“Taking part in the programme shouldn’t just be about developing my knowledge and my understanding: it should be about the change I’m leading as a result.”
Our latest interview with participants in the Arrival Inclusive Leadership Programme with Tesco features Tesco Chief People Officer Emma Taylor and her co-mentoring partner Nathan Jordan. Both HR leaders, they have come away from the programme with absolute clarity on what they need to do to drive change and are already working to achieve just that.
Please tell us about yourself and how you came to be part of the Arrival programme at Tesco
Emma: I’m the Chief People Officer for Tesco and I’ve been at Tesco for 20 years. I was really keen to take part in the Arrival Programme following the involvement of the Executive Committee a few years ago.
Nathan: I’m Global Leader, Training and Enablement for Amazon Web Services, Startups (AWS), supporting and enabling people to be successful in their jobs through training and cultural advancement. A friend of mine had previously taken part in the Arrival Executive programme and as soon as I’d heard about it I knew I wanted to be involved.
Before the programme began what were you hoping to achieve and why?
Nathan: My interest is really rooted in trying to drive change in a large organisation at scale. Tesco is a brand I know and like as a consumer and I wanted to see if I could spark some change within the organisation. I was also hoping that being paired with someone more senior who can guide me at different stages of my career and could give me a fresh perspective.
Emma: I’ve been very involved in shaping the diversity and inclusion agenda at Tesco, but I also wanted to focus on my role as a leader in the business. As well as playing my part in progressing our priorities, I wanted to ensure that I was showing up as a better leader every day, recognising that taking action and inspiring and initiating change is a really important part of that.
From my understanding of the programme, I knew that the chance to build a relationship with someone and develop my understanding from their lived experiences was a powerful way to do this.
What were your first thoughts on your pairing? Did it seem like a good match?
Emma: Absolutely — we both work in HR and that’s been a great foundation. Nathan has approached the relationship with total openness and honesty which really set the tone for me. It made me quickly understand that I needed to come to the conversation with as much openness, honesty and vulnerability as Nathan has. One of the things I value most about my conversations with him is that he will never be anything less than honest in sharing what he thinks and feels, which gives real clarity as to where the opportunities for change lie.
Nathan: At first, I was in two minds about the obviousness of pairing two people with an HR background because I had thought this would be an amazing opportunity for me to see another part of the business. However, I got so much more than I thought from my relationship with Emma. She knows Tesco so well that she could help improve my commercial understanding because of the roles she’s done and the perspective she has.
How did the Arrival programme compare to your expectations?
Nathan: It’s totally met my expectations in terms of building relationships and setting out that agenda for change. Emma and I are already beginning to work on what change will actually happen and what that looks like. I’ve already met with the recruitment team to discuss how Tesco can make recruitment a more inclusive process.
“The programme has left me in no doubt about the importance of stepping forward and taking more action.” Emma Taylor
Emma: The concept of the Arrival programme is so simple, yet its outcomes have the potential to be so powerful. Developing this in-depth relationship with someone, learning about their experiences and thinking about that in the context of the job I do has left me with a much clearer understanding of what it takes to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace, and why that is so important. The programme has left me in no doubt about the importance of stepping forward and taking more action.
What were the key moments of insight and learning for you in terms of your relationship and the wider programme?
Emma: The first was undoubtedly the day we spent together on the community tour learning about Nathan’s life growing up in Oldham in Greater Manchester. We visited a number of different locations in Oldham and Salford that had meaning and significance in his life. It really developed my understanding of not just what those experiences were, but how they influenced and contributed to challenges and decisions that have been pivotal for the Nathan I’ve got to know. I was struck by the personal strength he’s shown and has needed to make decisions and choices. It’s a very different experience to the one I had during the same period in my life, and I can appreciate how it has shaped and influenced Nathan’s purpose and the person he is today.
The other moment was the midpoint event of the programme with Arrival. We heard some really personal and thought-provoking experiences from the talent which prompted the uncomfortable realisation that I needed to shift from listening and learning to taking action. Taking part in the programme shouldn’t just be about developing my knowledge and my understanding: it should be about the change I’m leading as a result.
Nathan: The biggest moment for me was the tour of Manchester for so many reasons. It really made me reflect on my experiences and the journey I’ve been on. We started in Deansgate, where I live now and then we went onto Oldham where I was born and the council estate I lived on when I was at school. We went to the schools I’d gone to and Oldham town centre, then we went to the school I’d gone to in MediaCityUK in Salford.
Growing up in Oldham we had very little, so to drive in my car along streets I’d walked through as a child when I was young was hugely impactful on me. It was such a reminder to me of how far I’ve come and in only eight years of working. And I wasn’t showing it to just anyone, but someone who understood me, understood my journey. I’ve never done that with anyone before.
What impact has the programme had on you, both professionally and personally?
Nathan: Within AWS, we’re striving to be earth’s best employer and this means we take our responsibility towards our People seriously. I’ve started to have discussions around a mentoring programme in my segment and we’ve also run ‘skip level’ sessions where direct reports spend time with a skip level manager discussing how they’re feeling about working at AWS right now.
Outside of my day job, I’m chairing a research project to survey thousands of black Gen Z people to find out their experiences within the workplace: what’s motivating them to apply, what’s stopping them getting on when they get there and what’s potentially making them leave. The Arrival programme has been the fire behind this and I’m really lucky to be working with Tesco and six other companies on this project.
Emma: Personally the programme has helped me to be more proactive in seeing and recognising opportunities for change and initiating conversations around that change.
Getting to know Nathan and some of the other talent and learning more about the brilliant breadth of skills, experience and potential that exists has really clarified the need for organisations to step forward on the opportunities to bring more diverse talent into businesses. We’ll miss out on being able to work with brilliant young people, the part we can play in supporting them to learn and grow, and we’ll miss out on the important contribution they can make.
What have you gained in terms of skills and knowledge from the experience?
Emma: I’ve learned how to lean in to conversations and the importance of seizing the opportunity to learn. Previously, I’d have been at risk of overthinking situations — will I say the wrong thing, do I know enough to join in this conversation? But what’s critical is leading by example, being prepared to learn, to ask questions, to get things wrong. As a leader, you can have such an impact doing that and role modelling that behaviour to others.
I’ve also reflected a lot on how we can evolve the way we look for and value skills and experience when attracting talent into Tesco: how we break through traditional routes and identify skills that may show up in different ways.
“It’s great to see an established organisation like Tesco wanting to embrace change and really thinking about how to move things, make an impact.” Nathan Jordan
Nathan: I’ve learned there is an appetite to do more in large organisations — I was a bit jaded about how much change large companies really want to make. It’s important for me to see organisations like Tesco not just want to do good for their people but also the communities they serve, because we know that success and scale bring broad responsibility. It’s why I love retail — it has a front door on everyone’s high street and a real opportunity to connect to millions of people every day.
It’s great to see an established organisation like Tesco wanting to embrace change and really thinking about how to move things, make an impact. It’s made me think about how I can win hearts and minds within my organisation — Tesco do this really well.
Because the Arrival programme pairs you with someone who is really senior within their organisation you can actually make change happen. Emma and I can just get on and make some change.
What have you done and/or what are you planning to do to make Tesco a place where socially and ethnically diverse talent can succeed?
Emma: Every single day I am doing something to put this topic on my agenda, and I’m committed to sharing my learnings with the rest of the team.
The programme has helped me to reset my mentoring relationships with the colleagues that I work with — I’m already spending more purposeful time with diverse talent across Tesco.
And specifically on recruitment, I’m working with Nathan and the Tesco team to help us to look again at our recruitment experience, and how this informs our position as a place where diverse talent wants to work: to grow, to stay and to realise their potential.
Nathan: This programme has reset me in terms of what I love, what I enjoy and what my passion is. And working with Tesco right now on this project is bringing me so much energy and joy. It’s reminded me of what I’m good at and what I want to do. Now the onus is on me to work out what’s next.
What are your hopes and expectations looking ahead?
Nathan: I want to get back into doing impactful work that focuses on striving to make workplaces as inclusive as they can be through all lenses. I want to make real change. Tesco is in a strong position, they’ve made some great hires and there’s a real desire to make change happen. I’ll continue to be that always honest, critical friend in the background challenging Emma.
Emma: I hope and intend to continue my conversations with Nathan because we’ve built a really good relationship. I want to keep learning from him and working alongside him, and I’m looking forward to doing that.