Balancing the Grind with Clare Thompson, Head of People & Culture at Samsara Eco

Clare Thompson is the Head of People & Culture at Samsara Eco, which in collaboration with a leading Australian research institution has developed an enzymatic technology that recycles plastics.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I worked in London in big corporates prior to moving to New Zealand and then Australia where I’ve been working in the start-up/scale-up space in tech for over a decade now, always in People & Culture.

My roles have been very Greenfields, focused on the foundational elements as well as strategic to enable rapid growth. I am ultimately a jack of all trades in the early stages – you’ll find me implementing HRIS systems, policies/procedures, HR Playbooks, performance review processes, employee engagement strategy and combining this with Talent Acquisition.

It’s not easy, is fast moving, unpredictable, and often pressured but I like the daily dance that I have to do. Making every single touchpoint with a candidate and ultimately your new employees as meaningful as possible and coaching and mentoring newly formed teams to see the massive value in this is very rewarding. 

Currently stepping into my new role as Head of People & Culture with Samsara Eco an Envirotech Company with a big plan – to make infinite recycling of plastic a reality using enzymes that digest plastic.

Having raised $54M in our recent Series A – we have a big mission not only in saving the planet but also growing quickly and delivering to our investors. A fascinating opportunity with a great team and I am very humbled to be able to make a contribution.

In the two months I’ve been on the ground we have streamlined our HR space and grown the team by 20% – flying by the seat of my pants but it’s fantastic! 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

A recent work day for me started with school drop off and a walking meeting, followed by negotiating an offer and hiring our new CFO, launching our new HRIS and planning headcount for the next twelve months – moving from operational to strategic almost minute by minute all day everyday is something that you need to be capable of in this type of role. 

I also intentionally spend a portion of my day when possible connecting with and building relationships with our leaders and team – things change on a daily basis and you need to have strong relationships to navigate these times plus keeping a finger on the pulse is incredibly important particularly in the early days. 

3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance is an interesting concept in the world we are in as it has, I feel, become very blurry for a lot of people working from home.

I’ve been fortunate to be an early adopter of our current hybrid way of working having done this for over a decade, so I focus on output rather than time spent at my desk and believe this applies to everyone in the team. 

Work is a big part of my life and I get a lot of vitality from the connections that I have at work but balance is key. My balance comes from having a routine which means I exercise in the mornings and will have walking meetings rather than being desk bound.

I also take micro breaks during the day and have actually reverted to using my phone rather than video calls if I can so that I can get up and move around. In my role I like to be accessible – but learning to put in boundaries has been key – I have to remind myself to step back and switch off.

I’ve also been trying to let go of perfectionism – the good old 80/20 rule – sometimes good enough is good enough when you are moving quickly!

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4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I had the opportunity to do some consulting and part time work for a couple of months before I began my new role and realised that continuing my exercise in the mornings was key to my mental and physical health and something that I have to hold sacred in my day.

I also realised that removing myself from my tech earlier in the evenings was something that I had stopped doing and needed to start again – both things feel very simple but you have to work at it or it is easy to let it slip. 

No-one should be online 24/7 and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to routine. Being present is also key to my happiness – whether I am talking to a colleague or being interrupted by my children – active listening helps me feel connected and capable of giving my best in the moment. 

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Favourite books – Talent Wins by Ram Charan, Dominic Barton and Dennis Carey which is focused on why business needs to be more fluid and have strategy focused on sensing and seizing opportunity particularly when it comes to talent.

Typical HR talent-process planning is designed for predictable environments and traditional ways of working which doesn’t apply in any business environment now! Also Connectable which tackles the issue of worker loneliness head on.

Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen highlight what’s causing today’s loneliness, the role inclusion plays in solving it, and how we can decrease loneliness and increase belonging, engagement, and performance with employees at every level.

Podcasts – I listen to HR Superstars with 15five – this series of podcasts has given insight into many of the issues we have faced recently with leaders who have all been navigating all of this to the best of their ability – some of the things that have worked and some that have not. Also HR Works is a great resource as well tackling a lot of relevant topics in the People & Culture space.

I also spend time every morning reading – tapping into LinkedIn for updates and generally keeping my finger on the pulse – I love sharing content that is hopefully thought provoking in my space. 

6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I actually have a lot of respect for Katie Burke, CPO at HubSpot – she is humble and did not rise through the ranks in a traditional way – the team has grown exponentially during her time and she seems to manage to keep her feet firmly on the ground and seems to be able to put in place boundaries.

7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Let go of perfectionism – this will make work actually more fulfilling and less stressful. Unplug – simple but effective. Exercise – good for body and mind. Draw boundaries and stick to them – we all know when we need to do this. Ultimately if you find yourself in a rut – start small and build from there – small changes can make a massive difference.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.