The Flight of the Phoenix Workforce

Lori Bays on finding and developing the best and brightest talent in Arizona’s capital city

Lori Bays Phoenix
Lori Bays, City of Phoenix

The City of Phoenix is embarking on a significant hiring challenge in the coming years. By 2030, about 20 percent of the US population will be sixty-five or older, and 50 percent of the workforce will be composed of millennials by 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Today, Phoenix only has a millennial population in the city’s workforce at 27 percent of the whole. Currently, 13 percent of the city’s nonsworn workforce could retire, and retirement eligibility is even higher in the police and fire population.

As chief human resources officer for the City of Phoenix, Lori Bays is poised to confront the city’s hiring challenges head-on. Bays has amassed an impressive résumé in public sector experience at the city and county level, and she now oversees HR strategy and services for a city staff of fourteen thousand employees that provide roughly four hundred different services via thirty-six different departments. With an emphasis on data-driven results underlined by legitimate compassion, Bays is helping spearhead a fairly staggering number of initiatives aimed not only at recruiting top talent for the city, but also ensuring that the current workforce feels that same sense of value in their contributions.

Some of Bays’s most valuable experiences in taking on her current role for the City of Phoenix came while serving as chief administrative officer for Salt Lake County in Utah, where she oversaw a staff of about seven thousand and a budget of roughly $1.3 billion. It’s here where she says she learned the most valuable lesson of her role.

“We hear it all the time from elected officials and management in the public sector: ‘Our employees are our greatest asset,’” Bays says. “It’s absolutely true. But to understand what that means, you have to really dive into the HR function and work to understand everything it takes to attract, retain, and develop a workforce that’s going to help you achieve your mission.”

While working for Salt Lake County, Bays also led an initiative that shows great promise for Phoenix. The Metrostat initiative helped the county review its performance metrics for both public and internal usage. The initiative highlighted areas of strong performance, as well as areas of needed improvement. Internally, it provided concrete conversation drivers for management to make sound decisions and allocate resources wisely.

Bays says once you start working in that manner, it becomes difficult to work any other way. Data-driven analytics remove the emotional and often reactive nature of difficult and important decisions and, instead, focus on the reality. “HR is an ideal environment for that process to work,” says Bays, adding that this type of strategic impact in Phoenix is already being felt.

Bays has also taken a more business-minded approach when it comes to seeking out job candidates. Rather than wait for résumés to roll in, the city has taken an approach that may seem more inherent to a recruiting firm or headhunter. “We’ve started developing an internal recruiting team that will go out and do specialized outreach for unique or hard-to-fill positions. They look for people who may be good candidates for a position we have available,” Bays says.

Since Bays joined the City of Phoenix in 2017, the sheer number of projects the city is focusing on to spur improved hiring and maintain current high performers appears to be ahead of the game in terms of traditional thoughts about the stereotypical, “slower moving” public sector. For Bays, it begins with recognizing the importance of every city position and the capacity to find true meaning in their work.

“An operations and maintenance worker in one of our water treatment plants is the person contributing to public health across our city, affecting the quality of life, improving the entire community, and they have to understand that,” Bays explains.

As generational needs continue to evolve, Bays is intent on aligning those needs within city positions. “A lot of people who are in the job market these days aren’t just looking for a job that fits them well. They’re looking for an organization that fits them well,” Bays says. “They’re looking for meaningful work, opportunities for future success—whether they’re promotional or a variety of different experiences.”

Bays also adds that she sees great value in the city’s tuition reimbursement plan should a city employee wish to expand opportunities or change careers but keep the same employer. The City of Phoenix is also looking to highlight policies it may have already had in place but weren’t necessarily well used across city departments. “We’ve had a telecommuting policy in place for a long time, but it’s not as widely used as it could be,” Bays says.

When it comes to more flexible scheduling, leave options, and continuing education possibilities, Bays says it’s imperative for management to set the tone around work/life balance. “A person on a team is never going to feel like they can have work/life balance if they see their manager doesn’t,” Bays says. “We have to make it known that this is important to us as an organization, and me as a manager, that employees have a balance. It’s better for them. It’s better for the city.”

Bays’s unique combination of concern for her fellow employees and more business-minded approach to enhancing HR for the City of Phoenix can come down to one word for the CHRO: empowerment. “I want to help steer a large ship in the right direction and inspire a work environment where all fourteen thousand of our employees believe in the city’s philosophy of ‘good work matters’ and go home and say, ‘I made a difference today. I felt valued today.’ That’s what’s important to me,” Bays says.

Photo: Paul Ramirez

Congratulations, Lori Bays, from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona!
We’re fortunate to have Lori Bays advocate for improving the quality of life of the people she serves. Her work to support the needs of the upcoming generational workforce will ensure that the city will be in strong, capable hands for decades to come.

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