Carlene currently leads the People Solutions Team at Coca-Cola Amatil, where they believe that a thriving workforce drives business performance. She is a mother of two awesome kids — Jaden and Aaliyah (+ her kombucha scoby). She loves sloths, bubble tea and taking boomerang videos. And she wishes she could communicate only in memes, gifs and emojis.

When the average worker spends nearly a quarter of their time on the job, it’s hard not to be fearful of the “work” topic. However, as Carlene gracefully puts it, work is just one part of who you are, and it is a big part of people and culture to build an environment where people are encouraged to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work.

With a vivacious smile and excited manner, Carlene touches on a simple notion of re-skilling and re-entering into similar roles. In the short time we spoke, the idea became clear that we actually have an impact with every hiring decision, and these hiring decisions can be enhanced through experimental technology. There are limitless complexities in this new digital era — organisations dabbling in technology must learn to crawl before they learn to fly, be willing to talk about the things they fear and be open to experimental solutions before they can truly transform.

Carlene Kemp, Portrait, Coca-Coal Amatil


CT: To start off, can you tell me about your journey and how you ended up in people and culture?

CK: I got into the grad program at PwC in management consulting. That was my springboard into the world of change and transformation. Because I was there for such a long time, I had the opportunity to work with organisation’s facing a breadth of business challenges. That started my interest in how you influence and lead people through transition and change. What has kept my interest and passion going is that there is no black and white when it comes to people. Everyone has a different story, different inspirations, different motivations and a different value set — all impacting how they show up and perform at work.

CT: Business and people transformation has been a very big part of your career, what drives your passion towards your line of work?

CK: I’m fascinated with people and how they can thrive, both within and outside the work context. I love helping people understand their unique abilities and gifts and working with them to determine what environment they will flourish in. Some of my best memories from consulting days was seeing individuals stepping into their leadership potential — all because they got an opportunity to grow. I also weirdly like the chaos of disruption, making sense in the unstructured and unpredictable, and equipping leaders to lead through ambiguity.

CT: With such large and diverse teams out there these days, it can become increasingly hard to optimise people, both in terms of happiness and performance. Can you share with us your own golden rules of leadership and engagement?

CK: I personally perform at my best when I am in the right role and organisation. This is particularly interesting in a time when jobs are shifting so rapidly, and it does require the resilience, adaptability and initiative to drive where you want to be. As leaders, fostering environments where individuals can experiment, and where learning agility is championed, is important.

I also believe that you must understand what your core purpose is, and this isn’t (and shouldn’t) be solely defined by your organisation’s purpose (although in my personal experience, when they align, I perform better and am happier). This is your whole self-purpose and how what you do at work and beyond, aligns. For me, understanding my core purpose has meant I better understand what motivates my performance, provides me with greater clarity in personal decision making and ensures my happiness isn’t just tied into work. This lesson hit home during the GFC when the business was not performing, I wasn’t hitting my targets and a bunch of my mates were made redundant. The early lessons were tough, but I am thankful for them in shaping how I live and lead today.

CT: What technology do you think will create the biggest opportunity for businesses?

CK: I think one of the biggest opportunities is shifting our mindset in how we approach technology from the days of big system solutions to embracing experimentation that is coming from startup land. This also requires adapting our internal systems and back-end processes to be able to adapt and respond quickly, without throwing out all the elements of risk management procedures.

There is one new player I am fascinated by. Faethm is an AI Analytics platform helping organisations and governments understand what roles are most at risk (in this fourth revolution) and shows leaders how to prepare these roles for the future. They use the example of accountants. As automation increases, it considers how organisations can take a proactive strategic workforce approach to re-skill these individuals into the next closest job (for example, cybersecurity), which is typically experiencing skill shortages. This is where People and Culture and HR functions can play a critical role in business, rather than undertaking cycles of redundancies as skills are no longer required, and strategically plan for tomorrow retraining individuals with future-fit skills.

From a HR perspective, every organisation needs to have a clear people and culture tech strategy and roadmap that defines how the business will enable and unlock people performance. I was reminded of this fact from a recent presentation by Satya Nadella (CEO, Microsoft) where he stated “today we live in a world where every company is a software company, and technology is deeply woven throughout company workflows and individual productivity”.

CT: What do you think is the future of People and Culture?

CK: It’s no surprise that we should be making people and culture decisions with evidence and an understanding of how technology can be leveraged to produce performance outcomes for a business. However, in practice and my experiences across consulting, we have a lot more room to grow in understanding and implementing actions and tech that unlock people performance.

In the case of large corporates, traditional HR models have and are continuing to the shift. The move to digital workplaces requires organisations to enable a seamless and cost-effective people experience. Enablement functions (e.g. HR, Facilities / Property, IT) are converging and collaboration is more important than ever before to drive delightful people experiences that ultimately impact the end customer experience. Greater connectedness and partnerships externally, coupled with an increasingly contingent workforce is changing the nature of work. We have an opportunity to strategically plan how work gets done and tap into diverse sets of skills (including AI solutions!) to solve problems and deliver people and culture outcomes. For example, I love interacting with data scientists who have a passion for people and are moving into the P&C space.

CT: Who inspires you in your line of work?

CK: I had a previous MD who talked a lot about passion as one of the key ingredients you need to be successful, and that’s stuck with me ever since.

I like to get inspiration from a range of places — not just the People and Culture sphere. For example, keeping close to what is happening in startup land and how we could apply tech solutions to some of the people problems we are trying to solve back in corporate land; applying thinking from the design and human factors space into how you develop delightful people experiences (an oldie but a goodie — work by Don Norman in ‘the design of everyday things’); and learning from other businesses at the top of their game. I particularly love how Atlassian shared their Team Playbook publicly — it’s such a useful resource.

From an individual perspective, I enjoy reading the work of a few authors and consultants that focus on change and innovation in large enterprises. For example, Barry O’Reilly who wrote a book called ‘Lean Enterprise’ that focuses on utilising agile and lean practices to innovate at scale; Dr. Amantha Imber who started Inventium and uses her psychology background and an evidence-based approach to innovation and transformation; Linda Hill who wrote a book on ‘Collective Genius’ and the importance of diverse teams to creatively debate, test and make integrative decisions; and I am super cliché but I do love Brene Brown…and I liked her before she was cool! The reason I love her is because I’m a parent of two, and I feel like her research into shame and vulnerability has helped me understand and become not just a better leader but also a better parent, sibling and friend.