The Potential for What? Podcast: Episode 9 – Matt Wallis

Traversing Peaks & Troughs of Potential with Matt Wallis – The Potential for What? Podcast

This week our host Jo Taylor is joined by Matt Wallis, HR Search Partner at recruitment agency Tucker Stone.

They talk about the fluctuating recruitment market, how that has impacted searching for candidates and the double edged sword of potential in recruitment. Matt shares the importance of sponsors and mentors in the world of HR. And he also asks HR leaders to take more time for themselves, remember the importance of relaxing and reflecting on your own priorities.

In today’s episode we talk about:

  • ⚡️ How to understand what energises interview candidates
  • ❤️ Importance of empathy in realising potential
  • 📊 How most people work through peaks and troughs in life and career
  • 🔓 How sometimes unlocking potential might not be as important as ensuring people are enjoying their role, and thriving
  • 🔦 HR has never been under so much spotlight
  • 🛂 How to accept that you can only control what you can control
  • 🪞 Take some time for yourself as a HR leader, and reflect on what your priorities are

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Transcript of Episode 9: The Potential for What? Podcast with Matt Wallis

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  00:58

Hi everybody, and welcome to the next episode of Let’s Talk Talent’s Potential For What podcast. Today I’m joined by Matt Wallis. He’s a specialist in HR search at Tucker Stone. Hi, Matt.

Matt Wallis  01:12

Hi, Jo, how are you?

Jo Taylor  01:13

I’m really good. Happy Monday!

Matt Wallis  01:15

Happy Monday indeed.

Jo Taylor  01:16

I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation, because I think we can go really broad – because for our listeners, it’d be great to understand how the role of potential fits into a specialist in HR search.

Matt Wallis  01:30

Perfect, that sounds great. And thank you very much for inviting me on. I think potential is a really interesting word. And actually, ever since knowing I’m going to be having this conversation with you, I’ve been thinking as well as to what potential means to me. And how I try to spot potential in what I do. For me, fundamentally, potential is someone’s ability to make a difference to either somebody else or to an organisation. And actually, that potential can be vast, it can be smaller. But fundamentally, for me, it’s about: what can that person do to engender a difference somewhere else, though, that for me, is what I try to spot when I am identifying individuals for roles. Albeit to your point, and the title of the podcast, the “potential for what” is obviously a massive difference in every single role we do. So that there isn’t one fixed way that I would define it, I suppose.

Jo Taylor  02:27

And how does that play out when you’re talking to clients? So you get a brief and they say, look, I want a pink unicorn, this person to have all the skills and competence, but actually they’ve got to have high potential and be the next big thing. How do you marry that in terms of giving them what they want, because that’s your role, but also pointing out the nuances or some of the gaps that someone might have?

Matt Wallis  02:50

Yeah, and that’s the critical thing, which I think over the years I’ve learned to do better at. I think probably earlier in my career I probably would be guilty of over promising and maybe at times under delivering because you can’t find all things, or you can’t be all things to all people sometimes. I guess for me, the most important thing is to really, truly understand what it is the organisation needs and why they need it. And actually understanding more about the environment, whether that’s a leader’s style, whether that’s the business itself, as to then understanding what potential looks like in that environment. You used the word ‘high’ potential there. And I think there is a massive difference between someone being classed as high potential and for someone having potential. And actually, I think high potential is a real double-edged sword, particularly in my line of work, because if a candidate is deemed as high potential, quite possibly they aren’t ready for that role now. So I think there’s a negative connotation sometimes about someone being high potential and actually that’s unfair. So I think it’s really understanding all the factors that are going to influence both the individuals we’re looking to find and the environment they’re gonna go into to marry that fit. And fit is a dangerous word as well. But that’s something we can possibly talk about later.

Jo Taylor  04:07

Because that’s interesting, isn’t it? Because one person that’s brilliant in one organisation – I remember back to my Channel 4 and TalkTalk days, you know, a candidate would be great for a creative organisation like Channel 4, but wouldn’t necessarily fit in a commercial organisation. How much does environment, culture – I suppose the secret sauce that exists within an organisation – play into someone realising that potential?

Matt Wallis  04:35

Entirely. A lot of what I do when I’m interviewing candidates, or just informal conversations with candidates, is really try to understand what energises them, trying to really get a sense of what they look for from their leaders, what they are like as people leaders themselves, what traits and skills they have or where they feel that they’re thriving. And that then can completely depend, like you, say in a different sort of environment, whether they’re going to have a great impact, or perhaps they’re going to feel frustrated. It’s as much about what enables you to be the best version of you, as it is to know what drains you of energy and what doesn’t work for you. Whilst, obviously, there will be some elements of the interviews that I will undertake that will be technical, from an HR perspective, most of what I try to get to the bottom of is really understanding: is there a shared vision and shared ways of working between the client and the candidate? That’s hopefully, where we add our most value, I think.

Jo Taylor  05:33

So how much does – when you place somebody – and it’s about their career aspirations, and them reaching their potential within that organisation, does the mentoring and sponsorship of that person feed into them being successful?

Matt Wallis  05:48

I think it depends a little bit on where that person is joining the organisation in terms of level because we talk often with clients about hiring candidates with career runway, so who can maybe be hired for 1,2,3 roles ahead, as opposed to just the single role. But of course, if you’re placing a CPO it’s unlikely they will have two or three roles within that organisation. So I think, again, that sort of ability to develop themselves isn’t always linear, I don’t think, in terms of that piece. The mentoring and sponsorship piece is a really interesting one, because mentors are super important. And actually I’ve, over the years, run a few varying different mentor schemes for future HR leaders and future TA leaders, etc. And that’s always been super useful to share ideas and to give people an environment to speak very openly. I think for me, sponsorship is more important, actually. I think somebody who will genuinely promote you, and put their neck on the line for you, to help you grow is critical for someone who will really develop their career and realise their potential. So if you can find a sponsor – and it sometimes only needs to be one, within your organisation – then I think that can open a lot of doors for you.

Jo Taylor  07:07

So how much does drive and curiosity play a part in someone realising their potential, or even unlocking it, or that age-old question: potential for what?

Matt Wallis  07:18

I think it definitely does, and I think curiosity is probably slightly – I would value curiosity over drive – because I think drive’s great, and people who have that drive often will have curiosity. But I think you can have curiosity without necessarily drive, and that curiosity will still bring you places. It just may bring you to that place on a different timescale. Again, for me, that’s no bad thing. I think people and – I include myself in this – realise aspects of their potential at different stages of their life, whether that’s personal, whether that’s professional, and there are some people who are serial high performers. And you know, they were awesome at school, and they were awesome at uni, and they went on a fabulous grad trainee scheme, and they just constantly progress. There’s not many of them, actually, out there I don’t think, but fair play to those people. But I think the majority of the rest of us are people who’ve had peaks and troughs in their lives, peaks and troughs in their career, and actually, that may or may not be through a lack of drive. But I think that as long as there’s always curiosity there – what if I do this, what if I try that? – then I think that’s a good thing. And I think almost the reverse of that is the risk averse piece, in that moving away from, or understanding that you can say: what if I do that…but I’m a bit scared to do that, actually. And again, at different stages in your life, you’re able to be more or less risk averse, I think, depending on your own situation.

Jo Taylor  08:40

Yeah, no, I really…I can think back to my 30-odd years and think about when I was in my 20s, probably taking more financial risk than I would do now, coming up to 50. And I think that does play a part in the decisions that we make. And as you say, it is about an individual journey, isn’t it?

Matt Wallis  08:58

Absolutely. And I think it’s about moments on that journey. You can be in an absolute sweet spot, and actually, 9 out of 10 of the external factors that put you in that sweet spot are great, and then only one needs to change, and it can really change…and that again, comes from a personal life, from a work perspective, from a…anything, really. So I think we need to be mindful that defining someone’s potential is an ongoing process. And actually, people can have different levels of that at different stages of their career, and different hunger for it as well, because sometimes we’re super hungry and sometimes we’re like, you know what, I’m really quite enjoying what I’m doing and I’m having the impact that I’m having at this point: I don’t need to jump for the next shiny thing.

Jo Taylor  09:43

Do you think it is about just jumping to the next shiny thing? Because when you think about careers, a lot of times people think that realising your potential is about promotion. And I like to think about it much more about, I suppose, progression and possibility, well, I sort of talk about it much more about ‘possibilities’. For me, potential and possibilities go hand in hand. What do you think?

Matt Wallis  10:04

I think you’re right. I mean, I’ve been working in HR recruitment for 18 years, and bar probably the first couple of years, I’ve fundamentally done the same job for 18 years. For four different firms, who have been great in different ways, though, whether or not I have actually been ‘promoted’ per se – I’ve never owned my own recruitment business, but ultimately, I’ve always worked for the founder or the owner – I’ve probably, from a linear career progression perspective, had a really flat career, but actually, in terms of how I’ve progressed, and how I’ve developed and how I think I’ve become better at what I do, that’s come from lots of different experiences, lots of different conversations, learning a lot from different leaders and – fundamentally good but sometimes not good – and all of that. And you’re right, actually, it does come from those possibilities, as much as jumping to the next shiny thing, I think I said.

Jo Taylor  10:59

I think it’s about spotting them, isn’t it? And if you’re listening to this, and you’re a CPO, or you’re an HRD, and you’re thinking about how do I make that happen… it’s being open and transparent, isn’t it?

Matt Wallis  11:13

Yeah, yeah.

Jo Taylor  11:13

When you think about the market now, now we’re sort of heading into a recession, and you know, some people are calling it that we’re going to, you know, there’s going to be less possibility, what are the things that you’re telling, you know, your CPOs, HRDs, to think about in terms of helping their people unlock that potential? And when you think about potential, does it always have to be leadership?

Matt Wallis  11:35

No, I don’t think it does. I think the first thing to say is fundamentally 99% of the conversations I have each week are with people within the HR profession, the external to that is people who are perhaps CEOs recruiting their HR leaders. And I think the last three years nearly now, HR has never been under such a bright spotlight. Hey, it’s been hard. It’s been hard for a lot of people. And it’s not just about how do we unlock the potential in the rest of the business, it’s also how do we unlock the potential in our team? And how do we support them? And how do we do that? So a lot of the conversations I will have with our clients, with candidates, is to really try to understand what they want for themselves and for their teams – if they’re hiring – the next two or three years to look like. And actually sometimes it isn’t about necessarily unlocking potential, it’s around making sure everybody is loving what they’re doing thriving in what they’re doing, and getting the satisfaction from what they’re doing. You know, there’s a big piece I think around actually stability as well, in a market like this. And that not being negative. There’s nothing negative about that. I mean, people move when people want to move, and people can progress internally or externally, depending on situations or personal desires. But also people can progress in the same role in the same organisation, just because they get better at what they do, or they get slightly more additional responsibility given to them. So the conversations I’m having with the leaders in our network is really trying to understand what their big agenda items are, and for those for the business, and how – potentially – we can help them with that, or I can help their thinking of that as well.

Jo Taylor  13:22

So if you’re listening to this as a CPO, or an HRD, are there any practical things that somebody could do that could get them started, if they’re starting on that journey?

Matt Wallis  13:33

I think to take some time to think about it. And that’s going to sound like a really silly thing, because you would think people would think about it. But actually, the last two, three years, I don’t think HRDs, or anyone within the HR function, have had much time to think. They’ve been pulled all over the place; they’ve been punchbags, they’ve been working long hours, there’s been a lot of burnout. So I think it’s trying to give yourself some time to reflect. So I think it’s giving yourself that time and prioritising your time for yourself as well as for what you need to deliver for the business because you’ll only be better at delivering for the business if you are energised and thinking about it. So that would be my fundamental piece of advice, I think. Rather than from a technical “you should look at this” or “you should do that”, because it’s so different for each individual person.

Jo Taylor  14:25

So where do you get your inspiration from? Do you read? What sort of…so if people wanted to take inspiration from your development and your curiosity, what would you recommend?

Matt Wallis  14:36

Again, I think this has changed. So in the beginning, beginning of my career rather, I got my inspiration and learning from my bosses. So the first person I ever worked for – a guy called Mark Napper at Astralis – just awesome. Just gave me so much insight, so much knowledge, a really good down-to-earth relationship-driven guy and I worked with Mark for seven years. At the same time, actually, met and worked with Debbie Pask, also at Astralis at the time, who I latterly went on and worked with in her business as well. And I would say those two have given me almost everything in terms of my grounding and how I work now. I don’t read particularly a lot of business books, I get my insight and information from having conversations with people more than I think, because actually that’s pretty much my job is to speak to people. So if I end up talking to 20 people a week, I always get a sense of where they’re being informed, and that helps inform me and understanding what certain organisations are doing etc. Podcast wise, I use podcasts to unwind, and I tend to listen to human stories. So Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place is a standard podcast I’ll listen to. And again, reading, sadly, I probably read 5-6 pages of my book each night before my eyes go. And that is just most of the time fairly trashy reading.

Jo Taylor  16:09

It’s a balance, isn’t it. Otherwise, if you’re always just focused on work, you don’t get that rest. And as you say, you become quite one dimensional.

Matt Wallis  16:18

Something I’m still trying to be better at is that delineation from work and play. I do find it quite hard to switch off because it is people you’re dealing with. And it’s people’s expectations. It’s important for me to feel like I am succeeding for them. And I’ve done a lot of different online psychometrics over the years and it’s always been pretty similar. You know, it’s about trying to be, or wanting to be, irreproachable. It’s about wanting to do the right thing for people. It’s about wanting to help people, and being empathetic. But the negative side of that is sometimes I think, I try to control things that I can’t control. And I think a lot of people who have similar traits are guilty of that, in that sometimes it is out of your control, and you just have to accept that, and people are people and people make decisions for all manner of great reasons that they need to. So it’s kind of a piece around trying to accept that and have your home time and have your sport time and have your work time and have whatever. Sometimes easier said than done, though, I guess.

Jo Taylor  17:20

You make a really good point that we’re all a work in progress. If we were robots we’d be very easy because you’d robotically look at it and go: well, I’m spending 10% on this and 15% on that, and everything. But the nature of the work that you do, and to some degree, the work that we do in terms of consultancy, because whether it’s you’re selling candidates, and we’re selling projects and solutions, the thing that really binds us together is that care.

Matt Wallis  17:46


Jo Taylor  17:47

And if you care, and you have that as a trait, which I think is part of potential, ultimately, then it is very difficult to switch off. I don’t really normally set resolutions, but one of my resolutions this year is I bought a book after listening to a Woman’s Hour over Christmas by Claudia Hammond called The Art of Rest. And like you, I was nodding as you were talking, I found over Christmas it really difficult to switch off. It took me a week. And I’d gone through a week of my holiday being you know, stress monkey, in effect. But my resolution this year is to think if I’m going to unlock the potential, or answer the question for me of potential for what for LTT, is I’ve got to figure out what rest means as part of it. I think that when you are a high performer and you’ve consistently set yourself high standards, I find that a lot with people in businesses, in a sense you wear yourself out, don’t you?

Matt Wallis  18:41

Absolutely. And I think what I’ve learnt probably over the last three or four years since working with the team at Tucker Stone is the power of the team. Don’t get me wrong, we had awesome teams previously, when I was working with Debs it was just the two of us, albeit a great person to work alongside. Now being part of a wider team, I think it took me a while but it’s allowed me – I’ve got better at actually trusting and passing stuff on and actually going on holiday and not taking my phone.

Jo Taylor  19:11


Matt Wallis  19:12

Yeah, I mean, I know it sounds silly, that that should be amazing. Because it shouldn’t be amazing, should it? It should be just the norm. And actually it was Olivia, Olivia Stone, who I remember going away a couple of years ago and I’d done my handover of my three or four projects, and Olivia was handling a lot of it for me…and I kept on dipping in. And she said to me: just stop. A) because you don’t need to, because I’ve got it. B) because it’s just annoying, and you’re not helping and C) have a break, you know. And I think there’s a part of me that says oh yeah, but I need to know a bit…slightly control freaky…I suppose. But actually I’ve got a lot better at that, and I do think it’s something that is so important for all of us, is to be able to do that. That switching off: to reenergise and to get to reach your potential, or to maximise that potential. So that’s definitely a learning that I’ve had more recently.

Jo Taylor  20:07

Love it. So Matt, my final question to you is that if people wanted to get in contact with you, and learn more about Tucker Stone or learn more about your journey, how might they find you?

Matt Wallis  20:17

The classic: LinkedIn. So I’m on LinkedIn as Matt Wallis. Feel free to reach out whether you just want to chat about the market, whether you want to chat about your career, whatever, really, I’m always super happy to speak to people, that’s probably the best way and take a look at the Tucker Stone website as well to find out a little bit more about what we do. And yeah, I look forward to hearing from anyone who wants to connect.

Jo Taylor  20:40

Brilliant. Well, look, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I’ve learned a lot about not only your career, and I can kind of realise that it’s not just me that struggles with some of the things that we’ve talked about. But also, I think some really helpful tips and tricks that people listening to this podcast can take and think about as they head into 2023. So thank you so much. Have a great year, and I look forward to catching up with you really soon.

Matt Wallis  21:03

Thanks, Jo. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jo Taylor  21:08

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 to check out all the links and resources in the show notes and to sign up to our email list.