April Watkins, SVP and Chief HR Officer of Worldpay, explains the true function of a leadership role and the keys to building a superior team
April Watkins serves as the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Worldpay, a global financial technology company. Although she started her career in the textile industry, she began transitioning to Human Resources out of necessity. In her initial role, she had very limited internal recruiting resources available, so Watkins had to quickly develop team building strategies and teach herself the ropes of HR.
“When I realized many of my problems stemmed from people issues or not being able to get the adequate talent I needed,” she said, “I became a quick study and started to do things myself.” Watkins absorbed as much information as possible and built such a dynamic, high-performing team that leaders took notice of her HR skills. Management, colleagues, and competitors began implementing her strategies and programs. It seemed she simply had a knack for talent acquisition and team building, she explained.
Leadership excellence stems not from being a superstar, but rather from creating superstars. “Coaches don’t win the MVPs. They procure talent and they develop the talent that become MVPs,” Watkins said. The same holds true for leaders. As leaders develop, it becomes “less about what they know, and more about how they are able to navigate relationships with people, deal with conflict, bring out the best in folks, incentivize people, and motivate people.”
Communication and employee education are fundamental to Watkins’ leadership style. She spends a large amount of time explaining ideas to workers. For instance, when employees complain about or are confused by management decisions, Watkins takes the time to expound on the reasoning behind the decisions. She strongly believes in the importance of explaining objectives and rationale to employees, rather than merely doling out empty directives. “I am very transparent. I over-communicate. I share the journey,” she said.
She values intercommunication so deeply because in Watkin’s view, leadership is not about control, Napoleon complexes, or only stingily “divvying out need-to-know information to people.” She explained: “I am the reverse. I think the more people know, the more it helps your organization thrive.” Educating employees helps them develop self-reliance, problem solving abilities, and discernment, traits that true MVPs display. When workers understand management decisions and company changes, confusion and criticism dissolves.
Procuring a Team
Watkins’ HR experience is notable. Her background includes forming her own recruiting company, as well as working for major corporations including GKN Automotive and Burger King Corporation. During Watkins’ tenure at Worldpay, she has grown the HR department from a team of four to a team of 40. Talent procurement and development seem to be her strengths.
How does this distinguished HR executive build her team? She actively seeks to hire leaders that exemplify strengths that her crew is lacking. She explained: “Every time I have an opening for a leadership position on my HR team, I ask myself, ‘What dynamic are we missing?’” She then recruits leaders who embody those traits. For example, if the team is lopsided with an abundance of extrovert Type-As, she might seek out a more introspective, analytical-minded leader for the next position. Only employing people with similar skill sets and tendencies might make for easier communication, but it will create imbalance and squelch diversity.
“In my mind, the sole responsibility of a leader in an organization is to develop a team,” Watkins stated. In addition to looking for individuals with diverse nuances and talents, she looks for people a cut above herself. “If I am the smartest person at the table, that’s a problem,” she said. She acquires intelligent employees that will be an asset to the team and the company, and that will be able contribute superior ideas. ♦
Pillars of HR
“There is a whole art and a science to how HR works to support an organization,” Watkins said. She approaches HR functions using the following four pillars that guide HR executive action.
#1: HR Business Partnerships and Employee Relations – She develops a diverse and innovative team to skillfully handle day-to-day tasks.
#2: Talent Acquisition – It’s vital to procure the very best talent possible.
#3: Total Rewards – A good HR department features a full spectrum of roles, including payroll, benefits, and reporting and analytics.
#4: Organizational Development and Training – HR leaders must help internals develop their skills and work to increase their rigor.
Watkins fosters diversity not only in talent acquisition, but her personal life as well. She firmly believes in not putting all of her eggs in one basket, she said. She currently works in the corporate setting, but she still diversifies her income and talent portfolio. Watkins keeps her entrepreneurial spirit alive with venues such as financial investing and real estate development. “I think I do enough to shield myself on both fronts,” she explained. “Yes, I’m in corporate and I love it… but I’m also doing things externally for the personal business of April Watkins to make sure I’m diversified with my finances and my approach to longevity.”
Watkins encourages young professionals to develop diversification in their personal and vocational lives. A leadership position does not guarantee massive, long-term financial success as many new recruits believe, Watkins explained. Rather, solid financial stewardship and increasing the potential sources of income are the keys to economic resilience.
April's Key Partners:BrightWell Talent Solutions (Executive search/Staffing) | Lockton Companies (Health & Wellness Consultant)
Professional profiles, photojournalism, and legal writing are Sunny's specialties; her personal, creative, edgy approach makes her stand apart in the industry. Her clientele has included over three dozen law firms around the country; international businesses such as LiveStrong and Howcast; American favorites like Family Fun and Natural News; and regional publications such as Rutherford Woman and Conch Color.
As a mom of six, fitness enthusiast, and self-employed business woman, she stays busy in her island home with her middle school sweetheart and husband Michael, and makes time to travel regularly. If she's not jogging on down the islands, shooting an event, or writing up a storm, you can find her at Sunfire Creatives or on Facebook.
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