As a student athlete and graduate of Johnson & Wales University with a bachelor’s in sports management, Donnie Upshaw was headed for a future of alley-oops and center court celebrations. Fast forward to life as a seasoned HR exec – his victories are no longer defined by a scoreboard and his team isn’t necessarily comprised of jersey-clad sports pros, but Donnie hasn’t lost his love for the game. As Wingstop’s VP of Human Resources, Donnie’s game plan is simple: draft top talent, stay humble, and, of course, win!
It’s not often people make the career jump that you did. Why HR?
I have always enjoyed the art of emotional intelligence, team building, and understanding what drives and motivates people; so HR was a natural fit for me and something that I was passionate about instantly. The ability to not only impact the organization, but impact people in a positive way has been rewarding and fulfilling.
You’re still in your “rookie season” at Wingstop. What excited you about joining the team?
The organization is thriving and has a proven track record for success. It’s a fun and exciting brand that understands the importance of not only recruiting talented individuals, but curating that talent as well. To join a brand that is committed to taking care of its team members made it a no-brainer for me.
What’s your main goal as VP of HR?
This one is simple – to win! In order to win you have to attract and retain the very best talent and create a culture of high-performing teams. I want Wingstop to be a top-tier brand for years to come, and the way in which we achieve this is through our people – specifically by providing growth opportunities for each and every member of the team.
Shifting the conversation to something that’s been a hot subject for a while now: organizational culture. How have you seen culture in the workplace, and its importance, change since you first entered the industry?
It used to be all about the hours you put in. Now, organizations have shifted to focusing on employee contribution and value-add. Companies have put a huge emphasis on creating an environment that’s collaborative and technology-driven, and this lends itself to creating high-performing and thought-provoking teams.
How do you define a best-in-class work environment?
We all can be the Google’s and Apple’s of the world in our own unique way. People want to be a part of something bigger and have purpose at work, so an organization that can clearly provide and communicate that effectively will win! Let people be themselves; magnify their strengths; be transparent and communicate often; and have rules that people can believe in. The last thing people want to be a part of is an organization that doesn’t “walk the talk.”
What is some advice for businesses looking to improve company culture? Where should they start?
Start with level setting. You have to identify where you are today before you can decide where you are going. Then, secure buy-in from leadership. Great culture starts at the top and executive backing helps to ensure sustainability.
One of the great things about Wingstop is the senior leadership team is bought-in and willing to be involved in a major way. Do we have room for improvement? Of course, but my goal is to ingrain culture in what we do every day, and I think this should be a top-of-mind goal for any organization.
It’s been said Millennials and Gen X view culture differently. What are your thoughts on merging the two generations in the workplace?
That’s the thing – we don’t need to merge the two. I don’t think there is a clear-cut panacea. You have to do things that fit the unique makeup of your organization in order to promote inclusion, with the ultimate objective of being a great place to work for everyone.
You’re dedicated to attracting, and retaining, top talent and doubling the Wingstop brand in size. What traits are you looking for in future recruits?
Hunger – no, not for wings – but a hunger to succeed and be the very best! Also, humility and the willingness to put yourself aside for the greater good of the team. I always look for potential team members who are “people smart” with an understanding about what it takes to be a great collaborator and teammate.
Donnie’s passion for culture and engagement are rivaled only by his inherent talent for developing stellar growth plans that allow team members to thrive and excel within the brand. And although his career in the sports world may be a distant memory, Donnie’s sideline swagger is forever present. At Wingstop HQ he still rocks the Jordan’s, occasional jersey, and picks up a casual game of basketball every now and then.
Score a position with Wingstop and join us on our journey to the top! You’d be hard-pressed to find a better team. Check out our careers page to learn about new opportunities with Wingstop.
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