Meet the Team Behind the Teeth: Q&A with Jolean Fleck, Director of Human Resources at Delta Dental of Arizona

professional woman facing forward and smiling in headshot

Many people think human resources is all about policies and procedures. But it’s more complicated than that. We sat down with our own director of human resources, Jolean Fleck, to learn about her philosophy behind talent management and why she’s more focused on employee engagement than Excel spreadsheets. 

JA: In a nutshell, tell us a little bit about your role here at Delta Dental of Arizona and on a broader scale, what do HR directors do each day?

JF: It depends on the philosophy that you embrace as an HR person and as a company. How do you define HR? A lot of companies define HR people as risk managers, but that’s not my favorite philosophy. Delta Dental of Arizona already has a whole team in our organization dedicated to risk management, so I don’t have to worry about that.

Another philosophy some companies have is to view people as assets. That you would invest in them like you would any other financial investment.

The third philosophy is around talent management, and that’s the one I embrace and the one I try to bring to Delta Dental. I view this as a two-way street. We’re borrowing our employees’ talents for a while and hopefully it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We make our employees better, more talented, more valuable and our employees make us better as an organization.

I’m concerned with attracting and keeping the right talent. We want our employees to come in and be better because they were here, and we’ll be better because they were here too.

In my day to day, I want to make sure the benefits we have are going to be helpful for our employees. Whatever our employees’ needs are right now, that’s where we’ll go. I do a lot of recruiting and employer branding and talent management. This means we want to make sure we’ve defined for you what “good” looks like. We want to make your environment an enriching one, where you can work on projects or opportunities that let you grow and gain experience.

JA: How did you find your way into this industry?

JF: I think there are a lot of people who get into HR because somebody in their company said they just need somebody to fill out this paperwork or help with hiring, etc. Maybe they were doing other things and found themselves working in HR by accident.

But that was not the case for me. I’ve always loved it. I was a business major and begin looking into the HR side of business. I was lucky that my school had a focus on it. I loved it and I couldn’t imagine anybody wouldn’t want to work in HR.

JA: What’s something unique about your role that most people might not know or think about?

JF: I think for a lot of people, HR is just about benefits and policies. Those are the things that are most boring, and I spend a minimal amount of time on. I think people are surprised to learn that HR policy has a huge impact on strategy. The HR department can be a valuable partner when it comes to achieving the organization’s strategic objective. If you don’t have the right team or mix of skill sets, or you don’t have an organization where work can flow through it, then your goals aren’t going to happen.

You need the right culture, the right skills to pull off your goals. It’s important to help employers be self-aware about where their competitive advantages are. If you don’t understand who you are, how can you really achieve anything? When I come to work, I see myself as building a playground for other people to play on. You’re going to find a way to bring what is uniquely awesome about you to work, and that’s way more important than what I can tell someone they have to do. 

JA: What challenges you every day?

JF: For me, the challenge is trying to craft my message so that everybody is on board with where we want to go from a people standpoint. I need to make sure that I’m communicating where I’m trying to go in a way that everybody embraces and understands. It’s about remembering to take care of the soft part of leadership, not just the hard part of leadership.

JA: What do you like about working for Delta Dental of Arizona?

JF: I really appreciate that a company that must focus on compliance and risk has been cautiously optimistic and embraces the challenges I’ve brought. Delta Dental has been tolerant of new ideas and new risk. They trust me, and I feel really complimented. Also, we’re 80% female. We’re only 50% white. This is a diverse organization, [and] I wasn’t expecting that.

JA: How do you show your Smile PowerTM?

JF: I focus on making sure we’re a place where people can have fun at work. And that it’s a naturally smile-inducing environment. We want smiles to be commonplace here! We want to make our work a place people want to smile at!

JA: Have you lived in Arizona a long time? What do you love about it?

JF: I grew up in Tennessee. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 1997 and drove out to Phoenix the very next day. I started looking for a job and I found one at a temp agency. I worked there for 6 months and then I got hired at Rockford Corporation and I stayed there for 10 years. Eventually, I started going to Arizona State University in 2006 for my MBA and completed my degree in 2008.

JA: Who is somebody you look to as a professional role model?

JF: I think that Leslie Hess (chief compliance & risk management officer at Delta Dental of Arizona) is an incredible person. When I met her, I knew I wanted to work for her. I knew she’d make me a better HR person. I knew working with her would be a smart thing for me to do professionally. I also think about the Marie Curies of the world, the people who were the first to explore certain topics. I don’t always feel like a traditional HR person, I feel inspired by what’s happening in technology. I feel inspired by what’s happening in Agile. I feel inspired by the pioneers who try new things and takes risks and they’re not always the people doing what they’re supposed to do at the time. I like the idea of pulling from different areas of the world to make HR a better discipline.

JA: What do you look for when you are hiring a new employee?

JF: I like somebody who embraces a continuous learning and growth mindset. I think growth mindsets are important no matter where you go. I like it when people feel personally invested in making things better for others. Having a true I’m a part of a larger ecosystem mindset is important.

JA: Do you have any advice for people just starting out in human resources?

JF: It can be hard to get into HR. A lot of people want experience and sometimes HR requires a certain temperament that can be hard to find. Sometimes people are hesitant to take a risk on you if you don’t have a track record. Something you can do is help with interview panels. Get good at talking to people about their work. You’ll learn a lot by interviewing people. Learning how to interview and volunteering to be on an interview panel is helpful. Let your boss know you’re interested in helping with interviews the next time they do them, maybe shadow somebody who does [interviews]. Let your HR department know you’d like to help.

JA: Would you ever use bacon-flavored floss?

JF: I’m not sure there is anything bacon related I’ve ever turned down. I don’t think I’d turn it down. I think bacon is its own food group. There are few things bacon does not improve


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