Tech Innovator: Katja Gerber, HP Global Head of Digital Direct
May 10, 2021
Reading time: 10 minutes
For those working and learning remotely for the past year – and that includes many of us – the ability to find and order what you need, when you need it, has become business as usual. And for micro and small-sized companies, in particular, technology is not just important, it has become critical to their very survival as businesses.
We increasingly rely on digital direct to make the decisions about what we need easier. “Digital direct” gets the message about products and services to consumers using the internet; through email, web, and mobile platforms. The pandemic has accelerated this trend toward digital. In 2020 alone, online interactions with companies grew by 33.6%, pushing overall retail sales up nearly 3.5%, to $5.6 trillion, compared to 2019.
HP Digital Direct smooths the customer journey
It is these consumers and businesses that Katja Gerber and her team are there to support. As Global Head of Digital Direct at HP, Katja leads the team responsible for creating the HP customer journey for B2C (business to consumer) and B2B (business to business) for individuals, small businesses, and medium-sized businesses.
In today’s marketplace, that means getting the right information into the hands of those who need it so they can make decisions about what technology will serve them as they take the next step in running their company or living their life.
Touchpoints increase customer trust
In a truly end-to-end value chain, Katja’s responsibilities encompass the entire user journey across HP’s digital properties; from initial customer acquisition via organic channels and digital marketing, to user experiences with every HP interaction across touchpoints, to operations and ongoing customer support.
These “touchpoints,” or points of contact between the customer and company, are much more than simply transactional. By understanding the customer’s situation and actively pursuing solutions to their needs, Katja and her team provide an exchange that offers genuine benefit and ongoing support with every interaction.
Katja’s favorite aspects about her role at HP
Katja joined HP in 2014. Her experience includes driving innovation, product management, sales, and strategy. She holds an MBA with a focus on Innovation & Entrepreneurship from MIT Sloan. Katja brings that experience and education to bear on HP's ecommerce innovation. Katja talks about three things that make her role at HP fulfilling.
1. A passion for tech people
There is no doubt that technology has been a huge draw for Katja. She has worked for groundbreaking tech companies like Apple and Google, as well as for gritty startups. But what motivates Katja is her appreciation for the opportunity to work with others who feel the same way.
“I think what's always attracted me to an opportunity is the people I work with and the inspiration that we all get from each other,” she says. “And I tend to believe that we spend so much time at work that you might as well enjoy what you're doing and who you're working with. I love working with the group of people we have here.”
2. Run to the fire
Katja feels privileged to have the scale and scope to make a difference. Empowering the people with whom she works is also incredibly important to Katja. She lays out the broad scope of capabilities and responsibilities that HP enables for its employees, but then leaves plenty of room for her team members to take ownership in their roles and beyond.
“We have this notion of ‘run to the fire’ that is basically when you see something, don't just say something, but actually do something about it. That’s how many of us end up with a much larger scope than we would, perhaps, at other places that encourage people to stick to their lanes. I've seen great examples inside my team where somebody was working in logistics, for instance, but suddenly took ownership of a customer experience topic. That's often how they carve out their new roles.”
3. Embracing a challenge
Another of Katja’s favorite things about her role is being able to embrace its challenges and the variety that it affords. “I just love a good challenge,” she admits.
“It's been my aspiration to make sure that we deliver on all of the key metrics. We also revamped our real-time analytics to allow making better game-time decisions. It's that whole acceleration of pace around digital and having a ton of data at your fingertips, which has been great for an analytically-inclined person like myself to immerse ourselves in this environment. And the challenges are diverse in nature – no day is the same.”
Katja’s leadership style
When it comes to assessing her leadership style, Katja revisits her own motivation regularly. And as those on her team enter leadership roles, she asks them to examine their reasons as well. Why is that? She is convinced it makes them better leaders to understand the motivation behind leading others. “What’s driving you to be a leader? What is your motivation ultimately?’” she asks. “I tend to notice that it's usually one of three main motivators.”
Three key motivators
1. The first motivator that Katja calls out is that some people are looking to direct work and organize how it gets done and performed. “That can actually be a wonderful skill to have as a manager, and that’s what brings them into managerial positions,” she says.
2. The second motivator Katja refers to is extrinsic, rather than intrinsic. “It’s the notion of career growth occurring in an upward vs. lateral direction, and it could encompass incentives such as a raise or title.”
3. A third motivator that Katja sees for those who want to become managers is that they are committed to helping develop other people to become the best they can be. That’s the one that most describes Katja.
Help develop other people
When summing up her own leadership motivation, she finds her focus centering on developing others on her team.
“Personally I tend to think of myself as falling mostly into that third bucket,” she says. “I really enjoy seeing people grow and learn. I want them to develop and push towards things that they thought they couldn't do before. I view myself as someone who's your biggest supporter, while that may also mean sometimes challenging you to stretch yourself.”
Instilling the growth mindset
Motivating team members to challenge themselves involves fostering what Katja refers to as the “growth mindset.” The growth mindset is the idea that growth is continuous and doesn’t just stop at school; it continues on in life and work. The antithesis to a fixed mindset, a growth mindset embraces the idea that you can change your path and empower yourself to further your skills, knowledge, and capabilities by exploration, flexibility, collaboration, resiliency, and informed risk-taking.
“There's a fabulous book written on the subject [“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol Dweck] that we really embrace here,” says Katja.
She’s also embraced it as a parent. “I have a two-year-old daughter at home, and I really think about instilling that growth mindset into a child as one of the main objectives of being a parent, because ultimately I know I can't prepare her, or an employee, for every possible situation, but having the analytical and mental tools to deal with challenges lies at the heart of that.“
“What I'm asking of the team every day is: ‘Can we be a little bit better than we were yesterday, and tomorrow can we be a little bit better than we are today?’ That’s in a nutshell how we can constantly evolve.”
Applying A/B testing to humility
Katja is a fan of applying digital tools, such as A/B testing, internally as well as externally. “If we do make mistakes, then those are in fact okay, as long as we learn from them,” she says. “I've tried very hard to institute public recognition for bold mistakes and using some of the digital tools, tactics, and techniques that we have at our disposal, as that’s what ultimately will empower and enable innovation.”
“A/B testing is a real tool to help with our humility. I always ask the team to pressure test and check all of my own hypotheses. After all, I'm just ‘N equals 1.’ There’s no notion of me being more right or wrong than anybody else. But I always celebrate it whenever I'm wrong and proven wrong by one of these tests. I think that's all part of that growth mindset that we are not afraid to fail and that we challenge each other and ourselves to become better every day. And that's ultimately how we will keep raising the bar.”
Look for potential over experience
Less is sometimes more, especially when it comes to hiring new employees. “A personal pet peeve of mine is that we tend to over-index on experience and under-index on potential.” Katja likens this search to the S-curve in technology. “I look for potential over experience. And for me, potential means that you can think on your feet to constantly learn and embrace that growth mindset.”
Vision for her role in HP
The intersection of people and technology is an essential component of Katja’s vision for HP. “I love technology because it's an amplifier in terms of enabling people to work, learn, and keep themselves entertained,” she says. “It has such a profound role in society in touching lives and reinventing the way that people do things.”
A holistic agenda with a meaningful impact in society
She continues, “In tech, and at HP specifically, we’re the number one printer and PC maker, depending on the quarter. That’s a given, but there's definitely also an agenda that’s more holistic and entails things like sustainability. I love when we go above and beyond to use recycled plastic bottles from the oceans to manufacture a new print cartridge, or when we use some of those plants that are specialized in ink to actually produce disinfectant during COVID-19.”
Managing a work-life balance
This past year has brought to the forefront fresh perspectives on a number of work-related topics. Maintaining a work-life balance is one of them.
“This year has taught us some things,” says Katja, “and we are changing also as a company with a view to topics like mobility, in terms of enabling different types of schedules at home. For me, it's usually what is the intersection of what works for the employee and what works for us as a team and how we work together.”
Setting aside time to think
Adaptability and flexibility are particularly important now. “It's really about trying to have a couple of these fixed points or constellations on your schedule,” she says. “Sometimes, and I recommend this to everyone, it’s setting aside time to just think.”
What’s the best part of being a woman in tech?
The fact that this question still exists bothers Katja somewhat. “I wish that we would live in a world where we no longer need to make that distinction,” she says. “I'm tired of hearing ‘first female XYZ.’ Ultimately, if she's a CEO and great at her job, I’d like us to think of her as just that, as opposed to a female CEO great at her job.”
The impact of diversity and inclusion
At the same time, she recognizes how imperative it is to make such a distinction.
“I do think that it's very important that we do justice to all of the various groups in that we really have a complete representation,” she says. “Because when I look at our user base and who is serving them, we want to be a representative of what's going on in the world. At HP, I think we are some of the leading voices in [diversity and inclusion] (D&I) in terms of actually asking our vendors and we would hold funds back if they didn't comply with our D&I measures. Some of that is truly trailblazing.”
The confidence gap between genders
An oft-cited study that was conducted at HP years ago discovered that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed that they met 100% of the qualifications listed for the job. Men, on the other hand, were happy to apply when they thought they could meet just 60% of the job requirements.
Katja refers to this confidence gap study when discussing how she would advise women in tech going into leadership roles. ”If I were to have more of a one-on-one conversation with someone and how I would encourage them [it would be to] not beat ourselves up about the 5% gap and rather celebrate the 95%, which is an above-average fit.”
Setting a leadership example
Katja attempts to be a role model whenever possible. “Sometimes I hear from other women that it is important to have these types of examples,” she says. “So I try and set an example at the end of the day. Hopefully, though, it’s an example for being a good leader and not specifically being a good woman leader.”
About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.
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