HR Leadership in the Catholic Church

Annabelle Baltierra, Senior Director of HR, Archdiocese of Los Angeles

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Annabelle has been an HR Professional for more than 25 years.   She has served as the Sr. Director of Human Resources for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for 10 years.  She has worked for well-known organizations such as Cedars Sinai, the City of Santa Clarita, California Institute of the Arts.  She has served as Vice Chair and Chair for PIHRA Woodland Hills. She is currently the Vice Chair of the National Association of Catholic Personnel Administrators.   She has taught Human Resources Management courses for Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, and Los Angeles Valley City College for several years. She enjoys mentoring others and helping them find their own passion for Human Resources. 

Annabelle Baltierra is the senior director of HR for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Annabelle explains how the Catholic Church is a business. Annabelle shares the ups and downs of HR in a Catholic Church. 

You don't have to be Catholic to work for the archdiocese. Annabelle explains why she loves being able to bring her faith to the job, and how faith impacts the work culture. 

Talking Points:

{01:45} Joining the Archdiocese of Los Angeles

{04:25} The business of running a Church.

{11:00} How working for the Archdiocese has impacted Annabelle.

{16:50} Keeping up with market wages when you’re a faith-based business.

{19:00} How to avoid burnout.

{22:00} Annabelle’s purpose is found in teaching and being an educator. 

{25:40} Influencers in Annabelle’s journey

Welcome to the Talent Empowerment podcast, where we support business transformation and share the stories of great CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs and leaders of all backgrounds. So you can borrow their vision, their tools, their tactics to lift up your organization, your teams, and certainly your community.

I am your host, Tom Finn, and on the show today we have the senior director HR for the archdiocese in Los Angeles. Her name is Annabelle Baltierra. Welcome to the show.

Thank you. Happy to be here.

Well, I am thrilled to have you. I cannot wait to get into all things the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Catholic Church. There's so much to unpack here from a business perspective and from an organizational perspective. But before we do that, let me introduce you to Annabelle.

She's been an HR professional for more than 25 years and serves as the senior director of HR for the archdiocese. In Los Angeles and has worked for well-known organizations such as Cedar Sinai, the city of Santa Clarita, CA Institute for the Arts, and she has served in the community as vice chair and chair of Piura. In Los Angeles, she's currently the vice chair for the National Association of Catholic Personnel Administrators. We're pretty cool. And she has taught human resource management courses at Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, which for those of you that don't know, is a culinary institute. And she's also taught at the Los Angeles Valley City College for several years.

Look, she loves mentoring others, helping people find their own passions, and helping those along in human resources. So, we are thrilled to have you on the show today. I've got to ask the obvious question, how did you come to join the Archdiocese of Los Angeles?

Well, I think it was a fluke. I was looking for another opportunity. I saw the job posting. Thought Oh gosh. You know there'll be thousands of people applying for this job, but all I'll put in my application is just kind of like a joke, right? And lo and behold, fast forward I came to find out I was Only one of two people who was considered for the position at the end. And joke and I tell people I go. I think this is my mom's revenge for my being a naughty little Catholic schoolgirl back in the day. So she and she and God are laughing and they're just saying, see what happens. So that's it.

So, it's all come full circle and you're at the Archdiocese in Los Angeles. Now, help me understand how big this organization is. Because I feel like it's pretty.

So geographically it spans throughout Los Angeles City Los Angeles County goes up through Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, and across Santa Maria. It's divided into 5 different regions, so we have the San Pedro region, the San Gabriel, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura regions.

For those of you, not from California, that is a massive area on a map. I mean, if you were in the Northeast, it would take up about 6 states. It is a huge geographic region. A lot of people as well. So how many people are within the organization that you oversee?

So, the total employee count is close to 17,000 and about 5000 volunteers.

My goodness. Wow. 17,000 employees and you have an administration staff within that group that helps handle some of these functions.

So, on the HR side, actually, we have folks dedicated to different entities. So, because they're so huge. So, for example, we have HR generalists supporting our Catholic school system. We have two HR general supporting cemeteries and mortuaries. We have myself who is supporting the parishes. Mostly dealing with employee relations issues. Leave of absence. Yes, compliance, you know all the good stuff that comes through HR.

Yeah, it's funny because we're talking about the Church, right? That's really what we're talking. Well, and the Catholic Church, to be specific, and we don't typically think of these things as a business. What I know from speaking with you is that this is really a business just like any other. It just has a little different look and feels that is the way we should recognize this.

Yes, you can think of it really as a business. Within our headquarters in Los Angeles. Will you find the finance department that contains accounts payable and accounts receivable the audit department certainly has human resources unless you have different administrative support folks that are out there supporting the callers.

So, think of it as folks who have questions and get connected to the correct department. You know I have an issue with payroll. Well, let's go to payroll. I have an issue with an employee, you know, who's, you know, not following the rules. OK, let's go to human resources. I can't get into the bank account that I've been assigned to. Let's go to finance.

So, people don't think of us as a business and that's because their life experience doesn't really take them beyond the pews. Or, you know, whatever faith you know, and whatever church or building you might be, and your experience is from, you know, inside the Pew. And you don't think of anything else really cause that's not part of your experience. So, each parish has an office, and there are secretaries there, and there's the receptionist. And there are bookkeepers. Somebody has to keep the business side going, you know, it's up to the pastor and the Deacons to keep the spiritual side going. Just think of it as little franchises. So those franchises, franchises throughout all those areas that I mentioned, and they represent either parish or school campus ministries at UCLA Bruins and USC.

Well, be careful there, Annabelle. You know, you never.

Know who's on the other.

You never know who is on the other side of the microphone.

That's right. That's right. But you can tell who am I Right?

Well, I think I think that's very helpful for everybody to understand kind of how things lay out. And I love the way you said little franchises. I mean that sort of immediately gives us a visual in our mind of what the church looks like. And you've sort of helped us with the local organization. Where does the archdiocese roll up to? I think I know the answer, but for listeners. Where does Los Angeles roll up to?

So, Los Angeles rolls up to the Pope. So, Archbishop Gomez, who is our leader, reports to the Pope. Pope Francis. So that's his boss. And the Archbishop is essentially all our boss.

Well, that is a global organization like no other, the Catholic Church. And we've seen just like any organization, some trials, and tribulations for all companies and organizations in the last few decades. How have you been faced with trials and tribulations within the Catholic Church, and how have you dealt with those things?

So, within the Catholic Church, I think on the business side, if we're going to talk about the business side, I think we’ve been impacted just like any other organization. It's difficult, you know, to attract candidates. It's difficult to get around, you know, is this a remote position? Is this a hybrid position? Do I have to pray? Do I have to be Catholic?

You know, and the answer to those is yes. Some positions lend themselves to a hybrid role. Some of them can't just because of the nature of the job. In terms of do we have to pray every day. No, we don't have to pray every day. We don't ring a bell in the morning and say, OK, it's prayer time for everybody.

Do we have a Chapel here and a service every day? Yes, and people can go to the 12:00 o'clock mass if they choose to. You don't necessarily have to be Catholic to work for the archdiocese. It depends on the position. Certainly, if you are a counselor suitable, you don't have a position that doesn't require you to be Catholic. But if you're going to be in a religious education, yes, you would have to be Catholic.

Yeah, I love the way you said that because it's confusing for us commoners out there to know what the jobs are and how they work within the Catholic Church. It's so big and it's So global, can you actually be a part of something like this without being Catholic? And I think what I heard is, yeah, you sure can. And if you want to bring your religion to work, I imagine that that's an acceptable behavior. But you tell me, is it acceptable to know where we're going to mass at 12:00? I imagine it's part of the process.

Right. And I think that's an advantage that we have is we get to bring our entire self to the job. You know, being a corporate entity person for many, many, many years, right, you just didn't discuss that. That was put on a shelf and that was not part of your you know professional profile, who you were at work every day.

And here we have the advantage that we can actually bring our faith self to the job. Gives us an advantage in how we are able to treat people and how we're able to speak with people and solve problems because we have at our disposal more of a compassionate nature in keeping with the teachings.

So even though an employee may not be Catholic, they also can bring their faith to the job because again, they have the advantage of being able to show more compassion and speak with others in a more compassionate, open, honest way and not just corporate speak.

So, does that actually happen? Do we make decisions within sort of the headquarters based around, gosh, what are our religious beliefs? How do we think people should behave? Does that actually happen in practice?

It does. You know, when we're looking at disciplinary issues, for example, I just had a conversation this morning about an employee that's a little off, but just not acting right. And the jump was, well, we need to terminate them because they're just, you know, they just seem to be off.

And just like, whoa, wait a minute. Wait, how about thinking about the person themself? Sending them to one of our clinics, let's make sure they're OK. Maybe they don't even know that they may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, so that's why I say, you know, we can be a little bit more compassionate. We can stop, take a moment, and care about The person. You know, instead of just looking at the policy and saying, OK, you're acting a little strangely. So I think you need to go. So I think that's another advantage of working with the archdiocese.

How has working in this environment impacted you personally?

Well, I think that certainly has brought me back to the faith. You know, I was just, you know, Sunday going kind of person. And that really was it. But it got me interested in attending some of the retreats that they offer and certainly working with a lot of the pastors and learning their lingo. You know and understand why they're using the lingo and so getting it, it's almost like a mini Bible study. It's like it's kind of like, oh, my gosh. OK. OK. When they say, well, you know, the scripture says, and I'm just like, hmm, I have to think about that one. You know, sometimes, you know, I'm just like, wow. OK, OK, got it. Got it.

Yeah, and it's funny because I always think of religion in its broadest sense as a book of the way things ought to be of lessons of human behavior, of how we should interact with each other, and tools that we can all use on a daily basis to treat each other with love and respect, right to treat ourselves the right way, and to sort of have common ground with other people. How do you see the Bible and these scriptures playing a role within our society?

I think within our society, given what we've seen lately, you know I think we could probably use a little bit more scripture. Alluding to scripture, you know, in some of our dealings and some of our messages, although I know you're not supposed to mix, you know, politics and religion and, but still, you know, can you think about how to say things maybe in a kinder way, maybe in a more caring way, helping people understand that… We are… Everybody, everybody is united in this. In being humans, we are humankind. I think that those teachings, regardless of your background, you know, we say all are welcome here. And can we make that true? Can we really live up to that? Instead of, you know, the dividing forces that we're seeing nowadays.

Yeah, I think look, we can, the answer is we can. We just collectively have to work together to understand one another a little bit more. And as a friend of mine always says, kindness is free. It doesn't cost anything to be kind to one another, no matter where we're from, or you know what we look like or what our economic situation is, or what political category, or quite frankly, what religion we're a part of each other. If we can be kind to each other and we can support one another, we can make the world, you know, much better.

Yes, absolutely.

Maybe that's just my altruistic View here and well you know. I'm just a guy with a microphone that wants the world to be a little bit better place and have people driven by their purpose.

So, when you think about sort of the business side of the church, and you think about that? The Home Office and all of those different roles, bookkeepers, finance, HR, and payroll. You know, all of the different components that we have in any other business. How do you help these folks find their purpose? How do you, how do you help them and guide them and support them through your role?

So, I make sure that they know and they understand the values we have for four pastoral values, which are communication, stewardship, service, and excellence, and help them understand how to apply those values to what they do, what they say, how they interact in their written communications or, you know, face-to-face communications and it comes down to treating everybody with respect and dignity, no matter If you really are upset at that person, maybe you want to throttle them, but you take a step back. You take a deep breath. You have to remember. OK. You know, respect, respect, and dignity. OK. And how am I going to conduct myself in that way and how do I preserve the other person's dignity? And sometimes it's hard. We're human. Beings you know, and we have our moment. It's, but I just make sure that they understand, they know our values.

And that's the cornerstone of any good organization. Not only do we have values, but people understand them and then we use them to make decisions and to talk to each other about behaviors, right?

The implementation of value systems is critically important so that we can communicate. On the same level with each other and businesses forget this, and it sounds like your business at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles does not forget this. This is an easy one for you all because you are faith-based.

Yes, yes. And I think as I said, you know, we get to bring our entire self To work.

Well, I think I feel this is a really good spot for people to be hired into a non… maybe a not non church going role in sort of the business office because if you're a practicing Catholic and you maybe it's Annabelle of a few years ago when you were going to church on Sundays, but you weren't overly incorporated into the church life. If you're a finance person, what a great place to land. Do you all pay market salaries? Do you ask people to take a big pay cut? Like, how does that work in the church?

No, actually, we keep up with market wages. We make sure that from time to time we do wage and salary surveys, make sure that we're competitive, and we take care of our folks. You know, because sometimes folks from coming in from the outside, you know, are making more want more. And so, we do internal equities. And so, we need to make sure that our folks are taken care of. And we understand that you know, just like anybody else. You know, they have expenses. You know, just because they're in church doesn't mean those expenses go away.

They sure do have expenses and certainly here in California, we have some expenses, living expenses that are pretty high in terms of cost of living.

What do you see people doing in terms of wasting time within the environment that you work in? Do you see people that are focused all the time, you see them wasting time? How do you do? You see time being used.

Well, I think that we're no different from any other organization that sometimes employees, yes, they'll go to their Facebook page and check, you know their Facebook, you know, or maybe their Instagram or Snapchat. Maybe they're on their phones, but I think because of the various ministries and because folks think of their jobs as ministries and they're so involved and it's so people oriented, I see more engagement than I do having them look at that little screen. You know, and walking around with their head down, looking at that little screen.

Yeah, it's a good point, right? I mean, you're in the people business, 100% in the people business is what you do. And that requires being alert, awake, engaged, physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that you can engage with others.

Is there something that you lean on in terms of? Making sure people stay balanced feels to me like we could run into that burnout location for folks because they're always working. They're at the church, they're engaged, they're overly engaged. Do you worry about burnout?

Yes, absolutely, absolutely. And yeah, I encourage folks to take your time, take your time off, enjoy, make memories with your family, you know, remind your family who you are. You know, let them see you. I let the supervisors know that when folks are on vacation, they're on vacation. Please don't email them. Please don't make them feel obligated to check their emails and their phone messages, you know. Let them go. Let them be with their family and we are family-oriented, you know, and have an organization.

I try very hard that when my staff goes home, I'm not going to call them. I know they have a family; I know they have to get dinner on the table, you know. I used to delay…outlook delays a send; you know? So, they'll get the emails that I'm writing it myself late at night, you know. But they don't go out till. You know the next morning.

So, we do really want people to value their time off, we want them to be healthy and yes, like anywhere else, you're going to have those workaholics that just, you know, cannot separate themselves from, you know, their work. And we're just like, go do something, go do something else. It'll be good for you. You'll like it.

So, as you think about balancing all of this as a leader, do you have some key principles that you lean into? I know we said values before. But there are some things that you're always thinking about that bring consistent results for you.

I think it's just been my life experiences and I think about what I've lived with. Other folks you know, there's no guarantee. And so, I think you have to be present. I think that you have to be in the moment. I think you have to hold those that are near to you know tightly. That's just from my own life experience and helping people, you know, see that there is something else beyond work. Yes, we love you coming here you know. Yes, we want you to work. Especially since we give you a salary. You know, but take a look at the other side.

Yeah, finding balance in today's world, in today's fast-moving world is really important. I also think the other piece that's critically important is finding purpose and being purpose-driven and ensuring that we're all driving towards something that's meaningful for us.

Whether you work at an accounting firm. Or you work at a car dealership. Or you're an engineer. Or you work for the archdiocese in Los Angeles or anywhere else. I think finding that purpose is really what's so important in life and why I'm committed to doing that for so many others because it's really, really important as we go through life. Have you thought about your own purpose, Annabelle? Why are you here? What drives you?

I think my Purpose for the archdiocese and for other organizations has been to educate to help folks understand. Yes, there are laws. Definitely, laws, there are policies. This is how we interpret the policies and help them learn to be good leaders, be good supervisors, and treat others well. So, you know, be fair. Be fair. Be consistent. So, I think that's my purpose. I think that's why I love teaching HR management courses also.

And what's your favorite thing about being an educator and a teacher in your career?

Ah, I think it's seeing the AHA moments going off in the student’s eyes when we're having a discussion. And they're like, wow, yes, I've seen that in my own workplace. OK. It makes sense now. So I think I have a lot of fun just watching and then just seeing that little oops sparkle go off in their eyes.

So, it sounds like everything's easy peasy. We just came to work. We've got values. We don't create any burnout, everything's just easy, but I imagine that it's not so right. I imagine that there are some challenging days. Tell me about a day that's been challenging for you or maybe you stubbed your toe along the way.

So, yes, I mean, you know, things are not perfect. Folks are not perfect. Yes, there are people that will behave badly. There are complex issues that you have to handle and try to help resolve. Yes, there are times when you make a mistake and it affects others. You've got to be big enough to apologize and you've got to be quick to fix the mistake.

Yeah, I mean. Do I wish I could have rainbow days every day? No, there are a lot of gray and dark days. And there are days where maybe I might go home and say, oh my gosh, can I retire yet? But for the most part, it feels good that you know whatever conversation I've had that we've been able to resolve, you know, an issue may take me maybe quick, maybe a few days, we really are a reflection off of what's going on out there.

And what do you mean by we are a reflection of what's going on out there?

So, we have the same type of issues, so we have the same things that we have to contend with. So, let's talk about, you know, absenteeism. Let's talk about employees, you know, breaking the rules, an employee that might be stealing; employees that don't get along and get into confrontations with each other. Maybe we will find out. Yes, they've had a DUI. And how does that affect their job? So that's what I mean by, you know, we're a reflection Of what's going on out there. So just because we're church doesn't mean we have this little protective bubble. And as I said, every day is a rainbow day.

Well, wouldn't it be nice if every day was a rainbow day? It might be but then none of us would grow. None of us would sharpen our minds and sharpen our skill sets to help others, and I know that you didn't get to this position in your career without having some people along the way pick you up and support you along the way and educate and develop you. Is there somebody you can think of that trained and influenced you along the way?

That would have been my very first boss in human resources. I fell into HR by accident. I was working at my Godfather's restaurant. Some folks, you know, might know it. It was butter guns in Echo Park on some simple Blvd.

And I used to have to host the breakfast bar, so I was the little waitress at the breakfast bar and the gentleman… one of my regular customers knew that I just wanted to get out of there because. Family and business. Everybody knows your business, OK?

And he said, hey, go see my aunt and he didn't really tell me who she was, but he told me how to get to her, and I went to see her. And she was a fierce woman, fierce woman, but with a heart of gold. And she just looked at me. And she goes, OK. She goes. You come to me when on your school vacations, on your days off from school and you come and work for me and I learned from her how to be actually, from her I learned how to be compassionate but firm, you know, and that the Hilton Corporation was my introduction to human resources.

Wow, so your first job in human resources was with the Hilton Corporation. What a start.

Yes, I had no idea where I was going. He just gave me the address and said go see my aunt.

Wow, that is amazing. How old were you at the time when you were going through this?

I was 18.

So right out of high school, right at that kind of age where you're trying to pick up, what am I going to do with my life? How am I going to figure this all out? How am I going to put roots down and create a life for myself? There is Hilton Corporation and you're an HR boom right out of the gate.

Right. Yes, yes. That's why I said I fell into it by accident.

Well, I'm sure it wasn't by accident because all things happen for a reason, and it sounds like you're on a very good path today. And it I heard you say at the beginning. That you were a, you know, a Catholic schoolgirl, that sort of came full circle.

So, you grew up in the Catholic Church, and you went to Catholic school, is that right? So, this is the full circle. Now you're leading HR for one of the largest regions in the world; The Los Angeles Archdiocese, which is a pretty incredible job to undertake.

When you think about it, you know the forces and the challenges that you have and all the noise, how do you relax? Is there something you do to sort of calm your mind and relax your soul?

Yes, I happen to belong to a folklorico and Danza Azteca group. So, I relaxed through my dancing.

That is fantastic. And how often do you get a chance to do that?

Whenever they book us, in fact, we have a gig this week at a school and we have a couple of gigs coming up in Santa Barbara. And so, we'll be dancing in those two areas.

Oh, that's wonderful. And that's the way that you can actually decompress a little bit, not be thinking about HR and the church.

Yes, yes. And every day I come home to my little zoo, which is my three dogs and my cat, so.

So, you've got a zoo at home. I like that. Well, we're going to have to get You a zebra or something like that.

There you go.

So, you can call it a Zoo because I don't know that dogs and cats qualify as a zoo, but. Some exotic animals maybe. Maybe that's the next big step for you.

Annabelle, I've got to know from your perspective. When you're thinking about the world of work and you're thinking about hiring, right, what are you looking for personally, when you're looking to hire people and you want to bring people into this great environment that you've created here in Los Angeles, what are you looking for?

Well, you know, not only the skills and qualifications. But I'm looking for somebody that wants to grow, that they're not going to be satisfied with, you know, with staying in this position for the next, you know, 20 years that they really want to learn and move on. And you know, within the archdiocese, ideally, so we don't lose them, but you know, grow, grow and learn and experience different things and just have a passion or a fire. Yeah, that's what I look for.

Yeah, I hear this from so many leaders in human resources and certainly functional areas as well. We're just, we want that fire, right? We want that person to bring the energy. We want them to bring their style and their approach. We want them to be excited, and to be there because that energy creates momentum within an organization. Right.

And it creates that fun environment that we're all looking for regardless of what name is on the building or what the building looks like. Right. We want that fire, that energy, so for all of you young people out there looking for places to call home in terms of your career, HR is a great one for people to think about, but it sounds like you're looking for those same types of characteristics at the church. Fire, professionalism. Kindness, honesty and driven people can support the next step in your evolution.

Absolutely, absolutely.

So, this has been really fun. What else should people know about the Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that maybe we're not thinking about?

Well, I think that, gosh, what else, what else do I want to say about the church is, you know, come and check this out, really look at our web page, look at our employment page, look at the different department pages. I think you'll find something that will speak to you and make you want to really consider us as a future employer.

Yeah, I think that's beautifully said. And I want everybody out there to think about that too. I mean it's not a particular thought of an employer I would know. I just. I don't know that everybody thinks about working for the Catholic Church in a functional area. I just don't think we think of it that way, right? We think of the institution, not the job. That could be for us. And it might be the perfect fit. Exactly what we needed and what the organization needs as well.

So where can somebody go online to connect with you or to check out jobs and roles and at least just get some more info?

So our website is, if you go to the get involved tab, you'll find our employment page or you'll find all sorts of other ways to get involved. And then we have our departments page and so like I said, you can read about each of the departments and get to know What it is we do. Uh, besides having, you know, pastors and church, you know, services on.

There's a lot going on in the archdiocese. There's if you. If you really want to get involved in community-based type things. There are so many volunteer opportunities as well as paid opportunities.

Oh, I love that. So I think the message here is for my friends to get involved, and check out the website. We'll put it in the show notes. You'll be able to click on join us and go check some things out, see what's going on in your local community, and really get involved and do something that's important to you and purpose-driven for sure.

Annabel, thank you so much for being on the show. I love this conversation because I learned so much about the business side of the church that I did not know and did not think about. Now it's really at the front of my mind. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for being on the show with us today.

Well, you're welcome. And thank you. Thank you for letting me have this conversation with you.

It's a fun conversation to have. And look, I just tell people if you're not a part of the Catholic Church, that's OK too, right? You're you have your religion, your belief system, and your way of thinking, and that's totally OK. We just want to understand others’ perspectives as well so that we can live in a more harmonious way, and I think we did a lot of that good work today. So, thank you. For helping us all take a step forward.

You're welcome.

And thank you for joining the Talent Empowerment podcast. I hope you transform your business and your community by placing humans at the center, leveraging your own purpose, and enabling innovation at scale. Let's get back to people and culture together. We'll see you in the next episode.

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