Q&A With Rebecca Kehoe

Get to know more about one of ILR’s seven new faculty members.
Rebecca Kehoe
Friday, July 26, 2019

Rebecca Kehoe returns to Cornell following a stint as an associate professor in the Department of Human Resource Management at Rutgers University. She received all three of her degrees – a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. – from Cornell. 
What is your research about?
My research focuses on how organizations achieve competitive advantage through employees. In my first research stream, I study how organizations elicit effective work behaviors from employees through the design and implementation of HR systems. In the second, I examine how star employees – those at the very top of the productivity spectrum – influence the performance and status attained by their peers and employing organizations. In all of this work, a key focus is on relationships – how employees relate with one another, with the organization, and with other stakeholders with whom they interact.
How did you become interested in your field?
My undergraduate major was Applied Economics and Management. I really enjoyed all of the coursework, but after four years of classes in econ, finance, statistics, and marketing, I felt like I was still missing an important piece of how organizations function. Eventually I came around to realizing that this missing piece was the people. I started as a doctoral student in Human Resource Studies at ILR the fall after I graduated and everything came together from there.
What impact do you hope your research will have?
A common theme in my research is the notion that most often, the best way to achieve competitive advantage through employees is to figure out how to empower them to reach – or even expand beyond – their own potential. And this is quite often achieved by fostering relationships that allow employees to access new sources of knowledge, visibility, and support. I see this approach as offering a winning proposition across the board – so if my research helps to guide organizations’ HR investments in this direction, I’ll consider it a success.

What attracted you to the ILR School?
The people – both the faculty and the students. I completed my Ph.D. here in 2010. I learned so much from the outstanding faculty who were here then, and so many of them are still here today. In the time since I left, several more talented faculty have joined the school as well. I’m honored and excited to return to the school and join all of these colleagues. I also know from my own experiences and relationships that the students at ILR are an intellectually curious and motivated group. I can’t wait to work with them – hopefully in a variety of capacities within and outside of the classroom.
What are you most excited for about your time at ILR?
I’m excited to be working alongside scholars whose research is so complementary to the issues I’ve been studying. I am already involved in ongoing collaborations with a few colleagues here. I’m looking forward both to forming new collaborations as well as to just having a new group of colleagues to share ideas with.  
Cornell’s “Any Person, Any Study” ethos – how will you be part of that?
I think the embracement of individuality and idiosyncrasy is at the very heart of this ethos, so the only universally relevant commitment one can make in this regard is to support students in accessing the resources they need to find and pursue their own personal paths. These resources can take many different forms, and the pursuit is often non-linear and uncertain; it’s a significant commitment, but the opportunities for learning, growth, and even driving change that emerge with this kind of support are invaluable.
If you could share one piece of advice with your students, what would it be?
Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to challenge the answers. Test out established ideas in new and different contexts. This is the best way to learn, and it’s also essential for figuring out the boundaries and limitations of what we think we know. 
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
My family. My husband and I have two daughters, and they mean the world to me. I am happiest spending time with them, seeing our favorite places and things through their eyes, and planning our next adventures together.