Joseph Varner: A Transformative Leader Paving the Way for HR Excellence

The 10 Most Influential HR Professionals to Follow in 2024

Joseph Varner is a visionary leader, dedicated to enhancing the lives of people both within and beyond the walls of Woodside Homes. As the Senior Vice President of People & Culture, he embodies a commitment to excellence, inclusivity, and innovation. His approach to leadership is centered around empowering individuals, fostering a culture of continuous learning, and driving impactful initiatives that shape the future of work.

Transformative Leadership: A Journey of Insight and Impact

Joseph’s career has been marked by pivotal moments that have shaped his approach to human resources and leadership, with one early experience standing out. Under the mentorship of Lita Cunningham, he was introduced to a transformative idea: “The difference between a good HR practitioner and a great one is that a great practitioner truly understands the nuts and bolts of the business.” This insight became the foundation of his professional philosophy, emphasizing the importance of a deep understanding of an organization’s intricacies.

Learning from Lita, Joseph realized that to truly make an impact, he needed to do more than just understand the HR function; he needed to comprehend the entire business landscape. This holistic approach has enabled him to anticipate needs, develop proactive strategies, and cultivate a culture of leadership and innovation.

Embracing this mindset, Joseph has always approached his roles with the intent not just to participate but to make a meaningful difference. It has guided him in navigating challenges, seizing opportunities, and, most importantly, in how he leads and inspires others. His journey has reinforced his belief that at the heart of HR is the ability to understand and connect deeply with the core of the business and its people, paving the way for transformative leadership and sustainable growth.

Tailoring HR Strategies for Success Across Industries

Joseph’s approach to adapting HR strategies across various industries is rooted in fundamental expertise in Human Capital. This foundation, built on years of experience and a deep understanding of HR’s intrinsic values and practices, enables him to navigate and thrive within any organizational landscape.

At the heart of Joseph’s adaptability lies a commitment to fully grasp the essential dynamics of each business he engages with. As he explains, “It’s about going beyond the surface to truly comprehend the unique fabric of each organization—its culture, its people, and its vision.” This approach means diving deep into understanding not just the broad industry trends but also the specific objectives, goals, and challenges of the business at hand.

Armed with this knowledge, Joseph tailors HR strategies that not only align with the business’s goals but also enhance its core strengths and address its specific needs. He emphasizes, “This customization is critical; while the fundamentals of human capital management remain consistent, the application of these principles must be flexible and innovative to resonate with the unique ethos of each organization.” This approach ensures that HR strategies are not only effective but also deeply integrated into the fabric of the organization, driving sustainable growth and success.

Moreover, Joseph’s approach fosters a dynamic and proactive HR function—one that not only supports but also drives the business forward. By aligning HR strategies closely with business objectives, he ensures that HR is not just a support function but a strategic partner that contributes to the organization’s success. Whether it’s through talent management, leadership development, or cultural transformation, Joseph’s goal is always to create an environment where both the business and its people can flourish.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

Woodside Homes: Building Dreams, Creating Communities

Joining Woodside Homes has been the pinnacle decision of Joseph’s career, marking a period of unparalleled growth and learning. As a premier national homebuilder headquartered in the picturesque Salt Lake City, UT, Woodside Homes’ expansive presence across North, Central, and Southern California, Phoenix, AZ, Las Vegas, NV, and Boise, ID, embodies an unwavering commitment to excellence and community.

In 2017, Woodside Homes proudly became part of the global family of Sekisui House, Ltd., a Japanese-based company renowned as one of the world’s leading homebuilders and diversified international developers, celebrated for its innovation and excellence since its founding in 1960. This partnership with Sekisui House not only brings a wealth of global insights and practices to Woodside Homes but also aligns the company with a vision that transcends geographical boundaries.

The collaboration has introduced the SHAWOOD brand to the United States, showcasing the united vision and innovation of Sekisui House and Woodside Homes. This initiative represents a significant milestone, creating a platform that marries the legacy and expertise of both entities. Introducing SHAWOOD to the American market is a strategic move to enrich the homebuilding landscape with precision-engineered construction and sustainable design, reflecting a shared commitment to excellence, sustainability, and cutting-edge technology.

The synergy between Woodside Homes and Sekisui House enhances their mission to simplify the homebuying process and ensure each home reflects its owner’s unique identity and lifestyle. Together, they stand dedicated to helping individuals live their best lives in a community where they can flourish, supported by more than 40 years of Woodside Homes’ expertise and the global heritage of Sekisui House. This partnership and the introduction of SHAWOOD in the United States are pivotal steps towards realizing their shared vision: to make home the happiest place in the world.

Aligning Talent Strategies with Business Success at Woodside Homes

In his role as the SVP of People & Culture at Woodside Homes, Joseph ensures alignment between talent strategies and overall business objectives through a strategic approach centered around three key pillars: strategic milestones, agility, and continuous feedback. He emphasizes, “We set clear stage gate goals to measure progress, ensuring our efforts move the needle towards our business targets.”

Recognizing the dynamic nature of the industry, Joseph’s team stays flexible, ready to adapt strategies as needed. Regular communication with the COO and leadership team helps them stay aligned and responsive to changing needs. To augment these efforts, the team also:

  • Uses data to make informed talent decisions.
  • Integrates recruitment, development, and retention strategies.
  • Plans their workforce strategically to meet future business demands.
  • Aligns their culture with their strategic goals to drive performance.
  • Invests in leadership development to ensure their leaders can effectively guide their teams in alignment with the business direction.

“This balanced approach ensures that our talent strategies not only support but propel our business objectives forward, maintaining our leadership position in the industry,” Joseph observes.

Joseph has faced critical challenges in his role, particularly in the post-pandemic world, where redefining the work environment and maintaining a vibrant culture with a hybrid team became paramount. He focused on strengthening virtual connections to maintain a sense of unity. Economic fluctuations, especially with interest rates, also tested the organization. Through strategic foresight and innovation in diversification and partnerships with SHL, Woodside Homes turned these challenges into growth opportunities.

Joseph attributes much of the organization’s resilience and thriving to our Executive Leadership Team, specicially the leadership of COO Roger Gannon. “Thanks to our COO, Roger Gannon’s strategic foresight, we innovated through diversification and partnerships with SHL, transforming these situations into opportunities for growth,” Joseph explains. “Roger’s leadership was key in fostering resilience and ensuring we didn’t just adapt but thrived. His approach has solidified our ability to navigate any challenge with agility and a strong organizational heartbeat.”

Fostering Diversity and Inclusion: A Personal and Professional Commitment

Joseph joined the StartOut board because, as he explains, “its mission speaks directly to a core belief of mine: that everyone, regardless of who they love or how they identify, deserves an equal shot at success in the business world.”

This belief is particularly close to his heart when it comes to supporting Black LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, a group historically underrepresented and underserved even within the broader LGBTQ+ community. Joseph’s experience has shown him the stark disparities in opportunities available to people of color from different backgrounds, and he saw his board membership as a chance to actively contribute to changing that narrative.

At Woodside Homes, Joseph channels this commitment to diversity and inclusion through various initiatives. He champions inclusivity, ensuring that the corporate culture welcomes and celebrates everyone. This includes advocating for more inclusive hiring practices, creating an environment where all employees feel seen and heard, and promoting dialogue and education around the issues facing minorities, the ProAbled community, and LGBTQ+ professionals. Joseph emphasizes, “My workplace should be a reflection of the diverse world we live in, where everyone feels respected and valued.”

Joseph’s personal and professional commitment to diversity and inclusivity drives positive change within Woodside Homes and the broader business ecosystem, fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for all. He believes that by championing inclusivity and diversity, businesses can not only create a more welcoming environment for employees but also drive innovation and success in the long term.

“We are all one – and if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” – Bayard Rustin

Navigating HR Trends: A Personal and Professional Approach

For Joseph, staying updated with the latest HR trends and best practices is a blend of personal passion and professional necessity, especially in his role at Woodside Homes. As he reflects, “Beyond diving into industry publications and webinars, what really brings these trends to life for me is my network.”

Joseph is part of a text message group with fellow HR professionals where they share advice and insights, or just chat about what’s new and exciting in the field. This informal, yet incredibly rich source of information and support has been the most rewarding part of his learning journey.

Implementing these insights into Woodside Homes involves not just strategic initiatives but weaving them into the daily fabric of the workplace culture. For instance, their focus on wellness and learning, launched last May, came directly from these discussions, as did their refreshed approach to onboarding and talent engagement practices.

Joseph’s approach ensures that Woodside Homes remains at the forefront of HR practices, creating a workplace that is not only innovative but also supportive and engaging for its employees.

Navigating Career Motivation: Purpose, Self-Care, and Celebration

Joseph’s career drive stems from a profound sense of purpose: to enhance the lives of their people. As he reflects, ‘This guiding principle acts as my north star, ensuring that every decision and action is aligned with making a positive impact on those around me.’ This sense of purpose is deeply rooted not only in his professional goals but also in his personal life. ‘None of this would have been possible without the unwavering support and encouragement of my husband, Roger Edgar, by my side.’ When his work directly contributes to improving the well-being and success of others, staying motivated, even in the face of challenges, becomes second nature.

Self-care is another critical component of Joseph’s approach. Recognizing the importance of mental and physical well-being, he ensures to set aside time for activities that recharge and inspire him, whether it’s a quiet walk, reading, or spending time with loved ones. This balance between professional drive and personal well-being is crucial for sustaining long-term motivation and impact.

Finally, celebrating small victories and acknowledging the progress made, not just the end results, plays a vital role in maintaining motivation. It serves as a reminder of the value of efforts and the positive changes being made, one step at a time.

In essence, Joseph’s purpose is what keeps him motivated, but it’s the combination of continuous learning, self-care, and recognizing progress that helps him maintain that drive, ensuring that he shows up as his best self, ready to make a difference in the lives of their people.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance at Woodside Homes, especially while leading significant initiatives, is fundamental to success and well-being. Joseph’s approach centers on empowering the team with the autonomy to manage their rest and recovery times effectively. He emphasizes, “It’s crucial for recharging and maintaining peak performance.”

Furthermore, Joseph advocates for and supports training in mental health awareness for the team. This training is vital for recognizing the early signs of burnout or stress among colleagues, allowing them to address issues proactively. By fostering an environment of support and openness, they can better care for each other’s well-being.

Building Tomorrow’s Leaders: The HR Impact

In his 25 years within Human Capital, Joseph has come to see the role of HR professionals not just as impacting future leaders but fundamentally building them from the ground up. This distinction is crucial—it’s about actively creating the environments, opportunities, and frameworks that nurture nascent talent into tomorrow’s visionaries. The core of HR’s work is to identify, develop, and empower those individuals who will carry forward the mission and values of the organization.

HR professionals are uniquely positioned to positively shape the future generation of leaders. Through targeted development programs, mentorship, and fostering a culture of continuous learning, they lay the groundwork for success. However, it goes beyond formal programs; it’s about creating a culture of recognition, where potential is not only identified but nurtured, and achievements are celebrated. It’s about building relationships that transcend the professional, becoming advocates for growth.

This, to Joseph, is the essence of HR’s role and the most rewarding part of what they do. Seeing the direct influence of their efforts in the flourishing careers of those they’ve guided is a powerful testament to the vital role HR plays in building the leaders of tomorrow.

Breaking Barriers: Women Leading the Way in HR

In the field of Human Resources, where women already predominate at all levels, leadership is defined not by gender but by a passion for excellence and a commitment to people. As Joseph reflects, “It’s about understanding both the human and business dimensions of HR deeply.”

Aspiring professionals, regardless of background, are encouraged to dedicate themselves to learning every facet of this profession, embracing opportunities to spearhead transformative initiatives. Joseph emphasizes, “It’s the willingness to take calculated risks and step out of comfort zones that carve the path for true leaders.”

Joseph believes that by embracing this journey, women in HR will continue to contribute significantly to the field’s rich tapestry. They can drive the evolution of a more dynamic and inclusive future. Joseph’s message to aspiring women in HR is clear: “Excel in HR and leadership by being passionate about excellence and dedicated to people. Embrace opportunities to lead transformative initiatives, take risks, and step out of your comfort zone. Your leadership is defined not by your gender but by your commitment to excellence.”


Joseph Varner’s impact extends far beyond the realms of HR and leadership. His dedication to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, both at Woodside Homes and through his involvement with StartOut, underscores his commitment to creating a more inclusive and supportive business ecosystem. Through his leadership, Joseph is not only shaping the future of work at Woodside Homes but also inspiring positive change in the broader community.