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 Tuesday, September 25, 2007 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Farewell to Zan Johns: Q&A with the director of human resources
by Melanie O. Massengale

A door closes quietly on the third floor of the ARC building on East Campus. At the end of September, Zan Johns steps down from the directorship of human resources (HR). As the campus wishes her farewell in her retirement, Inside CU asked Zan to review her 10-year legacy of leadership in a position crucial to the employment fortunes of faculty and staff.

You have directed human resources since 1996. In that time, what do you consider your most worthwhile accomplishments?

I am especially proud of the HR organization, the team. The HR team is a service-focused example of "inclusive excellence." We all share the HR value of diversity. For instance, HR took the lead in ensuring effective communications, outreach and training with members of the CU-Boulder community who speak English as a second language

The HR Employee Recognition Program is another source of pride. Each year, we recognize staff and team efforts in support of HR's overall mission and values. Our recognition program was mentioned at meeting of the National Association of State Personnel Executives.

Who has made a difference in your career here?

Darryl Varnado, my brother, has been my mentor since childhood.

When I was still working in payroll, Shari Robertson (the previous director of human resources) appointed me interim director. It was my first leadership role. She encouraged me to apply for assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Administration under Stuart Takeuchi.

Stu is a master of multitasking and of framing news gently. I learned from him the art of prioritizing, and perhaps more important—how to deliver a message to concerned parents and others that they can accept.

Finally, Paul Tabolt asked me to come back to HR; he pulled me out of my "comfort zone" in the VC's office to lead 30-plus people. Experience at the vice chancellor's office working with different departments gave me the global perspective I needed for this job.  

What were your greatest challenges as HR director?

One of my biggest challenges was assisting our campus during the 2002-2003 layoffs. How we treat people during difficult times is a measure of our commitment to employees. Responding to the cutbacks required tremendous leadership and compassion. Every unit of HR was involved in and affected by the layoffs. We worked with the campus administration to ensure the availability of separation incentives for eligible employees, hosted sessions regarding outplacement services and counseled employees and supervisors.

What are your plans for retirement?

I will return on Nov. 1 to serve as the HR director until the position is filled. I plan to travel with my husband, Jim, and enjoy my family. At 50, I'm too young to completely retire, and will return to work in some capacity after a year. 

What can faculty and staff learn from your CU experience?

That given the right support, development, networking opportunities and resources, it is possible for a person who looks like me to have a successful and rewarding career at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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Farewell to Zan Johns: Q&A with the director of human resources

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