HRIS Director Lisa Maxey Keeps the Data Train Moving to Improve the Employee Experience

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Lisa Maxey wanted to be a spy, but is now making a career of creating effective HR solutions.

As Lisa Maxey waited month after month for a prospective employer to call, she had little hope that she'd land the job, let alone enjoy more than six years of work for the organization.

But there she was six years later, still working for GBW Railcar Services as the director of compensation and Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS). And she's glad she didn't let "the worst" interview process she has ever experienced make her look elsewhere.

Unpleasant experiences with prospective employers usually drive away applicants, but Maxey waited for the job, determined to fix the flaws she saw in the interview process — including a four-month wait between her first interview and the offer.

"I thought, 'Man, I could fix this,'" Maxey recalls. After her first onsite interview, at one of the company's facilities in Texas, she liked the makeup of the workforce: blue-collar laborers who fix trains. She thought if she could ever get her foot in the door, those were just the kind of workers who deserve an improved HR department. The experience of her previous jobs — including one as a manager of HR and training for a roofing supply company — would give her the know-how to hit the ground running.

"I love fixing things," she says of waiting out the job offer for a regional HR manager position. "It was all about the appeal of fixing things."

Over the years, Maxey has helped fix little and big things. On the small but meaningful side, Maxey wants new employees to feel welcome, ensuring they experience "standout" moments during the onboarding process. These moments include presenting employees tools and protective equipment in personalized kits that include their names. They also receive company T-shirts and water bottles. On the first day on the job, they go out for lunch with their supervisors as a way to immediately bond.

"Most of the experiences in your life that you remember aren't necessarily great, but it's one or two key moments that create these magical moments in your mind," she says. "Think of Disneyland. You have to put up with crowds, long lines and being tired. Why would anyone do that? But people do go there for the picture of their kid hugging Mickey Mouse. We try to emulate that with onboarding."

Of course, HR isn't all about magic. Over the years, Maxey has validated her push for new initiatives with facts and statistics.

"I'm a data driven HR person," she says of her role as director of compensation and HRIS, in which she leads technological improvements in business processes, as well as overseeing compensation plans. "I don't make decisions in a vacuum. I want to show my business leaders why we're doing something. That means solid data analysis. We're going to make decisions on good data."

She has helped implement or improve her departments and the business's standardized processes, best practices, and training for managers and supervisors. For example, the organization didn't have a standard turnover report when Maxey started, so she created one. "We have to figure out why we're having turnover. If not, we're just shooting in the dark," Maxey says.

Standardization also got a lot easier when GBW Railcar Services was born in 2014, the product of a merger between Watco Companies and the Greenbriar Companies, who hired Maxey in 2012. The merger brought a new HR team but little administrative support, and that's what prompted Maxey to push for a paperless HR. "I said, 'Hey, this is 2014. Let's cut the cord.' We're now entirely employee self-service with ADP," she says.

On a personal level, waiting for the job gave Maxey an opportunity to escape the heat of Texas and find solace in the cooler temperatures of Portland, Oregon. She now lives in Seattle where she and her husband, Craig, raise their 3-year-old daughter, Gwendolyn, and 1-year old son, Alexander. "A lot of our activities are for children: the park, the zoo," she says. "We try to spend as much time outdoors as we can."

Not that Maxey has forgotten Texas. After spending her early years in Rockford, Illinois, Maxey attended middle and high school in Texas. She then earned a degree in international studies at the University of North Texas. She wanted to be a spy, but the job market for spies wasn't exactly hot in 2005. Instead, her first job out of college was coordinating worker compensation medical exams. She didn't stay long at that job, but it gave her the required experience to handle worker benefits for the roofing supply company. She has since adeptly climbed the HR professional ladder.

Over six years later, and she still got to "fix things" when going through GBW's joint venture dissolution. "Splitting up and winding down a company was invaluable experience," Maxey says. And now she's scaling her talents to a wider audience, by leveraging her broad experience in the consulting market. Right now, she's helping a client implement their ADP systems and providing advice on HR process improvement.

"I love my job," she says. "I love making improvements, making analysis and pushing technology to the forefront. I really enjoy rolling out solutions to improve the lives of workers."

Lisa Maxey

Lisa Maxey