Karen Hamilton - Head of People


JANA provides an unprecedented breadth of talent, global research, analysis and deep insights to deliver superior long-term investment results to clients and their beneficiaries.

This asset consulting company is driven by one purpose. People.

Which is why Head of People, Karen Hamilton, has found her work-family with the JANA team.

During her 22 years in Human Resources within the Financial Services industry, Karen has seen the evolution of communication and the surprising impact more work-life flexibility has had on her team.

It is our great pleasure to work with Karen and her team at JANA, and to share this interview with you.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, outside of work!
We are a family of seven – three kids, two dogs and a husband.  Between ferrying kids to sport most days of the week, visiting family and a little bit of COVID-friendly socialising, there isn’tmuch spare time. I do enjoy a little bit of recreational fiction writing, trying to keep fit (the emphasis on trying) and the odd glass or three of a good wine.

What’s something unique about you that not many people know?
I’ve almost completed my first fiction novel. Whether it gets to see the light of day is another story! Regardless, it’s been a great experience, I’ve learned a lot about the writing process, and feel a sense of achievement (and relief!).

Tell us about your professional experience and how you came to work at JANA.
I was fortunate to have started my career as a trainee at MLC. In that time, I got to know the HR department well and when I finished my degree I was offered a full time role as a HR administrator. I worked within NAB / MLC for 14 and a half years in a variety of roles including a training project role that helped our aligned financial adviser’s increase their educational requirements, a resource manager on a $200m project, and then into a business partner role working for a number of client groups, one of which was JANA.

I worked with JANA for approximately 2 years as their business partner, then moved to other client groups before leaving NAB in 2013 when I welcomed my third child. I was extremely grateful for the experience at NAB, having a number of wonderful people leaders who backed me, and gave me challenges that extended me (quite often well out of my comfort zone!).

After a parental leave break, I worked for a fund administration business for 3.5 years. During that time they publicly listed on the ASX and went through an ambitious global expansion. It was an interesting role, full of challenges where I learned about employment law in different countries whilst experiencing enormous personal growth.

With my previous relationship with JANA, I was fortunate enough to be considered for the Head of People role. I was keen to return to JANA when they undertook a management buy-out from NAB, having always had a high regard for their professionalism, client focus and genuine commitment to their people.

How long have you been at JANA and what do you love about working there?
I have been at JANA for 3 years next month (October). I love the variety that this role provides, and that the people agenda is passionately supported by our CEO and leadership team. I feel privileged to work with such a great group of individuals who support me, challenge me and listen to my views and ideas. 

During your time in HR and your industry, what’s changed over the years?
We used to send Memorandum’s via internal mail! Now I’m showing my age…. Email changed the pace of work and availability of people. There has been an ever increasing blurring between work and life and whilst it can be a good thing to work flexibly, we still need to find time to switch off, reconnect with family and friends and re-energise. 

The light is finally being shone on employee wellbeing, particularly mental health. Whilst we still have a way to go, we are more aware than ever of our ability to make a positive impact simply by starting a conversation with someone who might not be okay.

I also think the span of HR activities has increased, together with the emergence of HR as a true partner of the business, rather than just being a transactional service. We have evolved from the foundational activities of recruitment, performance, remuneration, and employee relations to focus more on talent, employee value proposition, targeted development, career pathways, wellbeing, engagement together with organisational design and change. Metrics to inform decision making is also more sophisticated.

There has always been the challenge of balancing the needs of the employee with the needs of the business yet businesses starting to be held to a higher account – we are seeing more media coverage of harassment and bullying in the workplace, and the community and shareholders are actively speaking out where corporates are not doing the right thing.

What has been your biggest challenge and what did you learn from overcoming this challenge?
I’ve had a number of roles where I have been challenged (ie. didn’t know what I was doing!).  Whilst at times these experiences could be stressful and overwhelming, they have also offered me my greatest development. Whether by learning from people who are more experienced, researching for yourself, or trialing, failing then re-trialing, they all offer an avenue to grow.

Probably the most challenging was my first Business Partner role having recently returned from having my first child. I was working three days a week with three client groups and found I was drowning from the shear workload and inexperience. I was lucky to have a great people leader at the time who gave me various mechanisms of support, together with a strong network of HR colleagues who were always willing to share their knowledge and advice.

By surviving these situations, you know that the challenge is temporary, your resilience is greater than you realise, and if you persevere you will find a way through it. I’ve been able to continue to apply that learning in both my work and personal life.

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on all businesses. How has JANA adapted during this time?
We were fortunate that our technology was planned with a “work from anywhere” approach. Pre COVID, we always had consultants travelling nationally or globally visiting clients or conducting research, so it made the transition to working from home so much easier. We are using Teams and other platforms to stay in touch with our teams and our clients, and continue to run the business effectively. We have run different sessions to help people and their leaders adjust to a working from home environment, together with wellbeing initiatives like meditation, an interactive nutrition workshop which was great fun, and we are about to embark on a step challenge in October.

What’s something exciting that’s on the horizon for JANA?
We have been investing in technology and efficiency initiatives with various streams of work that will make it easier for our clients to get access to our insights, research and data. It will also improve our internal efficiencies which we are very excited about!

We are also currently rolling-out an online platform to manage our performance review and development processes which will streamline the process and ensure all relevant information is captured in one tool.

What’s something you are personally really looking forward to?
Holidays! I always have a holiday planned, and even though it has been thwarted a couple of times this year with COVID, we love to get away with the kids and explore new places. We went to Dubbo Zoo this year and saw some of the beauty of country NSW which we may not have done without the travel restrictions in place. 

There’s always a silver lining 😊

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