Five questions for Lisa Landis

Employee Services leader fosters collaboration across CU system – and across world

Lisa Landis

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort and a little “magic” to make things happen, whether it’s tackling the complex issues of a university or a world far away. That’s why Lisa Landis keeps a bent and twisted fork – a work of art with a message – on her desk.

“I was at a magic show and the magician asked me to write my initials on the fork. As I was doing it, he was able to twist the neck and spread the tines using no force,” she says. “I’m a fairly skeptical person. So I keep it on my desk to remind myself that anything is possible. It happened right before my eyes.”

It’s a good reminder, both in her professional and personal life. Landis has worked at the University of Colorado for 14 years, most recently as director of Human Resources, System Administration. On Feb. 1, she gained more responsibilities and a new title – assistant vice president, Employee Services. Although Landis works directly with system administration, she has been the point person for many universitywide projects. Once a year, she works on a different type of project, one that changes the lives of children forever.

She earned a degree in biology from CU-Boulder, but after graduation she was offered a temporary job on the campus and then became an accounting technician in the public safety department. While working, she earned her MBA from CU Denver. “I didn’t really choose this career,” she says, “but I’m always open to opportunities.”

1. While your title has changed, you will continue your job as director of human resources. What are your responsibilities?

Human resources in system administration covers 350 employees. I also have been the coordinator for a lot of systemwide initiatives, including policy work. The HR directors and I have developed close collaboration for such initiatives. As I move into my assistant vice president role, I’m taking on payroll and benefits responsibilities for all of CU as well as the international tax and accounting needs for the university.

2. What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job? What are some of your biggest accomplishments?

At CU, one of the biggest challenges is gaining consensus between the campuses as we strike a balance between valuing the uniqueness of each campus and their processes and still finding the efficiency we always strive for. We try to focus on the similarities first, especially since much of what we do is governed by federal or state regulations. Then we turn our attention to the differences and work through each one individually.

For instance, Payroll & Benefit Services and the campus HR offices just rolled out our People Admin Position Description module, which will get everyone to use the same system while honoring uniqueness. With the module, you can create all of the job descriptions electronically – right now it’s all paper and e-mail. This way, we can easily communicate with departments and track each position and its changes.

We’re also right in the middle of our compensation project, which is very large and will span several years. We did an overhaul of the officer and exempt professional title system because of legislation changes that made it necessary to have a better titling structure. We have developed career families and new titles for every exempt professional position. Having done that, we can link to national compensation surveys to help determine the market ranges for each position. We’re just beginning to determine competencies for each position and how those might differ for a director versus a manager.

The tuition benefit program is an ongoing, evolving project, and we continue to look at how we can enhance it. Recently faculty and staff councils provided us feedback about the benefit.

3. How has the role of human resources changed over the years?

I think there are two main pieces that have changed. First, HR has become more reliant on data. Data analysis plays out when we look at national trends for compensation and benefits to determine the market salary and how the university fits there. The other area is in person-specific technology. Eventually there will be a way that we can provide service to employees on an individual basis because we will be able to identify who they are and what groups and attributes belong to them. That capability will allow us to communicate with them more effectively.

4. How did you become involved with doing charity work overseas?

My husband is a pediatric nurse involved in cardiac surgeries. The surgeon he works with is connected to the Friends of Barnabas Foundation (FOBF) and Project Little Hearts, which performs heart surgeries on underserved children in Honduras. He recruited my husband to go to Honduras once a year. I went along for the first time two years ago. Obviously I’m not involved medically, but I organize the effort, helping with patient files, scheduling, pharmacy and expense tracking and anywhere else I’m needed. A team of 45 volunteers – both medical and nonmedical – from the U.S. goes to Honduras for 10 days to perform surgeries. Last year we completed 36 catheterization lab heart repairs (often to close congenital heart defects), 26 open heart surgeries and 52 echocardiograms to diagnose heart issues. These diagnoses will help FOBF create a surgery schedule for the following year.

We work closely with the Honduran cardiologists who identify heart murmurs or other heart issues and perform follow-up care after we depart. The FOBF also makes screening visits year-round at no cost to the children’s families.

5. What about the volunteer work made an impression on you?

I think it’s always eye-opening to go into different cultures, especially because Honduras is very poor. But one thing that stands out is “the moment.” That’s what we call it when a child is rolled out of the operating room and is wheeled to a place where family and volunteers converge. The parents talk to the children and kiss them. What is amazing is that the biggest thing the parents notice and say is that their child is pink. That’s because these children have always been blue due to a lack of appropriate amounts of oxygen in their bodies.

In the states, we would find most of these heart issues in utero and these babies would go into surgery right after birth or in the first few months of their lives. But these children are 5 and 6 years old and their bodies have had to compensate for defects. Even in the first hours after surgery, they begin to get that healthy, pink color. We try to make a very big deal about it with the families, taking pictures.

It’s also amazing to see how sturdy these kids are. In the states, we would keep them sedated long after surgery. The children there don’t have that luxury of extended recovery room time or the appropriate drugs. The children go from surgery to ICU to a step-down unit then to a recovery house or home if they live close enough, all within three days. You’ll see kids with open-heart surgery scars playing soccer and talking with other kids. The families all take care of each other because they don’t have the reserves to do it any other way.

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