Episode 16: The Potential for What? Podcast with Soraia Cerqueira

Discovering your unique potential with Soraia Cerqueira – The Potential for What? Podcast

Welcome to The Potential For What? Podcast, where we explore the concept of potential and its importance in today’s workforce.

This week our host Jo Taylor speaks with Soraia Cerqueira, Senior Manager of Learning and Development at Warner Brothers Discovery. Soraia emphasises that potential is not just about leadership potential but also about individuals at all levels discovering their unique potential. 

She also highlights the changing dynamics in careers, focusing on fulfilment, authenticity, and alignment with personal values rather than traditional measures of success like job titles and promotions.

In today’s episode, we talk about:

• 🎯 How they address these challenges at Warner Brothers Discovery by offering learning and development programs tailored to different levels and personas within the organisation.

• 🤝 The importance of creating a mutual relationship between employees and the organisation, where individuals are encouraged to take ownership of their development, and the organisation provides support and opportunities in return.

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Transcript of Episode 16: The Potential for What? Podcast with Soraia Cerqueira

Jo Taylor  00:04

Welcome to the Potential For What podcast. On this podcast we explore how a range of business leaders unlock the potential in people. We’ll hear how they’ve done it, find out what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why this is so important in getting and keeping great people. Most businesses focus on the here and now: that is, all about performance. But at Let’s Talk Talent we like to think differently, as we fundamentally believe everyone has potential. The question is for what? So let’s explore that together. I’m your host, Jo Taylor, Managing Director of Let’s Talk Talent, a talent management and organisational development consultancy based in London, the UK. I have a request: if you value this show, if you enjoy these stories, or find this wisdom or inspiration useful, please subscribe to the Potential For What podcast to listen to future episodes.

Jo Taylor  00:56

Hi, and welcome to Let’s Talk Talent’s Potential for What podcast, and I’m joined today by Soraia, Senior Manager of Learning and Development Global Programmes at Warner Brothers Discovery. I’m really excited about this, Soraia. Tell us a little bit more about your potential journey.

Soraia Cerqueira  01:12

Oh hi, Jo. Thanks for having me. Yeah, I mean, I have worked in the learning space for a while, and I love this question about potential. Because I think that quite often we start, when we think about potential, with leadership potential. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, we can all aspire to be leaders. And I think it’s important to help our leaders. But I honestly believe that everyone, no matter where they are in the world, what job they do, what level they’re at, has the ability to be a leader. And actually, my passion area is emerging talent. So immediately, when you say ‘potential’, my mind goes straight to them. And I think the potential for them is a little bit different. Because I always think of potential as not only what’s the best version of you right now, but also: are you open to developing into something in the future, right? And that obviously looks different for different people. You know, there’s no one definition because we’re all lovely, unique individuals. But when I think about that emerging talent piece that really excites me, right, because I feel like we can have the biggest impact for them. And we can really help guide them on their potential journey.

Jo Taylor  02:25

So when you think about potential, a lot of people think about potential as promotion, don’t they? How do we get people up the ladder? I kind of think as potential much more about future possibilities. And when you look at that emerging talent market, actually, the world of workers really exponentially changed, hasn’t it? The way that we looked at our careers is very different to that emerging talent that’s coming into our businesses. So how are you giving people the skill, the will and the confidence to think in that way, rather than that kind of old school… I’m gonna go from here to here, and it’s going to take me X amount of years.

Soraia Cerqueira  03:03

I’m with you a million percent Jo. I know we’re always aligned on this. I think that is really an antiquated way of viewing things. It’s just not representative of what people are wanting out of a career right now. And I’d love to shout out – I’m a huge fan of Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis – squiggly careers, but I just think people want something else out of their career. And it’s not like, well, every year I need to be promoted. It’s not all about job title, money. And actually what we found – I do a lot of career coaching as you know – if we look at Gen Z, and I hate to start talking data, and you know, millennials, Gen Z, baby boomers, but actually, what they’re looking for is A, a place that allows them to be their authentic self, right, and bring their authentic self to work. But B, most importantly almost, is do they work somewhere that is aligned to their personal values and what they really believe in? So when you flip that on its head and think, actually, what does that mean for their motivation? It’s not, are they getting more money, are they getting a job title? You know, it’s more around how do we help connect them to the vision of the company? How do we help them understand what role they play in making that happen? How do we help connect them to our values? How do we get them to amplify their own voice? How do we make sure they feel psychologically safe to do all these things? So actually, when you look at it from that perspective, it’s quite different to: let’s teach them how to be a good leader or a good manager. I’m not saying that’s not important. Of course,  we need to upskill people on that, but it flips the question on its head for me.

Jo Taylor  04:36

It feels like these are people that are the unsung heroes, because we tend to invest don’t we, and you said it at the beginning, in future leaders, you know, highly regarded specialists, if you look at it from a succession planning perspective. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose that generation because actually, that generation wants to work in a very different way. So you talked about tapping into people’s psychological safety, motivation, strengths, how does that then relate to how you think about performance and ultimately, potential?

Soraia Cerqueira  05:10

Yeah, I mean, first of all, just to address your initial point, I’m so with you. And I know this is a bit of a buzzword right now, but if we don’t tick all those boxes that we were talking about, so if people aren’t fulfilled in their job, if they’re not motivated, engaged, if it doesn’t bring them joy, that’s why we’re seeing this rise now of this quiet quitting. Because for a lot of this generation, if it doesn’t work for them, then…Bye! I’ll just find something that that I do like better, and there’s less tolerance for… I have to have a job for life. It’s more about well, it’s not working for me right now, so I’m jumping ship. And so we do a ton of work, not only to offer something that we think is for everyone, so actually 90% of what we offer at Warner Brothers Discovery is open to all employees globally around the world. And then when we look at formats, we’re also thinking not everyone is the same. And if we go back to that, letting people be their authentic self and feeling psychologically safe, whether it’s your standard workshops, which is more of a kind of webinar or a learning, we do a lot of stuff around much more conversational. So it could be: watch a six minute video, and then let’s take an hour and just discuss things. We do a ‘read and lead’ virtual book club, which is powered by Blinkist. Because as we know, that generation want things fast and immediately. And you know, I’ve heard people say, I’m not going to read the whole book. It’s like, okay, fine. That pains me, here’s a 20 minute Blink, let’s talk about the themes. What does that mean for you? How can we support you through this? I think that is one part of it. But the other part, just going back to your succession planning piece, I challenge that view. So I think top talent is everywhere in the company. And I know, most companies have these top talent programmes, and they look at succession planning, starting at usually director level. And don’t get me wrong, that’s super important, right? Those are the critical roles. And if someone goes, there needs to be someone in place. But why can’t we have top talent and future leaders at all levels. So actually, that’s another thing I’m really proud of. We at WBD have top talent programmes regardless, all across the boat. I feel like I fought really hard for the what we call emerging talent top talent programme, because as you said, these are the doers. We don’t want them to jump ship, we want them motivated, we want them with us, we want them singing the praises of the company on social media, on TikTok, you know, on all these places. And I fought hard for this, and actually, in 2017, got approved the opportunity to launch a top talent programme. But going back to that question of potential, I had to have a lot of questions with HR, right? Because if we look at how you nominate for top talent programmes, normally, you go to HR, you know, you speak to leaders, and it’s kind of this nomination project. And speaking frankly, a lot of HR said to me, I can’t tell you, I can’t tell you who is top talent at manager level or individual contributor level, which is an interesting observation in and of itself, but we know how busy our HR friends are. And so I was thinking actually then how do we define potential at this level? And for me, if we go back to that thing of, are people motivated? Are they fulfilled? Do they have joy? If the answer is yes, they’re going to raise their hands for things. So actually, why don’t we start by helping them understand what this opportunity is in this top talent programme. And I’ll talk a bit more later about what it became. And one of the criteria is raise your hand and you apply, and you tell us why you’re going to be great for this, what you can contribute, what you want to get out of it. And then we use that as the catalyst for conversations with HR with leaders. And we then have our 30 people that we’ve picked, or how many ever, because they’ve raised their hand, they’re already there. And to be honest, since 2017, we’ve always used that approach, no matter where we’ve run the programme, whether it was in EMEA, in the US and APAC, and I honestly have never had a bad egg or someone that I think, oh, maybe they shouldn’t have, or they sold me up the river in their application form. So I think it’s a different approach. I know we don’t use that with leadership. But I think when you look lower down the organisation, just the holding your hand up and wanting it can often be a good indicator of future potential.

Jo Taylor  09:18

I love that because there’s two things that I wanted to pick up with you on that. One is that it really sings to my heart that basically you’re saying that everyone has potential, and that the question that you’re trying to answer is potential for what? And that really rings true in terms of the purpose of our business. Ultimately, we’re all here to get, keep and grow brilliant people. And if you’re looking at it from that, in a way, democratic perspective, that’s really cool. I really, I really love that. And secondly, what you’re really talking about here is that the biggest indicator of potential is drive and regardless of where you are in your career, if you are curious, it will enable you to perhaps be more interested in taking different opportunities or open to discussions, or it just gives you… it opens the world. And in WBD, that’s really exciting because you’re a global organisation. But it can be the reverse of that, right? That if there’s too many opportunities, it can get confusing. So how do you enable people to unlock their potential, but also give them the signposts that these things are available? Because you are, as you say, 90% giving everything to everybody. But isn’t that sometimes a bit overwhelming? Where do I go? Where do I find it? Who do I talk to? How do you get past that?

Soraia Cerqueira  10:40

It’s a great question. And do you know, I think anyone listening probably is thinking, yeah, that’s a problem for us as well. You know, the challenge of marketing L&D initiatives in any businesses is a challenge. Now, we work really hard. I’m not saying we get it perfect every time. But we work very hard on focusing things on different levels. If you are, for example, a director, you’re not going to get the mailshots, and you’re not going to be included in the groups for things for individual contributors, or VPs, or the like. So we work hard on focusing and targeting by level. But there’s also the open to all, 12 months out of the year. But if it’s something that’s a bit more exclusive top talent, it’s once a year, for example. And there’s a different way that we advertise. I think you need to be a little bit more strategic and thoughtful about how you position it, we’re not going to put a top talent programme on our, you know, social media or on our: everyone, just click this button, and you can be up for an opportunity. I think it takes a bit of thought, but it is a challenge. Now, like I said, I think that the raising the hand piece, and the thought behind the application form, and why I want to be in this top talent is the other part – because to sign up to a workshop that you can join, you know, that’s a 90 minute workshop or even, you know, the virtual book club, for example, you press a button and you’re there. For this, if I’m honest, my expectation, if you’re applying for Create, which is this top talent programme, it’s probably going to take you a couple of hours to fill out this application form. But what you get in return is potentially a four month programme, lots of travelling around offices, exposure to executives. So it’s also a different expectation.

Jo Taylor  12:20

I think that’s really nice because what you’re actually saying is there’s personalisation, so you’re individualising it to different personas, which is really important. And you’ve got different groups and tribes working in your organisation, but also you’re putting the onus on the individual. So you’re moving the conversation away from, yes, you’ve got all of this amazing activity, what are you going to do for yourself? I think that’s really interesting when you look at the people that are taking those opportunities, and what I also really like is that you’re being really clear about the give and the get. So a lot of organisations that we work with spend a lot of time focusing just on what people are going to get and don’t give anything back.

Soraia Cerqueira  13:00

That’s never going to work.

Jo Taylor  13:01

It’s never gonna work, because basically the relationship is all on one side. Right? And unlocking someone’s potential is that mutuality, isn’t it? The meeting in the middle of, okay, I’m really grateful, and I’m going to take that opportunity. But organizationally: we’re leaning in, and we’re going to support you.

Soraia Cerqueira  13:20

I think it’s that, but for me it’s also about meeting people where they’re at in that moment, right? Because if you don’t tell them what they’re going to get, and they just think, oh, yeah, this could be fine. And then actually, it doesn’t meet their expectations, what are the chances they’re going to join another learning thing in future? I love what you said, it needs to work for both parties, because we also want people to be advocates for what we’re doing, and you know, pass it on to others. So it needs to be very explicit and clear what they’re going to get, and also what we expect from them in return.

Jo Taylor  13:50

So for our listeners, who could be in similar roles to you, in similar organisations or in completely different organisations, and they were thinking about, and having some of the same issues and challenges, where would you start? What’s your top tips in getting people to really start to think about this?

Soraia Cerqueira  14:10

It’s a great question. And I think that’s one of the reasons it took me a while to get this first off the ground, because that magic L&D word of like, what’s the return on investment? What are the KPIs? But I think going back to what we were just talking about, it’s a little bit about really understanding A, what the employee, what’s in it for them what they’re going to get, but B, and maybe more importantly, why the business should do it and what the benefits are to the business. And in this case, I can maybe talk to you a bit about the programme, so that the Create programme was really about bringing this, a group of emerging talents, top talent, together. And we started with a business challenge, a real business challenge. So, for me, it was about speaking to the leadership team. So we piloted this in EMEA in the EMEA region. The leadership team in EMEA – what are your current challenges, but also what are the current challenges that you could really use some fresh thinking on, particularly from your consumers? Because a lot of our consumers of the content are at that generation, are using the devices. So it is almost like: what’s the challenge? And here’s a really great group of people that we could get to help you. Very luckily, we had a few very senior leaders who were super excited about this, and almost treated it like a little focus group to help them. And that’s where it started, the birth of that, of Create, was that. So we ended up with a really great challenge for Animal Planet. And then, for me, my job once I had the business buy-in was, right, how do I set these guys up to win? Because if I know that they have four months to work through this business challenge in teams, and by the way, they’re all located in different places in EMEA. And at the end, they have to pitch to these senior executives, how do I set them up to win? So there was an element of, we would come together once a month for three days in a different EMEA office location, how do I get them to A, very quickly work in teams together? So there’s a teamship element, B, confidence, C, there was a huge communication, presentations and pitch – and a lot of coaching from myself – they would pitch to me, I would coach them, and obviously along the way, a lot of exposure from other execs in different business offices, and a lot of fun, if I can say so myself. And in the end, it was just a huge success. And I’m not saying: oh, I did this great programme, but just the ideas pitched were so good. One of which was actually then implemented in the business. The feedback from participants was they were so buzzed and so excited, that A, they had the opportunity to, you know, see all these offices, see the executives pitch – some of them for the first time ever. And I’m still in touch with some of those from 2017. Since then, you know, it evolved, we took it round, you know, the US, APAC, etc. And the format’s had to change slightly depending on location. But at the heart of it, it always comes down to what challenges are we trying to solve? How can we get this group with their knowledge, where they’re at in their career, to help? And how can they have an impact on the organisation?

Jo Taylor  17:07

I really love that, because basically, what you’re tapping into are experience, giving people an experience that they’re never going to forget, and they’re going to really cherish, but also the exposure. And exposure, both from a geographical perspective, a seniority perspective, a kind of inclusion perspective, a collaboration… So that really feels incredible for somebody that’s going through that at whatever stage of their career. I love that.

Soraia Cerqueira  17:34


Jo Taylor  17:35

So I ask everybody this near the end of our podcast, what’s your favourite podcast or book that you’d recommend to others looking to unlock their potential?

Soraia Cerqueira  17:43

When I first saw this question, I thought about it for so long. So I was like, oh my god, there’s so much but I think I’m going to stick to my guns and go with what I said earlier, which is The Squiggly Career, Helen Tupper, Sarah Ellis – actually Squiggly Career and You Coach You, both great, because at the heart of it, when we talk about potential, that message of: you own and drive your career development, so it’s up to you to figure out what your values are, what your strengths are, what you want to do more of you know, who you want to connect with. And I just think, at the heart of it, it’s such a great starting point for a conversation around potential. So either the Amazing If podcast or either of those books – they’re both on Blinkist, too, if you want to listen to them in 20 minutes or less, I mean, you’re never going to go wrong with with both of them. And they’re both two ladies that I just admire tremendously in this space.

Jo Taylor  18:29

Yeah, they’re brilliant. We use them a lot in terms of the conversations and the career coaching and some of the programmes. So I’m with you – big fans, that is for sure.

Soraia Cerqueira  18:38

Shall we start a fan club Jo?

Jo Taylor  18:40

Definitely. Love it. And finally, where can our listeners find you, whether that’s on social, whether that’s on email, if people are really interested in getting to know you a little bit more? And also perhaps getting to know a bit more about what you’ve done, where can they find you and find out more?

Soraia Cerqueira  18:56

Yeah, thanks, Jo. If it hasn’t come through already on this, I love collaborating, meeting, ideating, experimenting. So please come find me on LinkedIn. There’s not too many Soraias out there. So if you put in Soraia, Warner Brothers Discovery, there’s pretty much just me. So please, connect, come and say, hello. I am always looking for thought partners, continuing to build my network in this space. I will never say no to a virtual coffee. So yeah, come say hello, I’d love to find out what you’re doing and start a conversation.

Jo Taylor  19:27

Amazing. Thank you so much for your time. And I wish you real success in all the work that you’re doing at WBD. Thank you so much.

Soraia Cerqueira  19:35

Thank you, Jo. Thanks.

Jo Taylor  19:37

Thanks for listening to the Potential for What podcast. If you’re hearing this message, you’ve listened to our new episode all the way to the end. And for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We hope you enjoyed this episode. And if you did, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Please share this episode with others who may be interested in this topic. As always, you can head over to letstalktalent.co.uk/podcasts to check out all the links and resources in the show notes and to sign up to our email list.