Episode 1

Mindset & Millennials

A millennial HR professional’s views on mindset and entrepreneurship

featuring Sam Neo

20m 46s • Published on March 13th, 2019

Ever wonder how it feels like to run your own business? What is the mindset entrepreneurs have that enables their success? Or maybe you just want to understand millennials better.

In this episode, we will be interviewing Sam Neo – a millennial keynote speaker and HR specialist featured by The Straits Times, Channel NewsAsia and The Business Times.

Sam will be sharing some personal anecdotes about his journey on becoming an entrepreneur. Tune in to find out more about the entrepreneurial mindset and what millennials look for when they go job-hunting.

Transcript Begins

Derek: Welcome to the first episode of Mindset Park. Our guest today is Sam Neo a millennial keynote speaker and founder of People Mentality Inc. Sam has been feature by Straits Times, Channel News Asia and Business Times as millennial voice in Asia. He’s here today to share how having the right mindset was key to his success.

Derek: 
Let’s just jump into this. Tell me about the transition from working in HR to founding a company that’s doing HR advising?



Sam: 
Once I started my own business, or whoever founded starts their own business, things becomes pretty open, right? You’ve gotta manage now not only the so called HR work, which I’m passionate about, but also the marketing work, the finance related work, the business development work, the content management, social media kinda work so, it opens up.

Sam:
 And the deeper you go, more things opens up, more thing comes along the way, so I think that’s the key difference that I realized since I started my own business, but because of that it also made me realize the importance of building not just experiences, but building competency. Um, that’s something that we often advocate, or rather, often advocate at conferences, you know, it’s about building what we call the T-shape professional, or pie shape, where it’s not just about experiences that you built over years and years again because, after all, experiences may or may not still be relevant, after a couple of years-

Derek:
 [inaudible 00:01:08]


Sam: 
Given the disruption that’s out in the market, but competencies are things that you can take along with you, and it’s something that’s more transferrable across organizations as well as industries over time, if you build the right one. So that’s why I realized that hey, I’m really thankful that I managed to build some of the key competencies along the way, that help put me in good state, that allowed me in fact, to setup my own business. Yeah.

Derek: 
Did you ever think about being an entrepreneur of is that something you started to think about once you were in the workforce?



Sam: 
So interestingly, being an entrepreneur was never on my mind, yeah? I always thought I am comfortable in a corporate setting, you know, just wanna climb the corporate ladder, make a difference in that space.

 
It really came about because I was facing kind of a quarter-life crisis back in 2016, alright? Uh, I was thinking hey, I’m in a very comfortable job, being very well paid, I’m doing things that are pretty okay, but, I felt that something was lacking.

You know I was thinking was it um, to move onto a bigger role, to take on the next level, to do something regional, for instance. But I was kinda lost, I felt that hey, even I’m, even though I might move onto another role, but will I be satisfied after the next 2 years for instance? And the answer that I got to myself was that I’ll probably still be bored, and look for something else, so, it got me thinking and thinking, so what I did, was then to venture out to HR communities, to just share, to give back, hoping to search for some answer, and back then in 2016 was when I realized the concept of mentoring.

Derek:
 Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sam: 
Um, that was where I actually started having a couple of mentors that were really pivotal in my career I would say, to give me the kind of guidance, clarity, and more importantly, the self trust. I felt that at a point of time in 2016, and in fact a lot of millennials nowadays days, right, when I facing this quarter-life crisis of sort, very often it’s a lot of self doubt, you know, you’re not sure what you’re doing, what you’re doing okay, and should you be doing what you’re doing moving forward. So that’s where I think mentoring helped me a lot in terms of giving me the self trust, some clarity in terms of options, and that’s where I realized hey, maybe entrepreneurship, where it wasn’t really an option previously-

Derek: 
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sam: 
Could be the viable option.

Derek: 
Interesting, so I can’t speak for millennials globally here but in Singapore the Straits times is reporting that 4/5 millenial Singaporeans like yourself are also experiencing quarter-life crisises. For you though, what was it though that gave you more confidence to strikeout on your own, was it the mentoring or the networking?



Sam: 
I would say that it’s not, not exactly the networking, mentoring is one piece, right, to kind of provide a little bit of clarity. You know, what can I actually do, or what options do I have ahead. But what actually gave me the confidence as well of course, my involvement in HR community, understanding that there is a support network there. I think that something’s very important. As well as the fact that I knew along the way I was building my competencies, not only just experiences, and with that I was confident that hey, uh, with the knowledge that I have, with the frameworks, the mindset I had, the competencies, I could go and do something on my own, and build, further build from there. So that was what actually gave me confidence, a combination of stuff, it wasn’t just specifically one thing in that sense.

Derek: 
Okay so when your advising and you know you’re trying to help multi-generational workforces work together leveraging on each other’s strengths is mentoring the platform that you would use?

Sam: 
I would say mentoring is one very good platform. Why? Because mentoring is actually a platform for at least 2 people to kinda come together and have that conversation. You know, very often things like stereotypes happen, um, there’s a breakdown in communication because there, there isn’t any actually good platform-

Derek: 
Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Sam: 
In that sense, so, when you have mentoring for instance, typically you get someone who’s more experienced, more seasoned, and someone who’s younger, typically, to have that exchange. But it’s not just the more experienced one mentoring the younger one isn’t it, you know, after all, reverse mentoring works as well, where the younger generation can also provide some insights about what technology is, to let them realize that hey, it can be fun, it can be simple, and it can be very very useful, right? And that’s where with such a platform it bridges the communication gap, and helps to kind of raise awareness, to create a safety net of sort, to reduce the fear in terms of technology, for instance.

Derek:
 Besides HR events and groups and networking events how did your find other mentors?



Sam: 
Um, a lot of them actually came through social media I must say interestingly, so, all my mentors, or most of them at least, right happen because of my social media presence and engagement where I was constantly delivering insights, content, really just share, you know, some of my thoughts, my perspectives. And it kinda attracted their attention, you know where they realize that hey, this guy is pretty interesting, he’s sharing his views that most millennials are not comfortable having a stand, at least in a space they are very passionate about for instance-

Derek:
 Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Sam: 
So that’s how we started conversation going and I think there was some mutual liking to some extent, where, you know, they felt that this guy um, has some value that I can, you know, educate him, I can help bring him in the next level and he knows that I can also add value to the HR community, where it’s also uh, a belief of theirs. So, with that in mind I think it really boils down to the fact that by giving, you actually receive a lot more, you know, if you’re willing to actually put yourself in front, to, to champion something you believe in, and willing to just add value in, on a day to day basis, people can tell, people can see it, and that’s why you attract a lot more like-minded people and you never know, you know, what happens from there.


Derek: 
Do you think then there is a need for thought leaders in the HR space and that they should increase their presence in social media through sharing insights and experience?

Sam: 
I would say social media presence is one thing, um, of course that helps in terms of your branding, where there’s company branding, personal branding, that can help in terms of um, recruitment for instance, but what’s more important is about the point of value adding, right. How do you use your knowledge, your expertise, to add value to people in different spaces, right? Social media to me is more like a platform. How do you use this platform to reach out to more people? But whether its internal or external, it boils down to the, the point of value, how do you add value and make a difference in people’s life? So for example internal HR is not just about managing processes. It’s also about helping um, others grow in a career, for instance, having proper career conversations, having coaching to kinda unlock some kind of um dilemma, for instance-



Derek:
 Yeah.

Sam:
 Or bridging communication gaps between, let’s say a subordinate and a supervisor who’s not talking for instance. And that’s where we can make a difference, it’s not just about managing processes your payroll and your lead process, for instance, yeah.

Derek: 
Now you’ve had a lot of experience with some tough topics working in HR. I want to focus in on one. When someone comes and they’re in conflict or even an entire department starts to get silo’d and communication is breaking down how does HR get the friction to clear up or how does you as someone in HR help someone get through those hurdles?

Sam:
 You can have engagement surveys, but if you just take in info after info, but there’s no follow up, it pisses people off.

Derek:
 Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Sam:
 You can have a town hall, but if a town hall if are not, willing to open up, not authentic about things, people get really frustrated because they know it’s just for show, right, so the authenticity part comes into play on your part when you follow up. It’s very important as well. While creating a platform you need to understand what you can and cannot do, and communicate that effectively.



Derek:
 Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Sam:
 That’s where it reduces a friction, and that’s where people believe that um, the management’s really committed on this people journey, this people agenda, and not just paying lip service.

Derek: 
Yeah.



Sam: 
I think to be authentic, first and foremost, an environment of trust and safety has to be created.



Derek: 
Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Sam:
 Right, the reason why, okay so, let’s talk about this, we are probably most authentic when we are with our family. Because if you’re really comfortable, we can just no holds barred give them everything, and they can do the same likewise. But at work most of the time we have to remain so called professional, we have to be a little more careful what we say, right, because we don’t feel as safe as when compared to when we’re at home with our family members, right? So the thing about what HR can do and management can do is to create a culture of safety, a trust, where people feel that hey, this is a place where I can really voice out my concerns if it’s genuinely there to add value and to help your organization grow, right?

Sam:
 
But failing which if there’s a very authoritarian culture, if it’s a very top down culture, think about this, would you feel comfortable voicing out? Would you put yourself at stake or your career at stake? You probably won’t. So that’s probably the first step that HR and management should work towards to create a sense of security and thereafter you can then create a open culture where it’s really open door, it’s really comfortable, and you know, really free flowing. Otherwise you can have your open desk, you can have open door management policy, it’s not going to work, it’s more like a show, basically.

Derek: 
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sam:
 Yeah.

Derek: 
In your work advising you specifically understand the millennial generation. Do you feel like sometimes there is too much generalization about millennials around their values and beliefs like do you feel that the term millennial is too broad a spectrum to place so many people into?

Sam:
 I would say, okay, because the term millennial is a pretty broad base, right, it spans across 20 years in the broadest definition, so I do see some, um, differentiation in some sense, but there are commonalities of course, for instance a lot of them believe more in um, things like having a voice, they want a voice on things, they want to make a difference, they want to do things that um, have a social impact, for instance. And that’s why you see a lot of millennials nowadays focusing on going to let’s say tech companies.

Derek:
 Yeah.

Sam: 
Tech startups that believe in changing our world as compared to um, some industries that are probably causing harm to the environment, for example, Tobacco industry, or Oil and Gas for instance. So to some extent there are similarities and differences but that happens, even across generations or within generations itself. Because um, we are in a certain environment that grew up with, that might vary a little bit, and based on the context that we grew up with, people we interact with, we all know that there’s some differences, I mean, just the both of us, right-



Derek:
 Yeah.

Sam:
 We might be similar age group but where we grew up with, our parents, our background, our income brackets, so on so forth, might change our mindset a little bit, the way we behave a little bit, even though if we dig deeper, there might be some core needs, right?

Sam:
 So regardless of generations, typically, I would say there are 4 areas that drives people, right. Um, a term it as MAPS, M-A-P-S, so M actually stands for mastery. So you want to be good at what you’re doing, you want to feel a sense of accomplishment as you grow, right. A is actually autonomy, you want to have a voice in something, in some way, you want to have some kind of autonomy to know that what you do is not always being micromanaged, for instance. P is actually purpose, what you do, whether it’s aligned to what you believe in, whether you feel there is something meaningful or not. And S of course is sense of belonging, you want to feel as part of a family, not just another employee, or worse still, a number on a spreadsheet-

Derek: 
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sam:
 That’s even worse-

Derek: 
(laughing)



Sam:
 Um, so I think generally, regards to generation, you see these uh 4 core needs that people have, but it’s just the difference intensity, some might want more into some mastery, some purpose, and the form that it takes. So purpose might come in different form for you, for me, for different generations, mastery as well, so, that’s something that I think is important pay attention to, to understand the core drivers and the core needs.



Derek: 
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sam: 
Yeah.

Derek:
 So focusing in on millennials can be really important then, even if its general but you get some key insights into the workplace because for millennials I know turnover can become very costly to companies and these millennials have a lot of options now with the gig economy as healthy as it is. For a company wanting to hold onto these millennials would you say a key is to following MAPS or what else do you need to keep them there longer?



Sam: 
So course like I say, the MAPS is probably one thing that companies should think about, you know what are core drivers of different groups of people, and how can you cater to help actually engage them a little bit better. But I’d like to challenge the notion about talent retention and employee retention, right? If we know that millennials nowadays don’t stay that long because they have this YOLO or FOMO mindset, right, that they wanna experience new things all the time, um, expecting them to stay in a organization for long might not be viable anymore, so why not re-look at this, if this is the situation, how do you then make use of the situation and re-look things?



Sam: For example, is it about retaining the people, or is it retaining the value that they bring, for instance, right? So instead of thinking how can I retain people for longest time, um why not think about when they leave, can you make sure that you know they leave by creating a better culture, a better deliverable in organization instead, how do you retain knowledge, for instance? How do you retain the network that it create? How do you pass on and retain the value that they’ve delivered over the course of their tenure? I think that’s something that we should think of moving forward, considering the gig economy, considering the um, the job hopping culture, so called-



Derek: 
Yep.

Sam: Yeah, I think it’s important to re-look rather than complain about I can’t retain, I can’t attract, but how do you re-look at this whole thing to make sure that company still functions? What you need is still in place.

Derek:
 Even if employers are doing everything right there will always be some attrition among millennial workers. So when these millennials or any other employees move on what is that last impression that HR should be giving to these employees before they move on. For them wanting not to have their employer brand affected and what can they do to make the move become as positive a possible?



Sam: 
Imagine this, if you really treat them with respect, if you really take care of them, regardless of where they are, you never know, they might come back as boomerang employees, they might be out there advocating for your company, so for example, I always talk Kapo, Changi Airport group. Imagine if I left on bad terms. Would I be saying that and, on social media, at conferences, how would that have turned out, right?

Derek:
 Right.



Sam: 
So having the kind of experiences from the start to the end actually makes a difference. Treating them with respect, taking care of them, regardless of whether they’re still with you, and having a connection. I think that’s where it can make a difference. In fact, 3 months or 6 months down the road, if the relationship is good, they will be more than comfortable share with you some of these things. Because there’s little or nothing at stake anymore, right? And there’s where you get true feedback. That’s where it can really help grow the company culture, and enhance your branding further from there, yeah.

Derek: 
It’s, yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay so you’ve mentioned that personal branding can really be a key to help boost the employee brand but it can be a bit of a long game. How do you help people see that it is hitting the bottom line, like how do you see that personal branding is making a business to become more profitable.

Sam:
 I would say yes, um, so for instance, right, we, we hear about this term talent magnet, right? Um, it can be individuals, it can be companies, for instance, but for instance if you look at, um, Alibaba, you think of Jack Ma-

Derek: 
Oh-

Sam:
 He’s the talent magnet, right?

Derek: 
Yeah-



Sam:
 You think about Virgin, you think about-

Derek:
 Because he’s movin’ on now, right? (laughing)

Sam: 
Precisely.

 You think about Richard Branson, for instance.



Derek:
 Oh yeah.

Sam: 
So they’re some people who have very strong personal brand, whether deliberate or not, in some sense, and they attracted people who wants to join them because of these people, they’re inspired. For example, back then Steve Jobs, right? Think about Apple, you think about Steve Jobs, think of also a prestigious brand. So personal brand can also build onto the company brand which does add value, at least from a recruitment point of view, and if you talk about internally, with a strong founder or a strong talent magnet of sort, people feel a sense of pride, being associated these people-

Derek: 
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sam: 
It helps, you know, create a sense of pride and engagement in some sense. Where they feel that hey, this is not just another company, I feel proud to tell my friends or family that I work for Grab for instance-

Derek:
 Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Sam: 
For Alibaba, and not just any ABC company.



Derek: 
Right.



Sam: 
So I think personal brand while it might seem intangible, I don’t have the numbers, while it might seem intangible, to me it does make difference, whether it’s from recruitment point of view, internal engagement point of view, or just from a company growth point of view because a lot of times when you watch, um, for me I watch a lot of Shark Tank, right? Um, personal branding for the founder is really about investing not only just in a company but investing a founder for instance as well, which makes the personal brand a personal belief, um, a lot more valuable, than just what you deliver, what you just do.

Derek: 
Yeah.


Sam: 
Yeah.

Derek: 
So Sam what is your unfinished legacy? What do you really want to do with People Mentality going forward and with your life?



Sam: 
So really I think what I start out doing this, was to really create a voice for asian HR. We take a lot of reference from the west, because they have a lot of more progressive practices, but think about this, do we not have good practitioners or good practices in Asia? I believe we do. It’s a matter of how are we articulating this, what kind of stories are we telling, are we able to showcase the value of what we have? And then exchange it with the West. I think that’s where the bigger picture comes, when you’re able to exchange knowledge from East and West, that’s when you build a profession more holistically, rather than just always copying what the West is doing, which may not, may or may not, right, be effective in Asia.

Sam: 
So I think that’s something that I’m working towards, um, through my social platforms, conferences, consulting projects, to really showcase that you know, Asia has good practices, and people like myself, if a young guy like Sam can be talking at conferences, championing this, anyone can do it. That’s a message that I want to send out, right?

Derek: 
Nice.



Sam: 
So ultimately, hopefully with what I’m doing I can rally more like-minded people, build a stronger HR community in Asia as well, and build this voice that I think we deserve to have, and exchange with the West to really grow the profession as a whole.

Derek:
 Awesome thanks for your thoughts. What about 30 years out are you still leading People Mentality or is there a whole chain of consulting companies there? Really what do you see going on in 30 years?



Sam: 
Um, you never know, I mean like with things, think how fast things are changing nowadays-

Derek: 
Right.



Sam: 
We can’t even tell what’s happening 5 years down the road, isn’t it? But um, if I were to envision what I’m doing from now, it’s probably beyond People Mentality-

Derek: 
Good.



Sam: 
Uh, I do see myself, after this phase, hopefully going into more like an investment VC space where it’s really about constantly advocating the people practice in different ways. For example, helping companies grow, investing companies that really believe in a people agenda, and really seeing how we can make a difference and impact to the society at large. So, People Mentality to me is the first step. It’s for me to kind of champion certain movements, to advocate certain beliefs, but beyond that, you never know, where things might go, but hopefully it’s building on the success of People Mentality to make a difference in more spaces available, yeah.

Derek: 
Well it’s been great getting the chance to be here and sit with Sam Neo from People Mentality Inc and hear a millennial leaders thoughts and experience in HR with personal and employee branding. And I want to give Sam the chance to ask our listeners that may be interested in People mentality how they can learn more about you or work with you.



Sam: 
So what we do is to help you solve your internal HR issues, um, whether it’s to grow the business through HR practices or enhance it, and then tell your stories, your unique stories, to let people know what you stand for, and let your staff be proud of it, basically. So we do multiple things, consultancy is one, we do facilitation and training workshops as well, to help bridge the gap, whether its communication skills, whether it’s about leadership retreat to align goals, for instance, and I also do a lot of speaking gigs, as we all know, um, to really champion, like I said, what I believe in, and hopefully educate people and change their mind, get ’em thinking about what could be done and what has not been done perhaps, yeah.


Derek: 
Fantastic. Well I appreciate you taking the time to, to be with us, Sam, and uh-

Sam: 
Thanks for inviting me! Yeah.

Derek: 
Look forward to speaking with you in the future, and uh-

Sam: 
Likewise.



Derek: 
Best of luck with everything.

Sam: 
Thank you. Thank you.

Derek: 
Thank you.



Derek: 
Thanks for listening to our first podcast join the conversation on mindsetpark.com by liking commenting and subscribing. Our subscribers get inside access to get insights from global thought leaders. Remember your life is only as good as your mindset.

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