“Good things happen when people connect. That’s the movement I’m starting through the Spaghetti Project and by sharing the science and stories of connecting at work through my book. I want people to understand the importance of investing in relationships so they’ll do more of it. Because when we look at our overall health and happiness at the end of our lives, relationships are the most important thing we have.”
I had the pleasure to interview Erica Keswin. Erica has worked for over twenty years in organization and leadership development, and in the human capital space. Erica was a consultant at the Hay Group and Booz Allen & Hamilton and worked as an Executive Director at Russell Reynolds Associates. She also served as an Executive Coach at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Her forthcoming book, Bring Your Human to Work: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Design a Workplace That is Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World, will be published by McGraw Hill in the Fall of 2018. Erica received her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a pioneer in teamwork and collaboration, and her BA from the University of Vermont. In 2011, Erica teamed up with Sherry Turkle, MIT Professor and author of Reclaiming Conversation, sharing her research on the impact of technology on relationships in the workplace. These days, she’s obsessed with all things workplace: talent retention, culture, meeting protocols, managing the digital deluge, robotics — anything and everything that will help people connect, and see for themselves why honoring relationships is so good for business. She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband, Jeff, their three children, and their dog, Cruiser.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I’ve always been a connector. If you ask people who have known me my whole life to pick one word to describe me — it would be “connector.” I’ve set up three marriages and have even worked professionally as an executive recruiter connecting great people with jobs.
As a workplace strategist, I began seeing changes in employee behavior and company culture, some pretty bad behavior as technology was becoming more prevalent. One day, I spoke to a CEO about a conference call that took place in his company and how he discovered (after the fact) that all nine people had called into the conference call from the same building. It was after hearing that story that I decided to research and try to understand what was driving that behavior, and to ask the question of whether or not it matters. I wanted to find out if our relationships really matter in our business, especially to the bottom line. I discovered that yes, without a doubt. Our relationships matter.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
As a consultant, I like to say I am a professional dot-connector. I was trained to look for themes and patterns. But sometimes you find them in the places where you least expect it.
I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and every day I visit my local Starbucks on 81st and Broadway. A few years ago, I got to know my local barista and she got to know me, my go-to drink order (Grande Extra Hot Soy Latte), my kids’ names, and she noticed that my daughter Caroline developed a taste (read: obsession) for Starbucks’ pumpkin scones, which, sadly, only last until Halloween.
So one day after Caroline had eaten her last scone of the season, I stopped at Starbucks to grab my latte, then started walking everyone to school. I heard someone yelling my name, and when I turned around I saw her running down Broadway. I wondered if I left my wallet at the store — this was before I used the app to pay for my coffee. When she caught up with us, she told us that since Starbucks was out of pumpkin scones, maybe Caroline would like a piece Gingerbread? She handed us a bag of goodies, then went back to work.
As a professional and as a human being that moment had a huge impact on me. If Starbucks, or any company, could bottle what she did in that moment, they could crack the code on any business. That story was the inspiration for my book, Bring Your Human to Work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my first jobs during a college was as a waitress. I loved it. And thinking back, what a great job for someone who likes to connect and bring her human to work, and my tips were a direct reflection on my ability to connect.
During my first month, I got so busy chatting with a customer that the bread basket I was holding went up in flames! My lesson? By all means, connecting! But keep your wits about you at the same time.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Over the last year, my focus has been on finishing my book, which is important both for leaders who want to design a workplace that enables them to attract and retain top talent, but also for young people who can use it as a checklist of things to look for as they search out a company that’s right for them. The part that excites me the most is Chapter One: Be Real: Speak in an Authentic Voice. It is not rocket science, but without knowing who you are and what you stand for, you may miss the mark on your professional and personal goals.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Left to our devices, we aren’t connecting. Excuse the pun, but this true — for all of us, including me! These days, I need to be intentional even about what I am reading. I want it to draw me in so I’m not thinking about anything else. So, I love a good fiction read that I can’t turn away from as well as non-fiction so I am learning and growing. Lately, I will admit it’s been mostly non-fiction. The last book I read was The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. It made think about why I gather and what I can do to improve those gatherings.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
My work is a combination of stories and science. People want data, but, stories bring science to life. The stories are about real people in real situations and show people who are bringing their human to work. We all get to be inspired.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Put on your seatbelt and get ready for the ride of a lifetime!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Good things happen when people connect. That’s the movement I’m starting through the Spaghetti Project and by sharing the science and stories of connecting at work through my book. I want people to understand the importance of investing in relationships so they’ll do more of it. Because when we look at our overall health and happiness at the end of our lives, relationships are the most important thing we have.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told before I became an author” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Who: If your editor doesn’t want to see your manuscript until it’s done (which is very common), hire or find an editor (or a writing group) who can provide insight and motivation early on. Writing can be a lonely process.
2. What: A thorough, on-point book proposal is key not only to selling a book, but to a smooth publishing process. Put the time in upfront to flesh out your idea and your outline. The clearer the “what,” the easier the process will be.
3. Where: Find a place to write (that is not your house). Even the local library. It is so easy to get distracted by dirty laundry and house projects and all kinds of unexpected interruptions.
4. When: Now. There is a never a good time to write a book — especially if writing your book is a side hustle, or if you’re raising a family, taking care of a business and generally keeping the trains running. Block the time and stick to it. Trust me — the book won’t write itself.
5. Why: This is a painful process. Make sure you know your end game. Why you are writing a book? Why are you writing this book? When you start to question your decision, or you’re just having one of “those days” you will need a “Why” to return to.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Oprah Winfrey. Because she’s the best and brightest connector in the world.