Originally published in Staffing Success Magazine (MAY-JUNE 2005)
By Mark Hersberger
“There’s always a way,” says Lana Johnson of her outlook on life. “Nothing is ever as difficult as it might seem—the glass is half full.”
Johnson, president of Advanced Resources LLC in Chicago, exudes optimism and positivity, especially when discussing staffing. “You don’t have to reach at all to see how we make a difference for candidates and customers,” explains Johnson of what she likes best about her profession.
Colleagues also recognize Johnson’s enthusiasm. In fact, they can’t stop talking about it, and “energy” is usually the first word out of their mouths when describing her.
“She’s energetic—the energy she brings is phenomenal,” says Illinois Staffing Association president Kris Swanson of Flex Execs Management Solutions in Willowbrook, who has known Johnson for three years through their ISA involvement.
“Lana has an enormous amount of energy,” remarks Leo Sheridan, CEO of the Advanced Group. It’s one of the qualities he saw in Johnson when he hired her.
From Sales to Staffing
Johnson sought out staffing as a career field during a job search nine years ago when she was ready to give up the nomadic existence of a salesperson. In her first job after graduating from the University of Illinois, Johnson worked as a territory salesperson for a large manufacturer. The job sent her bouncing across the country, and Johnson lived in six or seven—she can’t remember exactly—cities in a five-year span. “I was tired of moving every eight months,” she explains, so she returned to Chicago to re-establish some permanency.
The fast-paced nature of staffing attracted her, and Johnson started off managing two Advanced Resources branches. She subsequently held positions in operations and management before becoming president in 2000.
Sheridan recognized her passion for staffing, and knew she had great potential at Advanced Resources. “There was a process of mentoring and coaching,” Sheridan says of Johnson’s growth as a leader.
“As a leader, she sets a vision, and gets an organization on track to achieve it. She knows how to hold people accountable,” says Sheridan.
He also mentions Johnson’s creativity and ability to add value to Advanced and customers as major strengths. He cites the Advanced One Source Program, an on-site way for hospitals to manage flexible work arrangements. “It’s not a typical vendor on premise because it’s a 24/7 operation,” says Sheridan. “It takes a lot of work to understand it, but Lana dug in and is now a leader in Chicago in this field.”
Although Johnson prefers to look forward, rather than backward, she did take one valuable lesson away from her sales job. “Ask a lot of questions to find out what the customer needs,” she recommends, with the overriding goal of building a better relationship.
In fact, if Johnson could give one piece of advice to her staffing industry colleagues on what they could do better, she would say, “Remember to stop and think about the difference we make. It’s not about the transaction—it’s about the relationship.”
Challenging State of Affairs
Johnson became active in the Illinois Staffing Association in 1998, and eventually served as president for three years.
A major accomplishment was engineering a merger between the Illinois Staffing Association and the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Personnel Services. Fusing the two united the industry in the face of adverse legislation—an important goal of Johnson’s because she wanted to capitalize on staffing’s strength in numbers. Johnson also commented, “It’s nice to have one central resource to go to—one place to pay dues, one place to get information.”
An unforeseen variable, though, emerged during Johnson’s term: the 2001 recession and related hiring slump, when chapter volunteers had to refocus on their respective companies, and money for dues became scarce.
Swanson credits Johnson’s leadership as one of the reasons ISA survived. “Lana kept the board of directors together and moving forward,” she reports. “She was fiscally responsible, she kept focus, and she kept people energized. We’re still kickin’!”
Swanson also cites Johnson’s organizational and team-building skills—and of course her indefatigable enthusiasm—as the qualities that make Johnson a good leader.
Leading an association is tough, especially one that relies on volunteers whose primary loyalty is to their own staffing firms. “There’s so much you want to do, so much opportunity,” Johnson points out, “but you have to balance that with your obligation to your company.”
Her advice for creating a strong state chapter can be summed up in one word: excellence. “Only do it if you do it with excellence,” Johnson says. “Limit yourself to a few things, but do them really well,” she advises.
Associations rely on strong people, and Johnson has a strategy for attracting them. “You have to show volunteers the ‘what’s in it for me’ angle. Show the value of the chapter accomplishments and how it benefits their companies—it’s important work,” she urges chapter leaders. “Really create a chapter full of committed and passionate people who want to make a difference.”
Swanson witnessed it firsthand. “Lana’s great at building teams and keeping people enthused about what they do,” she says.
Johnson now brings her can-do spirit to the ASA board of directors, on which she’s served since last fall. Not one to give anything less than 100%, she’s got big plans for her tenure, including helping the association add value for member companies, and to learn as much as she can about the industry.
Whatever challenges Johnson has faced and overcome in staffing won’t compare to life’s next great adventure: the birth of her and husband Jim’s first child this fall. Johnson doesn’t let know the child’s gender, and doesn’t care, so long as he or she is otherwise healthy.
Motherhood won’t slow Johnson down, though. “I think it will make me stronger at work,” she surmises. “At a minimum, it will help me do a better job of prioritizing and managing my time.”
When speaking of the impending birth, Johnson’s trademark optimism shines through. “I look forward to everything about it, and I’m not worried about anything.”