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Building a Successful Wellness Program: Eddie Hightower, SVP Teammate Services, Caliber Collision

Uncategorized Jun 24, 2019

Join me to hear from Eddie Hightower, SVP of Teammate Services at Caliber Collision to learn about How to Build a Successful Wellness Program, how it impacted Eddie and Caliber Collision’s workforce, what it can teach your organization about wellness, and how it can positively change your employees life inside and outside the office.

Eddie explains that it began simply with “Eat what you love and lose weight” and the entire program is self-reporting. It enabled him to not only to a lot more things than before, but overall led him to have a more healthful approach to life and generally feel better. The program broke down myths about what makes a healthy meal and what does not. The results of initiating the program at Caliber Collision is outstanding; employees and their families continue to lose weight and learn to live healthier lives. Click above to watch the full VLOG interview.   (If you prefer to read the interview, see the transcript below.)

All my best,

Cindy Lu

Founder, HR Mastermind Peer Advisory Boards

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Transcript provided by: 

Cindy Lu:                                    Hi there. This is Cindy Lu with HR Mastermind Groups and CHRO Partner, and I'm here with Eddie Hightower and he's the SVP of Teammate Services at Caliber Collision. And today we're going to talk to Eddie about the amazing job they've done with their wellness programs. Eddie maybe just give the audience a little bit about your background and Caliber Collision, then I've got a bunch of questions for you.

Eddie Hightower:                   Absolutely. Of course, you always have questions for me, Cindy, so I expect that. So, hello everyone. My name is Eddie Hightower and I've been with Caliber Collision almost exactly four years to the day. I joined there from actually a home healthcare company, being their Chief Administrative Officer. And so, in my job, as you would expect in Teammate Services, I have responsibility for everything people related. So, everything from development to talent acquisition to compensation to payroll to benefits. And of course, that's where the wellness programs come in.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah. So, the story behind this and how Eddie and I got talking about this topic is I met Eddie, I don't know, maybe almost four years ago when you first came into this role. Then I hadn't seen you for a little bit. And then we did a video Zoom call probably six months ago. When you jumped on the Zoom call I was like, "Who is this on this call?" You were, you know, like literally half the size that you were before and in great shape and you know you look so healthy. And I'm like, "Who's this guy? Did I give the Zoom link to the wrong guy?"

Cindy Lu:                                    Anyway, so we got to talking about how it all happened. So, love to hear about some of the programs you've implemented and sounds like you personally have benefited, but I'd love to hear about the benefits for the organization too.

Eddie Hightower:                   I love that. And thank you for the opportunity to talk about it. I've had a lot of people with that reaction if they haven't seen me for a little while because I used to weight a little over 50 pounds more than I weigh now. And so, what we had done is about a year and a half ago, actually longer now, almost two years ago, we actually started with a program that was called Naturally Slim. And it's a metabolic weight loss program that's actually something ... a program that is really sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield. They're big proponents of it and we're a Blue Cross Blue Shield member for our benefits.

Eddie Hightower:                   Two years ago, we launched the first program and I didn't participate then. But then I heard such good things about it, and I was like, "Well the next time we do this, I've got to do it. I've got to give this a try because everyone is just raving about it." And I said, "So if it can work for everybody, I guess we'll give it a shot." And it's really a simple, straightforward program. And that's what I liked about it is that it teaches you about how to eat, your relationship with food. And it sounds kind of funny but if you enrolled in the program, they start by teaching you some certain things about how to, just some simple rules to put in place. They break down common misconceptions about food and just teach you to listen to your body. I mean that's the biggest thing.

Eddie Hightower:                   A lot of people give me a hard time about this because they say, "Well how did you do it?" I say, "Well their basic premise is eaten less, move more." And you know it's like earth shattering, right? I mean we've all heard that before. But they teach you how to commit to that. They teach you actually some very simple things that will enable you to do those things. What I love about them is that their tagline is, "Eat what you love, lose weight." Because they're really about only eating until your body you're done and doing what we sometimes do, I raise my hand and say I do this, you get somewhere, I think I was taught growing up, clean your plate kind of idea. That's one of the things they break down. They're like, no, do not clean your plate. You're not forced to do that.

Eddie Hightower:                   First of all, get a smaller plate. That's what they tell you and put less on it. But no, get rid of some of those bad habits that you've had starting in. And one of the things they also teach you I found very fascinating was eat your favorite food first. And I was like either your kind of ... I had always thought well you save the best for last. You know you eat through everything else and then you kind of reward yourself. They're like, no, that's ... If you think about it, it's just craziness. Eat your favorite food and then if you're satisfied, stop eating. Just stop eating.

Cindy Lu:                                    So, what if that's dessert? What if my daughter is [inaudible 00:04:52]?

Eddie Hightower:                   They're okay with that. You know they do try to get you to eat healthier and make wise choices. But they have a lot of video support and that's actually how you learn about this is you have a ... It's self-reporting. I think the scariest thing that they send you in their welcome kit, you get a welcome kit to kick you off. I think the scariest thing in there is they tell people that there's a tape measure. And they make you write down all of your body measurements. And you get one number at the end of it. They have you add everything up and you get one number and that's the number you're working with. And so, I won't tell you what that number was.

Cindy Lu:                                    Are you going to tell us what your-

Eddie Hightower:                   No. I'm not going to tell you what that number was. But it was bigger than I am now.

Cindy Lu:                                    Okay.

Eddie Hightower:                   It really enabled me to do a lot of things which was to return to running and really just have a more healthful approach to my life and just feel better. And that's really the best.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah, so I thought you had mentioned some unique techniques. I don't know if you're able to share, but like the dash of orange juice in water and something. I mean there's sounds like some really simple things.

Eddie Hightower:                   Yes. It is. So, they're very big on something they call H2Orange, which is one-seventh of orange juice with the rest water. And a lot of that is hydration. They want you to be very hydrated and most of us aren't is what we found out. And so, using that simple trick gets a little sugar in your system, but it's mostly water. And you get very used to it and it becomes within the Naturally Slim I call it kind of a cult, but it's a good kind of cult, is that it becomes kind of a trademark. I think I may have mentioned to you I was on an American Airlines flight while I was, well I'm still doing Naturally, so I'm in week 54 as you know.

Eddie Hightower:                   I was on an American Airlines flight and the flight attendant came by and said, "What would you like to drink?" And I said, "Well I don't want to be one of those passengers, but can you give me just a little bit of orange juice, and the rest water?" And she looked me in the eye, and she said, "You're on Naturally Slim." I said, "Oh my god, how did you know?" And she said, "I'm on Naturally Slim." She goes, "That's H2Orange you're having." So that's one of the things that you do.

Eddie Hightower:                   They also break down some other misconceptions about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. They're like, no. Your most important meal of the day is eating when you're hungry. So, if you get up in the morning and you're not hungry, don't eat. Put that off until you are hungry. They also teach you about time, the time you should take to eat. And they're very big on 25 minutes. Every meal should be 25 minutes. No more than 25 minutes. So, you eat for 10 minutes and they want you take a five-minute break. And then eat for another 10 minutes, if you're still hungry. 25 minutes should be what you're going for. Eating slowly, savoring every bite. And that's also what they're big on is taking the food and moving it around in your mouth and really enjoying it.

Eddie Hightower:                   One of the things you learn is that a lot of people figure out that there's food that they've been eating for a long time and thought they liked, but when they get in their mouth and they really taste it and move it around in your mouth, they find out they don't like it actually. And so that's a revelation. That's getting a better relationship with food and understanding what you really like and how to eat it and all of those things. So, I didn't let all of their tricks out of the bag, I will tell you [inaudible 00:08:21].

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah. Well congratulations personally on losing 50 pounds. I imagine just from a health perspective, not just you know how you feel about yourself, but just overall health like you said you can run again and ... What does that mean for you organization from a-?

Eddie Hightower:                   Sure.

Cindy Lu:                                    ... quite frankly ROI perspective, right? I mean maybe it's too early to tell yet, but I imagine.

Eddie Hightower:                   It is. So, we've had three classes so far. So, three different times we've started the Naturally Slim program. And by the way we make it available not just to our teammates, but we make it available to anyone in their family, whether or not they're in our health plans. We think it's so important that Caliber actually pays for it. And so that's something that I think is very important is that we're looking not only for our teammate's health, but the health of their significant others and their families.

Eddie Hightower:                   So, we don't have an ROI on it yet. What we do have is we have I think some very good numbers. We have total amount of weight loss among the participants. We have a lot of results around people's actual entries saying that, you know, their feedback that they're getting, so it makes people just feel better in general about us as employer and about themselves personally. And I will tell you I feel a little bit like I'm the poster boy here at Caliber for this because as actually the Chief Talent Officer when we talk about Naturally Slim, we launch Naturally Slim, really encouraged me to tell my story. I can't tell you the number of people who have called or emailed me or stopped by and said you know, "You're the reason I did it because we saw you do it." So, I love the fact that it's an inspirational program and to be able to do it. I think that's just really emblematic of how we at Caliber, believe it or not, an auto collision repair center operator really approach wellness for our teammates.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah, that's awesome. I can't wait to follow this story because intuitively you know it's going to help, right?

Eddie Hightower:                   Yes.

Cindy Lu:                                    I mean it's something that I'm pretty passionate about. I see people who are the same age but somebody who's not taking care of themselves and, you know, is overweight. They just look older, right, because they're quite frankly it's a wear and tear on your body to carry an extra 50 pounds.

Eddie Hightower:                   It is.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah, so congratulations on that.

Eddie Hightower:                   When I went to my doctor, who did not know that I was doing the program. She like you; she hadn't seen me in six months. I go for my regular checkups and everyone should every six months. So, I went in and she did the double take and she said, "What have you done?" And she goes, "I mean that in a good way, but what have you done? I want to know because I want to tell my other patients about this." And that was really wonderful.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah.

Eddie Hightower:                   And actually, I made her cry, so that's a good thing, right?

Cindy Lu:                                    Why's that? Because she's so happy for you?

Eddie Hightower:                   She was so happy. She said, "I promise you these are tears of joy, not anything else. I'm not upset with you."

Cindy Lu:                                    Wow, what a great doctor.

Eddie Hightower:                   Yeah. And one of the things that she had in her office and many of you may go and see in your doctor's office is they have the fat blob when they want to talk to about weight loss and they bring fat blob in and they say this is five pounds of body weight that you're carrying around, to your point, Cindy. And she brought it in, and she said, "You lost seven," at that point it was 35 pounds. She said, "You've lost seven of these." And when you see it like that, it is ... that's where it really came home to me was saying oh my god, I've been carrying that around, as you say, in my body. That's the wear and tear I've been putting on my knees and everything else.

Cindy Lu:                                    Right.

Eddie Hightower:                   Again, that's why we believe in this program and it's impacting a lot of lives at Caliber.

Cindy Lu:                                    That's great. Now you also mentioned how people are getting more proactive about what they're doing from a healthcare perspective. I mean that's ultimately what we all want, right, is for individuals to take responsibility of their own health. And so, tell me a little bit about some of that and how the employees are benefiting.

Eddie Hightower:                   Sure. Yeah. We actually are big partners of the American Heart Association. One of the things that we do is participate in their health index and many of those measures that they have in there are things that kind of drive home the point about what you're doing and what you're not doing yet. And I always say that not doing yet because we're taking many good ideas that they have and then we're also learning from our health insurance carriers. So, I think some of the things that we're doing for our teammates is encouraging the healthy lifestyle. I think ... You know we just recently moved into new offices here in the Dallas area. And what I'm really proud about this building is it's what I would call a wellness building.

Eddie Hightower:                   Some of the very uncommon things I think that we've done, although you would not really think of this as a wellness thing, is that no one has a trash basket under their desk. And so, in order to throw something away ... First of all, it makes you conscious about the environment because you're not [inaudible 00:13:35] and doing things or creating the trash. If you create the trash you've got to go to the end of one of the wings of the building to throw it away. Either recycling or in the trash. And that gets you up and walking. And I think that I've heard in the week that we've been in our new building, people are bragging about the number of steps that they've gotten in because of what we're doing here.

Eddie Hightower:                   Every desk in our building is a stand-up desk. So, you can just with a push of a button make it go up, which as we I think have all heard is smoking ... I'm sorry sitting is the new smoking.

Cindy Lu:                                    That's right. Yeah.

Eddie Hightower:                   So, we took that to heart and so every desk is equipped with a stand-up desk built in. And people are raving about that. Some of the other things that we've done here at the building is that we have put a gym in, so we have a fully equipped gym on site. And then we've also put a cafeteria in here where we incentive teammates to select the best options from the health perspective. So, the company actually underwrites and discounts those meals. So those are some of the things that we're doing just in our offices that are really changing I think people's view of wellness and health. We're making it easy for people to be healthy here.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah, so, I'm curious. Was it hard to convince people who hold the budget dollars? I mean you're in the C suite, but was it hard to convince everybody that this was a worthwhile investment into [crosstalk 00:15:12]?

Eddie Hightower:                   Not at all.

Cindy Lu:                                    Not at all. Okay.

Eddie Hightower:                   [crosstalk 00:15:14]. Kind of interestingly is that we've known that getting a better handle on wellness and providing the tools for our teammates to live healthier lives helps them do something that we call thrive. And we want our teammates to thrive at home. We want them to thrive at work. And part of that is creating a healthy environment and enabling their health and wellness approach to things. Even with our insurance partners at Blue Cross and Kaiser, we've implemented a number of point solutions that ... where we look across what are the common ailments or things that we have going on, really challenges from a health perspective in our teammate base and implement programs that will address those.

Eddie Hightower:                   Some are very nontraditional. One of them, for example, for soft tissue injuries where you may be tempted to go to an orthopedist right off. We have a diversion program. So, we have actually reward people to go to engage in what's called Airrosti, I don't know if you've heard of that program. But Airrosti is a very innovative approach to dealing more with soft tissue kind of issues instead of sending you to an orthopedic surgeon right off, who may do some very expensive testing and things like that, and then ultimately God forbid you end up going under the knife.

Eddie Hightower:                   So, we encourage our participants in our health plans to go to a diversion first where Airrosti is an amazing program where you actually work with a chiropractor and then a ... So, you spend about an hour in each of the sessions and you spend about 30 minutes with a chiropractor whose kind of examining what's going on and helping you with manipulation that kind of thing. So, the myofascial kind of release opportunities there. And then you go meet for the last half hour with a sports therapist who's teaching you many things.

Eddie Hightower:                   And I will show you is that I have my orange ball from Airrosti, anyone who's been to Airrosti has one of these, [inaudible 00:17:19] to Airrosti. And they teach you how to use this orange ball to work out many of your things, like tennis elbow and many other things. And you learn those techniques and I have done kind of diversion process, so that kind of as it cost me a few hundred dollars versus one visit to an orthopedist or an orthopedic surgeon that could ultimately cost us tens of thousands of dollars together because it's our money as teammates, and not result in anything better than what I've got. And in fact, I could be worse. Surgery is not easy.

Cindy Lu:                                    Right.

Eddie Hightower:                   So those are the kind of innovative things that we look at and we work on from a wellness and health perspective here at Caliber.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah, that's really smart. I think it has to be somebody sort of who is your general council around health and maybe your insurance company has resources like that. But like I remember when my husband had back pain, you know if you went to the chiropractor they said you needed to get popped and if you went to the pain management doctor you needed shots, and if you went to the surgeon you needed surgeon. Sometimes it's confusing, right?

Eddie Hightower:                   Exactly.

Cindy Lu:                                    Like where do you go? And who's really telling you the truth? Typically, you think your general practitioner should, but are there resources like that for employees to turn to when they're not sure what to do?

Eddie Hightower:                   So, there are. We actually provide, again provide all of our teammates, whether they're in our health plans or not, we provide all our teammates and their ... Actually, it goes all the way to them in laws, access to a health advocate. So, we actually have brought that service on for everybody. So it's one number you can call or you can go on website or an app that they have and you can connect with a counselor who can guide you through all of those things and give you options and even set up appointments for you and address things like child care and elder care, they're also equipped to do that. To give you resources and help you set up resources for those.

Eddie Hightower:                   So that's been a benefit we just added in the last year. We've been talking about it for a while, but to your point, Cindy, is that we find that it can be incredibly confusing. And if you don't have a primary care physician, and that's really our target this year is to get everyone to have a primary care physician. We actually find that only about 60% ... sorry 60% of our teammates who participate in our health and welfare plans do not have a primary care physician. So that is what we are working on this year so that we can get some really good help and advice for our teammates to not only know their numbers and to have an early intervention before something that is a minor issue now becomes a major issue later. And then to give you that advice. So, we're developing a whole kind of network if you will around our teammates to provide a healthy work environment and then all of the tools, they need to engage to be proactive about their wellness.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah. That's awesome. I love your passion around this topic.

Eddie Hightower:                   Oh, it's fun.

Cindy Lu:                                    Yeah. Thank you for sharing.

Eddie Hightower:                   Absolutely.

Cindy Lu:                                    Any parting words of wisdom for the folks out there who try to get their healthcare costs under control? Or retention of employees?

Eddie Hightower:                   That's a huge thing. We believe here at Caliber that all of this goes into the whole teammate experience. And we have something that we talk about going from acquaintance to friends to family. And we believe that what underlies all of that is creating a place that people want to work and a very important key part of that is investing back in our teammates, which includes what we do in terms of health and wellness benefits. And it's not just about providing access to health insurance. It's about creating that great environment.

Eddie Hightower:                   And all of these things that we've talked about, Cindy, I think are just key to that. And we believe it's a great recruiting tool. And we know that's a great retention tool. And providing our teammates the opportunity to thrive at home and at work is what we're all about.

Cindy Lu:                                    That's awesome. Well given how hard it is to find talent these days, especially in your field, I think it's definitely a bit differentiator.

Eddie Hightower:                      Yes. Absolutely.

Cindy Lu:                                    Well, Eddie, thank you so much for taking the time today to share with us your success story and we look forward to maybe doing a follow up in a year or so and hearing more about the ROI and more of the success stories.

Eddie Hightower: Looking forward to it, Cindy. Thanks so much.


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