When Chloe Neo began her career in communications, she never imagined that she’d be running an organisation. Now, she’s the managing director of OMD Singapore, one of the world’s leading communications agencies.
She credits the people and bosses that she’s worked with for putting her on the path to leadership. After working in China for a couple of years and realising that the skills she had built in Singapore were transferable in the complex China market, she came home with a sense of accomplishment, as well as a mission to build and do well as a Singaporean.
Chloe Neo heads teams made up of people from different generations. How does she effectively lead people from different age groups, work styles, and belief systems? Here, she gives Asian Money Guide some valuable insights.
Work forms a large part of our lives. We spend 8 hours a day on work. I believe that work is worth spending time on and is worth doing well.
What do you think are the biggest differences between millennials and non-millennials in terms of working styles?
I won’t say the millennials are drastically different. But because of the world that they are being exposed to, there are distinctive qualities that are associated with millennials.
If there is anything that is really different, I’d say it’s the sense of purpose that the millennials have. They tend to ask a lot of whys: “Why am I doing this job? What’s in the job for me?” Whereas if you compare to non-millennials, let’s say the Gen X or baby boomers, it tends to be a lot more about diligence and work.
If I look at the Singapore context, we’ve taught millennials to be a lot more vocal. We want them to be able to stand in the world stage. So they are asking for a lot more transparency. They demand to know what is happening in terms of their career development.
I think that’s a good thing. Those are positive traits and energies that we should actually bring into any organisation.
Organisations need to embrace diversity. As an organisational leader, you have to recognise that there’s no one kind of mindset or one type employee that you should work with.
In a creative environment like a media agency, you need that diversity. You need that different point of view to kind of stimulate the right culture and innovation.
What have you learnt working with millennials?
I learned not to take no for an answer. A lot of millennials are actually very open about how they feel. And when asked for opinions, they are very open to sharing. And you’re entitled to having an opinion — sometimes there’s no right or wrong answer.
When I was growing up, we were taught to be seen and not heard. So typically, a lot of Singaporeans in my generation, Gen X, they tend to be a lot less visible in the boardroom or at meetings. But when you look at the younger generation, they are a lot more fearless and participative.
What are the things other people can learn from working with cross-generational teams?
If we look at it right, having a diverse cross-generational team helps to land different perspectives to the same issue. So when we actually form task groups, we actually put people with different perspectives and diversity into the work team so that we are able to have a different view of the same situation.
We also encourage reverse mentoring, which helps in the workplace where we have people who are more familiar with a system because they have been around longer. Working with someone new, younger, with a fresh perspective actually helps to create new solutions to an existing process.
It’s about empathy. When you work with anyone of any generation, be it Gen Z, millennial or a baby boomer, I think that human connection is really important.
How do you become an inspiring MD to a team of people who may or may not resonate with you?
It’s down to core beliefs. Personally, the first thing I look at is the organisation’s values. It’s very important. I believe that being an inspiring leader is having the right set of values. People might not agree with your decision, but there are certain values that people live by as individuals. I believe in upholding those values and standards. You can’t please all. You just have the right people who are able to work with you and rally alongside with you, to achieve that organisational success.
How do you develop your talents and help them grow to the next level and be their best?
You need to have a clear competency framework. Clearly structure the different capabilities in terms of function, knowledge, and also soft skills. That gives a clear guideline as to how a talent within OMD should behave, and what they need to accomplish in their respective roles, and what they also have to demonstrate to move on to the next level. So that sets very clear expectations and standards for everyone.
We spend a lot of time doing 1 on 1 conversations. We give ready feedback on performance, and during our biannual appraisals, we don’t just talk about performance, but also expectations, goals, and development plans for that individual.
What advice do you have for millennials?
Be patient. The world you’ve grown up in is all about instant gratification. Everything is one click away. You book a ride, if it’s more than 3 minutes away, you cancel. So it becomes a part of our behaviour. But certain skill sets do take time to groom. So give yourself time to develop to your full potential. Don’t just move from one challenge to another when you start to feel antsy or bored.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Be brave, be daring, go far, and be better than what you are today.
Be the best that you can be. It’s still something that I live by today. I think we tend to limit ourselves, but seize all opportunities as well as challenges to be better than what you are. Put up your hand for a role, put up your hand for challenges, move to a different country, have different exposures. I think it all helps to be a better person than what you are today.
Read about more inspiring power women like Chloe Neo here.