Issue 109 - March 2021
An Employee Appreciation Day Q&A with California JPIA Human Resources Manager Nikki Salas
The California JPIA’s nascent human resources manager, Nikki Salas, formerly city manager of the City of Barstow, contributes first-hand perspective on the 24/7 responsibilities of a city manager as well as an extensive background in human resources and risk management. During her service as assistant town manager for the Town of Apple Valley, she received the 2015 California JPIA Capstone Award for Excellence in Risk Management.
In recognition of Employee Appreciation Day, March 5—commemorated with personal messages from Chief Executive Officer Jon Shull and gift cards for a virtual lunch—the California JPIA invited Salas to share how a mutually supportive staff culture adds value for members and discuss her plans for continuing to celebrate employees’ contributions to the organization.
Q: Why is it important for employees to feel appreciated?
Employees are an organization’s most valuable resource. When they feel valued, they give generously of their best effort. Feeling as if they are part of a larger team encourages employees to exceed their position functionality to help their coworkers. For example, when members call with questions about human resources, the senior risk managers know they can turn to me to share insights and best practices. Working together across the organization allows us to break down silos in the workplace and develop organic, mutually supportive resource teams.
Q: What factors contribute to the California JPIA’s culture?
Chief Executive Officer Jon Shull is very people-focused. He has cultivated that culture with the leadership team. Jon definitely believes people are the Authority’s most important asset. The Authority also has a very good, very stringent recruitment process to ensure getting the best of the best for the organization.
Q: How has employee cooperation or connectedness been affected by COVID?
It’s not exactly the same, but the Authority is still trying to build morale and togetherness. Staff events, such as a summer kickoff, fall festival, and winter service project, are hosted all year long to keep employees engaged and connected. Those events are now being held over Zoom. In addition to regular monthly staff meetings, activities have included virtual appreciation lunches and birthday celebrations. The Authority staff may never win a Grammy for its performance of “Happy Birthday to You,” but everyone’s laughing and smiling together.
Q: As a new employee with responsibility for human resources, how have you approached connecting with the team?
The California JPIA has a great strategy for introducing new team members: a one-on-one, 30-minute appointment with every single employee. I added my own little twist, asking not only what each employee does and how long they have worked there but also more probing questions that opened two-way communication. I’m keeping up with and building on that great orientation program.
Q: What would you describe as your present key priorities?
I’m focused on filling several positions that will provide internal support for the Authority team as well as external support for the members. That includes analyzing job descriptions and creating new positions. I’m also supporting the senior risk managers’ work on a human resources desk reference that will be a resource for not only the Authority but also its member agencies. COVID remains ever-present: What it means for the work environment, how to get back on campus, and what that will look like.
Q: Most of the Authority’s operations and programs have been remote for the past year. What factors will impact your return to campus?
My most important consideration is how the employees will feel about coming back. I think it will be important to reach out to the employees with open-ended questions that will enable unfiltered, anonymous feedback. I’ve already invited employees that feel comfortable doing so to share ideas. I want to give them a free forum and then synthesize the information to put together a return-to-work plan that takes their concerns into consideration.
Q: As a former city manager, you have unique insight into the structure and functionality of municipal agencies. How would you say the California JPIA benefits the members it serves?
The Authority is like an extra staff member or an added department that can be an additional resource to help cities get their jobs done. When I was in Apple Valley, the Authority’s risk manager, Alex Mellor, always provided extra resources and great ideas along with specialty skills that I could tap into when I needed them. Many insurance companies provide coverage, but the California JPIA provides people that come in and help. Cities are always looking for ways to save money. Joining the California JPIA adds value without an extra price tag. It’s like buying a car with unlimited lifetime maintenance built into the cost; you get so much extra added value.< Back to Full Issue Print Article