Career Health check
A guide that helps you evaluate your career Develop an exciting career road map Establish Dos and Don’ts in your career journey
Self-Care for Professionals
A guide to better self -care Identifying burnout Developing strategies for a positive well-being
Own your thoughts, feelings, words and actions:You have the power of thinking,speaking, feeling and acting, you are the button maker, nobody can push your buttons unless you allow them to.
Stop blaming others: blaming makes you a victim & prevents you from changing your situation. Be a Victor and ask “what is my role in this situation?”
Stop complaining:when things don’t go as expected. Instead, focus on the hidden gems in the situation and the bigger picture. (what can I learn from this?)
Don’t take things personally: Stop assuming that every disagreement is a personal attack or about you. You always have control over how you respond. Ask”Is this about me or the situation at hand?”
Happiness is an inside job: it’s a decision you make, express your creativity, practice gratitude& acts of kindness.
Increase your level of adaptation :change is constant, be willing to embrace it for your own happiness and energy.
Accept others and let go the judgment :everyone has flaws and virtues. Start with yourself, then purpose to see the best in others.
Protect your integrity as your most valuable possession:don’t compromise your moral compass in an attempt to succeed or achieve faster.
Live in the present moment:be the gatekeeper of your thoughts. Make the best of it to redeem your past and create the future you want.
Use the power of intention: make choices that deliberately move you towards your vision and expected outcomes. Ask “is this moving me towards my goal?”
Name: Abraham Serem
Current profession: HR Director-Kengen
What did you study in college/university? Was it what you wanted to study?
I studied BA General, but I wanted to study Law, however, the choice of studies was always dictated by your qualifications at A-level. At the same time, the career conversations happening today were not present during my time.
What was your first job? Any lessons to share from it?
I did a bit of teaching which was informal as I had been employed by the Board of Directors to fill some gaps in a local school where I grew up. For the lessons, it was a great opportunity to meet teachers and young people as well, to get to know their dreams and what they thought about themselves. The teachers helped introduce me to the teaching and school environment and I got to understand the conversations which revolved around children, what happened in the staffrooms, preparing of lessons, and teaching something which I had not studied but had to learn.
Thereafter I was employed as a management trainee at a financial institution where I did a 6 months’ program after which I was posted to the HR department where I realized that I had a connection with people. My first posting was as a Welfare Officer which involved assisting staff through the medical scheme, processing car loans, and mortgages. This helped me mature very quickly because I discovered that the amount that staff were paying for in mortgages was much lower than the actual rent I was paying. When I enquired on this, they told me that they had applied for those loans earlier hence got to enjoy a friendly payment plan. They advised me that one of the best things I could do for myself was to buy a house rather than keep paying rent. Three years later I did exactly that and it has been one of the best decisions that I have made.
I also learned that the HR Function had very many opportunities for growth, and the one that stood out the most was in Customer service where I got to appreciate the turnaround times involved, ensuring you are really empathetic such that by the time someone comes to you for help, you get to see the other faces behind that person. Also, speed is of the essence and if you do not do it, other areas will suffer in the background. This experience also helped me to connect quite easily with staff and in most cases, people would often say that if you go to Abraham, your issue will be sorted out, so when staff needed help, they would come to me.
Is there too big or too small a job?
No, I think the job is what the individual creates. I have seen cleaners who do such a thorough job that everybody admires what they do, and the value that people attach to those cleaners is so high because they like and enjoy what they do. I have had an opportunity to ask what really makes them enjoy their jobs and some of the responses have been “I never went to school and I have a job that puts food on the table or meets my needs!” I have also found people in senior positions who are always grumbling and complaining hence are negative about what is happening around them. For me, it is about how you create the job which determines the fulfillment and value that you bring to others as well as how others perceive what you do.
There are people who get into dull jobs but have a remarkable way of reenergizing those jobs, whereas there are those who have gone to very attractive jobs and within six months they have devalued those jobs, so that is how I look at it.
Describe a normal working day for you?
I am an earlier riser. I wake up before 5am, and if I do not have early commitments in the office then I exercise; I run, then freshen up and get to the office by 7:15am, look at my diary, and see the activities for the day, quickly peruse through the newspapers. From 8:00-9:00am, I set aside my personal time to check mail and to respond to pressing matters. During that time, I am able to organize myself so as to be effective and efficient in what I do. Once that is done, I get into the rhythm of meetings such as meeting individual staff members with specific issues that need to be addressed, meeting my team if I have scheduled a meeting with them, talking to Managers and other stakeholders, and debriefing my boss on various assignments and projects. Most of these meetings are scheduled in advance so it becomes more effective and efficient.
What drives or motivates you?
This is a very interesting question…of course, it is success, but if I could replace the question to what makes me wake up at 4:45am? It is the hawkers; when I think about them, I have no reason to continue sleeping or look like I am tired or have no motivation to go and work because these are people who wake up in the morning, with probably just Kshs 100, then they get their wares and go to the streets of Nairobi as they do not have a specific place to sell their wares. They meet all sorts of characters who are either rude, polite, or dismissive but still they remain motivated and keep a smile on their faces. “They never say die!” and at times their wares are confiscated by the authorities, but the following day they are back on the streets. I don’t think if all my possessions were taken away from me, I would survive the following day to come and sell anything. Their resilience awes me. Then there are the slum dwellers; when their houses burn down and after the fire is extinguished, the following day you will see structures coming up quickly and within a month it will be as if there was no fire. That resilience, for me, is mind-boggling and any time I feel low, I think about those situations and instantly my energy gets renewed and I realize that I am so lucky to be doing what I am doing, to be who I am and to have what I have. So that is where I derive my motivation from.
Ever had a bad /good boss? Lessons learnt or advice to offer?
I can’t say I have had a good or bad boss because I think it is a perception. I have worked with different individuals and tried to understand their motivations, what they like, what they don’t like. I position myself through this personal principle “I do not want to be a problem to my boss; I do not want to create a problem for my boss.” I should learn as much as possible what drives my boss, what disappoints my boss so that when I am assigned work, I am able to fulfill what they require of me. If there is a need to challenge something, it should be at an appropriate time; I cannot challenge my boss when they are in a bad mood or has gone through some difficulty. Instead, I look for the most appropriate time to go through some of the issues that I would discuss with them to improve the organization. I propose strategies to change the situation and give honest feedback but at the right time. That way, I have been able to navigate situations where staff are having frustrations in working with their boss because I approach them with a different mind-set. There is a particular time that stands out when I had this boss way before the advent of computers (when we used typewriters to draft memos). This particular boss was known for “lecturing” or “kukusomea” if you did something wrong. When he would call us in, I would go in to his office and come out smiling because I would listen to him keenly, correct the mistake, apologize and thank him for the feedback he had given to me and I would make a deliberate effort to improve. I differentiated myself such that when I would take back the corrected document, he would be happy. One time I picked an error in the termination process of an employee and I quickly informed my boss and explained the correct way to do it. That moment raised my value in the eyes of my boss, and he saw me as someone who was willing to learn. We need to create our own bosses. It is how we relate to them and how you manage them that will end up giving you a good or a bad boss.
Your take on ethics and integrity? Is it important to you?
It is extremely important. It is my license to operate; it is 95% of my being; it is the authority for me to transact; it is the perception that people will create about me, that this man is straight forward, that he does not take a bribe, and that he keeps time. I do not think I would get any greater value than when everybody would say that all the boxes above are ticked as this is good. Ethics allows you to access certain opportunities, have a certain moral authority to take certain actions. It creates your space because people talk; there are people you will ask about and you will be told they are straight forward. Most importantly, it will give you a lot of dividends; You go to a place and they will say, “you work for this organization, I hear there is a man in HR who is so good”, you are in a queue and someone hears you are from a certain organization and you immediately get assistance come to you because of the good reputation.
When you are not in your work element what do you do for fun?
I like running, travelling, climbing, mountains and hills. There was a year, I climbed Longonot every Sunday morning!
Best money advice you received or would give?
Do not keep any idle money, put the money you have into good use.
Most notable achievements?
During my career stint, I have mostly worked in the private sector specifically in FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies, and at some point, I worked for an industrial supplier, so transitioning from private to public sector was a major achievement.
The second thing is the number of people that I have developed and seen grow in their careers, many of them are in senior positions, both locally and internationally. I recruited, trained them and they flourished and have gone places. This brings me great joy.
The ability to forge collaborations and relationships with the union environment. Wherever I have worked, I have never had a situation where there was a strike because I have always gone with open hands and told them the truth and what is going on. As a result, they do not doubt when I tell them what is and is not possible.
I grew up in a rural environment, where we did not have any pacesetters or the foundation to look up to someone senior. For me to have grown to where I am today, to weave my way around and see some of my peers sadly drop off on the way, I acknowledge that where I am is a privilege and I am grateful to God for it.
Biggest challenge(s) faced and how you handled them?
In the year 2000, I joined a company where one multinational was merging with another and the acquiring company took over the management. Additionally, it did not have presence in Kenya and many staff had been retrenched. Even before I reported, I had to attend a regional meeting in South Africa, and I was expected to know everything needed to manage the merger and change management process. This was a big deal because I needed to understand what the company had done before and where the company was headed. However, the Head of HR had also been retrenched and there I was, with everybody expecting me to give them solutions, yet I was a total stranger in that environment. That was a big challenge but because I was very curious and enthusiastic, we pulled through and the merger happened successfully. With my help and that of the team, we were able to change the management style and adopt it as per the requirements of the company that bought off the previous one.
Another challenge I experienced was during a time when I had traveled to Nigeria and on our way to an industrial site, the rains poured heavily. There I was with the driver, who I had only met the previous day, and the traffic was not moving. I felt quite helpless having to depend on someone I did not know. Eventually, the traffic cleared out and were able to get to the site. The team there advised us on an alternative route to take and we made it back to Lagos albeit very late.
Is reading important to you? what are you currently reading?
It is very important; if I am to maintain the composure and intellect to be able to process things coherently, then I have to read. But nowadays I browse the internet selectively for interesting articles on best practice.
I am currently reading “Uncommon Customer Service by Francis Rei & Anne Morriss”
Who do you look up to for inspiration? / Most influential people in your life?
My mother, who never went to school but was able to successfully raise 10 children; she was more of a coach and often, she would share with us examples of successful families and what they did to succeed. This was done to motivates us to achieve great things, and that has stayed with me.
There was a priest friend of mine (unfortunately he passed on) who changed my life significantly. I had sat for my O’Levels and passed with a Division one but for some strange reason, I was not called to any school for my A’ Levels. When the priest came home he was surprised to hear of this. He held my hand and took me to a national school where he spoke to the principal who accepted me and the following day I reported to school! That really opened up a way for me to thrive.
In addition, all the bosses that I have worked with have inspired me in very many ways. There is a boss I worked with called Charles Cubin who used to tell us “the biggest and most powerful country is the United States, therefore, the busiest person should be the US President who still manages to take vacation” It was his way of saying that he did not understand why people did not take their leave. To date, when any member of the team applies for leave, I will approve the application and release them.
Then there was another boss, Roland Ebeld, who on the same issue of leave used to say “Abraham, don’t worry about it. The company will worry about it.” This was about placing responsibility where it matters. I used to stretch myself and get anxious about things that did not matter, yet the company would worry about it. The company would have a solution to it. Then there is my current boss, who is an inspiration to me; she is never angry, she has the right demeanor and has the mind-set that we will always get a solution to an issue. She also has the amazing ability to always send out positive messages to everybody.
Employment or entrepreneurship?
In an environment where people are able to assess their abilities, it easy to decide whether to go for employment or entrepreneurship. Whenever I would be recruiting for sales positions, I had a keen interest in people who were doing some form of hustle in college or university because it is usually easier for them to run a business as it is already in their nature. Then there is someone else who is not good in running a business but is very good at inspiring people in terms of their competencies. There is also a group that is in the middle who can do both and are able to succeed, though it’s a very small population. Identify where your talent is and you will get to thrive.
Your take on Leadership?
I worked in a place where we used to say “All roles lead to leadership”. The kind of leadership present determines the fortunes of that organization. Leaders are the emergence of hope, inspiring people to do their best, to direct their energies towards the right thing, to prioritize on the right thing, getting people to build proper relationships and engagement to ensure that people walk seamlessly towards the same direction, in terms of achievement of targets and objectives. I also think that there is a group of natural-born leaders, for example, I have been to the rural areas where you find illiterate old men who are called upon to arbitrate serious issues. It would be a great thing if our education system was able to give us more of the natural leaders because they would do so well in leadership. A leader should be that person who knows how to sell hope against any difficulties, environmental issues, cultural issues but keep their focus on inspiring and letting people believe there is a better tomorrow.
Final words to young and upcoming professionals
Stay focused, identify what makes you tick in your professional area, seize the opportunities as they come, leverage on those people who have walked the journey, pick them as your mentors, as your coaches, and as your friends. This can help reduce the learning time. For professionals, as you pursue your professional excellence, also pursue personal excellence (behaviour, grooming, etc.) so that one becomes a whole person. You will be able to be more influential when you can have the sensitivity of both personal and professional excellence within the society.
In a world that has become so busy, it is easy to find yourself starting something and never getting around to finish it. It is equally important to finish what you start because as a discipline, a commitment, and a show of consistency. Here are a few tips to guide you.