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Episode 4: Robert Kennedy III: Future of Work



During the Worthy Words podcast, hosted by Agostino Renna and Stef Tschida, Robert Kennedy III, a well-known communications expert and president of Kinetic Kommunications, was invited to talk about the future of work.


The group discussed the influence of technology and AI on business practices and communications, the importance of strategic storytelling in business settings, and the role of artificial intelligence in improving task efficiency.


The conversation pointed out only 5% of U.S employees are aware of their company's strategy, indicating the urgency for employing storytelling in corporate communications to efficiently convey a company's purpose, vision and mission.


Finally, the discussion covered strategies to enhance virtual experiences in the post-COVID era, emphasizing the importance of maintaining human touch in a technology-driven environment.


More About Today's Guest


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Transcript of Today's Episode

Agostino Renna

Welcome to Worthy Words, a podcast for people who recognize that being a great communicator is a requirement for being a great leader.

 

 Stef Tschida

Communication and other so-called soft skills are finally being recognized as the absolute behavioral must haves that allow you to engage, empower, and inspire anyone you have the privilege of affecting. Ready to level up your leadership by becoming a better communicator?

We're glad you're here. Welcome to Worthy Words. We're your hosts, Agostino Renna, a senior executive in an international publicly listed company who understands the critical importance of culture and communication.


Agostino Renna

And she's Stef Tschida, a communications expert who has counseled executives across industries on how to communicate proactively and intentionally. But the focus for today's episode is the future of work. And we'll talk about how aspects like technology, and AI, and some other things are influencing businesses and the way we lead and communicate as a result. So we're lucky today to have Robert Kennedy III as our guest and Robert is President of Kinetic Kommunications. Both of those with K’s at the front end, I need to note, where he trains and counsels basically really large companies and individuals alike on how to lead and communicate really well. 


Stef Tschida

Robert is also an instructor in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. And he's affectionately referred to there as RK3. So if we slip into that reference, our listeners will understand why. RK3, welcome to the show.

 

Robert Kennedy III

Hey, I am so glad to be here. So good to see you again, Stef. Glad to be here.

 

Stef Tschida

Thanks for taking the time. Well, we can't wait to hear your take on the new world of work and how you observe companies needing to behave differently to win in today's rapidly changing environment. Before we get to all of that though, we know work happens by humans who have lives outside of what they do.

And that's why we kick off each podcast episode with a quick get to know us segment. It's designed to help us, and our listeners know who our guests and co-hosts are as people beyond our work.

 

So, Robert, you've been talking a lot on social media about the year ahead and determining what your story for this year will be. Are you someone who picks a word for the coming year? And if so, what is yours for 2024?

 

Robert Kennedy III

Yes, I pick a word. I've done so for the last, gosh, decade, at least and every year it's a, I usually have my words somewhere around October, November. This year was a struggle and I didn't get my word until maybe the second week of January. This year, and it's on my wall, my word is “rhythm”. And so every time I choose a word, I put a line, a phrase underneath it.

And so this year's is “rhythm”. Operate with consistency, clarity and confidence. And so for me, what happened during the pandemic was that I had a rhythm about my life and I would get up early in the morning, get up probably about four o'clock and do some different things, get myself together, self-care, meditation, all those types of things. Wake up the kids at 6:15, get them set, get them moving, get them to school and then come back home and then get into business work.

And then the pandemic lockdown shifted all of that. And I just was out of sorts for like two years and I just could not get myself back into a space where I would go to sleep and get up at a specific time. I was just all over the place and I kind of felt it in how I showed up each day.

So I said, you know what, this year, 2024 I've got to get back to this space where I've got this flow. I've got this rhythm. I got this consistency about how I operate so that it then manifests in the results in my business. And so rhythms been my word for the year.

 

 Stef Tschida

 I love that. Who can't identify with that? Huh?

 

Agostino Renna

Good one. 


Stef Tschida

Agostino, how about you? What's your word?

 

Agostino Renna

Yeah. You know, I'm not, I've not been one to pick a word actually. So, but it gives me a pause and reflect moment. I think probably my words for 2024 would be the word “calm.” And the reason for that is, I think we're just surrounded right now with an absolute sea of turbulence. You know, whether it's at the macro level, you know, various economic pressures, geopolitical issues all over the place, environmental concerns. You know, technology that I think, and some of that will cover in this session, but a technology that can put us either on the right side or the wrong side of history, depending on what we do with it. And on a micro level, I mean, personally, but, you know, my job isn't any less intense. My wife and I have one older daughter that is, you know, close to finishing university and entering the workplace. We have a younger one who is picking a university, aging parents that we're far away from. And so just a lot of stuff going on, Stef, and I think my word would be “calm,” so everyone just chillax! So that would be my word.

 

Robert Kennedy III

I love it!


 Stef Tschida

Yeah. One day at a time. 


Agostino Renna

What about you? 


Stef Tschida

Yeah. You know, I think my word for the year is “integrity.” And, you know, I think we often view the word “integrity,” like doing what's right. But I've been doing some reading where it's been redefined to me as integrity is wholeness or oneness and it's operating as one person in every environment. And that book has actually, sort of, forced me to look at the people pleasing I do, the niceties I throw out, that I might not mean and just how do you get really focused in your business on what matters and just have integrity to say, “I'm actually not gonna keep doing things I don't wanna do just because I want to avoid a confrontation to get out of something”, for example. So, “integrity” is my word for the year. It's gonna be interesting. Yeah, it's already been interesting.

 

Agostino Renna

That’s a really good one. So, thanks for that. And I guess on a more personal note. So, Stef, let me come back to you. What's your favorite time of the year? And why?

 

Stef Tschida

Oh, well, as in Minnesotan, I have to say summer because we get these, we have these 13,000 lakes and we get to enjoy them like 2.5 months out of the year. And man, do we go a little crazy when it's that time? So, just summer in Minnesota. I just, there's nothing better.

 

 

Agostino Renna

So that 15-day window, that is summer in Minnesota?

 

Stef Tschida

Exactly. Exactly. We all go hog wild. You won't hear from me that time of year and then I'll check back in after it's over.

 

Agostino Renna

Perfect. RK3, what about you? Favorite time of the year?

 

Robert Kennedy III

Well, you know, I was born on the island of Jamaica, so I've got Jamaican hot blood and so I love warmth. I love summer, myself. However, I've had a tweak in that this year, a little bit. For the first time, my family went on vacation in December. We usually do our family vacations in the summer, but this year we said we were gonna go just before Christmas.

And so we went somewhere from around the 13th or 14th all the way up until Christmas Eve, the 24th came back. And why that was so fantastic was because typically you go on vacation, you come back, you got 500 emails, you gotta jump back into life. And we came back on the 24th and I still had this week between the 24th and January 1st or January 2nd where nobody was in office and nobody was doing anything.

So I kind of had this time to ramp up into life again. And so I said to my wife, I said, “Babe, we discovered something crazy here. We are not going back on vacation with the family in the summer. We're doing Christmas vacations from now on. I don't care, they leave the house, they grow up, whatever. We're doing Christmas vacations.”

 

Agostino Renna

My favorite time of the year is Christmas, but maybe for a different reason. So we spend Christmas time in Canada, surrounded by basically our family and many of our childhood friends. My wife and I are both born and raised in Montreal. We still have friends from kindergarten, and it brings me what I call my five F’s. So family, food, fun, focus and fulfillment.

So it's a really good time and we always come back and maybe the last, if I would add, is fatness because we always come back, you know, a little heavier than when we leave. We have to declare that at customs when we come back. Yeah, so definitely Christmas for us. 

But look, let's go ahead and get into it. We'll start sort of with a little bit of discussion around the macro environment and just by way of set up as someone that works for a company that focuses on kind of creating workplace experiences. I just, I couldn't be more excited about today's discussion on the future of work. And I think anytime you talk about the future of anything, it's pretty audacious to begin with. But at this moment, in time, in particular, with all the stuff that's going on, it's probably even more courageous to have this kind of discussion.

And I think some of this came to us on the back of the pandemic. But I also think that there was pent up demand for the reinvention of the relationship between what is personal and professional, what is home and workplace, and overall, the relationship between person and employer or even person and career. Then if you introduce the promise of AI and some of these inherently spectacular opportunities and risks, you know, it all sort of comes alive in a really cool way.

So Robert, as a trainer and an expert on leadership and communication, you're thinking and speaking about sort of current trends in technology all the time. What are you seeing right now that has you most excited? And is there anything that concerns you as you look at that landscape?

 

Robert Kennedy III

You already answered it in the question? What excites me? AI. What concerns me? AI. I think right now at the time we're recording this episode is just this time, this snapshot in history where we've got this explosion of AI. I think I have considered myself pretty tech savvy, for the most part, for most of my life. I think this is the first time I'm feeling a little bit lost in just the overwhelm with everything.

That is, what do we do with it? I mean, last year it was cool and they said, “OK, yeah, we've got chat GPT coming in. We've got, you know, Jasper and some of the other transcription or prediction or generative tools that came in.” But then once they started to bring in video, and Dall E, and then Canva started to incorporate AI and I use ClickUp as my team's project management system, and everything is beginning to include it.

And so it's great because it's shortening the time to market on a lot of the different tasks that we would do. However, we are now tasked with this other responsibility of sorting through what is real and what's not. And so we have to sort through that not because the software or the AI results are not good enough, but there are sometimes some, what's the word, “malcontents?”

Some people who are not so filled with integrity, as Stef talked about earlier, that decide that they're going to use it for bad reasons. And so we've got to figure out how do we manage that and how do we not spend so much time figuring out what's real and what's not, that keeps us from actually moving forward. So those are my thoughts, man.

 

Agostino Renna

Yeah, you know, RK3, I would add, first of all, this is a space that I'm incredibly passionate about. So you'll get my energy comes through the screen here. But I actually think it represents probably the greatest productivity platform that the world has ever experienced. I mean, it'll be bigger than, bigger and faster than the industrial revolution, bigger and faster than the internet, I think.

And some of that is because you take sort of unprecedented levels of available data, which is sort of the raw material of AI. You push it through spectacularly more powerful computers, which is kind of the conversion process. And then you have sort of this growing sophistication in the areas of programming and just algorithmic science, etc. 

And you stir all of that. And if I use Italian terminology, you get this amazing Minestrone that basically has the ability to transform everything, I think, that we know and understand about how we exist. And so I'm equal parts sort of excited and terrified. Excited because I think the applications can help people in nearly endless and amazing ways.

You know, do you think of self-driving cars, whether you're up for that or not, virtual assistance, fraud detection systems, medical diagnostics, for example. So there's areas of application that are amazing. But then I'm also concerned because you know, garbage in garbage out because this is basically related to the data and the quality of the data you put into it.

Even more importantly and more concerning, bias in bias out based on, you know, the kind of data that goes into the algorithms, you know, things like privacy. How do you govern data? Who owns it? Where is it stored? And then there's things like job displacement ethics considerations. And the last concern that I would put into that category is the fact that it's generally unlegislated right now and I always worry about the speed of government versus the speed of technology, right?

And I think this will be a moment in time where we're gonna have to create some guardrails for something that frankly could, like I said earlier in the show, put us on the right or the wrong side of history. So yeah, I mean, Stef, over to you.

 

Stef Tschida

Yeah, you know, I was thinking about it. So Robert, my team also uses ClickUp. I've absolutely been noticing the AI springing up in there. I also use Loom to record videos. That just makes it quick and easy to give feedback to people. Loom's got some great AI popping in there now. Like time stamping the video you're gonna read about this and it's just uncanny how accurate it is.

You touched on this a little bit but any other thoughts you'd share about in your work with companies, how this type of technology is helping them operate more nimbly? And are there any ways you've actually seen it hinder efforts in any situation?

 

Robert Kennedy III

Well, the hindrance comes right now just in the ramping up or the learning process because I think ultimately like any other technology, it becomes ubiquitous, it becomes a part of life and we get used to it, right? But now it's just, “Oh my gosh, is AI chat GPT,” or is that the thing or is it something that proliferates through all of the technologies that we use?

And so some people are still kind of still getting that understanding of what, when we talk about AI, what exactly are we talking about? So that may be the hindrance in the current term. Long term, it's going to be something that'll shorten the process and maybe even open up innovation, give us more time to think and brainstorm. Because I think AI does work but there's some stuff that AI, I don't know, if it'll ever be able to do. And that, from not just my perspective, but my passion, that I love to speak about, is storytelling. And storytelling from a current, and relevant, and vulnerable place from human beings, that's something that AI will never be able to do. AI is never going to be able to tell my story and talk about my experiences, and my feelings, and my perspectives on my experiences.

So I think that is a really good opportunity for us to, OK, let AI deal with the content. Let AI deal with the technical, let AI deal with the structure and now let me refocus myself on creating the connection with human beings with the work that I'm doing.



Agostino Renna

To RK3’s point, you know, the storytelling is compelling because the machine speaks in relatively robotic terms. And so there's a lot of areas here where I think this is really exciting and then some areas frankly, that I just need to, I think we need to be awake on. You know, there's some applications where you can have a bot screen incoming resumes or CD’s of people that might be applying to your company.

And what I said earlier, you know, if the place where the thing learned how to screen these CD’s is inherently biased, you'll end up with a biased set of decisions, as the machine screens through these resumes or these CD’s.

And I think that's a big watch out. Something for us to be careful.

 

Robert Kennedy III

I think it's also, maybe the concern is having AI make decisions and that may be where we need to be careful. So, one of the things that I love using AI for is, it cuts down on the amount of meetings that I need to attend. I'll send my Otter to a lot of meetings and when the Otter sends me the summary, I'll see the outline and the highlight points in the meeting. So I can say, “Ah those five things were discussed.” I've saved some time in my schedule by having it do the work for me

With regard to having the AI make decisions in the meetings, or about the meetings, or from some, that's where I think we get in trouble. So even with what you're talking about with the bias in the resume, if we're leaving the AI to make certain decisions, or even if we've placed some filters and parameters in place on it, we've got to continually watch the level at which we're allowing AI to make decisions for us because as you're talking about bias comes into that equation.

 

Agostino Renna

100%.

 

Stef Tschida

That's incredible. I love that distinction, helper, not decision maker. Thinking about future of work and just a slightly broader take on it, I would love to hear Agostino, your thoughts. Your company is on the leading edge of helping the world reimagine what workspaces of the future will look like, to best enable these new ways of working. What's coming down the pipe? What can we expect?

 

Agostino Renna

Look, it's interesting because I operate in an industry that has been relatively consistent for a long time, then comes the pandemic. And all of a sudden, this thing that we call the workplace is really being challenged, right? And so if you speak to end users of office space, basically, they ask for one thing. They say, “Create an environment that earns my commute to the office, create an environment that earns my commute.”

And basically, what it means is that if I have to get in my car, brave traffic, leave the comfort of my home, etc. I want a workplace experience that provides basically what I otherwise wouldn't be able to get at home, right? So if all I do is go to the office, sit in a cubicle, put on a headset and do video calls all day, then the home office will always win.

So end users want generally, community. They want curated experiences in the office, they want to feel the culture and the creativity of the company around them, through and with people and artifacts. They want good food, of course, they want to be surrounded by people they enjoy, positive energy, etc. And I think this is all in an effort to seamlessly integrate kind of life and work.

So in the world of workplace, I think you can expect, or we can expect a transition from cost per square foot, or square meter, to experience per square foot. So basically, less real estate but more experience. I think that's gonna be a trend moving forward. We should expect flexibility to become the norm. So the days where you did sort of your 9 to 5 in the office, I think those days are gone and they're not coming back.

By the way, I think as employers, we have to come to terms with that. And then the last thing is, you can expect sustainability to become embedded in workplace design. And that's both environmental because I think the next generation really cares. But equally importantly, what I call sort of social sustainability. And social sustainability means kind of workplaces that focus on inclusion so that everyone feels like they belong. And in the war for talent, I would argue that inclusion and belonging becomes a superpower because you can tap into a part of the talent pool that otherwise you wouldn't be able to do if you didn't have such an inclusive environment. So those are kind of the trends, I think flexibility, transition from cost to experience and just this maniacal focus on both social and environmental sustainability. I think that's what we're going to see in the workplace. Moving forward, Stef.

 

Stef Tschida

It's gonna be a lot of fun to watch. 


Agostino Renna

Really good points.

 

Stef Tschida

You know, we talk a lot about leadership on this podcast and it does occur to me that leaders are gonna have to dramatically adjust how they attempt to influence others to keep up with all this change we've been talking about. Robert, one of the things you've shared as a driver of success, is a leader's ability to make a decision quickly and then act on it, usually without all the information or data available. I would love to have you tell us more about what you've observed here and what our listeners could learn from that.

 

Robert Kennedy III

So I think leaders may be divided in a couple of areas. One because technology is moving at lightning speed. Leaders may feel like, “Oh my gosh, I'm either being forced to make quick decisions or I'm gonna be left behind.” One of the things that's really going to define true leaders is also their ability to slow things down, their ability to slow people down and say, “Wait a minute, there are these 10 things happening. We don't need to do all 10. Let's focus on this one area because it's gonna give us the greatest results right now. And let's really build out the vision and the idea for this one area because it's gonna create maximum, or increase the magnitude, of what we can experience after that.” There are also leaders who are going to have to be able to say, “Yeah, technology is going fast, and we've got to be just a little bit faster.” Now when I say faster, not necessarily from a speed perspective, but I've got to be predictive. I've got to figure out what's gonna come down the pike, and get to the pike, or get to that space before the technology arrives so that we can be the directors of what that technology does. So leaders will have to be nimble and be able to determine speed whether that's faster or slower for the coming generation.


Agostino Renna

Robert, you talk a lot about, and clearly this is kind of one of your superpowers, is the power of storytelling as one of the most powerful sort of communication tools available to a leader. And we think about leadership itself, and how you've seen, kind of, leaders tell their own personal stories in really effective ways. How they navigate, you know, this notion of vulnerability that's sometimes required when they're doing that kind of storytelling. So how do you see this in a business setting? Like, are you seeing leaders transition to more of that kind of leadership persona or not?

 

Robert Kennedy III

I like to add a word in my business in front of the storytelling and that is the word, “Strategic.” So strategic storytelling, I'm not just telling stories. I'm not just being vulnerable and sharing what I had for breakfast and what happened at my house last week just because I can. But what is the result that I'm after? What is the thing that I am looking to achieve in a specific space?

So that determines the story that I tell? And that story when I talk about storytelling, some businesses tend to shy away from that because they say, “Oh my gosh story is, it's a bit squishy, right? It's touchy feely and we're not about the emotions we wanna be, we want the data.” And yeah, that's a piece of it. At the end of the day, you still have people that you're dealing with and whether we want to admit it or not, people function mostly by emotion, especially, you know, things being considered equal, right? So we've got to determine when we tell certain stories and what we're meaning by storytelling. Whether that is the structure of story. Am I, just really sharing the context, what's going on now, addressing the conflict, what the challenge is currently. And then looking at the catalyst, what's the action that we're recommending that you take?

And then the conclusion, what are the official steps? And what is, what are the potential results from that? That's a story arc and that is a way to utilize storytelling in business. And then of course, you've got the personal stories where you can tell a story to share the origin, and the purpose, and the vision, and the mission of the company. Or tell a story to share how you navigated a specific challenge in order to motivate people. So it's really about OK, understanding where you're headed, what the result is that you're after, and then utilizing a story effectively to achieve that.

 

Agostino Renna

So it's storytelling with a purpose. Stef, this is kind of your business. What's your view on this one?

 


Stef Tschida

Well, so I mean, I love to use this statistic, which is that only 5% of US employees know their company's strategy. Which is a story of sorts, right? It's that, what you referenced, Robert. It's that where we headed, kind of that narrative, in a world where only 5% know that. There's obviously a lot of work to be done for organizations to tell a clearer corporate story.

So I have strong views on this too. I see it is probably the number one opportunity in all the communications work. My team and I do as well, is helping employees and clients understand your story. Robert, you alluded to some of this, but I would love to hear you talk about what advice do you have for great business storytelling. How can we make that 5% statistic, drastically improve? 

 

Robert Kennedy III

Telling a story, first of all, about the why the company exists or its purpose. A lot of companies have vision or mission statements, but there's not a story around that. There's a company called Warby Parker. I just, you know, you may be familiar with them because you wear glasses. So Warby Parker is this company and on their website, if you look at they're about page, it says that, “Decades ago, a group of college kids went camping and while they were camping, one of those kids lost their glasses and got broken. And then, because they didn't have enough money to pay for glasses, they went back to school for the semester and spent the entire semester squinting and struggling because they couldn't afford the glasses.” So the purpose of the company, or the vision of the company, or the reason the company exists is because people should be able to get glasses, people should be able to see without having to pay an arm and a leg in order to do so.

So as you think about your company, whether you're a new company, building one, or you're an old company, what is the reason why you exist? What's the story that each employee, each person who comes through the door is stepping into? And you want them to understand that, so that they can also take ownership of that and not see themselves just as a cog in a machine, but as a piece of this puzzle that is accomplishing or painting this big picture. So I think incorporating storytelling, right within the company marketing, or the company idea, is a crucial way, I would say, a required way to go.

 

Stef Tschida

One of the things I see too is my team works with a lot of mid-market companies that are in growth mode. And when you look at sort of like the stages of a company's journey, I think there's storytelling to be done around that too. Just identifying where are we on our journey? What are the characteristics of being an adolescent company, for example, right? Kind of on our journey, we all know what an adolescent human, you know, we all know what goes into that.

We have very clear ideas. Ok, well, what does that look like in the context of a company? And how can you kind of frame that and do some storytelling around that to help people understand why there's some messiness and some pain involved. So I see a lot of that in my daily work as well.

 


 

Robert, thank you so much. This was such an insightful discussion. We can't thank you enough for taking the time. If our listeners want to learn more about how Robert can help them lead and communicate effectively, you can go to his website, KennetikKommunications.com.

Again, both K’s, very on brand with Kennedy being his last name. KineticKommunications.com or connect with Robert out on LinkedIn. He is constantly putting out very engaging, insightful content. I absolutely love following him out there. As always. You can also connect with Agostino and me out on LinkedIn.

We'd love to keep our conversations going with you all out there 


Agostino Renna

And until next time, lead and communicate well.

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