Pilot schemes are a good way to test benefits

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• Running a pilot benefit scheme is a good way to find out how it will work, timescales and budgets, what communications are needed, and whether it is right for the workforce.

• Preparations should include details on expected outcomes, as well as the desired timescale and investment.

• A pilot scheme should involve a cross-section of the workforce, including a range of ages, genders, length of service and job roles in order to obtain balanced feedback.

• Transparency is essential to manage the expectations of employees that are not included in the pilot.

A pilot scheme can be a cost-effective way to find out how a proposed benefit would work in practice, says Tynan Barton

Many employers choose to pilot a benefits scheme before deciding whether to roll it out across the organisation. Piloting a scheme can be a good way to discover any potential pitfalls and find out what could be improved.

Before an employer begins a pilot, it must determine the outcomes and results it expects to achieve. To do this, it must obtain buy-in from key stakeholders in the organisation, for example the finance director and chief executive. Dipa Mistry, consulting and communication manager at Lorica, says: “To get buy-in, the key things the [compensation and benefits] team needs to really understand is what they are measuring, such as what is the success of the scheme and why they are doing it.”

It is also important to ascertain why a scheme is to be implemented. For example, is it about retaining staff or being an employer of choice, or to give something back to staff? Mistry adds: “It is really important to get the measurables and the outcomes correct, because when [benefits teams] are trying to build their case with management, those elements are really important.”

Reasonable timescales and budget expectations must also be set. Employers may have a pilot scheme in place for six or 12 months, and must look realistically at what they can achieve in that time, as well as calculating the budget.

It is also important to identify whether staff will appreciate and value the benefit. This can be achieved through focus groups and staff surveys.

Once an employer has its measurables outcome, budget and timescale in place, along with employee feedback, it must ensure the pilot covers a wide demographic of staff.

Pilots create a buzz

Some employers choose to run a pilot at one particular office or site, says Kevin Hollick, director at Screenetics. “If they have multiple sites, we will pick one and run the pilot there. The feedback is then monitored and the process of how it all works. What we have found is that it creates a buzz, other offices hear about it, and by the time we roll it out across the rest of the group, there is a real interest in it.”

One way of controlling a pilot scheme is by restricting the amount of money invested in it and operating it on a first-come, first-served basis. This can work well with benefits such as bikes for work. Daniel Gillborn, head of commercial operations at Cyclescheme, says: “The employer will run a pilot restricted by the amount of money it will apply to the scheme. Once that cap is reached, it either agrees to extend the capital it invests in bikes to hire to employees, or not.”

But a pilot scheme will not work for all benefits. It is best suited to those that are fairly straightforward to implement, such as dental insurance or a health cash plan.

Transparency is crucial when running a pilot, because if staff hear colleagues are being offered certain benefits, albeit on a trial basis, they will start to ask questions. This can be addressed during the preparations for a pilot, says Lorica’s Mistry. “When the compensation and benefits team are piloting it to staff, they can tell other employees why they are doing it, and when they expect to roll it out to the rest if it is a success.”

Read case study examples of piloting schemes