Lori Bays, Chief Human Resource Officer at the City of Phoenix, on The Benifit

Lori BaysLori Bays leads Human Resources for more than 14,000 people employed by the City of Phoenix. That’s no small feat. But, Lori thrives in the role, making sure each and every city employee knows they’re valued and cared for. As a successful leader and entrepreneur, Lori has more than 16 years of experience as a leader across a variety of sectors.

In this episode, Lori chats with Kate King, CEO of Beni.fit and host of the Benifit podcast, about her path to leadership, how she creates an atmosphere where City of Phoenix employees thrive, and how leaders can help people stay engaged in their roles. 

Show Highlights

[2:00] Lori shares about the influence on human resources on a company’s mission and employee engagement levels

[3:00] “Employees are an organization’s greatest asset… we have no way to achieve our mission without our employees.”

[6:00] Lori emphasizes the importance of helping employees find value in the work they do.

[8:00] Lori explains how inclusion and diversity initiatives encourage personal and professional growth.

[9:00] Lori highlights the impact of employee feedback and offers ways to implement those recommendations.

[13:00] Lori talks about building a culture of excellence founded on wellness and professional development.

[18:00] Lori offers advice on how to manage large teams.

[22:00] Lori provides ways of counteracting employee disengagement.

[27:00] Lori shares about her morning routine.

[29:00] Lori discusses the three rules the lives by in her personal and professional life.

[32:00] “It’s especially important that we remember that, with making decisions that impact employees, that we consider all nuances that may be at play and try to do the right thing.”


The Benifit Interview w/ Lori Bays, Chief Human Resource Officer at the City of Phoenix

Interviewer: Firstly, Lori, thank you and welcome to today’s podcast. It’s a real pleasure to have you.

Lori: Thanks so much for having me.

Interviewer: So, you have a very diverse and rich work history. our path has been from psychology in social work and then switching to human resources. Could you tell us what encouraged you to make that switch? How come that public sector, not the private sector?

Lori: Yeah, so, I actually started my career out and I decided in and a social worker in psychology. And I was in the nonprofit, you know, at the time, working in-in mental health and started to move up in the organization and moved into administrative roles and found that I really enjoyed being in-in that administrative capacity and leading organizations for making [unintelligible 00:01:29]

and I continue to do that in the human services field for many years and I moved from the nonprofit sector into the public sector, and what I’ve learned as I did that and I promoted into higher levels at the organization, I learned that human resources is really a critical absolutely integral element to successfully achieving [00:02:00] the organization’s mission. And I started to become intrigued with that and I started to think about, you know, how do we really have, you know, the most high-performing, most engaged team?

And I was doing that from a very operational perspective and then when I had an opportunity to move into a more HR focused role. I was previously the Chief Administrative Officer for the county and decided to move to Arizona. And so went from Utah to Arizona and that gave me an opportunity to hone in on human resources.

And was fortunate to become the Chief Human Resources Officer here in the city of Phoenix and this role has allowed me to really explore that passion area of mine that I’ve explored from an operational perspective both as a chief administrative officer as well as the human services director. And I’ve been able to dive into what I think is really the most key element of any organization, private or public sector but especially in the public sector which is our employees are our greatest and we’re here for a long time.

You know, employees are an organization’s greatest asset, and I believe that it is especially in the public sector that this is absolutely true and we have to live by the notion that, you know, we have no way to achieve our mission without our employees. They are the most key element of the services that we provide in the public sector because we are service-based program and our organizations are service-based almost exclusively.

And in order for us to achieve our mission, we have to have high performing, engaged, dedicated employees. And for that, we need to have high quality human resource services.[00:04:00] and that’s where, you know, I really feel like I can make that connection to the community and I feel like my team really contributes to quality of life in our community by supporting the teams that do the day to day work and not frontline work. My team is-is the behind the scene.

My team is the-the support services that make all of that happen. We attract the employees and we, you know, we get them acclimated to the organization we help develop them through our-our organizational training and development programming. And we, you know, help them navigate through the system and what it means to be a city employee whether that benefits or whether that training opportunity, whether that educational reimbursement programming, what have you promotional opportunities, we help them navigate their city career and develop and become both high performing employees that we want to retain.

And so to me, it was just- it was a natural progression for me because it was the passion area, and it was a way for me to you know, really use my skill sets to enhance the mission of the organization and to help, um, serve the community in that way.

Interviewer: Thank you. You know, it’s interesting listening to you talk about the different strategies in place. Could– perhaps you could go into some more detail on that because what I’m interested is really how you’re kind of behind the scenes team really creates that atmosphere for all of the City of Phoenix employees to thrive. So it’s, you know, in the-in– I come from, uh, corporate, so there’s typically budget around how employee development, employee programs really kind of more that fun side of things, and really helping people in terms of well-being programs, and how are they really driving that.

I’m sure you have lots of those, [00:06:00] programs in with the City of Phoenix too, but how does your team really implement that, or perhaps you could walk us through a tactic you have that enables the employees to thrive?

Lori: Absolutely. So one of the things that we really focus heavily on is helping our employees to see the value in what they do. You know, someone who is a receptionist by title, you know, you’ll often hear an employee say something that always crushes my spirit when I hear it. “Now, I’m just a receptionist, how can I really impact the community?” And to me, you know, I feel like, “Oh, my goodness.” It is so important that that individual understands their no way shape, or form, just a receptionist. They are the first point of contact between the public and the city as an organization.

They are the one that makes or breaks that experience for that individual who is coming in contact with the city and-and hoping to receive a service. And they are the one that really makes that first impression for the city on its community. And so for an employee to really understand the impact that they have, and the importance that they have, and the value that they have to the organization is really key. And that’s one of the things that we work on quite a bit.

We have been working with you know, as you mentioned, we have lots of wellness opportunities, we really try and develop our employees and help them to understand they’re valuable to us as-as they start in the organization and as they develop through, and we want them to- we want them to stay with the organization. And that doesn’t mean that they stay where they started. That may mean that they, you know, they decide, you know, “I came in working in one department but I really have a goal of doing something totally different, and I need to develop skills or maybe education to get there.”

And the city will help, you know, kind of walk them through that process and develop them and show them that they’re valued and that we want them to remain a part of the city teams,[00:08:00] regardless of where they work in the organization. And we want them to continue to grow, we want to help them do that. We’ve also been working a lot on inclusion initiatives and working on celebrating the diversity. In our workforce, we have about 14,000 employees. So we have, you know, a huge opportunity to celebrate all of the different types of perspectives that are brought to the workforce or to the workplace through our workforce.

And so we’re working right now in focus groups with our employees to really, you know, talk to them about, how do we draw that out? How do we really celebrate that across our-our employee culture and our organization? And we’re getting some really-some really great feedback from our employees about, you know, let’s learn more from each other, let’s talk to each other more, let’s get to know each other as people and to not just have those professional interactions but to have more of human interactions.

And we’re, you know, we’re loving that feedback that we’re getting from our employees and trying to implement messaging, programming, training opportunities, appreciation opportunities that we can share throughout the organization to build upon some of those lessons that we’re learning in those focus groups.

The other thing that we’re really focusing on is our current and future generational needs. We are, you know, public sector tends to be a little bit more rigid than the private sector when it comes to workplace. And we’re trying to think about, you know, how do we need to behave as a workplace. What sort of environment do we need to offer in order to attract and retain the workforce that we want now and in the future? And again, getting feedback from our employees we’re hearing, you know, “We need more flexibility, we need some more work for- work-life balance.”

And we are, you know, really trying to implement or make use of [00:10:00] policies that we’ve had for a long time that, you know, just maybe help them widely use. You know, for example, we’ve had a telecommuting policy here in the City of Phoenix since 1992. It’s been in place, it existed but it’s not used very often. And so we’re trying to explore how do we get departments to explore where that can be beneficial, where can employees, you know, make use of that, which-which jobs and which positions makes sense to have those opportunities?

I mean, how do we encourage, uh, managers and supervisors to really embrace that revised talents and to really focus on– You know, if my employee didn’t get the work done, not, you know, is my employee sitting in their chair eight hours a day, 40 hours a week and you know, could they work remotely? Could they a work a more flexible schedule or to, you know, make-make their work-life a bit better with their home life?

You know, those kinds of things. And we’re really hoping to build an atmosphere were people wanna come work for us because they have those opportunities to really balance [unintelligible 00:11:03] you know, myriad of things that all of the tasks going on. You know, many-many people have children and lives at, you know, [unintelligible 00:11:09] and to go or-or dance to recitals or they wanna, you know, volunteer in their child’s classroom, those types of things. And-And it’s really important that they have those opportunities to balance.

And that, you know, we all also incorporate wellness opportunities. Give people the opportunity to take care of themselves mentally and physicallyand because of that, we know that they will do a better job at producing for the organization at, you know, really take caring- taking care of the organiza tion and the city because they’re a more healthy individuals. So, you know, it really see those of a city concept that we-that we say, “Good work matters.” And it matters to us, it matters to the community.

And having that balance and having that ability to thrive, um, personally and professionally, [00:12:00] really contribute to a better work environment which contribute to higher productivity which contribute to better service for our community.

Interviewer: Lori, thank you. I really love the point you made on the culture of excellence and really building that brand for the City of Phoenix. You know, that receptionist example you gave which is really the outcome being, you know, there is a row on a piece of paper but you’re the front line, you’re really dealing with our customers, you really are dealing with the public. And really that diversity and inclusion having the employee voices matching your customer voice, which I think is, really it is, supercritical. You mentioned wellness programs, what type of wellness programs does the city offer its employees?

Lori: To make a quite a few things, we offer lots of different mindfulness and exercise classes throughout the day that employees can sign up for and participate in. We’ve also got through our through our benefits programs, we’ve got some healthy lifestyle, sort of programs that you can participate in. And these are things that helps, you know, with nutrition, um, exercise, programming.

Really trying to help address, um, some of the lifestyle, um, choices that-that people make that can help them to be healthier individuals, help them to have higher energy levels, to be more productive, to feel better, um, to have better, you know, physical and mental health. Um, and we are, um, really trying to- we’re actually currently, um, in a bidding- uh, bidding process, we go through, uh, a competitive procurement process as most governments do, um, for our medical benefit services. And that ones of the key things that we’re really looking at right now.

That’s what sort of wellness programming are they gonna be able to offer in addition to the traditional heal- healthcare models. Um, because [00:14:00] we want to add, um, opportunities for our employees to have, um, that wellness programming, to have- um, to have the ability to have that balance and to have some of that even, you know, at work. To have classes at work, um, that they can take. You know, which we have, um, we have brown bag opportunities now, we have, um, some before and after, um, classes to discuss things like, you know, chronic disease management, um, how to have a healthy balance.

Um, we have parenting classes, we have all kinds of things that, you know, financial management. All kinds of things that can really help employees, you know, depending on their needs and their interest levels, um, for different subject matters. Um, so we do everything, you know, from physical, mental, financial, um, wellness. And we really want to, um, we want to broaden that out. Um, and that’s what we’re looking to do right now. And to offer services that might be, um, things that our employees can take advantage that will just help them, um, one, be healthier, and two, um, to really feel as though they’re valued, and that they’re not just here to provide a service, but they’re here to be part of a, um, you know, a work family that’s going to support them and-and really- and, you know, help them to be, um, well as a holistic person. Um, so that’s really what we’re- what we’re focused on right now.

Um, we also have, um, a initiative within the city that’s called Fit for Phoenix. And it’s an exciting, um, employee wellness initiatives that partners with our Parks and Rec department, um, to provide opportunities to employees, you know, to get out and be active, um, and-and it’s, um, something that, you know, also promotes camaraderie between employees, um, to, you know, partner and we do, you know, walks and walking exercises.

We actually have one coming up next week, where we’re-we’re doing the city versus the county. [00:16:00] Um, and doing kind of a competition of how many walkers each organization can-can get out there. Um, so we’re hoping to win, but, you know, we are-we are, um, you know, trying to do lots of different things that just promote our employees, um, you know, being healthy but also, you know, having that interaction and that, um, that camaraderie that we think, you know, really helps to promote a positive workplace.

Interviewer: Great, I love, um, any effort on mindfulness, I feel that this is just so critically important that not just physically but mentally there is a space and tools that people can leverage, uh, really in that space to have an overall well being. So thank you so much for sharing that.

Lori: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Um, 14,000 people is a huge team, um, then you’ve been a leader and manager for many large organizations. Um, what advice could you give to somebody who’s really leading large teams? Um, and how can they really be effective in the faces of kind of major challenges or opposition?

Lori: Well, I think, you know, the best advice I can give to anyone leading a large team is to really embrace the assets that you have in your team. Empower your team to do the best work, do their best work, excuse me, and, um, you know, because any leader that thinks that they’re going to, you know, be the-the one who’s going to, um, you know, make all the decisions or provide all the direction I think it’s fooling themselves. Um, truthfully, I think, um, you know, you have to empower your team and allow them to shine to do what they do well.

I always say, you know, I try and hire-hire people that are smarter than me, because, you know, we really need to, um, embrace the-the value that each and every member of a team brings to the table. And everybody has their own strengths. Um, so I think, [00:18:00] you know, what I would say is, you know, focus on the strengths. Um, and then the other thing that’s been really, really helpful and useful to me as I’ve grown as a leader and as a manager of large teams is-is it’s important to manage in a hierarchy. Most-most organizations are set up in a hierarchy but it’s also important to manage in what I call circles, some people call them networks.

Um, but to really manage within the natural leaders and the-the natural, um, places of influence within the organization. Um, you may, you know, come into an organization and notice that there’s a particular individual or team that’s not necessarily, you know, um, have any authority in the hierarchy, but they are very influential based on either individual personalities, or just the-the, um, function that that team, um, conducts. Whatever it is, you know, there are natural leadership, um, points within any large teams and to utilize those in addition to the hierarchy, um, is something that I would recommend to any- to any leader of a large organization.

You have to pay attention to those to really hone in on your where your natural leadership areas are, because, um, those can be really effective ways of learning information about the team and the organization and also getting information back out and through the organization. Um, so that would be- that would be my advice, you know, when there’s challenges or efforts or, you know, times of opposition, those are really opportunities to figure out what you’re really good at.

Figure out where your strengths are and to really capitalize on those and just focus on, um, you know, using everybody’s assets to their fullest ability. Um, and then, you know, kind of like the-the Coach Wooden model, you know, you do have to know where you need to develop but-but that’s not what you focus on. You focus on what you’re good at and you focus on really developing what you’re good at and

[00:20:00] putting people in the role that really suits them and-and what their natural skill sets, um, are. And then- and then other things will come along.

Interviewer: Fantastic. Focus on the strengths. And I love that you’re looking at the circles or through network opportunities because I agree with you. I think that, you know, hierarchies are where we really good to get the goals done but how you get it done, how you really can affect some great change and move creativity I think is actually leveraging those natural synergies of people working together. Um-

Lori: Absolutely.

Interviewer: You know, it’s long been said out that a Gallup says, you know, a whole bunch of research-orientated how to say it that’s about 86% of people worldwide disengage from their jobs. What are your thoughts on how leaders can impact the staff specifically for organizational growth?

Lori: Yeah, you know I think, um, I think one of the biggest ways that, uh, leaders can impact that is by, um, being inclusive of employees when changes are made. Um, we all know, as humans, you know, change tends to be hard. Um, and I wou- I would venture to say in the public sector that’s probably more true than-than some other places.

Um, but the-the importance of involving employees who are impacted by change in developing how changes are going to be made, you know, there may be that a decision has been made and we’re going in a particular direction. But if you can engage employees and how we make the change and what the process looks like, you’re going to have so much more buying and so much more support and getting there than if, you know, if you just take a dictatorial approach of, you know, this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to do it and, you know, just like it, you know.

[00:22:00] That-that is, um, to me, you know, the absolute opposite of what should happen. There may be- there may be a reason to say, you know, “We have to do X,” you know, we have to either, you know, change this particular, um, service that we’re going to provide or we’re going to stop providing or we going to implement this new program. Whatever that may be, but if you incorporate the employees into how you do it, they’re gonna– for one thing happen have some great ideas I guarantee you.

But two, they’re going to have that by and that, um, that ability to influence the process and to lend their expertise once again you know to provide that value and the knowledge that they have. Um, you’re going to get a better product at the end of the day. Um, so I think- I think engagement is especially important around any type of change.

Um, but I also think it’s important to, um, you know, focus on the management of the organization and reiterating to them, um, that it’s important to have relationships with employees throughout the organization, to care about them and people, to know them and people. It doesn’t mean, you know, that you are socially involved with them at all. It just means that you have that human element, that human interaction. “Hey, how was your weekend?”

To know a little bit something about them, you know, to know do they have children? Do they have pets? What do they do as hobbies? You know, those types of things, most human interaction really go a long way for, um, building that engagement for people to feel like they’re cared about at work, to feel like they’re important, that they’re not just an expendable, um, commodity. They’re really a valued member of the team.

And that goes a long way, you know, when there are difficult times, when there are challenges and there are changes to be made, um, you’re gonna have people, so much more, um, behind you and on your team if-if they feel like you care about them as a person and to impart that to managers and supervisors and especially new [00:24:00] supervisors because I think sometimes, you know, we think someone is good enough at a job that they’re promoted to be a supervisor but they’re automatically [inaudible 00:24:09] going to know how to do that and how to do that well and that’s not the case.

You know, supervisory skills a lot of time are learned skills, they are not innate and-and, um, it’s important to help people in-in supervisor and management roles learn how to be good supervisors, how to interact in that way with their their members of their team, um, because, um, the better that they do that and the more that they’re prepared to do that in the right way, um, the better the entire organization is going to function and the better that employee engagement is going to be.

Um, and then the other thing I would say is to try to have a little fun. Um, you know, honestly, um, that’s one of the things we’ve been working on in-in my department is, um, is to bring the fun back into the workplace. You know, when I got here, I heard stories about, you know, years ago here, um, you know, people used to have this fun staff and that it has been such a calmer, uh, atmosphere for a while and so we’ve been conscientiously really trying to bring fun back into the workplace and it’s really paying off and people are enjoying it. And Blake, you know, even silly little things that we do to either recognize someone who is doing a great job or just to, you know, just to celebrate and have fun and bring a lighter mood into the workplace. I think, you know, even little things like that go a long way from place to feel engaged and liked.

Interviewer: I love the energy you have around that and I couldn’t agree with you more as well. You know, the supervisor skill one is interesting because people, you know, what got you there won’t get you to the next place, right? Um-

Lori: Mm-hmm. Right.

Interviewer: I-I agree with you, you know, when you look to research to the number one reason why people leave their job is usually because of their boss. So, I think that some great advice for our listeners in terms of really focus on inclusion and change, skilling up your leaders [00:26:00] that they are really human interactions, not just a transactional interaction from the company side and-and having fun. Um, I love those three points, thank you.

Lori, I’m gonna switch the questions a little bit to, um, more of a personal kind of so you can share with, uh, our view– our listeners, um, some things about you. Um, the first one being as they often say that success that the day is set out by having a great morning routine. Um, do you have a morning routine or set morning routine? And if so, could you share it? If you don’t, what would you love it to be?

Lori: Yeah. So, [chuckles] I love this question. And I, um, you know, to be honest, I don’t have a very consistent morning routine, um, and I’ll say that I have, you know, one of the-the thing but it’s something talking about my routine is there’s a lot of chasing around of children. So I have [chuckles] I have few children in elementary school, and, um, so, you know, the morning routine comes with a lot of, you know, helping them to get ready, um, and-and trying to get myself ready in-in the process.

Um, I-I aspire to really, um, do some sort of exercise and my dog often looks at me in the morning like, “Are we gonna go for a walk today?” Um, and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. Um, but we, you know, I-I love to get a little bit of exercise in the morning. I am not actually a morning person, so, um, so, I have to get up extra early to kind of wake up before I get going and actually get out and do something. Um, but I’ve- I’ve started to enjoy that. I’ve started to enjoy now getting up, having a little bit of time before other people get up, you know, have some coffee, um, ideally take my dog for a walk, he loves it when we do that, and then come back and, you know, get everybody ready, help the kids get ready.

Um, my husband, you know, usually shuffling around [00:28:00] getting ready himself and-and-and that I’m trying to get off to get ready for the day. Um, so, there’s usually, you know, a little bit of chaos but hopefully a little bit of-of serenity. You know, here in Arizona, the morning especially the [unintelligible 00:28:12] especially night.

So, I have been trying to enjoy that. Um, but I do- I do think routine is important if it was- if I had, you know, the ideal, um, morning routine, I think it would be, you know, a little morning meditation, um, some coffee, a little exercise. Um, so, yeah, you know, the good days are probably pretty ideal on Monday, but cha- more chaotic days are maybe the days where we don’t all get up on time, or a little less ideal, but that’s real life, I guess. Right?

Interviewer: Yeah, I know, absolutely. I think you hit the movie mo- morning routine, you know, I wake up, I meditate, I don’t know what I have this time but the reality is always chaotic in every household do all the [unintelligible 00:28:54] in the mornings. I am not [unintelligible 00:28:56] I got two seconds of calm, I’m going to enjoy I think is the reality of our lives [laughs] So, Lori-

Lori: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Give us these three rules you live by.

Lori: Yeah, you know, the one- the one thing that, um, I-I that absolutely comes to mind and that I live by and say to myself all the time is, um, is do the right thing. I really, um, I really try and make sure that I feel like when-when I’m making decisions, you know, especially, um, in my personal life but also at work, you know, doing the right thing is important. Sometimes I think we get caught up in, you know, where well a rule says that, or a policy says that.

Um, but nothing is ever a simple as it was intended to be when it was, you know, written down in a rule or policy. And sometimes real life situations, um, need a little

[00:30:00] bit of, um, of a subjective viewpoint and-and there are- is a lot of gray areas. And so, I always trying to just think, you know, “What can I do to make sure that the right thing is done in that in that situation?” I think that is especially applicable in human resources because we deal with, um, you know, so much of people personal life that leads into the work environment and we have to remember that we are, you know, we’re called Human Resources for a reason.

We’re dealing with human beings and we are, you know, trying to serve them in their capacity as an employee, but also as people. And I think it’s especially important that we remember that with making decisions, um, with or about employees that we, um, that we really consider them as human and, uh, take into consideration all of the nuances that might be at play and to-to make-make decisions and do the right thing, even if it means we have to change the policy or make an exception, um, because sometimes it’s just necessary to do that.

Um, the other- the other thing, but I, you know, really think about are, um, I try to remember that I am not the most important person in the world. Everybody has got things going on all the time and all of that plays into, you know, how, um, how we interact with each other. And I try and remember that when I’m interacting with people, I mean, again, in HR, you know, sometimes we deal with people who are not at their best place.

And, um, and to remember to take into consideration, you know, everybody has got their own priorities, everybody’s got their own situation going on, they’ve got their own distractions and to try and remember that, you know, even, you know, in basic everyday situations like they commute to and from work, you know. Being a good, um, citizen of the freeway and-and making sure that, you know, I’m not acting like me getting to my meeting on time is the most important thing in the world.[00:32:00]

A lot of people have a lot of things going on in their, you know, making their way down Interstate kind of just like I am. And, you know, if we can all be a little bit more considerate of each other and remember, you know, that we are all not the most important person in the world every day, um, I think that will go a long way. Uh, and then the last thing-

Interviewer: I feel like I’m- [crosstalk]

Lori: If I am looking at-

Interviewer: – sticker.

Lori: Yeah.

Interviewer: There will be a [unintelligible 00:32:23] mistake.

Lori: [crosstalk] [laughs]

Interviewer: I love it.

Lori: [laughs]

Interviewer: [unintelligible 00:32:29] stage of [inaudible 00:32:29]

Lori: [unintelligible 00:32:29] Yeah, yeah. Um, the last thing which is written on my whiteboard is whether or not that I make better today and that’s really kind of what I keep with me all the time, um, is, you know, how do I make a difference? What did I- what I did do today that matter to somebody, um, and that-that’s just the-the third thing that I live by and just try and– whether it’s, again, at work or in my personal life, um, every day matters and-and so it’s important that every day, you know, I can identify something and, um, that I did that-that made a difference.

Interviewer: Lori, fantastic. Thank you. The-the each one of those I think is very inspirational and very usable for our listeners to be able to think about. Um, you know, managing 14,000 people, um, every day and-and a family, and a dog, and, you know, all of that I think is, you know, an incredible fate in itself. So, I really appreciate you taking the time with us today to share some views. I think your insights are very usable. So, thank you, um, from, you know, from entrepreneurs to CEOs. So, I really appreciate that inside and thank you very much for being on the show.

Lori: Thank you so much for having me. It was an awesome opportunity.

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