Name: Karina Franke
Title: Senior Business Manager
Organisation: Department of Communities and Justice
I wear many hats, in addition to being the proud mother of two beautiful children (10 and 8) I am currently a Senior Business Manager within the Department of Communities and Justice NSW. I am also Founder and Chair of South Coast Blaze (https://southcoastblaze.com.au/), a Premier League Netball Franchise on the South Coast and Chair of Family Services Australia (https://familyservices.org.au/), a children, family and disability services for purpose organisation in NSW and Qld. In my spare time, I also consult to Customer Science (https://karinafranke.com.au/https://customerscience.com.au/) providing business solutions and board support services.
A lawyer by trade, I worked in legal and quasi-legal roles for 10 years before undertaking a Masters in Business Administration and diversifying into commercial, business and operational roles.
A career highlight to date has been listed on Business Elite's Top 40 under 40 in 2023 for the impact that my career to date has had on others. I invest in my staff and love paving the way for parents to progress their career whilst still being very present and involved in their children and fur babies lives. COVID has unleashed a way of remote connected working on the world which I have always embraced and I cannot wait to see the quality of people that I get to work alongside and learn from for the remainder of my career as a result.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Karina's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
I have typically worked in very male dominated industries and leading as a relatively young female has always come with its challenges. I find that patience and investing in relationships is the key to building a successful team. It is not something that happens overnight but with persistence, resilience and consistency and by surrounding yourself with good people, a positive culture can be built and sustained which makes for a productive team, improved results and an enjoyable place to work.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I had been a manager for many years but don't believe that I became a true leader in all honesty until I started in my current role at Department of Communities and Justice. I felt that I walked into a time warp and a culture that was 10 years less progressive than my previous role. I felt a high level of staff dissatification, very low output and motivated staff that were frustrated and looking for inspiration.
Slowly but surely, I built trust and rolled out strategic projects which aimed to address these issues. I feel that a great leader invests in the capabilities of others and so along with building trust, I have built an amazing team who can more than capably build on the good work in my absence and after I move on.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I work flexibly. I don't believe in 9am-5pm. I do the work when I need to and when I feel most productive.
Most days, I am an early riser. I rise at 5am and head straight to work whilst my husband undertakes the morning routine. I undertake my most productive work first thing in the morning before my staff arrive at the office. I leave the office and am home for school pick up and activities with my children - remaining on call and answering emails as needed.
I also ensure that I sneak some exercise in (I love to run or walk my dogs, I'm also an avid sports fans still playing netball and cricket through the week).
Some days I log back on to the computer in the evening as needed if I have larger projects such as reports, presentations or recruitment to prepare for but mostly, I try to make the evenings for me and the family.
I trust in my team and know that they are capable to manage issues in my absence and so I've also started embracing more days working off site and at other offices - investing in networks and partnerships and enabling uninterrupted time to work on strategy to continue to build the team, progress the organisation and improve my work/life balance.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Slow and steady wins the race. Even though you may notice many things that need to change when you come into a new role it takes time to build trust and for staff to understand that you are making changes for the right reasons. Always always lead by example, support the people under you and never compromise your morals or interity. If your organisation is asking you to do that, it isn't the right place for you.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I don't recall any books that have had a profound impact on me however I was a new volunteer member of the Rural Fire Service in 2019 and assisted with Australia's Black Summer on the South Coast that year. Early in my leadership journey I attended a conference and heard from Shane Fitzsimmons (who was the Fire Commissioner at the time and has subsequently taken the role of Commissioner for Resilience NSW).
Shane was an amazing man whose integrity, humility and faith in and appreciation of those he leads shone in his presentation. He personally offered to mentor or answer questions of any attendee and I have subsequently reached out to him for advice from time to time as needed. I also heard from then Australian of the Year Grace Tame at the same conference, a young female leader whose admirable strength and courage to go against the grain to make change has resonated with me and inspired me to keep moving forward when faced with challenges with the status quo over the years.
More recently, I had been feeling a little flat in my role and have joined a local networking group called Leaders for IMPACT which has brought together a group of like minded leaders, CEO's and business owners and has re-invigorated my passion for making change, helping and inspiring others. As a leader passionate about lifting others and making change, it can be exhausting and you need to ensure that you are continuing to surround yourself with people who lift you up and inspire you also.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Be authentic - Always.
Trust that those who have given you the opportunity to lead have made that decision for a reason and don't doubt yourself.
Finally, never stop learning. Be open to the opinions of others and always, always be willing to continue to expand your knowledge and horizons.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I once had an employee who had been in and out of the office on a variety of leave (sick leave, workers compensation and the like) for many many years. Many staff (including me) had written her off as someone who could no longer positively contribute to the workplace and would continue to drain resources until retirement (planned for a further 8 years away).
In discussions with this employee, I learned that she had an interest in another industry however after 40 years in the same role, didn't think that she could obtain employment anywhere else. I made a decision to personally invest in this staff member (even though she wasn't my direct report) and in return for an agreement for her to resign effective in six months, I assisted her by giving her a project to retrain and on job application and interviewing skills.
In four months, this staff member had developed new skillsets, increased confidence and obtained a role in the industry she wanted. Some out of the box thinking and a small investment from me (perhaps 1 hour per week), meant the world to not only that employee in providing a new career path, but also had a positive effect on our team, the efficiency of our operations and provided relief from the ongoing financial impact of an unhappy employee.