Besides her job as personal assistant to Erik Monard, Karima has become a team coach to the staff in the Hasselt and Antwerp offices. “That’s quite a lot,” she says enthusiastically. Want to know how Karima manages all of this and how she gets up every morning in high spirits to go in for work at Monard Law? Read more below.
Hi, Karima. You’ve been working here for 14 years already. How did this all start?
Karima: “In 2008, I applied for the job as PA (personal assistant) to Erik Monard. I was 22 years old at the time and had only one job experience on my CV, but I got to start working immediately at one of the larger law firms in Limburg. That was very exciting, I must say.”
“In the first month on the job, I worked at the reception. My colleagues kept it all exciting as well: “Oh, you’re going to start working for Erik Monard. A very demanding boss.” Sometimes, I would ask myself: “Oh my, what did I do now.” But the colleagues are great here, and Erik is always very grateful. The work environment here is fantastic.”
You say that working for Erik at the start was rather exciting. How did that unfold?
Karima: “I was only 22 at the time, so it’s normal that you find that rather exciting. Erik is also one of the co-founders of Monard Law, so you look up to him as well. In the end, it all worked out well. Erik continues to challenge me all the time. He is demanding and expects quality service. But he also trusts me to do things on my own, and that’s how I got to learn more about other things. PA has always been a job from which I get a lot of job satisfaction. That’s why I continue to do it.”
How has your job evolved through the years?
Karima: “In the beginning, I was a full-time PA to Erik. In that role, I took on more and more responsibilities. And since 2019, I’ve become a team coach to the staff at our Hasselt and Antwerp offices. In this role, I have some HR responsibilities as well.”
Karima: “I was the first person ever at Monard Law to hold this position. As a team coach to the staff, I steer the team, I help them with achieving their work goals, I offer support to them, and I come up with a plan and planning schedules. I’m also responsible for the payroll of the staff in all our offices. In addition, I give the onboarding training workshops, and I, together with the HR manager and the HR business partner, make up the HR team. It is really a lot.” (laughs)
“I also participate in the growth-path meetings, together with the immediate supervising partner or manager. And I have one-to-one meetings with the staff every month, too. I believe well-being at work is crucial because it is important that everyone feel good about themselves.”
“I always say: behind every strong partner is also a strong PA.”
What actions do you take when it comes to well-being at work?
Karima: “I plan one-to-one meetings with the staff every month. We talk about their workload, the training programs, work–life balance, … In this way, we can react quickly whenever issues arise.”
Is it easy for people to talk about that?
Karima: “In fact, yes. I’m always so surprised about it. They are very open. There’s certainly trust. As PA, I was their colleague; as team coach, I am their supervisor. And I found this rather challenging, I must say.”
Indeed, how did colleagues react to your role-switch from colleague to supervisor?
Karima: “Quite positively, in fact. I’m so grateful for that. I gained their trust immediately. It is absolutely wonderful to be allowed to steer such a top team.”
And does Erik find it hard to “share” you with others?
Karima: “Yes, I believe so. (laughs) Definitely. This is also new for him. I’ve always worked for him alone. I said to him, “Erik, this is perhaps not so easy for you as well.” But he allows me to pursue this. For me, it’s also important that I end this in a positive note. You work so long for someone, you create a bond with him, his clients, … so I can’t just say: “Go figure it out by yourself.” I still love doing my job as PA.”
What is the most fun thing in your job?
Karima: “Every staff member here helps each other to reach their work goals. For example, Tine used to work at the reception, and she’s now become the PA to Maxime Monard. I really enjoy coaching and motivating her to deal with this challenge.”
How did you coach her?
Karima: “It all depends on the skills matrix we have in front of us. We look at the skills that are needed for a particular job and then we look at the level that is currently there and where there are still room and opportunities for growth. Then we devise specific action items that make it possible to achieve growth. For example, undergo a particular training program.”
What is the most challenging thing in your job?
Karima: “Finding the right balance between PA, on the one hand, and team coach, on the other. Also challenging is being in meetings in which I have to break the bad news (such as negative feedback discussions or employee dismissals). But I’ve also learned that these are the moments when you can really help someone.”
How do you handle the difficult talks?
Karima: “I always try to show empathy and to listen, which is very important as a team coach. I believe it’s important for the person sitting across from me to feel that he or she is being heard.”
“In HR, you’re always dealing with people. There’s really no on–off switch for that.”
14 years is a long time. What makes you get every morning in high spirits to go in for work?
Karima: “For me, it’s definitely the work environment. I have wonderful colleagues whom I can always count on. Another factor is the open company culture: everyone is approachable. Monard Law has an open-door policy, and this applies to partners as well. And finally, it’s the opportunities you get to develop yourself and to grow at the firm.”