‘Investing in building and maintaining relationships is a valuable currency to stay relevant’
Toyin Seth-Ogungbemi has over a decade of experience building dedicated, diverse teams to achieve far-reaching business goals. A passionate human resources expert with a proven history of overseeing cross-functional teams and business operations in a competitive environment, she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from the University of Abuja and a Masters of Business Administration degree from the Business School Netherlands.
Seth-Ogungbemi is the Head of Corporate Services at Solina Centre for International Development and Research (SCIDaR), where she effectively contributes to building the people and culture capability of SCIDaR. She is the co-author of a book, Chip off the Old Block, and a passionate drama enthusiast who enjoys storytelling and creative writing as a hobby. When she is not managing people and processes, she spends her time on teens, youth, premarital and marital counselling.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for empowering and building people in the workplace.
Share with us your background and how it influenced your career path in Human Resources?
I started my career with Zenith Bank as a Cash and Teller Officer. While I was efficient at the role, I quickly found that I wanted more. After my NYSC, I moved on to my first operations role with Novasys Limited. In this role, I was happy to improve processes; I was comfortable with the routine and predictability of the position. I was still unfamiliar with Human Resources, but I had begun to enjoy managing processes.
I had always had a personality type rich in empathy and a skill for active listening; I used this skill in religious and social circles. When I joined GRID Consulting (now DAI Nigeria), I was hired as a Contracting Officer, and my role enabled me to utilise that skill I had previously only used outside work. By this time, I had realised that helping and connecting with people can be deeply satisfying jobs. A senior friend, colleague, and my spouse encouraged me to explore HR as a career path; as they say, the rest is history.
You have a strong passion for people and culture transformation. How are you able to achieve this?
First, I strive to understand what makes people in the organisation tick, including leadership. I kick off by asking relevant stakeholders in the organisation pertinent questions like why a culture exists and the challenges. Also, I engage employees one-on-one and in surveys to measure what they consider the culture and if they have complete clarity on their role expectations. People will usually share with me frankly when they can test that I come from a place of care and a genuine passion for improving existing structures, not judgement or an assumption that I have a superior view or culture to theirs.
When I have this data, I tailor my recommendations or proposed interventions to suit the business’s overall objectives. I phase my plan in small bits, because for change to be imbibed, it must become like a habit that can only be built once, over time. Additionally, I start with high-impact goals and get the buy-in of the cultural influencers in the organisation to help drive the change(s).
As a professional with well over a decade of experience, how has it shaped today?
I am a better person, a passionate servant leader, more rounded strategic thinker and more emotionally intelligent, because of the experiences, leaders I have served with or under, and the people I have had to lead, work with, learn from or train.
I found my voice as I grew, and I never seize to use it to pave the way for people and processes that impact. I mentor and guide people to find their voice, passion, and rhythm and excel despite their limitations. I empower people to think and act independently, consistently encourage others, and promote mutual respect.
How would you assess your level of impact in your organisation?
If it were on a scale of one to ten, I’d say eight. I will highlight a few key achievements that summarise my journey of impact; I own bottom-line responsibility of the talent management strategy to build high-performing teams consisting of a diverse mix of skilled specialists. Build and execute a comprehensive hiring process, including recruitment, vetting, and interview planning.
I function as the brand ambassador to guide prospective candidates and employees on career, culture, growth, and the perks of joining the company. I oversee performance and, provide feedback, identify improvement areas. Built the procurement strategy, including administration of daily contract support; supervised the full procurement and contract procedures lifecycle. I provide timely, insightful reports to executive leadership, including progress reports, action plans, and cost projections.
I collaborate with management to design the corporate communications plan, internal communication programs, procedures, and employee engagement plans. I leverage superior communication and organisation skills in designing strategic content across various platforms, optimising corporate messaging, and planning company-wide events/meetings/town halls.
As a woman who has grown through the ranks, what lessons have you garnered in your years of practice?
Most people are wired to talk, react or get defensive, but very few care much for active and empathetic listening. Communication is more valuable than we give it credit for. Reputation is not something to pursue; it is a by-product of character. People matter, and when they know you place value on them, they make your work matter more than you can ever pull off on your own. Excellence and the work that goes with it set you apart very quickly.
Investing in building and maintaining relationships is a valuable currency to stay relevant. I have realised that my way is just a way, and I have learned to stay teachable, adapt to other ways and learn new ways of doing things that improve efficiency. There is a story behind every individual, and knowing this makes me refrain from making quick judgements on character, conduct and performance.
What key message is contained in your book, Chip off the old block?
The book has four short stories that effectively explore fear, pain, vengeance, gender, family, and, most importantly, how courage can play a critical role in staying on track when everything appears to be working against you. Additionally, it relies heavily on hope, and it is apparent in the book that even a sliver of hope can help a person get through the most challenging times.
What drives you for success?
Passion and the desire to die empty and have a legacy that outlives me.
With your goal to impact and build people, what challenges have you been confronted with, and how are you able to surmount them?
A major one is manoeuvring the criticism and pressure that come with cutthroat, competitive work environments. To surmount this, I remind myself why I am doing what I do. I humanise everyone and understand what lies beneath the somewhat toxic approach, and I often find good people who are simply doing their best they know how to succeed.
A second one will be rigidity. When the leadership of an organisation is rigid and arrogant, assume their ways of doing things are absolute. This approach or stance takes a lot of work to cut through. But I have learned to look at things from all sides despite my biases. I have learned that patience and providing data to back up proposed solutions or recommendations can make a difference. I am mature enough to accept that I cannot win it all, no matter my good intentions.
How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
I will outline a few things that I often share; realise that your gender places no limitations whatsoever on you. You can be anything you dare and strive to be. Prove your ability through your work ethic and character. In all you get, be self-aware and strive to be emotionally intelligent; it works wonders.
Be open-minded and teachable. Demand what you deserve everywhere you are. It is okay to cry and feel emotional, but get up and make a demand with clear facts. Try to channel the unique quality you bring to your work to succeed. By all means, learn from others, but customise the template to suit your personality.
Copying is a lot of work; work hard to avoid being easily replaceable. Find a tribe with a mix of wisdom, excellence, warmth and support. They will help you with accountability, cheering you onward and forward, offer a shoulder to lean on, a path to aspire to, and an ear to listen and straighten you out when necessary. Use your voice every chance, and make room for other women to thrive in whatever space you operate. Be bold; your ideas and goals are valid. If you lack confidence, do it afraid; make sure to go for it.
How are you able to combine your many portfolios as an author, trainer, life coach, and still be at your best?
I have help. I am grateful to have a family that offers a robust support system and a community filled with kind, vibrant, supportive and intellectual people. They cheer, challenge, and support me to ensure I never settle. When I feel exhausted, I slow down, rest and recharge.
What is your life mantra?
To thyself be true.