Joseph Gathuka, the Head of HR and Administration at Web Tribe Limited, has had a very interesting career path, rising from a bank clerk to his current role in one of the fastest growing companies in the Country and across East Africa. His career has risen meteorically in the past 5 years because he had the courage to change careers and chase for his passion in HR.
He spoke to us about his career and how he has navigated the changing world of HR.
BrighterMonday (BM): You started your career as a clerk in a bank, how was that experience, compared to your experience in HR?
Joseph Gathuka: My background is in BCom HR major, a post graduate in HR, ACCA and I am currently pursuing an MBA in Leadership & Sustainability. I worked at the bank for 2 years and then moved into full HR.
The reason why I started off as a clerk in a bank was because I have a background in accounting, after pursuing ACCA and this gave me a chance to practice the accounting I had done. For a long time there had been a perception that for someone to be a CEO or MD, you had to have a financial background. However, I had a passion for HR because it was just blooming in Kenya.
Having worked in a bank, you get to work with different people thus different personalities and that was the beginning for me to understand diverse human behaviour both from the internal and external customers.
Learning to have the patience to understand different people helped me because I did not have patience with personalities initially but now, I am more patient with different personalities but not with time.
BM: Is it still true that to get the top you need a financial background?
Gathuka: The nature and trends in the market and organisations are changing. To get to the top, you need to understand the human behaviour of the people who work for you. That is the core but then again, if you do not understand the financial aspect of the business, you are bound to make the right choice at the wrong time or the wrong choice at the right time. So there is a need to understand the financial background even if it is very basic. That way, you will know when to spend or hold back and to understand at what point do you substitute money for another reward and recognition. 95% of the time, people are the ones who run the business and the other 5% is a substitute of the human capital. So you must know how to keep them happy and motivated. All in all, you must have an understanding of the intricacies of finance.
BM: Any regrets?
Gathuka: None at all. One thing I have grown to have is the ability not to regret anything because I believe that there is always a reason for everything. It was a stepping stone for me since I had to take a pay cut moving from an officer in the bank to an HR assistant in a service industry. If I hadn’t taken that bold move then achieving my passion and career goals would have just been another dream waiting to come true.
Sometimes you have to backtrack in order to get the pace and move forward. I have no regrets because looking back, my career has grown tremendously in the past 5 years.
BM: What is your advice to those seeking to change careers?.
Gathuka: You need to know why you are changing careers, be true to yourself and know why you want to make that change. If you want to change a career, let it be driven by passion and the desire to bring change. If you move because of money, it will not be long before you start moving to another career and within no time you will realise all you have been doing is committing career suicide.
BM: What has been your biggest challenge so far as an HR practitioner?
Gathuka: Demographics. That is not something that is about to change anytime soon. The school of thought I come from is, policies are there to offer guidelines but not to gag you. There is the need to work in a free environment but if you look at some of the HR practitioners, they are have grown from the days of personnel management and are always referencing policies without adding the human aspect to HR. They want to control people like machines.
You look at the generation Y and millennials and soon, we will have a generation that is ‘worse’ than millennials in terms of needs and how they want to work. So, demographics and labour laws are changing and as the world becomes a global village so we need to accommodate very many cultures, generations and personalities.
Demographics and legal aspects are a bit rigid, which is challenging, in a changing world.
BM: What is the one factor that you always look for in potential employees?
Gathuka: Attitude is everything. I always say, Recruit for attitude and train for skills. For example, I can bring someone who has never done sales but if the person is passionate and has the right attitude to excel, this is a person who can be trained and end up doing better that those who are experienced. The right attitude gives you the right person and gets the job done.
BM: What are some of the strategies that you as the HR use to keep employees motivated?
Gathuka: Culture. I strongly advocate for cultivating delegation skills. If you do everything by yourself, you render the people below you irrelevant and most of the time you end up overwhelmed. I try to cultivate the skills of how to, what to and who to delegate to and that makes you a leader because you are growing other people.
Rewarding a job well done when it happens. Like sometimes, I will get shopping vouchers and give them to departmental heads and ask them to give them to their employees when they do a good job. Or even a Friday movie night at the cinema hall. It goes a long way.
Celebrate achievements even when they are seemingly very minute. It goes a long way and makes the person do better next time.
I implement the basic principles of performance such as regular performance dialogues and appraisals. They act as a check for employees as they need to know how they are doing vis-à-vis, where the organization is heading to.
BM: What principles do you live by that have helped you in your career?
Gathuka: I strive to understand the culture and values of the company I work for. That is the first thing I do when I join a new company. It helps me implement any change when necessary.
After that, I develop my problem-solving skills, in relation to my current environment. I go to the people so that I get to understand them and what they do so that I can build relationships.
I am the ‘go-to-the-people’ person.
BM: What is your advice to those seeking to get into HR?
Gathuka: HR is about passion because if you are not passionate, you will not relate to different personalities and HR involves a lot of work with different people. You need to be flexible and to think outside the box. You also need to be the person who goes to the people and not one who waits for people to come to you. You can never go wrong with these principles. HR is also very diverse and it is about combining strategies and human behaviour for success. Additionally, you must be ready to invest in your people.
BM: What is your strategy for managing millennials?
Gathuka: Managing millennials is both a skill and an art. It can be a walk in the park or a nightmare, depending on the approach taken. The trick is to work with them, not for them. They are about being engaged not being controlled. If you push millennials to do what you want them to do, without engaging them, they will not have the passion for doing it. So you merge what they want, what you think can work and what the Company strategy is for a successful outcome. When you are working with millennials, it is never a one-man show.