HR Coach’s Most Important Advice: Be You, Be Kind, Shine

    Erika Monae

    When Erika Monae started college at Central Michigan University, she thought she knew where her life was headed.

    She was majoring in accounting and planning on becoming an entrepreneur – “I’m just going to be the person who does my books,” she said – until reality hit her.

    Soon after graduation, she landed her first job, and it was at that moment she realized it wasn’t where she wanted to be, so she made a change.

    After establishing herself as a human resources professional, Monae now makes her living as a strengths coach and HR consultant.

    “As soon as I graduated and got my first job offer in accounting, I realized in that moment that I didn’t want to do that,” said Monae, the owner and founder of the Farmington Hills-based Erika Monae Group. “I wanted to be the person calling people and letting them know they have a job. I wanted to be the one making people have a really good work experience and making a very positive impact in their livelihood at work.”

    As a kid growing up, Monae realized that many people really liked going to work. It was just something they did to earn money. That led her to believe if she got a job as an adult, she’d get money, but it wouldn’t necessarily be something that was fun or fulfilling.

    “I wanted to help change that, so I decided I was going to do HR,” she said.

    After more than three years, Monae left accounting behind and started her HR career. She got her master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University, and her career took off.

    She began taking on HR roles, the first being in staffing. In those roles, she began to realize that company leaders were sending employees to talk to her about issues – “Most of the senior leadership would say, ‘I need you to go talk to Erika, Erika will help get you together,’” she recalled – and, without realizing it, she had begun coaching.

    “I’m thinking I’m just doing my job until someone told me I was doing more than my job,” she said. “I thought, this is just what I do, but they said no, it’s not part of your job description, but it’s helpful.”

    As she gained that experience, she said, the idea of starting her own company – becoming the entrepreneur she’d always wanted to be – began to take hold. It was why she took the various HR jobs that dotted her career – as a strategy to “dot my I’s and cross my T’s.”

    “The notion was to really take my time building the business so that when the day came for me to say it’s time to put in my notice and become a full-time entrepreneur, I felt comfortable and grounded,” she said.

    Monae took the time to talk about her career and other issues with Corp! Magazine:

    Corp! Magazine: What made you decide it was time to start EMG?

    Erika Monae: I told myself that when I turn 46 years old I wanted to work because I wanted to, not because I had to. If that was the ultimate goal then I had to backtrack on ‘How am I going to make this happen? Do I have multiple streams of income to make it happen? Is my business in a position where next year I can scale to this level?’

    It was time to start my business, (but) it was baby steps. Start to do some networking, make connections and get my face out there, and here I am.”

    Corp!: How did you get experience in different industries?

    Monae: It was a strategy. In college I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and my major was accounting. That entrepreneurial dream never left; I just realized as I transitioned into HR, the purpose was to create a positive impact on the livelihoods of others.

    But how do I do that? I decided I was going to be an HR consultant, I’m going to take this knowledge and transition that into entrepreneurship in a way where it carried through to other businesses.  It never left me.

    The strategy was to gain specific HR experiences so I could become that HR consultant. In order to do that, I had to have positions within HR that were going to allow me certain experiences.

    Even though (job-hopping) was frowned upon then, I really didn’t care. I was confident in the value that I could offer, and what I can do in HR, and what I was willing to learn and wanted to grow into within HR. I was very clear with that in the interview process. And I was very grateful for the opportunities.

    Corp!: What excites you about HR stuff?

    Monae: When most people think about HR they think about hiring and firing and compliance, a police officer at work, so most people don’t like HR. What excites me the most is I’m able to really help people develop and grow their careers. What they do for a living impacts their entire livelihood.

    I wanted to be able to create some sort of positive impact on people, where not only they came to work and they feel good about what they were getting out of work, but also being able to really have a fulfilling career life.

    Knowing HR has a direct hand in that, being able to do that is so fulfilling.

    Corp!: You’re a certified women-owned business. Is that important to you?

    Monae: That’s extremely important to me. When doing my research … it was very known that women-owned businesses don’t do as well as their counterparts. There are resoures and organizations in place to support women-owned businesses, and I wanted to make sure I was part of that. I didn’t want to be on the ‘struggle bus.’ I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunities, the knowledge … all of the social capital that was available, I wanted to take advantage of it.

    It’s important to know that, no matter how I navigate this journey, I’m a woman, I’m always going to be a woman, I’m a Black woman on top of that … that’s who I am. Being able to really own and stand firm in that, and no matter what room I walk into, no matter who sees the name, they can know they’re supporting a woman-owned business that really cares about how women are elevating themselves in business.

    Corp!: Why do you think women-owned businesses don’t do as well?

    I believe the societal norms of how women should act and behave in a work environment puts a burden on our own mindset and abilities, and then everyone else’s, becauise they think, ‘you should stay in your place or you should be doing this instead.’ So women are really placed in a box and not allowed to shine and be who they are.

    Corp!: What are the biggest challenges in terms of recruitment and in keeping talent?

    Monae: It’s really hard to balance out the impacts of what Covid has done to the world with still being able to show up in the workspace, whether it’s going in or working remotely. That balance is very challenging because we’ve been conditioned to think a certain way about how work should look and feel. It’s different now, and a lot of people don’t like change. How do we navigate this space so we’re still able to allow people to honor themselves and their families – that was the biggest priority during the pandemic – but also allow them to show up and do the work they’ve agreed to do?

    Corp!: You mentioned being a woman of color owning a business. How important is a strong DEI component for businesses?

    Monae: It’s always been important. The key thing from a business perspective that organizations need to keep in mind is from a people standpoint, whether these are your customers or your employees, is to really enrich the experience … that your customers have because that is going to do nothing but good and greatness. Those outcomes are going to pour into the success of the business.

    Corp!: What is the most important advice you give people?

    Monae: My motto is the most important thing: Be You. Be Kind. Shine. ‘Be you’ is being able to show up authentically, no matter where you are. Be kind not only to others, but be kind to yourself, because we can be our own worst critics. When you put those two together you’ll be able to shine a light in this world that’s desperately needed, because it gives people permission to be themselves.