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Kerry Goyette: “Enhance your people skills”

Really get to know yourself. I wish I would have spent more time early on understanding my personality and my motivational drives, rather than listening to the outside world, family, etc. to determine my path. As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Goyette, Founder & President […]

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Really get to know yourself. I wish I would have spent more time early on understanding my personality and my motivational drives, rather than listening to the outside world, family, etc. to determine my path.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Goyette, Founder & President of Aperio Consulting Group, a corporate consulting firm. Aperio utilizes workplace analytics and research-based strategies to build high-performance teams. Kerry’s work has been featured in Fast Company, Entrepreneur, CEO World Magazine, Glassdoor, and Quartz at Work.

Her new book, The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence, was selected as one of the “Best Business Books for Summer 2019” by Forbes.

Kerry has consulted for organizations around the world and is an international speaker with the popular TEDx talk, “Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees.” She was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Global HR Inside Summit in Vienna, Austria and the keynote speaker at the 2018 Best Employers Awards in Barbados.

She is a Certified Professional Behavior Analyst and Certified Forensic Interviewer with postgraduate studies in psychometrics. She serves on the University of Missouri MBA Advisory Board, works as an affiliate adjunct faculty for MU School of Journalism and co-leads the Centennial Investors Research Task Force, studying predictors of entrepreneurial success.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 2008, I took some time off of my clinical practice to help launch a start-up in the healthcare industry. My plan was to help this start-up for two years, and then return to private practice. What I didn’t know? How much fun I’d have with the start-up, and what a wild ride it would be. I was hooked.

After two years with the start-up, I made the decision to go out on my own and help other organizations grow. I spent an enormous amount of time learning: in addition to concepts, I became certified in different analytics that can be used in the workplace. I wanted to make soft science hard and show that organizations can achieve great results through people.

Though I never intended to start my own firm when I made that first leap to leave my practice, it just became a passion of mine to show the ROI of building great cultures. I followed my interests and curiosities, sought out traditional and nontraditional learning, and took risks. It grew from there.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In the early days of my firm, I watched a webinar from another consultant, Don Rheem, on employee engagement. His philosophy was so similar to mine — and it was a philosophy I wasn’t hearing about many other places. I was very impressed with his work and the research behind it, so I decided to reach out. I went to his website and submitted one of those “Contact Me” forms. You know — the generic ones.

Someone from his staff read my form submission and set up a call between me and Don. We hit it off and decided to meet in person. Since then, we have partnered on several projects, and over the years he has become a dear friend.

Every time I tell that story, people say: “You just reached out on his website?!” They can’t believe it. You never know where something will lead. Don truly has made a big impact on me. I’ve learned a lot from him and greatly respect him. All because I figured, “Why not?” and got in touch.

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?

I certainly made many mistakes, but the one that stands out to me is when I took on a client that I shouldn’t have. They wanted me to come in and fix the problems they were having. Sounds good, I thought. That’s why I created Aperio — to help companies face their challenges and address their problems.

I learned rather quickly that they didn’t want to do the work that would fix their root issues. They just wanted me to do it. That should have been my warning sign, but I was just starting out, and I felt sure I could fix it.

I bet you can guess how this story ends.

Without their support and without them making the changes they needed on a daily basis, I couldn’t help. There was no way I alone could change a company when they weren’t willing to change. The relationship ended with them being dissatisfied and me feeling frustrated.

I learned a valuable lesson — one that I always reflect on. I was overconfident and naïve. I thought I could change the world, whether they wanted it or not. I couldn’t. I can only help people that want to change and want to partner together to achieve results. It was tough to learn, but I always remind myself what a good lesson that was. It was tuition paid to the school of hard knocks. Now, I’m much more careful to do my homework before I take on a client. I ask them upfront if they’re willing to do what needs to be done to achieve the change they’re looking for. And I tell them that sometimes it’s much harder than it sounds. I’ve also gotten better at preparing them for what may lie ahead so they can decide if they’re ready and if it’s worth it.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Aperio has two core components: (1) We focus on using science to build high performing teams and (2) we measure outcomes. Often, companies that promise team building and cohesiveness don’t root their work in the latest in neuroscience research, nor do they measure their outcomes. We use the brain science behind emotional intelligence to create more effective teams. I work with the leadership of a company to figure out meaningful measurements.

For instance, my firm worked with a manufacturing company that had a goal of reducing expenses in the plant. I worked with the leadership team on building leadership capacity and increasing employee engagement. After 15 months, expenses went down by 47%. The biggest expense to drop was overtime. Once the leadership began to truly engage their teams, they found their productivity increased and they could get more done in less time. They were even down four people in the plant and we’re producing more than they ever had. The Plant Manager was initially skeptical about working with my firm, but he was the one tracking the metrics and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Now, he’s one of my biggest fans.

It becomes easy for leaders to invest when they can see tangible positive business outcomes. A lot of money is wasted on training and development that is not tied to outcomes.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At the end of July, I published my first book, The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence.Writing a book was challenging, especially while I was still juggling my clients and leading my firm. But it was worth it because I want to share the research and techniques that we’ve learned over the years. Aperio can’t be everywhere at once — so this book is meant to feel like you’re sitting down for coffee with an expert. It’s a quick read with takeaways you can apply immediately to your leadership and work environment. It cuts right to the core of what I call EQ3: a three-tiered emotional intelligence that includes self, environment, and purpose. We’ve also created a 30 Day Action Plan to accompany the concepts in the book.

Currently, we are developing a curriculum for entrepreneurs. Over the past year, the researchers I work with have completed a study on entrepreneurs with some impactful findings. The research has revealed strategies that enhance abilities and — more importantly — counterproductive behaviors that can derail even the best start-ups. I’m looking forward to working with our findings in multiple ways: coaching, keynotes, and individual learning through our curriculum. We’ve got a lot planned for the year ahead!

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Build your network. Leadership is hard and complex and you can’t do it as a lone wolf. Create your pack. Find people that will fill different roles to help you become a better leader. I like the tenets Dr. Art Markman lays out. You’ll need:

  • Mentors. Find people who will give you honest, wise feedback and ask for it. These people are your guides.
  • Trailblazers. These are the people who inspire you — not just in an abstract way, but because they’re in your field, rocking it. They may not be your mentors because you may not have a personal relationship with them, but their work helps you expand your sense of what’s possible. You learn from their insights. They’re clearing the trail.
  • Connectors. These are the folks who are generous with who they know, and who’s in their network. They’ll send the intro email. They’ll recommend someone to you, and you to someone. I found my publisher for The Non-Obvious Guide to Emotional Intelligence because of one of my Connectors. He is amazingly generous with his network, and his connections have significantly impacted my career.
  • Resource Manager. This may not sound as snazzy as the other three, but this person is crucial to your growth and your leadership. This is the person who knows the ins, outs, and resources of an organization: who does what, how they do it, and who you need to talk to about that. This person knows how the sausage is made — and you can’t underestimate that.
  • Accountability Partner. The talk is cheap. You can have all the goals you want, but at the en do the day, who is going to hold you accountable? My best friend is great at this. She is an amazing leader who is willing to listen, and then make you do something about it. You need this person.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Build capacity. With bigger teams, you can’t spend as much time with each individual employee so your management becomes more indirect. This requires you to develop more managers underneath you in order to effectively empower people.

Recognize your power. Recognize that employees may feel intimidated by you. The bigger the team and the less they know you, the more they will see you in a position of power and may not always share their true feelings with you.

Enhance your people skills. The higher up in leadership you go and the bigger the teams are, the more it becomes about managing your people rather than your technical skills.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is absolutely true. I’m here today because I’ve had a lot of people willing to commit time and energy to me, provide advice and mentorship, and connect me with their resources. A few years ago, I was asked to write a curriculum for a university course, and I was so excited that I said yes right away. Not long after I agreed, I felt stumped. I had written a curriculum for organizations, but I wasn’t sure how to do that in the university setting. After a little bit of delaying (why do we so often wait to ask for assistance?), I reached out to my network to ask for help.

I wasn’t surprised at all when my mentor and good friend, Dr. Charles Coker, who has a curriculum at Harvard University, University of Westminster in the UK, and the University of Florida emailed me back the same day. “Kerry,” he said, “this is no problem. I’m going to send you my structure that you can use as a guide.” He encouraged me and told me we could easily get this built out. He sensed how worried I was and offered his support. Once I had a framework as well as some help and guidance, I couldn’t believe how easy it was.

This is only one example, and there are many more of his generosity. I’m so grateful to have him in my life.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I always make sure to carve out time for pro bono work. I’ve volunteered my time and specific skill set to work with youth, college students, the arts, and social organizations that help families in need. It’s powerful work to know you’re helping your community.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Failure is an opportunity to learn. When I finally figured this out and was no longer afraid to fail, my career really took off.
  2. Really get to know yourself. I wish I would have spent more time early on understanding my personality and my motivational drives, rather than listening to the outside world, family, etc. to determine my path.
  3. Build deep relationships rather than a lot of superficial ones.
  4. Find people in your life that will challenge you to grow such as mentors and people you admire. I used to think it was all up to me, but others have great advice and I realized later how much I could learn from them.
  5. You can’t do it all, so give yourself a break. Being a mother of three, running a business, and traveling for work taught me that I just couldn’t do it all. I remember when my sister created these amazing scrapbooks and I thought, “I can do that.” I quickly realized, “Nope.” That’s not going to happen. It didn’t make me a bad mom. I’ve learned how to give myself some grace. It’s still not always easy.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Bringing emotional intelligence training to children around the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of the car is separate from the way the car is driven.”

― Edward De Bono

This has always driven me to focus on growing my emotional intelligence rather than just building on my technical skills. It’s not enough to just be smart. Or even to only be good at the technical skills in your job. I’ve seen too many leaders that were highly intelligent fall because they lacked the ability to make good decisions and build relationships.

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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Malala Yousafzai. The story of her strength and ability to overcome tragedy is inspiring. Her refusal to become a victim and instead be a leader was a choice she made that inspires strength and courage.

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