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SHRM Works to Elevate HR: A Q&A with David Windley

Many business leaders don't understand what HR can do for business.

A man in a suit posing for a photo.

​When he was just 27, David Windley, SHRM-SCP, headed an HR department for the first time (at software company Activision, then called Mediagenic). He hasn’t left HR since. Throughout his 30-year career, Windley, chair of the board of directors for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), has viewed HR as a business partner that serves the larger organization and implements its strategy.

“I was always interested in the people side of business,” he says, “because I felt that if you got that right, it would have the biggest impact on the success of the organization.”

Windley, who has a B.S. in management from the University of San Diego and an MBA from San Francisco State University, has held executive-level HR positions at Intuit, Microsoft and Yahoo. For the past five years, he has been the CEO of IQTalent Partners, an on-demand recruiting and executive search firm founded in the San Francisco Bay Area and headquartered in Nashville, Tenn.

Has an HR role model ever made a difference for you professionally?

Early in my career, I interviewed for an HR business partner position at a subsidiary of the company where I worked. I thought it went well, but the manager said I wasn’t the right guy. His feedback was “David’s a little slow.” I had tested in the top 2 percent of various IQ tests, so I didn’t feel he had an unbiased view. I had a sponsor at the time who felt the same way, so he asked the manager to give me a second chance. I ended up getting the job and having a great relationship with the manager.

What’s the role of a sponsor?

A sponsor is more than a mentor. It’s someone with influence who believes in you and your potential and is in a position to make things happen for you professionally. A sponsor is more important than a mentor, especially in bigger companies and for minorities facing unconscious bias.

What was your toughest undertaking in your career?

Overseeing a major culture change at a big company. It had a siloed culture, and general managers liked that because they each got to be king of their little kingdom. But there was no commonality. Moving from a tribal culture to a common culture was a major shift that took a lot of hard work and leadership changes. And once we got a new executive team in place, then we had to work through middle management. It took time.

What’s the most important thing SHRM needs to accomplish as an organization?

We need to help elevate the image and brand of the HR profession and HR professionals. There are a lot of components to that. Part of it is showing that our profession is about more than just knowing the laws about the workplace. It’s a business profession with its own set of competencies. Another part of it is getting more involved on behalf of the HR profession in public-­policy debates that affect the work environment.

Do you feel there’s a lack of appreciation for what HR professionals do?

Yes, and I think there’s a risk that if we don’t elevate the profession, others might grab the mantle of good talent practices.

In Silicon Valley, CEOs and business leaders often say talent is the most critical ingredient to their companies’ success. But do they look to HR to help them strategically with talent? Not always. A lot of people twist themselves in knots to call their HR person anything but HR, like director of people operations or head of talent. But if you look at what that person does, it’s HR. To me, that says some business leaders’ estimation of HR as a profession is not high enough.  

Interview by Novid Parsi, a freelance writer based in Chicago.


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