Five minutes with… Katja Carson

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Katja Carson talks through the trials and tribulations of being the Organisational Director of Greenpeace.

What does your typical work day look like?

I tend to have a list of important matters that I need to deal with ready for the day. First thing though, most days I walk through the office to say good morning – gives me a sense of where people and things are at. That is probably where typical ends. After that it’s fitting in the bigger, often strategic pieces of work and thinking, whilst dealing with the more urgent and immediate matters, usually working with the ‘heads of’ and ‘managers’ on people related challenges, and opportunities. My responsibilities are diverse and also include Finance, IT and Facilities, I have teams of experts for those, not HR.

Wednesdays are quieter, most of our people take advantage of our ‘no meetings & work from home day’ and this allows me to focus on projects.  We are going through a bit of change internationally which gives us a chance to also refine our own ways of working and how we define the teams and our culture, and our organisational development efforts are aligned to help deliver those changes. And Fridays, we take our interns out for lunch, one of the highlights of my week, catching up with our (usually) international interns and their Kiwi experience.

What are some of your HR highs?

My favourite moments are when someone or a team achieve something they didn’t think was possible or didn’t have the confidence to try – and the sense of pride and elation – and then the confidence it creates. I encourage high standards and ambitious goals and enjoy seeing people stretch and grow.

And now I'm not only working in the non-profit world, but working for an environmental activist organisation!

What are some of the challenges and how do you deal with these?

I am surrounded by highly engaged, passionate people, staff, volunteers and supporters who live and breathe their beliefs at work and outside. Sometimes the passion makes it hard to let go or switch off. Building organisational and individual resilience is one of our on-going challenges. We are finding different approaches for people, there are those who de-stress through meditation and breathing, others develop tool kits using external coaches, or spend time with friends and family to re-energise. There is also a sense that celebrating a win, or overcoming a lost fight, is often just a step towards a bigger goal. No time for feeling exhausted – let’s get back to our campaigns.

Have you always worked in HR?

In a sense, I’ve always had teams to manage, when I started often people older and more experienced than me, then technical experts on projects. After more than 10 years in general management and international software and change projects I decided to formalise my experience and led an HR strategy and organisational development team in a large corporate – and that was 13 years ago. I found the combination of business, IT and project experience with HR works and has allowed me to tackle some really exciting challenges.

What is the most important lesson you have learned over the course of your career?

Not sure how brave to be here. But maybe that it is OK to sometimes rely on what my heart and ‘gut’ tells me.

What’s your favourite thing you love about your job?

The passion of the people I work with – living and working towards leaving the world a better place. And when we celebrate a campaign win.

How do you see the role of HR changing in the future?

I believe one of the influences on our role will be the changes to our culture, and the ways of working, that's brought about through the use of more digital communication tools and technology in our interactions. We need to find the opportunities in that, and also deal with the challenges for our teams of being online 24/7, and despite communicating digitally, that we manage to build teams and relationships.

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