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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Street Level Influencer: Meet James Woods

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

James Woods, a nonprofit HR pro extraordinaire!

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people.

In the series, I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us, and we just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

It’s been a while, but next in the series, I want to introduce you to James Woods, nonprofit HR master from the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Working in the nonprofit sector is challenging. Working in the HR profession is also challenging! Put them together and wow! It can be intense! A lot of times, nonprofits don’t have the resources to conduct the best HR programs – if they have any HR programs at all! Most of the time, the mission critical operations take precedent – for better or worse. Income is contingent upon the generosity of donors and the fickle nature of government grants.

Also, added to this foray is COVID-19. HR has been stretched thin helping employers and employees navigate the crisis. In addition, many nonprofits are considered essential services for when crisis hits, the ones hit hardest are many nonprofits are serving – seniors, disabled, low income, and other disparate populations.

None of these challenges stop James from building amazing programs at the YWCA and helping his people through the COVID crisis – all while maximizing his potential as an HR pro. I first met James via LinkedIn. We connected with many of the same individuals, and we shared a similar background working as HR professionals in the nonprofit sector.

After we connected, I was immediately drawn to James’ positivity and energy. We’ve conversed many times about how HR has a powerful role in strengthening the employee experience. He’s done masterful work in this realm – having developed programs and policies that have helped boost employee engagement and satisfaction.

It’s something we’re both passionate about. Take care of your folks, and they will take care of you!

Without further ado, let me introduce you to James! You’ll definitely want to connect with him and get to know him better.

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago as Senior HR Manager. I’m proud of my diverse experiences, which include talent acquisition, organizational development, health and wellness initiatives, and, of course, employee engagement!

2. What was your biggest professional success? Why was it important to you?

My biggest professional success was guiding and managing the transition of my organization’s HRIS during a rapid growth model. The project was so important to me because it introduced efficient technology that streamlined multiple processes around Onboarding, Benefits Administration, and other HR items while we were preparing to double the organization’s size simultaneously. The implementation was perfect timing. I’m grateful to receive compliments about it to this day.

3. What was your biggest professional failure? What did it teach you?

My biggest professional regret came when I was helping an employee with claims paperwork. While filling it out, I missed the smallest detail (checking a box), and this mistake negatively impacted the employee. They received an overpayment and was required to repay a portion of the money issued for the claim. When I realized this was executed by me, I was devastated. It taught me a valuable lesson. As much as we think we are masters of multiple tasks, it never hurts to slow down and double check yourself.

4. The COVID-19 crisis has turned our society upside down and put HR in the spotlight. What have you and your organization done to combat the crisis and keep your employees safe and motivated?

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly exposed the best of leadership and the flexibility of the organizations we serve. Fortunately, at the YWCA, we have found ways for all of our staff to function through telecommuting. The operating systems that we have in place allow for all of our teams to function and remain productive. [It’s a blessing to remain operational when so many others have not had the same outcome!] We have an ERG that has been working daily to share information to cope with the shelter-in-place orders, wellness techniques, and resources to maintain basic needs (food, shelter, information). Also, we’ve had a weekly “virtual happy hour” to have a little fun and remain connected.

5. How has COVID-19 changed the HR profession? Do you see this as a lasting change?

The impact COVID-19 has had on the HR profession highlights what HR professionals have known all along…….HR pros are superstars that often times do not receive the acknowledgment they deserve. Through this crisis, we have to be agile, navigate legislation (and implementation of such), workforce reductions, and emotions while our personal and professional lives have been altered dramatically. I see this as a lasting change because it truly highlights the importance of the HR team members as a unit and as true leaders during difficult times.  

6. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Erich Kurschat , Founder of Harmony Insights and the HRHotSeat. I have a genuine love for Erich and his passion for the HR profession.

7. How do you connect and interact with others in the HR profession? 

I am a member of SHRM and Chicago SHRM. I also participate in HRHotSeat. I also work on the Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Council of Chicago SHRM. 

8. How can people connect with you?

I can be found on LinkedIn by following the link

9. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

The world should know that I am lover of music! I have performed jazz and orchestral music as a trumpet and French horn player. I listen to all kinds of music. I even have tattoo of a treble clef, microphone, and music staff wrapping around bicep and shoulder.

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