Expert Interview: Tom Ciccotti

October 10 2018 / by Mari Ryan

Tom Ciccotti is the co-founder and Executive Vice President of Shortlister. Shortlister is a technology platform and team of subject matter experts used by the nation’s top employers and benefits consultants to help them identify their ideal vendor match for products and services in the wellness and HR technology space. Think e-Harmony or for finding vendors in these markets.


Tom Ciccotti Interview

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Tom Ciccotti.

Tom is the co-founder and Executive Vice President of Shortlister. Shortlister is a technology platform and team of subject matter experts used by the nation’s top employers and benefits consultants to help them identify their ideal vendor match for products and services in the wellness and HR technology space. Think e-Harmony or for finding vendors in these markets. Tom, I’m very excited to have you join me today.

Tom Ciccotti: I’m happy to be here, Mari.

Mari Ryan: Great, thanks so much. I understand from our conversations that you and the team at Shortlister have been doing some research around some of the buying preferences and some of the interests with regard not just only to technology, but how the technology is being used in wellbeing programs in corporations. I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about this research that you’ve been doing and who was it that you were surveying or researching with.

Tom Ciccotti: Absolutely, so this is a study of 2017 data that we’ve compiled during the early part of 2018, and we’ve pulled together in the feedback from the wellness subject matter experts in many of the nation’s top employee benefits consultants. Specifically the individuals that on a day-to-day basic are working with an employer to have them articulate what are your key wants and needs. Who are the vendors in the market that can satisfy this? We are typically working with an employer like yourself. These are folks that are very familiar and adept at identifying the vendor options in the market, and also understanding the product that the trend of what employers are and are not purchasing.

From a numbers perspective, we have 144 unique respondents, 59% of that came from top ten consultants of U.S. business, we had 51 firms, I believe, uniquely responding to that, and we had nine of the ten largest in the country participating. We looked at group size, if you will, where they typically worked and what they serviced, it was almost a 50-50 split. So, we had 49% of respondents that specifically worked with an employer that’s 5,000 and larger, and then 51% working with small to mid-sized businesses below that 5,000 threshold.

Mari Ryan: Fabulous, it sounds like you have gotten some great insights from people who see a lot of different kinds of organizations and a lot of different types of needs. It sounds like they were a perfect audience to be able to get some data from.

Tom Ciccotti: They absolutely were. Our partners are fantastic and they were very open in their contributions to what they are saying in the space and objectively how the market is buying and being able to not only hear their feedback and their opinions of this, but then complement that, and objectively verify those trends via the data and opportunities we’re seeing from an RFP standpoint after the platform was really exciting.

Mari Ryan: Fabulous, that is exciting. Of course, I’m excited to hear what is it that your research revealed. Can you take me through a high-level approach to what the research actually revealed?

Tom Ciccotti: We went across a number of different things, everything from what trends and innovations are they seeing in the workplace that they think is going to have the most impact on programing and employer participation and engagement of the populations to what products are rising and falling in popularity. We did a little bit of trending in there. So, just really what are the buyer preferences. What is an employer today evaluating and post that evaluation, what are they actually selecting and moving forward with?

Mari Ryan: Fabulous. What are some of these trends that you are seeing, and what did the research reveal?

Tom Ciccotti: I’ll go through a couple different questions that we pose in the data that we saw there; the first exact question that we posted was what trends and innovations have you seen and believe will help improve the effectiveness of corporate wellbeing programs in the future? Everyone was able to give multiple responses to this. The number one response with 64% of respondents was a shift towards total wellbeing and a focus on engagement. So, think about the culture and the environment.

Moving beyond just physical wellness, your screenings only, and your walking programs, so more holistically look at the individual, their mental wellbeing, and that’s everything from mindfulness and resilience-type programs, to behavioral-health type interventions, to looking at the managers in an organization. I know that recently you had a webinar with Dr. Sara Johnson of Prochange, and she spoke on how to activate that manager population and the catalyst they can be for getting folks involved and feeling as if their employer really cares about their overall wellbeing.

So, we’re seeing this more holistic and progressive approach beyond what I would call traditional wellness programming, which was much more physically focused. It was biometrics only and so forth, to look at the entirety of the population and we look at folks from a more human perspective.

Mari Ryan: It’s a wonderful trend and it’s delightful to hear that while many of us have been focusing … made that transition from wellness to wellbeing over the past few years, that the research is indeed showing that as well. So, good confirmation; love it.

Tom Ciccotti: The second most prominent topic, or response, that we saw come through is the addition of point solutions. When we say point solutions, we really mean a targeted intervention focused on a specific area. It might be that financial wellness program, where an employer has a high millennial population, and student loan repayment, or student debt for those individuals is a key stressor to where if an employer were to provide some type of benefit, aimed exactly at that because they know it would speak to their population, it would alleviate a key stressor that they deal with, that financial stability that they then have, this is something that makes them a more attractive employer. Usually, mental wellbeing initiatives beyond just the EAPs and doing some great work now and becoming a little bit more progressive with their technology and with their scope. They’re all trained to think mindfulness, think resilience, think meditation type programming. Truly targeting interventions around specific conditions, so even diabetes management programs for populations there. Targeted solutions around sleep, to improve the quality of sleep for individuals. As we look at this primary trend, 64% of respondents saying that. We’re trying to look more holistically at the population here, and the fact that the inclusion or addition of point solutions is number two, makes perfect sense because if I am going to afford an array of resources for my population that speaks to them, I inherently need to add more items to the program overall that is going to be, or allow the personalization down to the individual members.

Mari Ryan: That’s great because we know that behavior change is so hard to do and some elements that are specifically focused around the most important areas for target populations. It’s great to hear that there are some real emphasis being placed on some of those point solutions. That’s great. What else is it telling you?

Tom Ciccotti: Rounding that out there were two other topics very close to one another in terms of prevalence of being brought forward by the respondents; 25% said the growth of mobile first solutions, and 21% said these agnostic hub platforms to tie those together, so a little bit on each of those for you. The mobile first solution; the interesting thing is that they’ll have these on us at all times, so part of the attraction there is access, knowing that if I need to communicate the right thing at the right time to the right individual, a great way to reach them is with that smart phone.

Secondary to that, and this is true for both the mobile devices or those mobile first platforms that are becoming in higher demand and these agnostic hub platforms is I’m in a better position to more thoughtfully personalize the experience and what I communicate to you, either based on your preferences that you entered into the system at the onset of the program, other data sources they may have from claims, to biometric information to help assessment responses and everything in between to paint a picture of who is this individual, what is going to be most relevant to Mari in this particular situation, and then not inundate you with messaging that is irrelevant. The best way to turn someone off from the program and get them disengaged or desensitized from the particular medium is to inundate them with a lot of irrelevant content and then you lose that access point and channel.

Now, for the hub platforms, that experience can be a little more thoughtful where the resources I see are what is presented to me, again, it’s customized to either preferences I’ve given it or data that you have on me. From the employer perspective, it also has two other unique benefits; one, can I one-stop stop. For lack of a better term, I want to be able to go out to market, do a thoughtful RFP selection with my consultant, and insure that I am finding the best face provider that is going to have a very clean and intuitive user experience and user interface from a number, but if I then want to add a point solution in the future, financial wellness, diabetes management, mental wellbeing, or any of these others, many of the agnostic hub platforms in the market have done pre-vetting and have established partners.

The ability to activate that when I’m ready as an employer is extremely attractive. Beyond that, I have ten thousand foot view of you now from a recording and data perspective to say well, everything is tied together here in terms of dashboards forming. What are my folks utilizing? What aren’t they? I can more effectively decide what warrants continuing to have a budget allocated to it, and a program that’s deserves to stay versus I’m just not getting utilization of that program, maybe that’s something to discontinue.

Mari Ryan: I am so excited to hear that there is such an emphasis being placed on two things; one is having access to the data. I happen to be one of those geeky data type people who love lots of data to be able to make decisions to guide programs, but then also to be able to utilize that for the personalization element. I think the days of one-size-fits-all wellness programs and well-being programs are gone and that these tools and technology are making it much easier to be able to personalize programs.

Tom Ciccotti: I 100% agree.

Mari Ryan: Fabulous, that’s great. That’s a good overview of the four key points that your research is revealing for us in terms of the impacting of the future success. In terms of some of the data that your research has revealed, can you tell us a little more of a deep dive on what some of these trends are and how they will help improve the effectiveness of corporate well-being programs in the future, and how are these relevant to the decisions employers are making when they are designing programs? Take us through some of that.

Tom Ciccotti: We broke down the trending idea in two different ways; one we wanted to do was a one-year snapshot, in this most previous year, 2017 data. What was growing in demand, what was declining in demand, some of the movement away from particularly the program structures for a resource, and then we get a multi-year analysis, year over year trending to see what has continued to grow, or remained high interest, and what has, maybe made an about-turn, as we’ll show you in some of the data here.

Focusing first on the 2017 snapshot, we asked the question directly “what are your clients doing more or less of than in previous years?” The number one response, 84%, doing more was a shift to total well-being. Again, that more holistic view than just a focus on physical health. Not surprisingly, as we talked about before, 79% said more are adding point solutions to the offering to start to create something that is a little bit more holistic and will have something that speaks to all the different members of my population. Number three with 73% – so, a close third – was the increase and use of mobile first solutions. Again, we want to target that messaging, make sure folks are aware, and also personalize that, and then towards the bottom with 63%, so still absolutely growing in demand, were these agnostic hub platforms to pull it all together.

So, you have this more holistic view beyond just basic programming or singular one-time events, and then nothing for the next eleven months of the year, to how do I keep my population engaged throughout the entire twelve months of the year and they do that through, one, affording them a broader array of resources, hopefully, which will speak to individual members of the population, but then you have to create a cohesive and thoughtful user experience either via the mobile first solutions or the agnostic hub platforms to direct the members to the resources that are most relevant and matter most to them.

One of the biggest downtrends we saw was the implementation of outcomes-based programs. In 2017 47% said they were doing less than in the previous year. Only 18% said they were doing it more, and then there is also the opting away from a carrier-based wellness solution to a third-party provider that specializes in that particular area, so 48% were doing that less than in previous years were utilizing a carrier less than they were, and only 15% were moving to carriers more than an outside third party, a vendor that specializes in these areas.

Mari Ryan: Excellent, this is an interesting way to be looking at, I love the way you are asking questions and you can see where folks are doing more or less of things. I like this approach because it gives us a sense of what is trending. In some ways, I’m encouraged to hear about some of the things that are trending up and also at the same time outcomes-based programs are trending down. I think folks found that was perhaps not the best approach from a being able to manage program perspective. So, great presentation on this data.

How does this look over the long term? This is not the first time you’ve done this report. Can you fill us in on how those trends appear over time?

Tom Ciccotti: We have a lot of those same questions posed in ’15, ’16 and ’17. What you are seeing on the screen here is a multi-year progression of demand or increase in interest in these different areas. You see in ’15 we didn’t even ask the question about mobile first or native apps at that time, but it has grown the most year over year, 73% doing that more. As we start to look at the shift to total well-being, the additional point solution, the agnostic hub platforms, those remained relatively flat, but I say that with – they are certainly doing that more, they’ve just slightly down ticked from previous years. For example, 90% in 2016 we’re shifting to a total focus on well-being, or a more holistic view, and in ’17, still very high, 84% had dipped slightly.

The only area we saw was pretty aggressive about face in reversal was the implementation of the outcomes based, or health contingent program designs. In 2015, 42% were doing that more than they have in the past. In 2016, only 29% were doing that more. You see an almost direct flip as you look at the data on the screen here, and then in 2017 you only have 18% doing that more with 47% doing it less than they had in the previous year. There are a couple of influencing factors, so that one, the legal entity around program designs and then costs just being there. I think the secondary aspect would be that it makes sense one you are trying to inject more tools and resources to your program. Financial wellness resources, mental well-being resources, and so forth, and incentive design is focused is focused solely on biometrics doesn’t convey the “we care” message of “here’s why I’ve afforded you with all of these [indecipherable - 0:17:54.5] array of resources to find something that speaks to you. That incentive is designed, just based on biometrics, flies in the face of the addition of new resources that may speak to other non-physically focused wellness areas, so that is fueling the downtrend as well.

Mari Ryan: Fascinating, and interesting to see how the trends have changed over the years. Great approach at being able to look at that comparison across multiple years.

Well, Tom, this has been a fabulous, high-level view of the trends and those aspects of the innovations that are influencing program design and decision-making within well-being programs. If our audience wants to learn more about some of your research, or the work that Shortlister is doing, where can they find you and that information?

Tom Ciccotti: The best place to go, and you can get a copy of the full study, is Great blog section, video content, and a number of different things, as well as the report there. Or, feel free to email me directly at

Mari Ryan: Great, thank you. That’s wonderful. Thanks so much for being here today, Tom. This was fascinating research. I’m delighted to learn from the work that you and your team are doing at Shortlister and I really appreciate your time.

Tom Ciccotti: Thanks so much for having me, I appreciate it.

[End of audio]

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, employee well-being, corporate wellness

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.