Rising Through the Ranks: An Effective Millennial Manager

By the SMU Social Media Team

The term “millennial” may still be used synonymously to mean young people, but that won’t be the case for much longer. This much-discussed generation is maturing fast, with some having joined the managerial rank in the workplace. And while discussions about millennials used to focus on their penchant for job-hopping and seeming lack of capacity to take hard knocks (hence the unflattering label of a “strawberry” generation—to signify their propensity to get bruised), their growing presence in leadership positions is lending to a more positive read on their distinctive traits.

Millennial communication and leadership coach Kimberly Fries, for instance, cites the following as some ways millennials are influencing leadership: they prefer a flat rather than hierarchical management structure, they seek to empower and transform as leaders, and are questioners and disruptors by nature.

 

“One of the advantages of being a younger manager is that I am able to relate to my teammates who are fresh graduates,”

 

For Sheryl Woon, an Online Traffic Manager for sporting goods retailer Decathlon Singapore, being a relatively young person in a leadership position also means the opportunity to lead with empathy and respect, in order to communicate effectively with colleagues of different generations. “One of the advantages of being a younger manager is that I am able to relate to my teammates who are fresh graduates,” she says. “When it comes to working with older teammates, Decathlon facilitates an environment where teammates are respectful to one another regardless of age, and we are all very open to learning and sharing with one another. There’s always a mutual exchange of knowledge, which I always appreciate.”

Sheryl Woon, Online Traffic Manager at Decathlon Singapore

Sheryl Woon, Online Traffic Manager at Decathlon Singapore

Sheryl first started honing these soft skills at SMU, where she majored in both Finance and Marketing at the Lee Kong Chian School of Business. “I used to be very soft-spoken, but four years of non-stop presentations and group projects definitely helped to build up my presentation skills as well as my confidence,” she recalls.

Hands-on experiences, such as internships and working with real companies for class projects, also helped her to gain more exposure. In fact, before graduating in 2017, she had served internship stints at two banks, which kick-started her entry into digital marketing in an unexpected way. While the banking internships honed her analytical skills, Sheryl found little ways to make use of her creativity. “Digital marketing was the perfect mix of being able to stay creative while still relying very much on data and numbers,” she explains.

Upon graduation, Sheryl first learned the ropes at an e-commerce startup, where she received plenty of hands-on experience. A year later, she said yes to an exciting new opportunity—taking on the Digital Sports Leader role for sporting goods retailer Decathlon Singapore. “It was a completely new role, and its main scope was to drive online sales for a particular sport for Decathlon.”

Attracted to the job scope for its autonomy and the challenge of taking on something somewhat outside her comfort zone (like a true disruptive millennial), Sheryl dove right in. Just a year later, she was promoted to Online Traffic Manager, a job that requires her to manage digital marketing channels such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), paid social and email marketing, to bring in traffic through online channels to both Decathlon’s website and its brick-and-mortar stores.

As a digital native who grew up with the Internet, and a frequent online shopper, Sheryl has a pretty intuitive understanding of what it takes to make e-commerce appealing to consumers. That said, the Covid-19 situation has definitely upped the stakes and changed the game. Like many other retailers, Decathlon has been relying solely on its online retail channels due to restrictions on physical retail outlets during the trying circuit breaker period.

 

Sheryl Woon graduated from the SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business in 2017.

Sheryl Woon graduated from the SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business in 2017.

 

“This pandemic has been a big push for our offline users to take their shopping experience online, greatly accelerating the digitalisation of retail. I believe that this pool of consumers will continue to be drawn to the convenience of online shopping even after the circuit breaker measures are lifted,” Sheryl reveals. “That said, a good in-store experience is definitely still important. Therefore, I believe a strong omnichannel marketing strategy is key to providing the best holistic experience.”

Indeed, the experiential quality of her company’s in-store offerings is a unique selling point for them. Staff are recruited based on their passion for sports, and pride themselves on being able to offer customers expert advice. Even before Covid-19, Sheryl’s team has been working hard on replicating this zealous and knowledgeable customer service online, through features such an online chat function that enables customers to chat directly with in-store “sport leaders”. She also introduced a Decathlon sports advice blog to showcase the expertise of these staff.

To navigate the retail landscape successfully in a post-pandemic world, these “sports leaders” will continue to be crucial even as online channels grow more dominant. “They are the heart of what drives this company,” says Sheryl. “We look out for sports leaders who have a positive attitude and love interacting with our customers. These teammates bring added value and a personal touch to all our interactions with our customers.” That sense of personal connection could be the secret sauce in a time when user-centricity is more important than ever, she believes. “We live in an era of personalisation, where catering and customising to our users are of utmost importance. Nowadays, emphasis on shopping experience could be even more pertinent than the product itself.”

 

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