of decades back, for instance, trust falls were almost de rigueur in management training. Remember those? You close your eyes, lean over backwards and trust your team to catch you before your head bounces off the floor. Unfortunately, a few heads did hit the floor and team building soon involved a trip to the ER. After a few well publicized cases, the use of trust falls in team building sputtered to a halt.

Our point for risk management is two-fold: (1) have you impressed on HR the importance of insisting on suitable evidence of liability coverage from any training contractors and (2) have you asked HR to have your risk team vet proposed training courses beforehand? This is one of those areas where your colleagues down the hall in HR may need to be reminded from time to time what risk management is for. They mean well and many of these team building exercises are very effective - except when they're not.

This is one of those peripheral areas of risk that can sneak up on the best managed company. All it takes is for no one to ask that killer question - what if?

This is your HR training video for today. Team building may never be the same.


Say It Isn't So...

Just what we all wanted to hear:
What You Need To Know


The National Hurricane Center is considering starting Atlantic hurricane season on May 15


This would reflect an increase in early season storms, but also the naming of subtropical systems


There are some concerns about formally extending hurricane season.

Looks like the expected weather mayhem no longer fits into a mere six months. Draw your own conclusions.


Words to Remember

Let us think of spring. Here we are at the new cathedral of Londinium* in the spring of the year 344, gathered for a double christening:


The cathedral overflowed with people. Bouquets and wreaths of early spring flowers and bright green shoots everywhere set off the new frescoes. The walls a riot of color, scenes of the lives of saints bounded by panels of painted flowers and a multitude of birds flying, perching, preening, doing cartwheels in the air, expressing every kind of exuberant joy. Over all this a figure of Christ the Judge of Souls, his hand extended in blessing, and before Him, the Lamb of Mercy.


*Capital of the Roman province of Britannia

**A Roman physician, exiled to the slag heap of the Empire, tries to find a cure for the wolf-sickness, lupus languorem, ravaging the rural population.


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