Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Episode 320: Featuring Terri Lewis, CHRO of One Call
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:28.05] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This podcast is part of a series on the Workology Podcast focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer, or CHRO. The CHRO, sometimes called the SVP of HR, the VP of HR, or the Chief People Officer, and it is an executive or C-level role that deals with managing human resources, as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. The CHRO podcast series here on Workology is powered by Daily Pay and Ginger.io. One of the reasons I have wanted to do this series and we’re continuing to do this series is because there’s a lot of mystery around that CHRO role, and I want aspiring CHROs to know what types of skills and experiences they need to promote into for that future role, along with hearing from senior HR leaders, how we and they are partnering and collaborating with their executive peers. Today I’m joined by Terri Lewis. She’s the CHRO at One Call, a worker’s compensation and health care management solutions provider. Terri is responsible for driving the acceleration of the organization through leadership, differentiated talent models, attracting and developing the best talent, and building a culture of engagement, agility, and innovation. Terri, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Terri Lewis: [00:01:58.11] Thank you, Jessica. Pleased to be here!
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:00.42] Let’s start with some background. I wanted to find out how did you get in HR? And let’s talk about how your work has evolved over time into your current role.
Terri Lewis: [00:02:09.00] Oh, goodness. Ok, so we’re going back about 25 years, and I may even reflect back a little further from the time I was a little girl. If you asked me what I was going to be when I grow up, I would have told you a lawyer and my parents would tell you that I argued my way through my childhood. So it seemed fitting, right? Then I got into college and I started really getting into the coursework and figuring out what I liked and what I didn’t like. And I was drawn to the employment side of the things I was talking about in my business classes and had to make that decision at some point. You know, do I go to law school? Do I get a master’s degree? And what happens next? And I ended up going into a master’s program to focus on the employment side and the HR side and deciding against law school to get my feet into the world of work faster. And I haven’t really looked back since. I absolutely love the career that I chose. The education that I have was a great foundation for that and the jobs that I’ve, that I’ve had the luck and privilege of doing over my career have really helped build upon that. And I feel sometimes like I am a little bit of, of an employment lawyer doing the stuff that we do. But I have the ability to call those experts to help me out when I need it. So, you know, I’ve been doing this now for almost 26 years and it really started back in college for me.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:23.97] I love that and this is why we asked the question because everybody’s journey into human resources and my experience is, is really unique and it’s, there’s no cookie cutter way to end up working in HR, especially in the senior level roles.
Terri Lewis: [00:03:39.75] Agree. Agree. And I think that, you know, you also see during your career decision points where you can choose to become a specialist in something a lot of people move from HR into different pieces of the business. People move from the business into HR. And for me, if you look at that progression, I started out in manufacturing as an HR person and on on an off shift. I worked my way to a full manufacturing plant, HR leadership role to multi facilities. I moved out of manufacturing into to sales organization, a distribution organization, medical organizations and, and really have kind of expanded within HR. I did move into more of a purist role in organization and staffing and so like workforce analysis and workforce management for a period of time. But I came back into the generalist side and have just gradually moved up with areas of increasing scope and responsibility. I did, you don’t see this, if you look at my LinkedIn profile, but I took a step back for a period of time when I started building a family. I took a couple of years that I didn’t want to travel and needed to kind of let off the gas a little bit to build my family. And then I went back into it and started climbing again. So there is no clear path. There’s no one path. Everyone needs to make their own and do the things that keep them challenged and keep them growing and also allow that balance for them.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:00.32] This is awesome, and thank you for talking about your step back, because I do think that that’s not talked about enough and it’s completely acceptable and OK, and for, for you to be able to shift gears and to have your career work for your family. I mean, that’s really I feel like what it’s all about.
Terri Lewis: [00:05:17.39] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:19.49] One of the things that I want to know more about is that you’re the first C-level HR leader at One Call. And so I have lots of questions. But let’s start with this one. What was the biggest challenge in your first few months on the job?
Terri Lewis: [00:05:33.71] So I think, probably you know, and the people on this that are listening to the podcast know that in today’s world, HR really has an opportunity to play a key role in an organization. And frankly, that role had been absent here, helping our colleagues and our leaders understand that value has been the journey, a wonderful journey, that we’ve been on for the past year+. And so, really, they didn’t even know what meetings to include me and the team that I was building in at first. And what does business partnering mean and what can Terri and her team help me do? How do I look at my talent different with their view? And what analysis and, and data can they provide that is different than what I had been doing without them? And so it wasn’t that people were opposed to it, it was that they didn’t understand it. So we have been embarking on educational journey and gradually people say, Oh, wow, that’s really helpful. Thank you for that point of view. And you know, when you bring things in, they’re like, Oh, we could do it that way. And really this exploration and watching people come around to an understanding of what true HR can do and help an organization, especially going through COVID at the time that we’re doing this as well has really been a wonderful journey for us.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:49.96] How many employees is One Call?
Terri Lewis: [00:06:52.54] We’re about 2500 in the United States and then we have a couple of BPO partners as well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:57.82] What skills and experiences do you believe are absolute must for that CHRO role, especially thinking about maybe those who are just starting out?
Terri Lewis: [00:07:08.22] So for this question, I really come back to a word and several things that I think that are absolute requirements, but resilience is one. You have to be able to do your job, have conversations, guide, and influence, and bring innovation and change to an organization, and understand that there will be things that don’t go exactly the way that you thought they would, and you have to be resilient enough to stand up and keep doing it. And so, you know, COVID hits my entire talent agenda, which changed. I think everyone’s was. Your focus areas change. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the world of work, in the economy, in your industry, around you, that you’re going to have to be able to quickly respond to. So that word resilience, I think, is really important. I also tell everyone that I’ve given the opportunity to speak to about this, business knowledge is critically important. To truly be an HR partner in an organization, you have to understand how that organization makes money. What does it spend its money on? What is the profitability? How does the team that you support work within the model at your organization? And the third thing that I think is critically important is you have to be able to start something from nothing. And what do I mean there? We’re given challenges, as HR professionals, to help solve a problem, to help overcome a challenge, and that work may not have been done before. Where do you start when you’ve never done something before? That goes back to resilience and business knowledge. So if you have that foundation you can start researching, you can come up with ideas, you can talk to your business partners in the operations side of the business and have an approach to begin and something to start from. So for me, it kind of comes back to that business knowledge, that resilience, and that ability to power through something that’s a novel situation for you that you’ve never had to deal with before.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:06.48] I feel like so much of that is HR, not just the pandemic.
Terri Lewis: [00:09:10.92] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:13.04] Can you talk a little bit about what working during the global pandemic was like for you, your company, and your team?
Terri Lewis: [00:09:21.83] I can. So we had to get really creative and, you know, it starts from you have about two weeks to get an entire company working remotely and figuring that out to how do you hire people when you can’t bring them in to do the training? When you’re training people sitting in their homes? When you have to get them equipment in their homes? Then the pandemic has proven to provide some staffing challenges for most companies. And how do you find the people for your organization? And for us, we’ve gotten really creative even with our hiring models. We’ve looked at adding part-time employees. We’ve looked at bringing people in differently and training them differently and really looking at the organization almost upside down from the things that we considered very normal before to make sure that we can meet the needs for our clients.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:12.26] I think that really goes back to the resilience piece that…
Terri Lewis: [00:10:15.14] It does.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:15.77] That you were talking about. And the business piece, like, in order to make these decisions for part-time staff or make some changes, shift the teams and your staffing plans, you have to understand the business and be incredibly agile.
Terri Lewis: [00:10:29.15] You do. And every day, every week, being in the business that we’re in, we’re looking at the volumes. And when people aren’t working, there’s less volume and that’s a good thing. We don’t ever want people to get injured at work and really have to have care, but they will, and we want to provide amazing care when they do. Our mission statement is getting people the care they need when they need it. And so that’s what we’re focused on. And so when you’re looking at decreasing volumes and we did a very good job, we’re very proud of how we took care of our people when we had to go into some furlough situations. But then you have to start bringing them back and how do you bring them back? And how do you make sure that your staffing the right time periods, the right phase? If you need people on the weekends, how do you do that? And really be creative and resilient and look at data. And, you know, the thing I kept saying to the organization was begin with the impact to the colleague and the people first. You know, if this was you and we had to impact you this way, how do you, how do you give that message, and what’s the right thing to do to make sure that we are living to the mission and honoring our employees as well?
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:33.90] I love that. Having those human conversations and thinking with empathy first, I mean, those furlough conversations, lay-off conversations, all those, those termination conversations that you and I have been a part of over the years. They never get easy. But when you lead with that empathy, it, it helps not soften the blow, but it just makes it a better conversation.
Terri Lewis: [00:11:58.92] It does. It does. And they never should be easy if they get easy. I tell people to take a look at what they’re doing for a living, and they might need a break.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:05.88] True, true. True.
Break: [00:12:07.47] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. And we’re talking today with Terri Lewis. She’s the hero of One Call and we’re chatting about all things HR, but we’re really talking a lot about mission, vision, values, and how to scale an HR organization to support the business. The CHRO podcast series, which is what you’re listening to, is powered by Daily Pay and Ginger.com.
Break: [00:12:39.87] Every employee has different mental health needs, from preventive behavioral health coaching to therapy and psychiatry. Ginger offers effective, convenient mental health care for any level of need. All from a smartphone. Learn more. Visit Ginger.com.
Being the First C-Level HR Leader in a Company
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:58.11] I wanted to ask you about talent development. So, you’re building your teams and you are the first CHRO of the organization. So, what has been the most important factor for you when you’re building out your talent development team?
Terri Lewis: [00:13:12.12] When you build a talent development team, I think it’s easy to get kind of silo focused about, OK, soft skills development, hard skills development, the end. I think it’s broader than that. So for me, I kind of backed up and said, let’s look at the life cycle of a colleague. This has to do with how you bring people in new hire orientation, onboarding, what’s the first training, and things that they need to go through and learn in the organization? What’s career development look like? What if someone wants a technical career path, not a leadership career path? Can we address that? How do we address that? What are the things that we should do ourselves versus find experts to give that to and partner with, to teach that for us, and really looking at what are those lifecycle points that we need to make sure that we’re taking our colleagues on a career journey for that they’re involved in. And so talent identification and succession planning comes to mind as well here because the worst thing that can happen is someone resigns and the manager is talking to them and says, but I had plans for you, and the employee says, oh, you should have told me. So it’s critically important that that succession planning in those next steps and where the business sees someone going in their career, those conversations happen and the employee wants to go in that direction in their career, and they’re involved in those discussions. So as we’re building that out, we really are looking at that whole, you know, hire to retire lifecycle and the things that are important moments, important inflection points, important decisions that shouldn’t just be a company making a decision, but it should be a decision between the organization, the leader and the employee concerned.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:49.05] You’re so right, so many employers are not talking to their people and they are completely in the dark about what the company has in terms of where they fit into the future of the organization. One of the things I wanted to ask you about and honestly, I’m fascinated by this is the structure of the HR team. So I wanted to talk with you, 2500 employees, what’s the structure of the HR team, and where does your business, where does the business of HR fall into the company’s org chart?
Terri Lewis: [00:15:20.01] Absolutely. So from, I’ll take the second piece first. From the standpoint of the business of HR. I’m a direct report into the CEO and, and the board of directors, so that is important to me that that was set at the beginning as an expectation that we have that equivalent seating, as operations, as finance, as IP, et cetera, right? So that’s important. That sets a tone for the organization that the business of people is as important as the business that we do, and that our people are what power that. So that’s where we sit. And then when you look at my team, I’ve set it up in a somewhat classical, centers of excellence or COE model. I have an HR operations organization that owns the HR information system and people data, payroll, compensation, benefits. I have a internal communications organization. I have a talent organization, and talent owns both recruiting as well as learning and development. And then I have a group of HR business partners that make all that come to life as the first points of contact, single points of contacts for all things HR within the business. So relatively classical in that way, but it works, and if it works, you shouldn’t break it. That was not the way that it was when I got here. And so that has been something that we’ve moved into over the past several months while I’ve been in the role and it’s working. Now, it is something that I look at regularly and I’ll be 100 percent honest with you, I am in the process right now of decoupling, recruiting from learning and development, because we need to have an increased focus on both of those areas. And I want a leader over each of those that’s going to be absolutely focused on making sure that we’re doing the right things, given the current environment from a staffing perspective. And as we continue down our career path journey for our employees, even more focused on a lot of the things that we need to do there to continue to improve the career journey for our colleagues.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:14.57] I also talked about earlier, you’re the first CHRO for One Call. I wanted to talk a minute about how you took on changes in the mission, vision, and values in the core competencies, making sure that HR is in alignment with the larger organization.
Terri Lewis: [00:17:32.87] Absolutely. So in one way, I got lucky. But in the next way, I kind of capitalized on that luck. So when I started here, the organization was embarking upon a review of the, the colors, the logo, and the branding of, of the organization. So that was an opportunity to say, Oh, OK, if we’re doing this, let’s look deeper. And I had just gone through my own new hire orientation and taken a look at that information that, that we were presenting from a values and a competencies perspective, and I thought there was some room for improvement. And I also thought, let’s capitalize on this moment where we are changing the brand and really making, making a splash with our employees and in the market about the future of One Call. So we did do that. The mission was tweaked a bit, the vision was redone, and then we took an opportunity to say, let’s do core values that are truly reflective of the future of this organization and where we want it to be going, where it’s headed. And once we redid the core values and focused there, we needed to tie into core competencies, leadership competencies, and functional competencies. And so that’s work that we have built over this year. That’s really just wrapping up. We’re rolling out the new competency model to our organization, literally as we speak right now.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:48.53] Can you talk a little bit more about the crowdsourcing component of what you did as far as developing the core values for the organization? I’m fascinated by this. I like to involve employees as much as possible. Share with us kind of how that worked for you.
Terri Lewis: [00:19:04.85] It was a really cool process. I’m really glad you asked about it, Jessica. We used a tool called the Jam Board, but there are many tools that are similar to it, and we basically did focus groups where we sent them out some words to just get their brains working and ask them to identify six to eight words that they thought identified One Call. What it is, what it should be, and those words that just resonate with them about the organization. And then we got together in virtual groups because we are working remotely and those words are up on the screen anonymously. So there is no one that’s worried about, you know, is my word right? Is it wrong? Is someone going to think differently about me because of this word that I picked about the organization? And you go through a process where you’re collaborating with a group of people and you, you end up within about 90 minutes with a selection of words that that group really feels like reflect the organization. And you do that several times, several iterations. And then a group of us went back and looked at all of it and came up with a proposal, and we tested that proposal.
Terri Lewis: [00:20:08.39] And so, you know, we went from when I tell you hundreds and hundreds of words down to four critical themes that are reflected in our core values. And it was a journey that took a little bit of time, probably about six weeks or so in total. And, you know, could we have sat down as an executive team and said, this is it, this is where we’re going. We could have, but then it would have been the executive team’s core values. It wouldn’t have been One Call’s core values and having that involvement and that buy-in was important. And I feel like it’s paid dividends. We landed on, like I said, kind of our four, which are, think big, go fast, deliver of, and win together. And we are building our communication strategy around that, our recognition strategy around that. And just so many things that feed off of those four themes have really brought a new level of energy to the business that are embedded and a foundation of those core values. They’re feeding into our competency model for performance reviews and for career pathing, and it really allows us to go full circle with the identity of the organization being real for every employee.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:15.83] I love that. And when you think about right now, when everybody is working remotely, it’s so easy to be disconnected. But this activity, it sounds like to me that it has really been able to unify the employees and they have to know or, I mean, I’m sure they know that this isn’t a process that, or a company that has a culture like this isn’t something that they’re going to get anywhere else or, or it’s very few and far between, unfortunately.
Terri Lewis: [00:21:45.95] I would agree, and I would even say we took it a step further and developed working sessions about each of those four core values from a series of podcasts to a series of exercises that we put in the hands of our people leaders and instead of our training team being the ones that delivered the meaning of these core values, our managers got to engage with all of their employees in virtual sessions and tie every employee’s role to the core values and the future of the organization. So it’s been a heck of a year where we’ve been trying to drive that engagement in a virtual world and really make sure that our employees understand how critical they are and how important they are to achieving the goals of the organization. And we use the core value rollout as one of those opportunities to connect.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:33.04] I think that’s awesome. It sounds amazing. I love hearing stories like yours during the pandemic where the organization is thriving. A culture is, is really in sync and hopefully employees are happy and engaged and, you know, taking care of their families. And I feel like that’s really what you want all the time, but especially right now.
Terri Lewis: [00:22:58.87] Absolutely. And the work never ends, right? It’s ongoing. You can’t ever just say, OK, we’re done. You know, we’re still doing our engagement survey information and action planning and finding areas to continue to focus on and improve for the organization. And you know, we didn’t really talk about it, but we did a lot of really creative things from the perspective of standing up a One Call foundation, supporting emergency leave pay, COVID vaccine pay, COVID vaccine recovery, time off for our employees to make sure that they felt cared for. And we’re not immune to those impacts, and we needed to make sure that our employees understand that we really want to be there to support them during these times as well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:37.99] Well, Terry, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today, I know listeners do too. Where can people go to learn more about you and One Call?
Terri Lewis: [00:23:48.43] Absolutely. We have a really big presence on LinkedIn, so you can look at the One Call LinkedIn page. You can go to the Terri Lewis LinkedIn page, and if people want to direct messaged me, I’m happy to engage in conversation.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:01.22] Awesome. Well, I’m going to link to the One Call website, your LinkedIn profile and then also the career section. And in the event that you have a job opening in HR that somebody is like, Hey, Terri sounds amazing. I want to work for Terri and a great company like this. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
Terri Lewis: [00:24:20.08] I appreciate it, Jessica. Thank you.
Closing: [00:24:22.39] It’s really interesting to delve into a role of a new CHRO like Terri, whose experience connects them to strategy and operations of the overall business. How do we make sure that we have the support from executives, the board of directors? How do we build those relationships and build out our team? The CHRO doesn’t just lead within HR within a company. The company depends on the leadership in this role to set standards and benchmarks for everything from manager training to company culture to employee engagement and connection. I appreciate Terri taking the time to share her experience and thoughts with us today. Thank you for joining the Worology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace the HR Exam. This podcast is part of our CHRO series, and it is powered by Daily Pay and Ginger.io. This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and until next time, visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology Podcast episodes.
Closing: [00:25:28.09] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community, and over one hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
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