Episode 17: The Potential for What? Podcast with Fay Wallis

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 Fay Wallis, career and executive coach and founder of Bright Sky Career Coaching.

Fay emphasises that unlocking potential is all about self awareness, and finding what what you enjoy and what motivates you. We also explore why she’s a big proponent of the 70:20:10 framework when it comes to personal development.

In today’s episode, we talk about:

👍 Why no one can have zero potential.

🔒 What the drivers are that link directly to unlocking potential.

🤝 Whether networking really helps people to get to where they are.

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Transcript of Episode 17: The Potential for What? Podcast with Fay Wallis

Jo Taylor 0:04

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  0:57

Hi, everybody, and welcome to Let’s Talk Talent’s Potential For What podcast. I’m really excited, I’m Jo Taylor, MD and founder of Let’s Talk Talent. And I’m joined today by the wonderful Fay Wallis. She’s a career and executive coach and founder of Bright Sky Career Coaching. How’re you doing, Fay?

Fay Wallis  1:19

I’m doing really well, thank you, Jo. Thanks so much for having me today.

Jo Taylor  1:23

Well, thank you for coming on the podcast, because I’ve been on a couple of yours, so I’m excited to talk to you about potential today.

Fay Wallis  1:30

Well, I’m very excited to be here. And yeah, it was wonderful to have you on HR Coffee Time, I think you may have been the very first guest, or maybe the second guest to come on the show twice. So I’m really grateful.

Jo Taylor  1:41

Aw, brilliant. And we’ll talk about how people can kind of get in contact with you and find out about a bit more about what you do as we kind of go through the conversation. But the angle that I really wanted to talk to you about today, because you do a lot of work, like we do, with the HR community, and potential can mean a lot of different things, and one thing that I’ve been really ruminating over the summer, is that feeling that HR gets lost in the conversation. A lot of the time the focus is on the business, isn’t it? You know, how can they improve people’s performance? How can they increase someone’s potential? The question of potential for what? But when we think about it, how does HR unlock their own potential, Fay? You know, what should we be doing? What should, you know, listeners to this podcast be thinking about? I’d be really interested to kind of get your viewpoint on that.

Fay Wallis  2:29

Well, you’re asking me a question that I’m going to love answering because I spend pretty much all of my time obsessing over this. I have something called ‘the HR planner’, which is probably what I’m… I’d say I’m most well known for. So I think services wise, most people who will have heard of me before, if they have, will either know me because of the podcast, HR Coffee Time, or because of the HR planner. So the HR planner; there are two versions of it. One is a free downloadable one, and one’s a hardback. And what it’s made up of is at the beginning a whole goal-setting section to help you think about your career and work goals for the year, because I realised there doesn’t seem to be anything like this available. And then as you work your way through that, you’ve then got other stuff to help you plan out your year, because HR is just such an incredibly busy role most of the time, and you can find yourself constantly firefighting. So this helps you put some structure in place. But when it comes to all of those exercises at the beginning to help you think about what your goals are, I’ve actually just finished yesterday planning out the HR planner for next year, so you’ve got me on a good day to ask me about it. Some of the things I really encourage people to think about are actually: what are their values? So what’s really important to them. And I know this is something that your other guests have talked about as well. Because actually, for you to unlock your potential, which I really see as being having a successful and fulfilling career, you have to understand: well, what’s important to me? I haven’t actually got it in the planner, but if someone really wants to go to town on trying to go down that path of self discovery that’s going to really help them to move forward in their career in a way that they enjoy and feel energised by, then I definitely recommend spending time figuring out what your strengths are. Again, I know that other guests have talked about that too. And I love the Clifton StrengthsFinder test for that. It’s absolutely brilliant. Because I think a lot of the time we’re not fully aware of what the things we’re really good at are, because they come to us so naturally, we think everyone else finds them easy too, and they don’t. You can find out what they are in other ways as well like asking for feedback, but I think that one is… is really, really helpful. So I think the first step is that self awareness, like what you’re good at, what you enjoy, what lights you up, what motivates you. And then the second step when it comes to really developing yourself, is thinking about: actually, what are the skills that I really need to have to succeed in my career to achieve what I want? And they’re going to be different for all of us, you can’t just pick one particular role and say, “Okay, everyone, here’s the list of skills that you need to do that really well.” And I think that’s where there’s often a lack of support. Because if you’ve done formal training in HR, that it’s very likely to have been CIPD training, which I will never knock, there’s absolutely a place for that. I did my CIPD level seven, and it was one of the best things I could have done for my career at the time. But that can be very, very theoretical, and it’s very much about a specific remit for HR, when actually there are all these other skills that you really need to have to help you feel confident, to help that you’re doing a really good job. And they used to often be called soft skills, or I’ve heard people call them human skills, which I’m not a huge fan of. So I started calling them career enhancing skills. And that might be things like developing business acumen, developing coaching skills, improving your communication skills, learning facilitation skills… there are a whole whole range of them, that you can really tap into and develop so that you can succeed in your career.

Jo Taylor  6:24

Do you think that the world of work, when you think about it from an HR perspective, there is such a myriad of possibilities, that a lot of the time, when you look at careers, and when you think about potential, the way we always talked about it is kind of: how do you build your expertise in your early years in a career? And then as you develop, it becomes much more about experience, doesn’t it? Do you think there’s too much choice now, and that actually it’s really confusing? So going back to what you said about basics of understanding your strengths, your drivers, your motivators, your values, helps to a point, but when you’ve got too much possibility, is it confusing? And how do you kind of get past that as a, you know, you might be a solo, HR manager running a small business, you know, compared to a big corporate that might have spent tonnes and tonnes of money on giving you the insights of where your career could take you?

Fay Wallis  7:18

I think that’s when it’s really helpful to be able to actually hang your hat on to the business needs and all the organisation’s needs, and also the key areas of influence that HR traditionally is seen as having influence over. So of course, there is so much talk about HR being strategic, and that is really important. And if you are going to be strategic, and you’re going to figure out right, what are the needs of the organisation. So how can I, as an HR or people practitioner, contribute towards solving those needs, or really helping the organisation to succeed, there is always going to be more that you could do than you have got time to do. Whether you are a solo practitioner, or you’re working with a huge team, it is completely impossible to do everything. So I think the trick is once you’ve figured out, okay, what are the activities and projects that I need to be focusing my time on and perhaps upskilling in to really have an impact? It’s then ruthlessly prioritising, and it is weirdly hard to do that a lot of the time, because we can get really excited. I’m terrible at this, Jo, at thinking, oh, let’s just do this, it’ll have such a great impact and be so exciting. But then I have to kind of really reel myself back and think, no, hang on a minute, there’s a finite amount of time, I can’t just do all of these things I’m excited about and think will have an impact. What is the first thing I really need to focus on? And then and then get that done. And I think that can help narrow that feeling of overwhelm, and that feeling that oh my gosh, there’s just so much I could be doing and so much I could be developing.

Jo Taylor  9:04

How much do you think it is about you understanding yourself and that kind of how that enhances your performance, versus those drivers that link directly to potential. So when I think about potential, I think about it as things around curiosity. I can’t remember the company but they have a model called JDI, judgement, drive and influence. And they say they’re the three factors of potential. When you think about it, how do the normal person kind of grasp the difference between what they’re doing and what they’re being judged for in terms of their performance and the skills, and, as you say, the attributes and behaviours, versus some of those things that are kind of sometimes innate, and sometimes cultural and sometimes generational? And then someone saying, well, you’re- you’ve got low potential. Well, what are- who are you to say that I’ve got low potential? What makes me that, versus someone with high potential? How do you have that conversation, as an HR person?

Fay Wallis  10:04

If someone’s actually saying to you, “you’ve got low potential”?

Jo Taylor  10:07


Fay Wallis  10:09

I think you’ve hit on my biggest bugbear in the world, Jo, which is why we see things in an aligned way, a lot of the time. I started my career as a teacher, so it meant that when I was first really, really conscious of this word ‘potential’, it was within a school environment. And of course, every… every school strapline, pretty much, at the time, and probably still now, is all about unlocking your child’s potential. But the way you measure that potential is through exams! It’s completely bonkers that we can set children up to think they’re a success or a failure, they’ve got potential or they haven’t, based on an exam. And that was really early on in my career when I was sort of 22 years old. So I’ve always resisted even using the word potential. And particularly I’ve resisted institutions and organisations measuring and telling people what potential they have. I just fundamentally disagree with it. And I remember when you came on my podcast, which was ages ago the first time, but one thing you said really stuck with me. You were talking about the fact that you don’t like the nine box grid. And you said, “Because in that grid, there is a box that says no potential,” and you said, “How on earth can you tell anybody they have absolutely no potential?” And I completely agree with you. I’m sorry, I was worried this would happen, that I’d end up having a mini rant about the idea of potential.

Jo Taylor  11:36

No, I think you’re right. I think it’s very- goes to the heart of who you are, and why I wanted to be on your podcast and why I wanted you to be on our podcast. Because, yes, we agree on a lot of things, but I think it’s also looking at it through different industries. And that’s one of the things that I think a lot of people miss. And some of that, you know, you look at- read some of the HR press at the moment, and they’re saying that, Chief People Officers are now earning the same amount of money as CEOs. And you kind of think, well, yeah, why not? Because other people would go, “Yeah, but you’re a cost of the business” and all of that, but some of the greatest CHROs I’ve ever worked for didn’t start in HR, their potential was discovered because they really liked people, and the traits- and they were really good at it, and all of those types of things were really important. And I think that’s what it boils down to, understanding someone’s motivations, understanding someone’s drivers, then enables you to, I suppose, advise and guide where that person could go. And isn’t it our role as HR and our role as humans, to help people along their way, rather than sort of give them a number, or give them a grid reference that they’re then in? Because then it’s set, isn’t it? It’s like you’re- some people believe nature versus nurture, the, you know, your whole life is predestined, I just don’t believe that, I think you make your own luck, right? So if potential is an ugly word, what would you use instead?

Fay Wallis  13:13

It’s such a good question, Jo. Because I knew, obviously, we’d be talking about potential, because this whole podcast is about it. And I’ve been agonising over what a good definition is to use instead, and I haven’t come up with a neat one yet, you’ve really set me a challenge. I think that it’s something that I’d benefit from developing or thinking about more. But from my point of view, and if I think about the work that I do, which is all about empowering people in their careers and to succeed, ultimately, what it does come down to is a combination of two main things, I think. And one is the self awareness. And the other is the skills development. So if we want to be able to help people unlock their potential, we need to make sure that they’ve got the tools and resources to even be aware of what some of those skills are. Because otherwise they’ve got no chance. It takes so long to figure out this stuff on your own. That’s where I think organisations can really help by having some sort of framework and resources in place and having access to people. I think so much of our careers and I’m sure those CHROs that you referenced earlier, who you said are absolutely fantastic and top of their game, they will have got to that position through their network and through people. And that’s one of the biggest things that holds people back in their careers, is not having access to the knowledge to even know what the skills are they need to develop, but also the network, the people, that awareness so that they can understand and see other people role modelling behaviours, or ask them questions about their careers, or have them speak up for them and advocate them. I’m really passionate about that, I think it is key in helping people unlock their careers. Because before I specialised in working particularly with HR professionals, I coached people across all different careers. And it was fascinating whenever I was coaching someone who sat in the C-suite, every single one of them would say that at some point, their network had helped them to get to where they were. And in fact, the more senior you go in an organisation, the higher up you go, the less likely it is that the job is going to be advertised. Instead, everyone in that senior leadership team goes, “Right, okay. Who do we know? Who could we ask? Who have we worked with before? Whose judgement do we trust?” And so that’s why that network piece is just so key.

Jo Taylor  15:44

I totally agree with you about network. And I definitely say that to people that I’ve coached. And I think a lot of organisations are waking up to it. And when you think about it, it’s not only your network that you’re in now, it’s your future job network, but it’s your development network. And I think they’re very different things. I try and get people to kind of define the different groups. But one thing that I’ve really noticed is that when people talk about networking, they think it’s about LinkedIn, it’s about Insta, it’s about- it is about that kind of, in a way, social bubble that exists. But I think what you’re saying is that network is about the internal network that you have. How much should people be thinking about how much they outreach in a way and building that sort of brand; ‘you’ sort of thing, versus how they build those relationships and that collaboration and that trust and integrity internally?

Fay Wallis  16:41

Well, where you just talked about you have got your definition of the three core networks that people have, I have a similar complementary, but different definition for it. And that is that you have got your personal network. So family, friends, if you’re a parent, other parents at the school, if you’re religious, other people in your religious community, if you have a hobby, other people who do that hobby with you. And people are always surprised when I say that, because they think well, what if none of those people work in HR? Or what if none of them work in my sector? Why talking about that, Fay? But actually, if I reflect on my own career, I’ve had so much help and support from people around me, just when I have spoken up and said, “This is what I’m doing”, or “this is what I’m struggling with.” In fact, oh gosh, I’m going to go off on a tangent, sorry, that- it’s one of my neighbours it’s his 50th birthday party on Saturday, and we all have to stand up and say a story about him. Now, when I moved into the road, they were lovely, came over, introduced themselves. And in this split second that I met them somehow, I learned that he is an Excel whizz. And I was just starting a new HR and recruitment role where they didn’t have any sort of system for tracking applicants who applied, they didn’t have applicant tracking software. And so I remember, I felt really brave at the time, I had to work myself up to it knocking on his door with a bottle of wine and saying, “Hello, I know we’ve only ever met once. I’ve just started a new job. And I’m in real trouble, I have to set up this Excel spreadsheet. And I just don’t know how to do it so it’ll have the automation, but you mentioned you’re brilliant at Excel. And he came over and I remember him sitting at my dining table building this spreadsheet for me. And when I took it in, everyone was like, “Wow, oh my gosh, Fay, we hadn’t realised you’re a recruitment Excel genius.” So that is just one tiny, tiny example that’s come to mind of how our immediate network can help us. They haven’t- he doesn’t work in HR. And he doesn’t have to be working in HR to help me like that.

Jo Taylor  18:48

Love that.

Fay Wallis  18:52

And then, the second network that I talk about is your internal network, which is what you referenced. And so that really is about going. First of all, of course, if you work within a team, you’ve got to get to know the HR and people team really well, that’s a non-negotiable. If you’re a business partner, yes, absolutely get to know other people who you’re responsible for partnering with, but actually go beyond that. And so if there are social events that are happening, try and go along to them. I know it can be hard to do that. I used to find that really challenging when I had small kids, because you just feel like your time is so pressured and you’ve got to sort out childcare and stuff. If there are charity drives take part in them. They’re incredible ways of actually connecting with people all across the organisation and hearing that really important company gossip and company data, that intrinsic knowledge that people have that you just don’t get to encounter if you’re in a little silo somewhere. So I think that’s really important. And again, if there are opportunities for projects or cross collaboration, really embrace that, really try and take that, because you’re going to learn so much outside of just working within HR. And then the third network that I talk about is your external professional network. And that’s a bit more where LinkedIn comes in. So that is making sure you stay in touch with people who you’ve worked with before. I just think LinkedIn is fantastic. I am such a LinkedIn nerd. It’s ridiculous. It’s such a fantastic tool. Connect with everybody you’ve ever worked with, everybody you know, because they will know you’re fantastic, they will know you’re passionate about your work, they will know you’re good at what you do. Which is why at some point in the future, they’re probably going to come and help you in some way. Or they may come and ask you for help, which I’m sure you’re going to be delighted to help them with. And then also, that external professional network, it’s about stretching yourself to try and meet new people and people you want to learn from. So again, if you work in HR, then go along to your local CIPD branch events. It’s way too easy. I’m terrible at this, at just staying at home in my comfy slippers, flicking on Netflix, and thinking, “Oh, I’ll go to the next CIPD event instead.” But actually, you’re going to learn so much not just from the speaker who’s there, but from chatting to and meeting all of the other people.

Jo Taylor  21:18

Yeah, but I think it’s really good, I think it makes a lot of sense. And when you think about reaching your potential or what success means to you, or whatever the phrase that we hopefully will come up together over time with, you know, I kind of believe that the majority of the way that you reach your potential is by doing a great job. One of the adages that my old boss said; “You do a great job, and the money will come. If you chase the money, it never comes,” right? You know, I’ve taken that into running my own business now. But I really believe that getting really great at the job that you’re in and thinking about the job that you want next is super important. The networking part, I think, a lot of businesses and individuals forget, and I love the fact that- the way that you described it. But then there’s the third, which is actually that formal development. Which in a way, when you think about HR departments, and the way that they’re set up, a lot of the time, they focus on producing that sort of 10% around that formal and informal learning. And actually, the majority of the work that you’re going to, I suppose, get valued for and your contribution recognised, is through that 70%, which is when you’re on the job. I think it’s important for people to realise that it’s not just about something new and shiny, it’s actually if you do a great job, you get recognition, and you get the opportunities presented to you. All too much, we’re in too much of a hurry to rush to a job title or rush to a destination. It’s about the journey, right? In all of our- both of our careers. It’s been very squiggly, you know, to quote ‘The Squiggly Career’ book. I started off in programming, you started off as a teacher, who, you know, we now are business owners. I had my 50th birthday party this weekend. If you’d have told me that I will be running a business of eight years, I’d have told you you’re completely nuts. You don’t know, do you what the possibilities are? And that’s the excitement, but also the scary thing. If you’re in HR, and you’re starting your career or whatever stage you are, it’s an evolving world. And I think that that’s really important to hold on to, whatever the landscape looks like, right?

Fay Wallis  23:26

Well, first of all, happy birthday, Jo, I hadn’t realised that you’ve had your birthday.

Jo Taylor  23:32

Thank you. Thank you.

Fay Wallis  23:34

I hope you really enjoyed celebrating.

Jo Taylor  23:35

Oh, had an amazing time, amazing time.

Fay Wallis  23:39

Good. I’m really pleased to hear it. And yes, I completely agree when you’re talking about the 70% and the 10%, I think it’s really helpful to think about our development using that framework; the 70:20:10 framework. And I like to call it, someone else taught me this, I can’t claim credit for it; the three E’s. So I often talk to people about developing their career and making sure that they can tick off the three E’s. So the 10% one is education. And if you were to imagine that we’re all a pie chart, if you look at how we’ve developed in our career and achieved success, actually, only 10% of that is going to come down to formal education. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It is still important. And then the 70% is exactly what you were just talking about, which is the on the job experience, the actual doing the making sure that you’re doing your best and doing great work. It’s being able to put what you’ve learned from that 10% into action. And of course, also learning and developing while you’re actually in the role and seeing other people do it. And then that final 20% the final E is exposure and that really is the networking piece we’ve been talking about. So exposure to other people. And if someone listening to this is thinking, “Oh yeah, how chould I be progressing my career next?” I’d really encourage them to think about that model and think, “Okay, if I wanted to rank where I stand on these different things, if I wanted to grade myself; education wise, where am I sitting at the moment? Would I give myself a 9 out of 10? Have I been doing any formal learning for a while? Was it years ago that I did anything like that? Should I actually maybe consider that?” And then rank yourself on the 70% So how much are you actually learning and developing in your role, how much are you being able to apply the skills that you’ve learnt? Because now that technology has revolutionised learning, and we can all learn just by putting our headphones on and listening to this podcast, Jo. I mean, I’m terrible at listening to loads and loads of podcasts, but then not implementing anything. So it’s making sure you’re doing that implementation. And then finally, are you really shying away from that 30- that 20%, the exposure, the networking? How would you rank yourself? Are you a scoring yourself as highly out of 10 there? And then take a step back and think, right, okay. You’ll know straightaway, where you’re going to benefit from focusing some time and effort on.

Jo Taylor  26:02

Brilliant Fay. Thank you so much. So, if people want to find out more about the work that you do, where can they find you?

Fay Wallis  26:10

Well, you can come along to my website, which is Bright Sky Career Coaching, or I would love you to connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m on there all the time. It’s Fay Wallis, I’m not sure if there are any other Fay Wallis’ on there. But that’s Fay without an E on the end. And there’s a long story behind that. And Wallis is spelt with IS on the end instead of ACE.

Jo Taylor  26:34

Brilliant. And the final question I kind of wanted to ask you, because you always ask me, so I’m going to turn the tables, is do you have a favourite podcast or a book that you think- you want to pay it forward, and share with our listeners today?

Fay Wallis  26:52

Absolutely. So I’m a huge bookworm. But one book sprang to mind instantly when I knew that we would be talking about potential and careers. And that is the book ‘Mindset’ by Dr. Carol Dweck. She’s actually a professor as well as a doctor. So I’m never sure what title I should refer to her by. But on the book, it says, doctor, so I’m going with that. And actually, the full title of the book is ‘Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential’. Has anyone else recommended this already?

Jo Taylor  27:20

No, no.

Fay Wallis  27:21

Oh, hooray! I was worried you would have had loads of people recommend it.

Jo Taylor  27:24

No, no, no, I love that book. It’s brilliant.

Fay Wallis  27:27

Yes, I read it several years ago, and I would say it’s been a life changing read for me. And I loved it so much, I bought copies at the time for all my clients, all my family. So everyone’s, everyone’s got a copy somewhere, I think I’m on my third copy of the book where I keep handing it out. Because it was- just had such a big impact. And again, it really ties in with what we’ve been talking about, and why I don’t actually really use the word potential just because of my former experience of it. And in the book, what Carol Dweck discovered through extensive research is that we tend to have either what she calls a ‘fixed mindset’, where we think we have got a limit on our potential, and that we’re naturally good at some things and terrible at others. And that people who are really successful, there’s something special about them, and they’re really talented. Or we’ve got a ‘growth mindset’, which is where we embrace the fact that we can develop and grow. And actually, if we don’t get something right the first time, that doesn’t mean we’re an abject failure, we treat it as a learning opportunity and we figure out, okay, how can I improve and keep going forward? And I’m pretty sure if you were to talk to most people who consider themselves to have had really successful careers, they’re going to fall into the growth mindset category. So, it’s a life changing book, I would highly recommend that people read it if they haven’t already.

Jo Taylor  28:50

Brilliant. Thank you so much Fay. And it’s really interesting because we actually talk about fixed and growth mindset in our career sprint. So we definitely reference the Carol Dweck book. So again, another way of being kindred spirits, Fay that goes on and on and on. But I just wanted to say a massive thank you for your passion, your enthusiasm and all the work that you’re doing. It makes a massive difference. And I think your HR planner is fantastic. So if anyone hasn’t signed up to Fay’s planner, I would absolutely say you’re missing a massive trick. Thank you again for being such a thoughtful and caring guest, and I wish you success going forward. Thank you.

Fay Wallis  29:32

Thank you so much, Jo. It’s been wonderful speaking to you today.

Jo Taylor  29:38

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.