How Can I Be Helpful: The Lost Art of Connection with Susan McPherson

Jennifer Brown | |

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This episode features a conversation with Susan McPherson, Founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, and author of The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships. Susan shares tips for how we can revitalize our professional relationships and networks post-pandemic, and reveals the Gather, Ask, Do Method for building meaningful business and personal connections. Discover why asking “how can I help?” is the optimum way to build your network- even virtually.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Always include ways that you can be helpful to the other person, so it is not self-serving. We all have ways to be helpful to each other. It doesn’t come down to having to write checks or get someone a job. There are ways we can be helpful. We might be able to write checks, we might be able to help people get jobs, but there are slew of ways. It could be just making another introduction for the person, but I joke, but I often do a show of hands of how many people who have received a LinkedIn request from someone, and then literally in an hour, that person is selling you something. And I often say, what if we flip the switch? And instead of trying to sell somebody something after we connected with them on LinkedIn or whatever other platform, and instead offered something up. Wouldn’t it be far more likely that then we would respond.

DOUG FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors, and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now onto the episode. Hello and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode features a conversation between Jennifer Brown and Susan McPherson. Susan is a serial connector, angel investor, and corporate response stability expert. She is the founder and CEO of McPherson’s Strategies, a communications consultancy focused on the intersection of brands and social impact. And she’s the author of the book, The Lost Art of Connecting: The Gather, Ask, Do Method for Building Meaningful Relationships.

Susan also has 25 plus years of experience in marketing, public relations, and sustainability communications. And in this episode, Susan discusses how we can revitalize our professional relationships and networks post pandemic, the need for social connection and how to best maintain it in a hybrid workplace, and why asking, how can I help is the optimum way to build your network, even virtually. All this and more, and now on the conversation.

JENNIFER BROWN: Susan, welcome to The Will to Change.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: I am so excited to be here. Thank you so very much.

JENNIFER BROWN: I’m so grateful that we’re doing this. You are a dynamo. I am amazed at all the things that you accomplish. You’re busy like me. I think I watch you out there and doing your good in the world, and it’s so inspirational. I can’t wait for my audience to dig into your work, your purpose, who you are, what you’ve written, what you’re involved with, you’re teaching. There’s just so much, goodness. So we’ll try to hit on a bunch of that today, but let me first invite you to acquaint our audience with who you are, and if you’d like to share your diversity story, your early years, your influences sort of that young version of yourself and really what shaped and molded you. I’ve heard a little bit about your family from other interviews, but feel free to share whatever you’d like with us about what those formative influences were, and what sort of awakened you to the purpose that you work from today.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Wow. We could be here for hours.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know. I know. I know. Starting on an easy note, right?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Yes. Thank you for the good that you put into the world, truly. It’s remarkable to witness. I grew up many, many moons ago. In fact, I just turned 57 recently in Upstate New York. My father was a college professor for close to 40 years at a woman’s college, and my mother did public relations for PBS. And to give you an idea, as a child, I would say to my mom, “Why don’t you work for one of the three networks?” So back then, there were only boring PBS. And she always said, “It’s because PBS is making a difference in the world and helping educate people.” So that was like early on. My father, of course, embedded me the importance that women should have a voice and should leverage and use that voice, and being such a strong proponent of women’s education.

The one kind of key thing that they really, really taught me and something that I have carried all these years later is that every single person that we come across in this world is deserving of our kindness, compassion, curiosity, and understanding. And what that did was that opened up the dare I say, floodgates to being interested in meeting everyone and anyone. Obviously not all 10 billion people on the planet, but in other words, not making or having preconceived notions based on where somebody came from or the color of someone’s skin or their religious background. For me, it was like a feast of learning more about them and then learning things about myself that I didn’t know. And I probably am not articulating it to the extent of how much influence it has had on me and probably why I chose this path of working in social impact, because I do believe we have to be constantly curious to understand the world around us so that we can make positive change.

And then probably the most significant kind of moment in time we often asked was there an aha moment or was there just something that crystallized. But sadly, when I had just turned 22, my mom was killed in a horrible tragedy, in a hotel fire that killed 97 other individuals. And this was back in 1986, long before 911, but I often say it was maliciously set on fire by a hotel by an employee that was disgruntled. So in some ways, it was domestic terrorism. And it was like here today, gone tomorrow. I mean, my entire life changed. And in my 20s, I often say, I must have been in a coma because it didn’t hit me, but as I professionally progressed in my career in my 30s, I realized I was carrying on what my mom would’ve wanted to do had she not been killed at age 56, in terms of connections, building meaningful relationships, giving back to the community. And that was embedded in who I had become and who I am today.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s heartbreaking. What a legacy that they’ve left in you. I think both of your parents are deceased?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Yes. Dad passed in 2008, but the funny thing about my dad is he would teach students then he would have students’ daughters, and then at the tail end of his career, he would have students granddaughters as students. And he would stay in touch with all of them over entire life using a manual typewriter, by the way-

JENNIFER BROWN: Of course.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: … as opposed to now. We bought him a computer in 1992 when he retired and he put a sheet over it. So the next 16 years of his life, or… Yeah, 16, he would use the typewriter and the telephone.

JENNIFER BROWN: We love that generation. Oh my goodness. But they were such talented connectors. And I want to put a pin in that, and we’ll come back to how you literally learned the art of connecting at the dinner table and the table with your parents. But before that, then you subsequently had a career in news. And I want to know a bit just quickly, like there was time spent at USA Today and PR Newswire, and what exciting times to be in media and your role shifted here and there. But what were a big aha moments for you in those years that kind of directed you to what you do now?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Well, working at USA Today in the ’80s, I was a researcher. So my name would be underneath the one article in each of the four sections that would go on to the second page, meaning there would be extensive research, because even though of the articles were not as lengthy as say the New York Times or the Washington Post, they were chuck filled with facts. And it literally taught me to be a good questioner researcher, meaning asking people the questions to get more than just the periphery, more than how the weather is today, but really start to understand what made people tick. So I almost feel like I had a free education in learning how to be inquisitive. So mind you, from zero to 20 or 22, I was taught to be forever curious about the world, again, with that seated in me, by both my parents and certainly relatives, grandparents, et cetera.

And then I got to do it and be paid to do it, right? And then I went to graduate school… I’m sorry. Before that, I went to graduate school and broadcast journalism, which again, a hone that, how do you ask people questions to learn more about who they truly are rather than just, again, the stuff on the surface. And throughout my career, being able to be inquisitive has helped me just, again, hire the right people, work with the right clients. So it hasn’t helped me in my love life, but it has helped me with that intentionally.

JENNIFER BROWN: It will. It’ll. That’s so cool. I love being inquisitive, being curious, collecting stories. Thinking about you do this so beautifully, and you have written a book about it, which is The Art of Connection, which you’ve honed to a science, and you explained the methodology in your book, which is called The lost Art of Connecting, which was out in March of 2021. So a pandemic, a pandemic release, and all that went into that. But, Susan, you, you have of actually a model that you recommend in the book for how sort of you distill the art of connecting. And I wonder if you can explain that and then tell us if you could contextualize it in the pandemic reality that we live in now, where we are separated from each other, we are isolated, we’re coping with this still, it seems to be just dragging on and on.

If you could write that extra chapter, I guess, knowing what you know now about like how our world has shifted, is there anything you’d add or anything you’d tweak, or just whatever, additional insights you would give? I’m sort of fascinated to ask you that question and I’m sure that’s when you get a lot, but…

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Well, I mean, if perhaps it would be helpful to give you a little background on how the book came into me-

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: … it would be great, because if somebody had told me I was going to be writing a book and publishing a book during a global pandemic, when the book is on connecting, I probably would’ve said, “Throw it out.” I’ll probably threw it into the Hudson or the east river here in New York city. But what had happened about four or five years ago is I had definitely realized probably in my mid 40s that my ability to connect was my superpower. And people started saying to me, “When are you writing your book?” And all I kept them is the last thing people need is 225 pages of listening to me. But the work got… We became more and more beholden to technology, which I am absolutely pro. And thank God we had the technology during this last 19 months.

JENNIFER BROWN: True.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: However, I was starting to see that lack of intentionality, meaning zapping off notes without thinking about what we’re saying, typing tweets and being harmful, and not being kind, and really lacking that thinking like, what is the point of all this? And a friend of mine had pulled me aside and told me about how, when she took her son and daughter to the school bus stop, she would hug them goodbye, send them up onto the big yellow bus, and they would sit in their respective seats. And as soon as they sat down, their heads would bob down to look at their respective handheld devices, and every other child’s heads bobbed down too. And it dawned on me that we weren’t heading in the best direction.

So fast forward, I got the book deal and I started to write it in February of 2020. Obviously, the world changed in March of 2020, but throughout the entire process of writing it, which was about eight to nine months during the pandemic, I was interviewing people who have made connection part of their career trajectories, part of their success. And it was giving me hope for the future, because if anything that was coming out of those interviews was this notion that relationships matter, that connections are more important than “networking.” I mean, networking is not going away and I’m not anti-networking, but it’s a transactional means to an end. Connecting is building relationships that stand the test of time that actually create stories, create impact. And if anything, during the pandemic, I feel we have put much more value on revelance-

JENNIFER BROWN: Relevance?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Relevance, excuse me. Relevance on the importance of our relationships, right? Whether it meant or means connecting with lost or dormant contacts, colleagues, friends, or reaching out to new ones. So I think if I was going to add anything to what was already written is it’s doubly more important now. And as we look to the future, when we are trudging out of this monotony that we have been in, and I like to compare it to like a vortex almost, or purgatory where we’re kind of out there now, but not really. And obviously, depending on where you are on the planet, you may not be out there at all. So I’m also very, very careful to remind everyone to go with their own speed. Yes, I love to connect with people. I love to reconnect with people, but we can’t even begin to imagine what kind of psychological damage this has done to so many of us.

So I suggest everybody go with their own and pace and go baby steps in terms of starting to reach out. Don’t accept every dinner invitation. Don’t feel you have to, I guess I should say. But in writing the book and now in hindsight, I would say the gather, ask, do, which is the methodology I describe in the book is never more vital to try than now.

JENNIFER BROWN: Tell me more.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Well, gather, ask, do, I’m happy to walk through the methodology, but at a 30,000 foot view, because I don’t want to put your list listeners to sleep. But the gather section, which is the first, is the time where you actually do some deep self reflection and not only determine what a meaningful connection is to you personally, because for each of us, it’s different, but then you think about what are the goals and hopes and dreams you have for the next one year, three year, or five years. And then you think about who is it that you want to connect with or reconnect with that’s going to help you meet those goals, but also who can help you meet your goals. And also in the gather phase, you think about what are your superpowers,? What are your secret sauces? Because if you are going to reach out and connect with people, I fervently believe that if you lead with how can I be helpful rather than what can this person do for me, we’re all going to be in a better place.

Lastly, in the gather section, you really intentionally, and this is with your work, Jennifer, the importance of doing everything we can to break that hermetically sealed bubble that so many of us live in when we associate and dialogue with people that look like us, sound like us, the same age as us, the same race and cultural heritage as us. So that’s the gather phase. The ask phase is learning to ask the meaningful questions of others so you can find out what their hopes and dreams are and hope to be helpful to them. And if you listen carefully, which I learned how woefully bad we are at doing so, myself included, you can get to the do phase. And the do phase is when you respond, reply, make introductions, make connections and do so in a way that positions you as trustworthy, reliable, responsible, which quite frankly is the best place we want to be.

It doesn’t mean we’re not taking the oxygen mask first, but it does mean that leading with how can I be helpful with others, and then following through will bring back help to us in the long run. And I’ll just close by saying my company is now eight years old and I founded it at 48. And by the time I was 55, I noticed about 90% of our business was inbound. So that meant that all those connections that I made in my 20s, 30s, and 40s have come back to help. And it’s not like I had a crystal ball. In fact, it was the furthest thing from my mind to ever run a company.

JENNIFER BROWN: We have so many parallels in our story, Susan.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: I love that. I love that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh gosh, we have so many like, just your point about, I think of it as give the forget, and it was the way… Like me, I’ve had a company for about 17 years. So this is you plus another 10 where you’ll still be growing, I’m sure, and building. But when I didn’t have any clients, the way I figured out how to just get myself into the mix was to get myself on planes and go present for free and moderate panels and, and yes, like network and connect and follow up, a lot of the do, the discipline of the do is really a thing.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Right. I want to make sure people don’t think that they have to do 1,000 things a day, right? It could be two things a week, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Because I don’t want to scare people.

JENNIFER BROWN: I know because our threshold is a little different now given the stresses of the pandemic, right? So I really appreciate that point. More is not necessarily better.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Susan, you mentioned that one of the lenses to look at connections through and where you’re offering to be helpful could be enacted through a lens of, who do I not have in my network? Who am I not offering support to? Who do I not know or have a trusting relationship with? How do I need to diversify my go-to people, for example. And I think you know this whole year and half has in a real reckoning around the homogeneity of our networks, the homogeneity of the people we check on, the people who we even know, honestly. And then you add in the fact so many of us have been virtualized professionally, we’re not bumping into each other. There’s no chance encounters either where I think a lot of those unlikely friendships would flower.

So I wonder if connection can have an agenda to it that is one of, hey, I want to activate as an ally. I want to be someone who is doing the work of examining the homogeneity around me because that is where we end up. If we don’t try to be any other way, that’s kind of sucks us in. But your art of connecting I think is more important than ever for equity reasons too. For reasons of being an active voice for change, it’s really comes down to who have you built trusted relationships with across difference, and how do you know what’s going on for multiple people of different identities that you can advocate. So anyway, it just strikes me, you would have some thoughts on that.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: I mean, one of the suggestions I make in the book and it’s so logical. We sometimes don’t even think about it. And that is asking the people we know for introductions to people in their communities and specifically being mindful about finding people who are different from ourselves. And yes, different from a racial perspective, but also sexually, also age, I mean, location, career, people with disability. The thing is if we don’t ask, nothing will happen. And I think sometimes we’re afraid to ask people we know because we feel like we are imposing upon them, but I generally operate from the mantra that most people want to do good in the world. Have I been disappointed sometimes? Yes. But we all know if we don’t ask what will happen. So I think it is totally within reason to ask people you know and say, I know you are connected too, and I am trying to enhance and expand my community so that I can learn more about others and learn more about myself. Would you be interested in introducing me? And here’s how maybe I could be helpful to that person.

In other words, always include ways that you can be helpful to the other person, so it is not self-serving. And back, if you look at the methodology of that notion of our superpowers, we all have ways to be helpful to each other. It doesn’t come down to having to write checks or get someone a job. There are ways we can be helpful. We might be able to write checks, we might be able to help people get jobs, but there are slew of ways. It could be just making another introduction for the person. But I joke, but I often do a show of hands of how many people who have received a LinkedIn request from someone, and then literally in an hour, that person is selling you something. And I often say, what if we flipped the switch? And instead of trying to sell somebody something after we connected with them on LinkedIn or whatever other platform, and instead offered something up. Wouldn’t it be far more likely that than we would respond? And most people raise their hand.

So in terms of your specific question about expanding beyond homogeneity, I think we have to start with our own circles. The other thing that I have done over the years, and I continue to do is get involved in local civic organizations so that I can be directly introduced and exposed to people who are far different from the world I live in. And I often have done that when I have moved to new cities so that I can make new connections and wouldn’t be solely alone.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. That’s so beautiful. You gave the content the language for an email that I wish leaders and especially which is my target group would send. Send me, Jennifer, for example, an email saying I’m really trying to broaden my network. I’m realizing that I don’t have exposure to this lived experience in the LGBT community, for example, and most people don’t know a trans person. Most people don’t know a trans person of color, for example, just to pick one of many, many identities. And I know a bunch of amazing people that I’m itching to get out into the world, and I sort of, I platform them, I recommend them, I retweet them and share their thought leadership, but I would love to be asked, like, you’re describing.

I’ve amassed this network for a reason. It’s not just for my purposes or to benefit them. It’s for people to come to me and say, hey, I wonder if you’re connected in, and is this something that you would share with me. And love then you out of the bonus, which is like, here’s how I could be helpful. So you’re leading with that generosity first of the offer. And I just hope everybody kind of paused on this, like hit pause on your player, write this language down because it’s what I try to teach among many other things, Susan, in the classroom when people are sort of be moaning about, well, I don’t know any people that have that lived experience and I’m like, but whose fault is that? This is what we all have to be good at. And it’s not just the diversity team that has to have an endless supply of different lived experiences, or it’s not just the women that know other fabulous women or the LGBTQ people. Like, yes, come to us, but also do your own homework too, and make sure you’re broadening your network that way.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: And I think also though, sometimes we tend to limit our “network” to people we work with and people we’ve known. And let’s not forget about, if we go to a faith-based institution, if we belong to, again, a local nonprofit, if we are part of a PTA or a school board, or even our neighbors, right? If anything we’ve learned during this pandemic is local now plays so much more of an important place in our lives. And even the platform next door can be incredibly beneficial in terms of connecting with people that you didn’t know lived around the corner.

JENNIFER BROWN: So true.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: It might be so silly, but it’s true.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. We’ve really been forced to slow down, I think, and think about also which connections feel like they fill us up as much as we give into them. I’ve been thinking about that too, and kind of just noticing that, and we need our… You said, put your oxygen mascot on, and I do think too that the best connections are those reciprocal ones, but then there’s other ones too, where we have a lot of the power or influence to open doors. Like the intent behind the connection might be different where maybe the intent is like a sponsorship relationship where it’s our offer to join our social capital or professional capital with someone and really get to know people with the purpose of lifting them up. And I also, I think those kinds of connection requests need to be happening much more frequently in the workplace.

I think often corporate leaders wait to be connected and they might wait for an HR initiative to announce a mentorship program, for example. And I’m like, if you are waiting for that, I can tell you that team is really busy and it’s going to take a while, and then you’re just kind of taking orders. You’re assigned on a spreadsheet or by an algorithm. But I love the human to human connection, though, that I know we’ve now are virtual, but when you see somebody on a panel and you really loved what they said, and you were really impressed, like what’s that connection invitation maybe sound like afterwards. And the invitation to get to know each other and maybe enter into some sort of reciprocal relationship of mutual mentoring and sponsoring. Who knows?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Absolutely. And your comment about somebody you heard or saw speak on a panel, sometimes the best thing you can be doing is showcasing that person on one of your social platforms with no agenda in terms of ensuring the person’s going to respond. And you’ll be surprised and actually pleased to see how many people will respond to that kind of positive goodness.

JENNIFER BROWN: And it makes you feel just so good too. I mean, it’s like a port in the storm. I find it really grounding. Whenever I’m feeling that scarcity or fear or panic, a wonderful way to reassure ourselves is of course like that gratitude practice, but I think doing something practical and concrete, like what you just said, it gives you this feeling of, I contributed today. I enabled someone to see someone and hear their voice or learn from them, that that connection didn’t exist before I did that. And yeah, that is just when in doubt, I mean, doing that, I mean, I wish I could do that kind of stuff all day, but we have companies to run. Speaking of companies, Susan, tell us about what your company does. And again, you and I are on parallel tracks. Like the last I was listening to a podcast by you, I think we had the same number of like our teams were a little bit similar in size. We have a lot of consultants who are independent, but I’m curious, like what is the work you’re doing in the world in communications?

And we’re going to switch gears a little because I really want to know what are institutions that hire you really struggling to communicate about right now. And I know the list is long, because it is like, oh, the deck of cards is just thrown up in the air and nobody knows. People are awkwardly sort of stumbling through when we have so few answers, but you are considered to be such a leading communications consultant for leading organizations. And I just would love like what are people wrestling with? What do you advise for them? What do you see the role of institutions being in sorting out our… Talk about a port in the storm. I mean, companies are the most respected. When they do those stakeholder analysis, the companies are actually the most respected institutions amongst us. And as such, that comes with a lot of responsibility.

And I’m sure knowing you that you are counseling them on effective communications, but you also likely educating them about what does it mean to be an institution in these days, and what is the responsibility and opportunity that is available should a company decide to really commit to being a voice in the world and being a responsible voice in the world. What does that sound like and look like? Anyway, I was just riffing, but I guess maybe tell us about your company, tell us about the common questions you get, and what is your vision for the growing and important role that institutions play in social change and addressing the issues of the world.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Big, big question. Well, my company’s been in business now, eight years, and we focus specifically on the communications of impact. And that can mean organizations communicating to their own internal, what we call stakeholders, but employees, board, shareholders, or externally to the broader consuming public. And our clients range from four Fortune 500 companies to large NGOs, to foundations. And I love to say that there was like a common ground for all of them, but the only kind of commonality is that notion of the communication of impact. And we have grown, we just hired our 14th employee, which is terrifying.

JENNIFER BROWN: That is terrifying. You can do this.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: I hope so. I hope so. But I think we have been the beneficiaries of the fact that the world is no longer putting impact on the back burner, that whether you are a company, a startup, a NGO, you have to be very intentional about how communicate. You have to be very intentional about everything you do, but as almost importantly, is the notion of how you communicate that because we are living in a transparent world and you no longer, when you do something bad, can you hide it? So, yes, we are all companies, organizations, humans, we’re not infallible and we make mistake. So the better prepared you are to be communicating the good, communicating when you don’t do good, you will be much better set for success.

And interestingly enough, the last several years as unions, sadly demise or their role demise, employees now have much greater power and much greater voices. And if you think back when social media started, employees were not allowed on the various platforms. Now they are encouraged because they can be the most staunch and beloved advocates for the organizations they work with. So another reason why intentional, meaningful communication needs to happen at all times and making the doors as open as possible, both for employees, but also for the communicating public, which can be very loud and boisterous. So obviously the pandemic climate, COVID, race relations, diversity, equity and inclusion, all of these have become much more prominent for companies. If you ask me, they should have been prominent for years, and in some ways the silver lining of all of this is now it is front and center.

But what’s also becoming painfully obvious is the fact that companies are saying things, but funding, politicians who are voting in a different way than the companies are stating. And that could come in a backlash for companies. So to me, the most important thing, not the most, but a very important thing is to align and make sure if you are saying that you believe in gender equity, that you are not then funding politicians who are taking women’s reproductive rights away. Do you see what I’m saying? And I’m not stating that to make a political opinion, I’m stating that to you align because you can’t be saying one thing and doing another. And if we look back at historical “greenwashing or pinkwashing,” this is essentially the same thing.

So we have the COP26 conference going on and obviously we just had elections. You have all these things. So companies and organizations are being put on the hot seat to be, wait, if you are saying these things that you are doing everything you can to be carbon neutral or much more environmentally sound, well, then why are you fighting laws that could make that universal? So these are the issues. And we tend to push companies to not necessarily be louder or more boisterous, but to kind of navel-gaze and look inside and make sure that they’re cleaning up their closets before they go out, and then happily helping them get the news out or get information out. I hope I’m making sense.

JENNIFER BROWN: No. No. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s not more communication, it’s actually internal work of aligning along the values and leaving no stone unturned in terms of does the right hand know what the left hand is doing? And you can’t have it both ways. There’s just too much transparency. So I love that that’s being called out. How do you interpret, Susan, the employee voice that’s like exploding right now? What do you predict? Like where is this all going? Boy, there is a lot of accountability happening, a lot of unrest, the resignation is underway and the war for talent feels really intense too. So the power feels like it’s shifting. Is this a moment? Is this a new not normal? I don’t know. I mean, is this a new stakeholder that has risen in prominence and importance and is really going to use its might to change institutions and hold them accountable?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: 100%. ERGs now have much more power than they ever did, employee resource groups. And interestingly enough, WeSpire, which is a consultancy, put out a study recently that I found fascinating. And it talked about the numbers of people leaving jobs through “the great resignation,” but that number drops precipitously when people are working for companies that are making purpose truly embedded in their business, not saying, oh, we’re doing the right thing, but doing the right thing. They are much less likely to lose a significant number of employees. So I thought that was very, very interesting and a way to kind of deal with employee power. But I think you had asked a few minutes ago about how we counsel companies, the first thing we always say is listen to your employees. They are your most important asset. They are the ones that are going to help you compete and be profitable. So you need to get them involved sooner rather than later.

And I do believe the companies that do that and help connect their employees, whether they’re hybrid or in the office or all over the planet, they are much more likely to see a degradation or loss of those employees.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s a real risk of that camaraderie of that speaking of connections, feeling tethered virtually to the values of the company or to the good news, to really any comms is challenging at this distance that we’re at and with all the distractions that we have. But yeah, I think you’re right. And Gen Z and who are the oldest of whom for Gen Z now is about 25 or 26, I think that’s right.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, they’re looking for very specific values alignment around own inclusion, which is going to help, I think, this whole conversation, this demographic tsunami, that’s entering the workplace and saying, I don’t understand why it’s this way, I don’t understand why we’re saying one thing or doing another, or why our senior leadership looks the way that it does, or our board for the company lacks diversity. There’s these really difficult and important questions that are being asked by this generation that really has this voice and is not giving it up, I hope. So that’s going to be exciting, and I think going to make you your job easier and my job easier rather than kind of contending with the older generations where it’s just so much more difficult conversation.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: I hear you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Corporate social responsibility is a huge focus for you, is diversity, equity and inclusion a metric that will take its seat at the CSR table, the sustainability or ESG table, so to speak? That’s always a question I’ve wrestled with because I believe it is a health metric. I believe it is a success metric. It’s a bottom line metric. It’s a thread that if done well enables a company to be healthier and therefore more competitive and therefore thrive. And the companies that don’t prize that and make it a priority will, over time, miss a lot of bends on the road, a lot of pivots. They just won’t be able to harness that diversity of all kinds in their workforce in order to create a product that is everlasting. But I wondered given you focus on this, is it going to be, or is it already being measured in the same way that sustainability is being measured? And is it viewed as a sustainability metric? I think it should be.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: If it’s not, it should be. And many companies are bundling it because into this entire ESG notion, which covers the future essentially of the company, will the company be around in 20 years? The company’s going to be around in 20 years is if it values its people, it values the environment, and it builds systems in to recognize that, right? So we also know a business that actually looks like the population it is marketing to and selling to is much more likely to be successful and to be around. Right? So all of these things come under the umbrella and they all need to be embedded into the business. It’s not an advertising campaign, it’s not an annual corporate SU sustainability report, it’s not a tweet. It’s rejiggering, redoing the entire company.

Now, I will say these things take time, change takes time, and it’s much easier to steer a robot than a cruise ship. But I think the work needs to start now, if it hasn’t already. And for sure, DE&I, environmental sustainability, the philanthropic ways companies can be giving back to help the communities that they operate in, all of that is going to extend the livelihood and the length of the company being around. I didn’t say that so well, but I think you get the point.

JENNIFER BROWN: We got the shift, but longevity is another L word though.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: The L word, thank you.

JENNIFER BROWN: I like the word viability too. I mean, what you just said, Susan, is something, it’s a pillar of our DE&I argument, which is that the guts of the company need to match the demographics of the world that we’re marketing to, that we’re selling to. But we know that that’s not the case and there’s a huge gap, particularly in senior leadership ranks. And are you noticing that a new generation of leaders is ascending to decision making roles and that you’re able to fundamentally have like a faster conversation, a more forward looking conversation? What do you notice generationally about the values that each generation holds in terms of the ease or the difficulty of getting your message through and working with your clients?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Well, we typically don’t work with startups, and just because of the way the world, they tend to be a little bit older in terms of age. But I will say that as you know from studying Gen Z and millennials, we know that they will only gravitate, or at least for the most part gravitate to work for companies that are making purpose, making sustainability, making DE&I part of their daily ability to survive. So it’s the type of thing where if the leaders of those organizations don’t bake it in at the beginning, they’re not going to be around. So I see young people definitely pushing companies, pushing organizations to make this priority, all of this.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Thank God. I mean, sometimes I think Susan, we were born a little early and then we’re sort of, we’re fighting this really difficult fight, but meantime, this whole change is going to see changes, is coming and is here. And it’s not even coming, it’s already here. I mean, I tell leaders it’s around you and you may just not see it because we have this bias towards our own experience, our own lens, our own generational norms and beliefs and values. Right? And so I think some of us in certain generations are struggling the most to pivot. And it gets the hardest for us to think about things differently. Our favorite example of that is being taught to say or believe, I don’t see color. That was something. So that such a generational marker between the people that heard that and put that into practice thinking they were doing the right thing, and then the next gen or subsequent generations who were like, what do you mean? That makes no sense.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: And we’ve always had generational divide. And I want to go back to that notion that I do believe most people want to do good.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: And oftentimes they… I am the first one to admit, I make mistakes all of the time. So I am of the school that if we can learn and we can learn from different generations, different people, we’re all going to be in a better place.

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And back to your earlier conversation about listening and seeking the human that exists in everyone, and that includes in companies. Companies are just made up of humans. So it’s hard to… Right? But I love how you listen and kind of gently challenge and hold accountable, but at the same time, invite people into understanding something differently. And I can just imagine you and your team helping evolve a company’s thinking and mindset about how to align, for example, what’s happening inside and what’s happening outside of their message, and all of that. You can either force it. I mean, I don’t think you and I can force it as externals, right? We don’t have the power to do that, the market can do it. So sometimes I might wish I had a stick, but I have to use the carrot most days.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: [inaudible 00:45:48]. I mean, I’m on often asked, not often, but occasionally I’m asked would I work with a Chevron or an Exxon. And I always have to stop and say, well, I drive a car. So wouldn’t that be shameful if I refuse? I put gasoline, fossil fuels. I don’t drive often because I live in New York city. So how dare I hold companies more accountable than I hold myself?

JENNIFER BROWN: And I think that’s… I’m sorry about that. I just glitched out. I’m so sorry. Am I back?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: But I think that that is an important litmus test that we should ask ourselves before we criticize others. Have we looked inside, right? Done the proper cleaning of our kitchen table before we invite people over for dinner.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right. Let’s not get on our high horse because we’re all learning. I love that. It’s wonderful final thought, Susan. But I hope you’ve stirred some ideas and perhaps even some companies that listened to this that could really benefit from your consulting services. So could you let us know where to find you and where to follow you, and also where to find your book, and thought leadership, and all that good stuff?

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Thank you, Jennifer. Well, my company is McPherson Strategies, and you can find us on the interwebs. You can find me anywhere at Susan McP1, and the book can be found anywhere books are sold online and in bookstores, and the book is called The Lost Art of Connecting. And thank you ever so much. This was absolutely delightful.

JENNIFER BROWN: I loved it, Susan. Thank you for the work you’re doing out there. Keep it up, and may your team continue to grow and flourish and touch more lives, and create a better more sustainable world for all of us.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Let’s hope so. Thank you, Jennifer.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will to Change uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.