The Potential for What? Podcast: Episode 3 – Heather Goodman & Martin Percival

The Potential For What? Podcast Episode 3

You don’t want a zoo full of zebras: importance of managers hiring and valuing diverse skillsets with Heather Goodman & Martin Percival – The Potential for What? Podcast

This week Jo Taylor (MD of Let’s Talk Talent) is joined by Heather Goodman (HR Officer at Tropic Biosciences) & Martin Percival (Interim VP of HR at Tropic Biosciences, and International HR Consultant) who discuss a range of topics all connected to helping unlock the potential in people.

In today’s episode we talk about:

❤️ Looking after your people, you won’t hit the numbers if you don’t care

💡 Mobility in the workplace, spotting opportunities to change careers

🧪 Role of supporting talent in the science world

🤿 Diversity of talent and skills

⛔️ Get rid of the 9-box grid

📴 Importance of switching off

🍌 The excitement of working for a business with purpose, and difference you can make to the world

Join us on our third episode of our new “The Potential for What? Podcast”. We’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s jump straight in.

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Transcript of Episode 3: The Potential for What? Podcast with Heather Goodman & Martin Percival

Jo Taylor 00:59

Hi, everybody. I’m Jo Taylor. I’m MD of Let’s Talk Talent. And welcome to the latest episode of the Let’s Talk Talent Potential for What podcast. I’m super excited today, because I’m joined by two guests rather than one, the dream team of Martin Percival and Heather Goodman. Hi, both of you. How are you?

Martin Percival 01:19

Hi, Jo. Nice to be here.

Heather Goodman 01:21

Hi, I’m really good, thank you. Hi, Jo.

Jo Taylor 01:22

Brilliant. So we’re going to dive straight in guys and talk about potential. And I want to talk to you today about your careers, because both of you have had really different careers. And in a way, potential has been unlocked in you at different stages. So I’m going to start off with quite a difficult question, but I know you can handle it. When did you realise your potential?

Heather Goodman 01:44

Sure. So I’d probably say I probably had three points, I think, where I’ve really noticed like a shift in potential I’d say. So I’d say that kind of like a “before uni” a “within uni” and an “after uni”, because I’m very much in that early stage of my career.

And so before uni, I was competitive at sports. So I think that I was competitive in judo. And I think that kind of gave a lot of resilience and sort of hard working ethic towards it. And I think with that potential, there’s always opportunity, but it also has to kind of come from within you, and you have to strive for it. And I think that taught me very well there.

And then when I went into university as well, I was one that was quite happy to kind of give up my summer holidays to get more experience. And that also allowed me to move on to a PhD without going through the Master’s process, because I sought that knowledge out on my own terms. And then probably my latest has been working at Tropic Biosciences, where I’ve made a very big career change from sciences to HR. And that was from being made aware of that potential in me from a colleague.

Jo Taylor 02:47

And Heather, what did you learn about yourself during that time, because it sort of takes guts, doesn’t it – bravery and curiosity – to make that leap, but also, it takes strong leadership to kind of guide you and support you along that journey? How much do you think was you and your innate personality and style, and how much it was people that helped and guided you?

Heather Goodman 03:09

I’d say it’s probably quite equal measures, really, because I think that awareness is important of your ability and your potential ability.

Some people just have a bit more of a natural aptitude for things, but then there’s also that kind of work ethic that can kind of bring up that if you are lacking in a particular specialism. And then I think, specifically, the career change – that very much wasn’t on my agenda. And it was actually someone kind of coming to me being like, “have you thought about this?” and then that was the spark that made me work hard towards it. So yeah, I’d probably say equal measures, really,

Jo Taylor 03:42

Super, brilliant. Martin, when did you realise your potential?

Martin Percival 03:46

I think it’s been an ongoing process really, Jo. I mean, I’m at the other end of my career compared to Heather, you know, Heather has just moved into her first HR role in the last six months or so. I started my first role in HR in September 1987. So that was before Heather was even born. And I went into that – it’s interesting.

I was listening to one of your podcasts recently, the Mel Francis one on squiggly HR careers, and a lot of it actually chimed with me. You know, she did BTech Business and Finance and discovered the People in Organisations module. Well, that was the same for me. Never even considered HR as a career, but I loved that module when I was studying my BTech. Applying for the first job that came up as an HR role and got it, with Yellow Pages, which in those days was a big business, obviously, practically non-existent now, but it was a very big and very successful and very profitable company then. And I think I took to it quite quickly, I had a really good boss, a lady called Peta Harper. And she was really supportive.

I started my CIPD more or less immediately, within three weeks of starting my first HR role – a little bit like Heather, she went straight into CIPD as well. And that was quite tough, because I was studying a lot of theory that I hadn’t really had a chance yet to put into practice. Because I was doing some fairly junior stuff. I was basically an HR admin, that’s what I was doing. It was the filing and the record-keeping and the holiday records and sickness records, because of course, none of that stuff was computerised in those days. But I realised quite quickly that I did have potential. I was promoted, I’m glad to say, quite quickly, because I was getting bored, frankly, in that role, and then started getting involved in a lot of recruitment. And what we would these days call HR business partnering, although that term wasn’t really invented at that stage in the late 80s. And I was there for eight and a half years, I knew I needed to do something else after a period of time, Peta went on maternity, I covered her role, and then I joined Xerox. So my first big American company, and I’ve worked for a lot of American companies, since both bigger ones and smaller ones, enjoyed that role, then got the opportunity to join Microsoft. That was a huge jump. Microsoft was really taking off big time at that stage, I went through what I would say is nowadays called impostor syndrome. I thought, oh my God this is too difficult for me, I can’t do it. But then I realised everybody else felt the same way. And I thought, okay, no, you have got the potential you can go on to something else. And I’d been nearly 10 years in HR by that time, so at least I’d got some war wounds and experience that I could fall upon there. So it’s been really an ongoing process, I would say, Jo, and then eventually I reached the conclusion that the role that I enjoyed the most was heading up an HR team that was an international HR team working across not only the whole of Europe, but also Middle East and Africa, if possible, as well. And that I would say is I thought, right, that’s your sweet spot, stick in that area. And that’s what I’ve done, really for about the last 15 years now, and the last two or three years really on an interim basis, rather than on a conventional basis. And that’s how I came to work together with Heather at Tropic Biosciences starting back in April of last year, and also how I came to work at Shionogi, Jo, which is where you and I first met each other about 18 months or so ago.

Jo Taylor 06:57

It’s really interesting to hear both of you talk because it’s a combination, isn’t it of right place/right time? There’s a little bit of luck. There’s also a bit of grit isn’t there? Determination, resilience and opportunity that you’ve got, but also somebody seeing that and unlocking that…

Martin Percival 07:16

…and believing in you.

Jo Taylor 07:18

Absolutely. So how do we take your careers and then we sort of multiply that into the world of work. And we think about the people, you know, Heather, starting off in her career in HR, Martin, you’ve kind of got your legacy and thinking about what you leave and what you can give going forward. How do we translate that into HR now? And what should people who are listening to this start to think about in the way that they operate? And the way that they then build that within their businesses?

Martin Percival 07:48

So I’ve got some ideas – shall I go first, Heather, and then maybe you chip in? Would that be useful?

Heather Goodman 07:53

Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

Martin Percival 07:54

So I think you know, my answer to that question, Jo, it’s our role guiding and supporting, particularly business leaders and managers, is a really critical one. And I’ve been lucky, I’ve worked with some really good business leaders, I’ve worked with some fairly ropey ones as well at times, if I think about it as well.

But I think it’s making sure that they are supportive, they are nurturing, they are encouraging in their style. And that isn’t always unfortunately a given. I’ve worked in a lot of fairly tough sales-type organisations where it’s all about the numbers. And it’s not always been all about the people. And I’ve had to remind particularly a lot of business leaders and sales leaders in particular, look after your people, because you’ll only get your numbers, you’ll only get your success through your people. If you don’t look after them, if you don’t nurture them, if you don’t encourage them, then you’re not going to have a good business. It’s an old adage, the best salesperson doesn’t make the best sales manager. And very often I’ve seen that, you know, and I’ve encouraged, particularly the sales managers: look, just because somebody is maybe not your style of salesperson, that doesn’t mean to say they’re not going to have a great career potentially in the bigger commercial world. So identify that potential, encourage them, and don’t always measure people just on the numbers. And I think, although I very much believe in management by fact, management by data, doing your analytics, sometimes unfortunately the people side, the human factors, can get ignored in that type of world. You need a balance. So I think it’s all about really the managers recognising that and I think a key part of the HR role is encouraging that, Jo.

Jo Taylor 09:36

Do you think that’s because most managers are focused on performance? And then the definition between performance and potential is always a tricky one to land.

Martin Percival 09:46

Agreed, agreed. And it’s because they themselves are typically managed based on performance and based on the numbers, so it’s a trickle-down process, unfortunately. And you’ve got to be quite a strong person to be able to push back with your boss and your boss’s boss and say, ok, yeah, I’m accountable, I’m responsible for the numbers and the delivery. But I’m also responsible for, you know, building this team, encouraging this team, developing this team. They won’t all necessarily stay working with this organisation, some of them will go on to other things in other organisations, but part of my responsibility is making the most of those people. And yes, the numbers are important, but it’s not all about the numbers. But that’s quite a difficult message for a lot of people to accept, they don’t get that immediately.

Jo Taylor 10:33

But it’s a bit like I always talk about that everyone has potential; the question is: potential for what. Hence, this podcast. And a lot of the time we spend focusing on, you know, square pegs in round holes, you know, the nine box is a typical factor of that, that we’ve kind of got to put someone in a box and we’re suddenly saying someone’s got higher potential than another. It feels antiquated in the modern world of HR, right?

Jo Taylor 11:01

Awesome. Heather, what do you think about that conundrum of performance and potential?

Martin Percival 11:01

There’s got to be a better way, frankly, Jo. It is a model, it is widely recognised, people use it. But in this current world, I think there’s got to be another way of looking at things other than the nine box. Frankly, the opportunity that Heather’s had has, for me, been refreshing because there’s a lot of organisations I’ve worked for where one of the people who was one of their up and coming staff scientists, quite frankly, they wouldn’t encourage them to go into a career in HR. Because, frankly, for the organisation, it could be argued that they’re more valuable in the scientific community. But I think, you know, credit to Tropic, Heather’s potential was recognised, Heather was interested in potentially a career change, and I’m very confident that Heather will have a great career in HR.

Heather Goodman 11:52

I think it’s really, really appropriate to look into it from a science organisation as well. I think there tends to be a pattern of managers recruiting in their own image. So then you don’t really get the diversity of skills, they see potential as in very mirrored to their own potential, when realistically a team works better with diversity of different skills, different traits, you don’t want the same. You don’t want a zoo full of zebras, you want to have a bit of change there, especially coming from a very academic background, seeing potential mainly more in the IQ kind of phase of things, not so much with emotional intelligence, soft skills, things like that. And that’s definitely something that I saw the potential in myself within Tropic, because people were noticing it away from the science side of things. But throughout my whole development, my career, it’s always been academic, IQ-based, potential. And it’s only really been the sort of soft skills emotional intelligence has only really been unlocked in the last couple of years.

Jo Taylor 12:54

You throw up something that’s really, really interesting. When you think about potential, a lot of the time when you’re looking at potential, you’re looking at those future leaders, right? Those people that have that breadth of experience. And a lot of the time organisations forget about that specialism and they don’t value it or reward it in the same way. What are you feeling? And what are you doing to kind of give that balance between that sort of expertise, which you talk about, which is IQ, and that EQ, which is breadth? What have you seen, maybe you’re doing at Tropic or that, you know, Martin, that you’ve seen in other organisations?

Heather Goodman 13:30

At least at Tropic and particularly with the work that we’ve been doing with you, Jo, in terms of looking at re-forming our career maps and how people can progress, I think in quite a lot of organisations, there does get to a point where unless you take on a management role, and I mean management in terms of managing people, that is kind of your only route for progression, and some people are not… like it’s going back to that potential, having that natural aptitude. Some people just don’t fit well in that box of managing people, but are really good specialists in their areas and subject matter experts, I’d say. And making sure that there’s progression for people in all different spheres of their journeys and making sure that they’re not being just tailored to a people management path. Yeah.

Martin Percival 14:17

I would very much support that. Jo, what Heather’s just said. I think the first time it really occurred to me consciously was when I joined Microsoft 25 years ago now. And they had realised quite quickly that putting some very, very, very skilled IT professionals managing people theoretically might work – in reality, frankly, it was a bit of a car crash. And they had to untangle that quite quickly and I was involved in doing that because I was the main HR business partner for what at that time was corporate support services. So it was basically… it was the the non sales and marketing aspect of Microsoft in the UK. And fortunately the business was supportive to the idea of creating career structures where you could progress, you could go on to be a deep, deep, deep, deep technical expert, but that didn’t necessarily mean that you managed people. And in some cases, it didn’t even mean that you interacted with customers either. Because it’s the people aspect generically, rather than purely from a people management point of view, or working with your colleagues. If businesses recognise that early on, wake up to that fact, and are able to create structures where very talented people, whatever their aptitude, is, can thrive and can develop and can prosper, you then have typically a healthy organisation. But if you try to pigeonhole people, and the way Heather described it, somebody that has to manage a team because that’s the only way they’re going to progress within that organisation, you’re going to run into trouble quite quickly.

Jo Taylor 15:53

So if I was going to ask you both to define potential, and I’m talking about the kind of, I suppose when you think about the STAR model, not the skills and the training and the relationships, but the attributes of potential – what would be your top three, that you think, you know, signal, someone as having high potential, and that potential being taken on and recognised within a business?

Heather Goodman 16:20

I think there’s two elements to potential. I think there is that natural aptitude, whether it is actually natural, like quite innate, or it is something you have worked on, and you would say, that is something that you have a strength in that particular area. And then pairing that up with your willingness to take opportunities, essentially going out there and grabbing them when you can, and not being afraid to take those risks, I think also kind of comes down to that sort of potential. Knowing your self-worth as well actually, probably I would throw in that. Having a bit more confidence in that self-worth, which is, I mean, personally I think that took quite a while for myself, and I’d say out of the three was probably lacking at some points. And being in a really supportive environment with positive reinforcement, and just general friendliness, helped kind of nurture that as well.

Martin Percival 17:09

Yeah, I would agree with all of those from Heather. And I would add to that, Jo, I would say, when I’m defining potential and looking at people with potential, I want to see curiosity. You know, I want to see people that are prepared to try slightly different things, think outside of the box, are interested in other businesses, other sectors, other roles, other organisations. I think that’s very important. A good healthy balance of EQ and IQ. I think that’s really critical. And it’s by no means a given – most people tend to lean one way or the other. It’s rare to see them in a good balance. And then I think the other thing on top of that, and I know you asked for three, but I’m going to give you four, sorry, I guess it’s general business awareness. You know, I would want to see somebody that really is enthusiastic about the organisation that they’re working for; they believe in it. And my time at Tropic this year, that was a great example. You know, I think most of the people working at Tropic are excited about the difference that it could make to the world in terms of, you know, improving pest resistance in crops, in rice, bananas, coffee, etc, etc. You know, in the world that we live in, we all know that agriculture in a lot of countries is struggling, we’ve got climate change, we’ve got all of these things. So a lot of the things that Tropic is doing will have a significant difference, I think, to the world in the future. And I think if you’re lucky enough to be working in that environment, that’s great. Because not everybody is. Some people are working in a bottle manufacturing plant, or a washer manufacturing plant. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We need bottles, we need washers, it’s just I wouldn’t find it particularly exciting.

Jo Taylor 18:51

I think that touches on a really important point, which is that potential can be unlocked by purpose and passion, when you can kind of in a way, mould the two together, then they’ve kind of got that sweet spot of where someone is really passionate and curious, and is brave and is resilient in terms of that. But also that purpose, that drives that integrity, that sort of insight. And the two kind of come together in lots of ways. I think that’s super interesting.

Martin Percival 19:22


Jo Taylor 19:23

So one of the questions I wanted to ask you is what are the things that you read? Or you listen to or that drive your natural curiosity? Because you’re both really curious and interested in lots of different things. If our listeners wanted to take some inspiration from you in what you’re listening to and your natural curiosity, what would you suggest they listen to? Or watch?

Heather Goodman 19:46

The majority of what I listen to is true crime podcasts. So I don’t know. I’m hoping that’s not unlocking some potential inspiration in me. But I’d probably say apart from that, like I’m still a big fan of the science background, like it still plays a really big part of my life. So there is a podcast called “this podcast will kill you”. It’s all about epidemiology and sort of diseases and things. So I actually really recommend sometimes finding something to switch off with. I do love HBR IdeaCast – the Harvard Business Review – to, you know, seek knowledge and get a bit of inspiration from other people, especially from an HR perspective. But more often than not, I’m listening to some creepy serial killer, or I’m listening about some sort of diseases that are frightening. And I’m switching off to be perfectly honest.

Jo Taylor 20:43

I love that. And I think that’s a really important point that you make, that it’s not just about sticking to one lane, actually that curiosity. And actually you can bring in lots of different experiences. And you become a rounded person by actually focusing on things that kind of allow you to switch off rather than it all be about work, right?That’s about the balance. I love that. Thank you.

Heather Goodman 21:04

I hope I don’t become a serial killer.

Jo Taylor 21:09

Having worked with you, I know you’re not a serial killer, so that’s all good. Martin, any inspiration from you?

Martin Percival 21:16

So similar to Heather I’m also a big music fan. So when I’m listening to things, it tends to be music, I’m still a big fan of the radio as well, actually. And I’ve been asked to do a radio show in the next six weeks or so with an old school friend of mine, who I went to my first ever concert with when I was 14. So I’m looking forward to doing that with Andy. So that’ll be fun.

But I guess in terms of the business world, I’m still quite a big reader. You know, I loved my time working at Amazon, because at that time back in 1999, an awful lot of people working for Amazon were big fans of books and music and DVDs and film and stuff like that, because that’s where they started. That was the heart of that business.

So there’s a book I’m reading at the moment by a lady called Sophie Theen. She’s an American who’s specialised working in startups and early stage organisations. It’s called The Soul of Startups, The Untold Stories of how Founders Affect Culture. And it’s really interesting. It’s a good book, Jo, I think you’d like it. I think, Heather, you’d find it interesting, too. I’m only probably two thirds of the way through at this stage. But I do need to finish it off. And I’ll probably write up an Amazon review and other reviews for it as well, because it’s got some good insights. And she talks about the really good business leaders that she’s worked with. But she’s also very frank, she talks about the frankly, the nightmares that she’s worked with, too. So, yeah, that’s an interesting book, I’m enjoying that.

You know, if I was talking to people about books that would be useful in terms of careers, and not from an HR perspective, but as a general business perspective, you know, frankly, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence people – I know, it’s 1936, you know, in another 10 years, it’s practically going to be 100 years old, but it’s still a good book. Some of the language is a little bit dated, but an awful lot of it still rings true, it really does.

And then Heather and I were chatting the other day, actually in advance of this. And, you know, Daniel Goldman’s work on emotional intelligence, I first came across that probably 15 years ago, now. I was working with an old colleague of mine, Gary Marsh, from Microsoft, and Gary was doing some management development. And he created a module on emotional intelligence. And it was going into much more detail than I’d ever seen before on the subject. And I loved it, it was a great module, and the group loved it too, because it was all new to them at that time as well. So I think Goldman’s work is good.

And then I guess the other area that I find I still enjoy reading is people like Fons Trompenaars, I think he had a Belgian father and Dutch mother or one or the other. Anyway, he grew up in a multicultural environment, and he had a book that I read as part of my Master’s in European HR Management back in the mid 90s now, “Riding the Waves of Culture”, which was recommended to me by somebody who was a big influence in my career, a guy called Rod Ireland, who was European HR director at Xerox Engineering Systems at the time. And I love that book. And that was one of the things that made me realise that not only I wanted an HR career, but I wanted an international HR career. And I was lucky enough to get that opportunity. Although, you know, we were talking about it before: right place, right time and a certain amount of luck. You know, it’s probably about ’92, that I decided that I wanted an international HR career. But it was ’99 before I really moved into my first role, so it took the best part of seven years. So that tenaciousness and that grit and that determination is key, because in your career, you do get a lot of knockbacks unfortunately, it’s just part and parcel of it. It’s not often plain sailing.

Jo Taylor 24:43

Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. I’m going to finish off by asking if our listeners want to get hold of you or learn more about you, where would they find you?

Martin Percival 24:53

Well, I’m on LinkedIn like pretty much everybody else so you know, people would find me there – Martin Percival on LinkedIn. I haven’t got a blog or anything like that at this stage; I might do something in the future, but LinkedIn is probably going to be the easiest way of tracking me down or if for any reason they struggle with that – and there are two Martin Percivals – I was headhunted once for a software engineering job, and I said, No, you’ve got the wrong Martin Percival, they wouldn’t believe me. They said, Oh, no, you work for BEA Systems. And you are a technical evangelist. And I said, No, I’m not – so I’m Martin Percival, the International HR person. So that’s where you’d find me.

Jo Taylor 25:29

Brilliant, thanks, Martin. Heather.

Heather Goodman 25:31

Yeah, pretty much the same as well. I’m mainly on LinkedIn. I think I have some very old Twitter account, but you probably won’t get much out of it. So yeah, LinkedIn would be the best. So Heather Goodman on there.

Jo Taylor 25:43

It’s been an absolute pleasure. And Heather, I wish you huge success in building your career. Martin, whatever you go on to do I know the HR world has absolutely been touched by your legacy, your enthusiasm and your passion. So as we say in Let’s Talk Talent, the best is yet to come for both of you.

Martin Percival 26:02

Let’s hope so. Certainly is for Heather, that’s for sure.

Jo Taylor 26:05

I love it. Thank you so much and have a brilliant day.

Martin Percival 26:09

And you too. Thanks Heather.

Heather Goodman 26:11

Thank you.