Confessions of a benefits manager: Beauty parade

Candid is tasked with interviewing potential suppliers of an online benefits system, but suspects it may be a pointless exercise

I would like to make this clear from the start: it wasn’t my idea. I had no intention of buying an online benefits system for this company. We don’t need one and we don’t want one. I hope that is crystal clear. I just needed to say it out loud again, although I am blue in the face from saying it to Big Bad Boss. He is deaf to my claims. He has had a day of golf and a jolly nice lunch with his mate at Smarmy Consultants, and we are buying its system. That is that.

But even that wouldn’t be so bad, if we could just take it and get it over with. Oh no. We have to do a full-blown tender process and beauty parade with Smarmy Consultant’s competitors too. Let me correct that – I have to go through a full-blown tender process and beauty parade, even though Big Bad Boss has clearly made the decision on the links already.

First up for the demonstration is Smarmy. It has already shown Big Bad Boss its system, focusing on the magic-reporting functionality. Its system can spit out reports by business unit, by location, and even work out the cost per employee. It seduced Big Bad Boss by showing him you can click and get a report on the cost of your benefits worldwide by detailed subcategory.

Call me a pragmatist, but I can see a fatal flaw already. We don’t know the cost of our benefits worldwide by detailed subcategory. We don’t even know what we spend on coffee in head office, let alone anything anywhere else. Those cowboys in finance code everything to one big bucket called ‘fringe’ and no one has a clue what is in there.

That doesn’t matter, the consultant tells me airily. They will help me put all the data in the system. I am filled with a sense of dread at this gloomy realisation: I will be the one putting all the data in the system; I will be the one to have to implement this stupid system we do not need and do not even want. Sigh.

Four-hour demonstration

Next I have to visit Mercenary Brokers at its swish offices in the city. I only get a sandwich lunch, so it must realise I am not the real decision-maker. I do, however, get a four-hour (yes, four-hour) demonstration of the system. Yawn. I wonder how an earth I am going to stay awake. Then they introduce me to Ben, their system guru, who is going to demonstrate the tool in detail. Ben is rather good-looking and I decide that he can show me his tool all he likes. Things are definitely looking up.

The data section is mind-numbingly boring, and I find myself trying to assess how wide Ben’s shoulders are. He certainly looks like he works out. Ben asks me a question and, embarrassed, I have to ask him to repeat it. He wants to know what key functionality I am looking for. Looking at his shoulders again, I can think of lots of things, but none of it to do with benefits. I try to pay a bit more attention to the system from now on. I tell him I am looking for something that is simple to administer, which is only too true.

Mercenary can provide a lot of defined reports, too. Yada yada. It is all the same as Smarmy, really. Ben’s arms look quite well defined, although it is hard to tell under his jacket. Maybe he’ll take it off later. Ben asks me another question, and I, um, have to ask him again to, um, say it again.

He is asking about market data. Actually, I now start to get interested. Mercenary provide detailed market data updates several times a year. We look at the data together, just Ben and I poring over the screen together. It is really rather cosy. I like the look of the data, though. It has proper benefits data by category and type of employee. This I could actually see being of use. Well, now. I say goodbye to Ben, but hope to be in touch. And I mean it.

The next day I see Hugely Dull Consultants, which has just merged with Advice Outrageously Nebulous. It has a new benefits system too, which it tells me is state of the art. Well, I am an expert now and can tell them it clearly isn’t state of the art. Its reports aren’t a patch on Smarmy’s, and its market data isn’t anything like as good as Mercenary’s. A couple of waffling paragraphs on each country is hardly market data.

At least I look like I know what I am talking about this time. I have absorbed enough benefits system blurb to ask piercing questions. How often does it update the market information? How does this system cope with organisation structure changes? And, more crucially, how does it propose to go about data collection? I have them thoroughly backed into a corner. What’s more, its system guy isn’t even good looking. Huh, call that a sales pitch?

Back at the ranch, I report back to Big Bad Boss on my findings. Mercenary Brokers definitely has the best system. He isn’t listening. It has proper market data, I tell him. The reporting is excellent, I add. More importantly, it is even coming in cheaper. It’s all to no avail. Who cares what system is best? While I was out, he has already signed the contract.

Next time…Candid replies to the company culture survey.


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