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Episode 381: Benefits and Centers of Excellence With Lisa Woods From Walmart
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:27.67] Welcome to the Workology Podcast powered by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. These are two of the courses that we, here at Workology, offer for certification prep and recertification for HR leaders. This podcast is part of a Workology Podcast series that is focused on the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resources Officer or CHRO. The CHRO is sometimes called the SVP 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. Sometimes those policies of change include benefits and wellness. The CHRO podcast series on Workology is sponsored by the HR Benchmark Survey. Share your insights at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. Before I introduce today’s guests, I want to hear from you. Please text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005 to ask questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. That’s “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Today’s guest is Lisa Woods. She is the Vice President of Physical & Emotional Wellbeing at Walmart. She is a benefits professional with broad-based knowledge and has been recognized nationally as an innovator and thought leader in the healthcare space. She has a strong commitment to ensuring that more than 1.6 million Walmart associates have access to benefits. Imagine 1.6 million employees. Lisa has played a key role in developing a portfolio of innovative programs focused on things like payment reform, reducing waste in the system, and ensuring appropriate care. In addition, she has been focused on physical and emotional well-being programs, we’re going to hear all about these, for all Walmart associates. Lisa was named Fortune magazine World’s Greatest Leaders (#10) in 2019 and in 2020 awarded as one of the Top 25 Health Care Innovators. Lisa, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
Lisa Woods: [00:02:39.55] Welcome. Thank you. Appreciate and glad to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:42.79] Yeah, I’m so excited to have you on the podcast. Let’s talk a little bit about your background and what led you to this role. How did you get started in human resources and benefits?
Lisa Woods: [00:02:54.49] Yeah, so such a great question. Probably not completely interesting. I started at Walmart about 33 years ago and I have spent my whole career within benefits. I’ve worked really in all areas, almost all areas within benefits. So I understand all the aspects within benefits. About two years ago, in most recently, the company asked me to lead physical and emotional well-being, which has been just a privilege. We have an opportunity to serve about 1.6 million associates in the company related to their physical and emotional well-being. And so that’s really where I spend all my time today and now.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:43.22] I don’t know many HR people who have stayed started in benefits and then stayed throughout benefits. You really must have a passion for for that side of the business.
Lisa Woods: [00:03:53.78] Yeah, I always say we’re so fortunate to have the opportunity to touch 1.6 million associates and their families, but it really comes down to that one person at a time, and that’s why I’m so passionate as far as what I do. And you know, every day we can make a difference for our associates, and that’s why I do what I do.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:18.70] I love that. Well, one of the things I wanted to make sure we talked about was Centers of Excellence. So I wanted to ask you how Walmart has used the COE model in their HR team.
Lisa Woods: [00:04:31.69] Yes, a great question. We started our Centers of Excellence initially about 25 years ago, which is crazy to think now. And we started it in partnership with Mayo Clinic related to transplants. And then several years ago, we were really thinking about what we were seeing in the industry and how do we ensure that our associates get the very best possible care available to them. And so we expanded our Centers of Excellence to cover things like spine surgery and knees and hip, hip replacements, different types of cancer, weight loss surgery was added, and then this year we added fertility care. Generally, we, we have focused on these different treatments just because we saw wide variation in care, wide variation in cost. And we wanted to make sure that we were getting care for our associates where they receive the right diagnosis and the right treatment plans. The care that we’re providing largely for many procedures, there’s no cost for associates and their family members if they’re on one of our medical plans, and we also cover all the travel and lodging for the patient and one caregiver. I also think it’s important to mention that since we started the surgery, we’ve seen some great results. We’ve seen where we, we had associates in their home communities that were told that they needed surgery when they went to a Centers of Excellence, they didn’t need a surgery. We’ve seen lower readmission rates, the length of stay in the hospitals have been lower. And so, you know, we have just found a lot of value with the Centers of Excellence with different procedures. Another thing I would note is that when associates do need surgery and it’s really important when they do need surgery, that they get the best care. We’ve seen where they needed less time off of work. With spine, we’ve seen associates have three, about three weeks less as far as staying out of of work. And that’s helpful for the associate. It’s helpful for the company, for the associate families. And so it’s really a win-win-win, you know, in the development of this program and how we’ve managed it.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:04.66] This is really I would say that Walmart and the Mayo Clinic were probably one of the first organizations to maybe really take hold of that COE model. For those who don’t know, Center of Excellence is typically a small team of dedicated individuals who manage from a common central point of a functional, functional area. And in this case, for Walmart, the Center of Excellence model is focused on really that kind of health care employee and wellness experience.
Lisa Woods: [00:07:35.98] Yes, that’s right.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:38.41] I also think of Dave Ulrich is kind of the grandfather of the COE model in terms of applying it in a human resource context. I don’t think we talk about it enough. So that’s why I’m excited that you’re willing to share how you’re applying COE. And it sounds like really making a difference in terms of employee experience, but also being able to lower costs, costs for the employee in terms of what they have to pay out of pocket, but also lowering costs for Walmart, too.
Lisa Woods: [00:08:10.06] Yeah. What’s interesting about that is there are times, many times that we actually pay more for the initial procedure. But what we know based on the care that they receive, that we will see downstream savings. And so it, you know, it may have to, have upfront costs initially, but you absolutely will see savings overall.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:33.64] Savings overall on the health care side and then savings in terms of tenure, because if people are being taken care of, they’re sticking around. And retail is such a hard industry. And to have people like you who have been at Walmart for such a long time, that really speaks to the culture and the COE model.
Lisa Woods: [00:08:54.37] Yes.
Break: [00:08:56.23] Let’s take a reset here. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you’re listening to the Workology Podcast. It is powered by Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR. We’re talking about the roles and responsibilities of the Chief Human Resource Officer. We’re talking with Lisa Woods. She’s the VP of Physical and Emotional Wellbeing for Walmart. The CHRO podcast series, which is what you are listening to now in Workology is sponsored by HR Benchmark Survey. Take our survey at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. Before I get back to Lisa, I want to hear from you. Text the word “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions, leave comments, and make suggestions for future guests. I want to hear from you. It’s important for feedback, so send me a message at 512-548-3005.
Break: [00:09:44.89] Benchmarking and data is crucial to HR leaders. Workology’s HR Benchmark Survey is an always-on survey and just by taking the survey at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com, you’re signing up to get comprehensive quarterly results, white papers, and other research from the survey right to your inbox. It takes 10 minutes or less to complete. Visit HRBenchmarkSurvey.com.
The Steps to Offer New Benefit Programs
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:10.75] So I want to get back to you, Lisa, and talk about what is involved in the decision making process to offer a new benefit program at Walmart. What are, what are some of the steps? Give us some insights.
Lisa Woods: [00:10:24.40] Yes, that’s a great question. You know, as an innovator in the healthcare space, we are always looking for ways to improve our programs and provide our associates with access to quality care that really, honestly helps them, ur associates and their families live better. And so every year, our goal and our mission is to provide a comprehensive, affordable and then quality benefits. Quality is a very important piece of everything that we do within our benefits. We start off by listening to our associates, what’s important to them? What do they feel like they need from a benefits perspective? And then we review the market. We, we benchmark and we really are checking to see what’s available and what’s offered. And then we look at our own data just to see, are there opportunities? Are there things that we should be looking at? And then can we take a step back every year and we look at the benefits that we’re offering and we, we do an assessment as far as should we continue to offer the benefits that we currently offer, Do we need to make adjustments or changes or keep it the same? And then we also think about the gaps and how do we fill gaps within our benefits structure.
Lisa Woods: [00:11:47.77] And then the real fun part starts where we develop ideas, we innovate, we create designs and programs. We identify partners and key partners to help us provide benefits. And then based on, on the innovation and after, after an approval process, we start to implement. And then there’s times where we can implement benefits in, in the middle of the year. There are times that it’s the first of the year, but the process I’m sharing with you is something that is an ongoing process. All year long. We’re consistently looking for ways to improve the benefits for our associates. And a great example of that is the announcement that we recently had where we launched our Centers of Excellence for Fertility Services. What we heard from our associates is that they really wanted to see services like fertility, adoption, and surrogacy, which were super important to them. And so we really focused on this. We believe that family-building support is really important and is as important from a health care perspective, just like benefits such as dental or vision. And so we have added and introduced these fertility benefits and coverage as well as surrogacy and adoption, which is a financial support for our associates.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:17.77] I am, I’m blown away by, by this offering because it is truly in my mind, one of the first offered in retail that, that offers this to such a large employee population. And I think about all the steps that you and the executive team and the rest of your team had to go through to kind of come to the decision to put all this together, not to mention all the communication that, that had to, to go out to the 1.6 million employees at the organization. So for me, that’s the real part. Where my head is, is kind of spinning and thinking about, ok, how do you communicate a change, such a massive change like this in such a big change, an important one to the employees in all the store locations and, and everywhere within Walmart?
Lisa Woods: [00:14:14.32] Yes, it’s such a great question. As you can imagine, communicating to 1.6 million associates is an adventure and a journey. Every day. Every year we have 5300 stores, which includes our supercenters, our clubs, our neighborhood markets. And it can be challenging, right? Especially because we have such a diverse workforce. I will say this we don’t communicate one time a year, you know, during our annual enrollment. It’s a one, it’s an opportunity that we use to communicate to our associates. But we are always on we’re always looking for ways to communicate and connect with our associates when it matters and when it matters most. And that could be through digital means, or mobile, or social, in person. We are trying to identify ways to communicate to our associates in all different ways. We connect our partners so that they’re aware of the different programs that we provide. And that is another opportunity to be able to connect our associates to our programs as well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:23.74] I love that you said that this is not just a one once a year thing, which is what sometimes I think HR leaders, we get into this space like, oh, annual enrollments coming. I need to work on the communication, but it’s continuous conversations. And one of the things that I think is interesting about Walmart is you all have so many different mediums to be able to reinforce that communication, whether it’s through the store managers and other leaders within the organization. But all these different, like you said, digital and media properties where you can reinforce that message.
Lisa Woods: [00:15:58.00] Yeah, absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:00.04] I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about career advice. You have been with Walmart for a long period of time. But as you, you’ve made a decision to kind of route into the ecosystem and the culture of Walmart and make that your home. Talk to me about maybe the best career advice you’ve ever received that maybe helped move you to make that decision, to say this is, this is where I want to be and really build something.
Lisa Woods: [00:16:29.41] Yeah. So as you can imagine, I’ve had so many different leaders with different advice, different levels. And, you know, when I think back earlier in my career as a cornerstone. You know, I I’m an individual that focus on, focuses on areas to where we can improve, right? Whether it’s improving our benefits improving myself. And I had a leader one time share with me, Lisa don’t focus from a career perspective so much on your opportunities that you forget about the strengths that you carry. And it was some great advice because I think at that point in my career, I was really trying to improve on the things that I thought I needed to improve on and had kind of forgotten some of the things, to focus on the things that I did do well. And then it’s interesting, several years later, StrengthsFinder came out and started sharing how you should focus and lean into your strengths. So it was some really sound good advice for me at the time.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:35.65] I think that’s important. Sometimes we’re so focused on improving the, the areas that are obvious. We forget to really hone in on the things that, that make us really strong or really effective at, at our jobs.
Lisa Woods: [00:17:51.76] Yeah.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:52.42] So it’s, it’s always a nice little reminder. And if you haven’t read the StrengthsFinder series and taken the, the assessment, I definitely recommend that you pick up a copy and do that. It’s sometimes it’s just fun to revisit and reevaluate.
Lisa Woods: [00:18:10.63] Yeah, I’ll share with you. I had an opportunity with a team that I was leading several years ago and we all decided to go through StrengthsFinder and we had all agreed that we would share the results of our strengths. And then we went through each of the strengths and as a leader, it helped me to help lead each individual within the team, but it also helped the overall team work together because they realized, you know, how to tap into each other’s strengths. So I think there’s some really creative ways that you can utilize StrengthsFinders within your teams, your organizations.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:54.02] I think especially now in the world where I feel like we’re always moving while they’re shifting, we’re always flexing. It is really important to understand where your team is really strong in and then as a teammate, how you can work with those different people and help drive results.
Lisa Woods: [00:19:10.88] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:12.56] One question I just wanted to ask you to go back to the COE model real quick. Talk to me about your team. How, what size is your team?
Lisa Woods: [00:19:21.80] Yeah, so I am, I am super fortunate to have a tenured team and we’re small but mighty. I have one individual that manages our Centers of Excellence, but we all, you know, we all chip in, we help support, we design. But my team is, is fairly small. We don’t have a whole lot of associates that are creating, innovating, designing, and specifically dedicated to Centers of Excellence. I have one associate that is dedicated to that program.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:57.11] I think it’s important to, to mention this because a lot of people think that Walmart, because y’all are so large that, that means that you have so many people in each department. But really, this sounds like a true partnership to me, where you are really collaborating with and relying on different individuals throughout the organization to help bring this, your, the COE really, really forward.
Lisa Woods: [00:20:23.75] Well, and we have, yes. And we have some really great partners, you know, external to Walmart. And the health systems that we work with are very supportive and help support our associates, too. So yes, it’s an effort internal to Walmart, but it is also an effort external, right? With the partners that we have identified and work with.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:46.39] I love that. Well. Lisa, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. Before we go, where can people learn more about Walmart careers?
Lisa Woods: [00:20:56.50] Yeah. So there’s probably two places that I would recommend if someone is interested in a career at Walmart. First, I would go to Careers.Walmart.com and there you can find information about all the available opportunities in the stores, the clubs, tech, health care, supply chain, home office. I mean, one of the great things about Walmart is we have careers in almost anything. And so that would be the first place. The second place I would encourage everyone to check out is our working at Walmart page and that is Corporate.Walmart.com/working-at-Walmart. And there we talk about our benefits, our pay. We spend a lot of time talking about the pathways to our opportunities and careers at Walmart. And so I think those are really probably the two, two areas and, and I can share with you. I worked with Walmart and have worked for Walmart for many years as I shared earlier. And it’s a special place. I’ve had opportunities that I just can’t imagine I would have had otherwise. They provide a wonderful culture purpose, unmatched opportunities, like I said, and I would encourage everyone to take a look at Walmart.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:24.11] Well, we’ll link to the Corporate.Walmart.com link that you sent as well as the, the Walmart careers link, too. I want, if somebody is thinking about retail and Walmart, I will say I have a retail background and honestly, it is such an eclectic experience. You can, as Lisa say, and move into many different roles and positions and the, really, the the sky’s the limit. And I think a place like Walmart is a great place for you to get some really core human resource experience as well as just leadership and business experience as well. So we’ll link to all those things.
Lisa Woods: [00:23:03.98] Great.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:04.73] Well, thank you, Lisa, so much for taking the time to, to chat with us. We’ll link to your LinkedIn profile as well if people want to connect with you and all the other resources to learn more. So I appreciate you taking the time now.
Lisa Woods: [00:23:16.28] I also appreciate you thinking about me and, and, you know, talking to Walmart.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:22.40] Absolutely. I love hearing about different ways that we’re using circles of excellence and offering new and innovative benefits programs to employees.
Closing: [00:23:34.47] I loved this conversation. Thank you to Lisa and the Walmart team. It was so fantastic. I was telling her after we stopped recording that information and resources on things like Centers of Excellence, I feel like in an HR context are few and far between, so I really appreciate her taking the time to share the COE model, how they’re using at Walmart. She has directed me some additional resources which are in the Workology Podcast transcript of this episode, including an article that is co-authored by her in the Harvard Business Review that talks about Centers of Excellence and how they’re being used at Walmart. This was a great conversation. Benefits, Centers of Excellence, all the things I think that focusing on what employees want and need in order to retain them and keep them at an organization is something we should be spending more time on. Certainly, Walmart can give us a lot of great insights into communication and orchestrating benefits and re-enrollment or just implementing new programs and innovating in a benefits context when you have 1.6 million employees. The CHRO podcast series on Workology is sponsored by HR Benchmark Survey. Take our survey at HRBenchmarkSurvey.com. I also want to hear from you. Text “PODCAST” to 512-548-3005. Ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. I want to hear from you. This is my community text number. And thank you for joining the Workology Podcast, which is powered by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is for the innovative and disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. Let’s change HR together. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.
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