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A conversation with Jena Lysen

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Sep. 23, 2012, at 7:33 a.m.

A part-time job at Wesley Medical Center led Jena Lysen into what has become an award-winning career in human resources.

Lysen was earning her undergraduate degree in education at Wichita State University when she took a job in admissions at Wesley. She wound up staying 17 years. Her final job there was as an organizational development consultant, which she then did for Raytheon and then in a self-employed capacity before joining the accounting firm Allen, Gibbs & Houlik in 2002.

The Kansas State Council of the Society for Human Resource Management recently named Lysen its top professional of the year for, among other things, her leadership and performance in the industry.

Why did you stay so long at Wesley?

They put me through college, basically, and kept offering me jobs.

What is an organizational development consultant?

In the ’80s, they kind of came up with that title. I worked with the executive staff … to help change their departments. One of the things that was real important at that time was that we had good leadership in place.

I just had a CEO that was really… into changing the culture. … I did a lot of communication and team-building classes and exercises.

I was touching HR. It just wasn’t housed in the HR department at Wesley.

Then you returned to school?

I wanted to go back and get my master’s, and so I was able to work at Wesley and get my master’s in sociology.

They put me through my MBA program as well.

What was it like then working for Raytheon, again as an organizational development consultant?

I was blending cultures from all over the world.

Being too good at a job like that can have a downside, though, right?

You know, a good organizational development consultant can work themselves out of a job.

You’re AGH’s first vice president of human resources?

The company had grown. … Paul (Allen) was looking for someone also for change management, organizational development and getting things to a place that we didn’t have, like job descriptions.

What’s it like working for a company with 113 employees, depending on the time of year, instead of a much bigger one?

Things get to you a little quicker than in an organization where there are 12,000 employees and they’re spread all over the world.

How do you view your role at the company?

I’ve always wanted to be an HR person where the employees felt comfortable to come to me and share something with me that maybe they couldn’t share with a manager. That there would at least be another outlet.

What’s one of the biggest challenges of your job?

It’s keeping key positions filled. Not that we have a lot of openings, but we’re small enough if we have a vacancy … that hits smaller companies a little more than a larger one.

Anything keep you up at night?

Recruiting right now keeps me up … but that’s because it goes all night.

I almost feel like it’s kind of sorority rush. You just want to meet as many people as you can. … We want to have good decisions.

What’s one of your favorite parts of your job?

Actually, recruiting is one of my favorites because I like people. I also like college students a lot.

The other part of my job I really like is the opportunity for training or development. … How to improve that professional relationship.

HR types often are viewed as rules followers. Is that fair?

Yeah, I think it is.

Tell the truth, do you ever break the rules?

I’m sure … every manager breaks the rules to a certain extent.

Such as … ?

Oh, I never break a big rule. You need to lead by example.

Why do you think you won the SHRM award?

I don’t know if there’s any one particular reason why I think I won it. I know that (I) personally have done a great deal of volunteer work for our local chapter as well as our state council, but this year I put on the very first conference for diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion is something our national organization is putting a lot of emphasis on.

And it was successful. Let me put it this way: We didn’t lose money, and we actually made money.

What does the award mean to you?

It’s quite an honor. It’s quite humbling. A lot of it has to do with previous people who have won. … Just incredible people who have just done phenomenal things. … I will say it was quite a shock.

What’s one thing few people know about you?

I dated a guy in the rodeo circuit for a while. I went to Mulvane … and I was the rodeo queen. I was the most unlikely rodeo queen, let me tell you.

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.

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