Be More Podcast: Love 'Em or Lose 'Em With Bev Kaye

Beverly Kaye, author, speaker, and one of the most influential HR thought leaders of the past 40 years, shares her career journey and thoughts on employee development, engagement, and retention.

Be More is a podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. 

Audio also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts.

Today we have an inspirational episode with Beverly Kaye: author, speaker, and one of the most influential HR thought leaders of the past 40 years. Kaye shares her career journey, some incredibly unexpected moments, and her latest thoughts on employee development, engagement, and retention.

Kaye is dedicated to helping individuals, managers, and organizations understand the practical principles of employee development, engagement, and retention. In 2018, ATD honored Kaye with its Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her advanced knowledge and extensive practice across the talent development field.

If you wish to find top practices, tools, and pieces of advice about employee development, engagement, and retention, check the episode audio above or the key takeaways and transcript below.

Key Takeaways:

An Impressive Journey and Career

After college, Kaye became a teacher at the elementary school in her hometown. However, she wanted to do something different. She went to Washington for a master's in college administration. Eventually, Kaye talked her way into the MIT Sloan School of Management as an auditor of all its courses in organization development. 

After moving to California, she took a job at Pomona College but soon started a doctorate in organizational development at the University of California. Kaye founded Career International Systems and in 2017, also founded BevKaye&Co.

Focusing on Employee Engagement

With the Great Resignation, businesses started focusing on engaging their employees and career mobility. But it's not something new for Kaye. She wrote several books on employee engagement, retention, development, and growth. 

Her main ideas focus on why leaders need to learn how to show love toward employees and how individuals can learn to ask for what they want from the leaders.

Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

Kaye wrote the book "Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go" to help organizations realize that if they don't focus on their people's individual growth and development plans, they will leave.

You can find Kaye on LinkedIn, Twitter, visit her website, and read her books.

“Leaders have to learn how to show love. And individuals have to learn how to ask for what they want, for the love they need. And that's the basics.”

Bev Kaye Founder & Chief Executive Officer BevKaye&CO


Patrick: This is the last episode of Be More for 2021, and I cannot think of a better guest to have us wrap up this year. Dr. Beverly Kaye—or as she goes by, Bev Kaye—is an author. She's a speaker, and quite frankly, she is one of the most influential HR thought leaders that I believe we have had in the past 40 years. She is an internationally recognized name as a professional who is dedicated to helping individuals, managers, and organizations understand the practical, how-to principles of employee development, employee engagement, and employee retention.

In 2018, ATD honored her with their Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her advanced knowledge and extensive practice across the talent development field. Bev has been inspiring me for my entire professional career, and today's conversation I feel is so special. It's special to me because Bev shares her personal career journey. She shares with us some moments that were incredibly unexpected and how she did not let anything keep her from building her journey forward and getting to where she is today. We are going to jump right into the conversation. Bev, thank you so much for joining me today.

Beverly: You are very welcome.

Patrick: We're going to have a great conversation. Bev and I have been preparing for the past couple of minutes, and this is the last episode of the last season of the year that will be launched in early December, and I could not be happier that we are able to have this conversation, Bev. I have been following your thought leadership, your perspective for my entire career, quite frankly, and I've had this list of podcast guests ever since I started the podcast that I really wanted to have on, and you have been at the top of that list. I'm glad we could work it out, and again, a very heartfelt thank you from a career people practitioner to you for everything that you've done and everything that you continue to do and for being on the podcast. Thank you, Bev.

Beverly: Thank you. Everything you said means so much because to the person inside it's never enough. You don't see yourself the way you just said you saw me. I'm both mortified, I'm embarrassed, I'm turning red, but I need to swallow what you just said, and it doesn't quite get down.

Patrick: Well, let's tell the world a bit about you. Many, many people that are listening to this conversation know who you are and definitely know about particularly recent thought leadership that you've brought out into the world, but you have quite an interesting story of your career. I'd like to start there because we've been talking a lot about career development, career journeys, and it's a challenge right now in the workplace for people to see what their journey is or what their futures are. That future is just not always clear, and I love having people that have had different paths and unexpected turns in their career journeys, and yours is an interesting one. Can you tell us a bit about how your career has developed and progressed over the past X amount of years?

Beverly: 50.

Patrick: 50 years. Okay. We want to hear all about it, so tell us how it all unfolded.

Beverly: Well, I am proud I'm 78, and now you're supposed to say, “But you don't look it.” 

Patrick: Not a day over 30.

Beverly: Good. When I went off to college, a girl could only be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. That was it. It was in the '60s, and I chose to teach, and of all of the teaching, of course, it was elementary school teaching because you grow up, you move home, you live in your hometown and you teach and you marry. I went to a state teachers college, and after four years, I realized everybody's going to be a teacher. I wanted to be something different. I didn't know what that was, but I knew the only way to do it is to go to my home in Passaic, New Jersey, but to go to grad school.

I actually applied to three grad schools in three different programs, only in cities that I thought would give me a social life because if you didn't have a hubby or whatever, then you better have a career you like. I applied to a school in New York, a school in Boston, and a school in Washington. The one that came through with money was George Washington, Washington, D.C. for a master's in college administration. Off I went, and I was one of these “gung ho” college kids. It made sense, and I entered the field of higher education administration for a good number of years, seven or eight, and worked at schools that were the elite.

I think of my early interest in a career as I watched these brilliant students thinking, ''If I'm an A student in an A school, I will graduate and have an A profession and an A life,'' and no one had contingency plans. I watched as many of those students' brilliance came back, things didn't work the way they thought they would. I think that lodged in my head, like there is no A line for an A life; nothing is promised, so you better have contingency plans. During the years of college deaning and student leadership, the world of leadership development opened to me, the world of organizational development opened to me, the world of sensitivity training opened to me, and I went after all of it.

I even taught my way into the Sloan School of Management as an auditor of all their courses in organization development. I had a lot of guts. I don't know how I did it, but I did it. At the Sloan School, I was exposed to the big leaders in the field of culture and organization thinking and leadership. When I moved to California to follow my man, who was the whole reason I liked him as he said he was moving to California. We were both in Boston, and I said I'll never go. I relaxed in the relationship and boom, it worked. When I got to California, I took a job at Pomona College, and I saw an ad that said they were looking for administrators in higher ed to go back for doctorates and come back and change higher ed.

At the bottom of it, it said, ''Please post, we'll pay 75% of your salary, your current salary tax-free, all of your tuition, everything.'' I ripped it off the bulletin board, stuck it in my pocket, and said, ''Well, like hell I'll post, that's for me,'' and went back to school. The program was a cross between the ed school and the management school, and I loved it. I don't think I would've gone to UCLA any other way than through this fellowship program. When it came time for the doctoral dissertation, I chose careers and I chose career development in organizations that I knew very little about.

I just really was in deep wonderment about how corporate America, at the time it was all U.S.-centric, grew or not grew people. My committee wanted me to do phenomenological research, which means you study a phenomenon and you build a theory about it. I had no idea what they were talking about. I was a Jersey girl, and we don't study phenomenons; we just do it. I failed my dissertation three times because what I brought to my committee they said, "That can't be it. That can't be your theory, so go start again." At the third start, tears, everything, I hired someone to listen to me talk about what I found in my data.

With another human being looking at me interested and saying, "And then what, and then what?" all of a sudden the theory emerged. Finally, when I went back that next time, my committee said, "I think you've got it. Now go write it, so you present what you're going to do and then—" I think that's really where it all started because the dissertation turned into a book. Prentice Hall published it, and the book was titled “Up Is Not the Only Way.” It was published in '82, and only one chapter was really about career mobility; the rest was the systems.

How do all the HR systems contribute to really the development of a career? HR people read the book and said, "Well, can you come to do that here?" Before I knew it, I was doing that one company after another and then needed more people and then delved into, well, how do we train managers, and how do we train employees to have that conversation? I knew there were those two key players, and I knew that the surround sound was the systems that support or don't support that conversation. I'm going to take your time out.

Patrick: I'm curious what your perspective is right now on how organizations are doing. Do you think that they're focusing in the right areas? Do you think it's time to reset? What do you see right now happening in companies? Where do you think we're at?

Beverly: Partly, I want to pull my hair out, and I want to say, "Why didn't you hear me 40 years ago?'' Career mobility is not the only way. I shouted it from the rooftops. I've built training programs. Everything about up is just one route. I can tell you the others, and now all of sudden career mobility is a big thing and every tech company is saying, "We're going to show you the different ways you can be mobile. We're going to look at your skills.'' Skills alone do not make a marriage. I do not know why that word “skill” is so humongous because it's more than that.

That makes me want to pull my hair out. Now with the headline the Great Resignation, I want to pull my hair out again because 20 years ago, we wrote “Love ’Em or Lose ’Em,” and we said, ''Basically, be nice. Show love." Here are 26 ways to show love, and now everybody's resigning, so we're back again to show duh. Partly on the “Up Is Not the Only Way” thing, I told my husband I want my gravestone to say, now Beverly, up is the only way, and I will go to heaven and that will be it. Yes, partly it's pulling my hair out, and partly it's finally everybody is seeing the importance of I happened to pick two areas that are evergreen.

Career development and engagement and retention. It happened, I think, maybe it's my Jersey roots to say, "It's simple; it's not rocket science. Here's what it is in its simplest.'' I'm married to a rocket scientist, [chuckles] a real one. He always says, "Can't you say it's not brain surgery?'' It really is the basics, and some people have never been taught them, and some people have never had someone who holds that belief system manage them, so they don't know how to manage others.

I wonder what dent I have—I know I've made a dent because I met people who said, "I have your handout from 40 years ago." Now maybe the world is saying, "We need people to find their career passion,” and I'd add an S to the end of the word “passion” because people don't just have one; they have many. Leaders have to learn how to show love, and individuals have to learn how to ask for what they want, the love they need. That's the basics of all those books.

Patrick: This book, “Love 'Em or Lose 'Em,” is quite impactful because, for my entire career, I truly have felt that vulnerability, transparency is absolute strength, not a weakness. In a corporate world, I was just talking on a panel the other day, and the moderator asked me the question, "What is one thing that you've seen change within yourself or with your other fellow executive leaders or senior leaders at an organization?'' I said, "I am finally seeing vulnerability in executive and senior leadership, and I love it. I embrace it. It is okay to say I'm worried. I don't know the answer. I have mental health challenges as well. I am anxious about the future." [chuckles]

That does not mean that you are a weak leader. That means you are an incredibly strong leader because you're willing to open up to your team, and so this concept of love in the workplace, I believe it is an absolute necessity and it is unique to every employee. I believe it is our responsibility not just as leaders but as every employee, as a member of a team, a member of a work community, we are responsible for figuring out how we can show that love and respect and support to each other. You have this next book which, again, I think is an amazing title. You have all these brilliant titles to your books, by the way. Every single one is catchy.

Beverly: I love anything that says it all.

Patrick: It does.

Beverly: My publisher believes that the title should say what the whole book is about.

Patrick: It does. This one, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go.” [crosstalk] Exactly. When I read that one I was like, "Again, I know what I'm going to be getting when I read this book, which is amazing." This is all about really organizations thinking critically thinking about if you don't focus on your people, somebody else will, somebody else is going to. If you don't focus on individual growth and development plans and that you don't take every single person's needs and expectations around their own personal development into account, they will go somewhere else. Tell us a bit about what about this book and what did you love about writing this book? What do you want the world to walk away with when they read this book?

Beverly: The “Love ’Em” book?

Patrick: “Help Them Grow.”

Beverly: Oh, the “Help Them Grow” book. Making the conversation easier—

Patrick: Yes.

Beverly: —practical. When I developed my career— Only one book, the first book, did I write alone? Every other book I collaborated because writing alone is so lonely, but I always believed and it's in “Help Them Grow” that there are five words that start with a P that everyone no matter what level wherever has to think about to play in their own career, and it's person, the who am I question, the self-awareness. It's perspective, it's my brand, my reputation, how am I seen? It's a place. How are things changing and how will that change affect me? It's possibilities with an S on the end in neon that says, ''Don't make just one.''

I have always talked about six possibilities, and then it’s plan and those five, and I've called them different things and they're embedded in “Help Them Grow.” I know are key to the individual planning their career at any level, and I know that the manager needs to do that for themselves, that was five P’s and needs to have the ability to play the five L’s: to listen, to level, to look ahead, to leverage those options, and to link people to the paths they need to go on. It's interesting that that is what came to me back in 1982, not in even those words, but I found that I loved designing training.

I come from the age of flip charts and Magic Markers and love when you can walk out of a room and say, ''That's not so hard. Is that all there is? I could do that.'' Then I could do that as the mark of, for me, nailing it. The other thing I think of when you said, did you ever think you'd be doing this now? I was and always have been and still am a serious stutterer, so that the thought that I make my living now often doing keynotes, etc., and I never stutter on stage. I do stutter tremendously offstage and the stuttering, so when I was young, I went to every elocution and all of that.

I learned that if I stutter, so what? I learned to say, ''I'm a stutterer. Hang in.'' But to think of themes in elementary school and high school ever doing what I'm doing now. I did not let the stuttering stop me. I said, ''Just stutter, and you're not going to pass out.'' It's not what they'll remember about you, but I had to learn that in a couple of hard ways. That's just an aside. Often when I'm teaching, I'll say to a group, ''If you think the person in the front of the room has it all together, think again, because while you might see skills up here, you have something I don't have.” And I'll say, ''Here's an example.'' We all carry that thing that could stop us that we have to work against, I think. I'm going in all directions, I know.

Patrick: Well, that's what I love. That's what I love about these conversations is there's no set path. And first off, thank you very much for sharing that story because that is very inspiring. Also, it brings to the forefront the expectations that we have today and we have a lot of younger people, and when I say younger, not so much age-wise, but career-wise; we have a younger career audience that also listens to this podcast. Many of them are first jobs or have just had their first job, maybe two or three years in the marketplace in the workplace. I feel that right now is a very interesting time for younger generations in the workforce.

Again, I don't like to make blanket statements, but the younger generations in the workforce had a very, and I say “had” because it was taken away from them in many ways with this whole pandemic, had such a social connection in the workplace. People say to me all the time, ''Oh, well, it's so hard,'' and I'm not diminishing this at all. It is incredibly hard when parents are at home with their children and their home place becomes their workplace. It's like, ''Oh, I have all of these juggling competing priorities and my kids are out of school,” and the world feels for people that had all of these extra competing priorities that were going on in their lives.

I absolutely did as well, but I believe there was this almost not forgotten but unspoken about the challenge for young people in the workplace where they just out of university, or maybe not a university, in the workplace for the first time living in an apartment or a flat in London or in some city with three or four different people because they want to have this young life and they're just starting out their careers. Then all of a sudden they're forced. They go to work and they make friends at work and they have social connections at work and after work, they go out for drinks or for dinner. All of that was taken away in a day for a lot of these younger generations in the workplace.

Particularly the story in what you were just talking about, I think, is a very big inspiration point for young people in the workplace today that maybe are struggling with saying, ''I just don't know what is next. I don't know. I feel like I have things that are holding me back. I feel like now even more so I have things holding me back because my social connections aren't there. I'm still working from home. Do I want to go to a different job where I can have social interactions because they're allowing their employees to go back to the office?''

These are honest conversations that people are having right now, which is just amazing to me. I think that story that you just told us really helps to put into perspective for some of these younger generations of, ''Look, things will work out and you can decide and you can build what your future is and be very thoughtful of not letting anything hold you back,'' I guess because it's tough for a lot of people still right now.

Beverly: It is and speaks up for yourself.

Patrick: Yes.

Beverly: I mentioned that I got the doctorate, and it was all funded. When I was younger, maybe I was even gutsier, but I remember going to the head of the program, this fellowship, to see where I stood, and I was 30 at the time. He looked at my file and he said, I'll never forget it, ''Beverly, you fall into the gray area.'' I said, ''Well, what's the gray area?'' He said, ''Well, after we take all our first-round candidates, and then we take our second-round candidates and then if we have some room, we dip into the gray area, and given your resume, whatever, you're in that gray area.'' Out of my mouth came, ''Well, I might fall in that gray area off one end of the scale, but my drive and my achievement, motivation and my creativity falls off the other end.'' So, I'd say, ''Look again.'' He said, ''Thank you.'' [chuckles] That was that. I couldn't believe what came out of my mouth. Two weeks later I got in, and I always wanted to go back and say, ''Did you dip into the gray area, or did I get in?'' It was speak up for yourself—

Patrick: Yes.

Beverly: —and tell the world what you have to offer. If they don't listen, don't give up; tell the next. Maybe. I don't know whether I'd be able to do that.

Patrick: I bet you would.

Beverly: I was young. I was, I don't know.

Patrick: I bet you would, Bev. I bet you would. We are at the end of our time. I say this, but we could talk for another two hours. Bev, honestly from personally for me to you, thank you for being, I guess, on the show and for the conversation. You have been inspiring me for many years and you honestly have, and we have had the opportunity to connect with some of your colleagues, some of the co-authors of your recent books. I could not think of a better way to end this year by having a conversation with you. Just so inspirational. Thank you for the work that you're doing, and please continue to do it.

Please continue to have this amazing voice. We will link every way to find you, your website so that people that don't know you that are listening can find out more about you, but a heartfelt thank you for your personal story today because again, you inspire even more people with these stories that maybe people don't know. I appreciate you sharing with me and spending some time. That was Be More, A Podcast by Peakon. Be sure to search for Be More in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify, or anywhere else that you get your podcasts from. Go ahead and subscribe so that you don't miss out on any future conversations. On behalf of the team here at Peakon, thanks for listening.

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