Jessica Yong, Team Manager for Manufacturing Hydrocarbons (East), shares her experience of being a young leader and managing millennials.
Meet Jessica. #EmpoweredtoLead
I studied at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Economics, Finance and Management. I started my career in Management Consulting before joining Shell in 2015. I started off here as an Upstream Project & Technology Finance Accountant and I was in this role for the first 18 months. From here, I moved into the Hydrocarbons organization, working in the Managed Hydrocarbons Integrator role for 6 months.
I then moved to my current role, the Hydrocarbons Team manager for Manufacturing, where I’m responsible for looking after Shell’s hydrocarbon inventory in our Singapore and Philippines refineries. This was my first leadership role with 8 direct reports. It was daunting because it’s not something you can easily learn from a book – it takes experience. Fortunately, Shell provided me with the right kind of opportunities for me to learn and develop on the job.
A Tough Transition
Since my previous role before joining Shell was very business-focussed, I came without a great deal of experience in accounting. My background was more in change management, big data and analytics. I had to quickly acquire the right leadership capabilities, not just because I was new to management, but because I was about to lead a team of people who almost certainly had more experience I than I did.
I’m not going to lie; it was tough learning such a new skillset in such a short timeframe. When I first joined Shell, one time I almost doubled-posted an entry incorrectly, which would have had an impact of $2 million USD, but fortunately I had great colleagues who were always helping out and could pick up this kind of error. I found that I improved quickly by asking them a lot of questions, and within 2-3 months in the role, I was able to perform my job with confidence.
As I transitioned to a manager role, there was also a lot to take on-board as a first-time leader. I had to learn how to have difficult conversations and navigate change fairly early on. I quickly found out that I can’t read minds, so part of being a leader is having those conversations with people early to understand where they’re coming from and where they want to go. It’s wasn’t just about my career path any more, but about the whole team’s.
The career path for a management consultant is fairly straightforward, but when I came into Finance at Shell I realized that it doesn’t work that way at all – it’s more like a big map. I struggled a lot with that at first, but my line managers made me realize that it’s ok not to know what direction you’re headed. They reassured me that I have time to explore and that it’s important to try a few different things so that ultimately, I end up on the right path.
When it came to leadership, I quickly discovered it wasn’t something I could learn from books. I had a more experiential approach and developed my style based on the behaviour of my previous line managers. I observed them to see which traits of theirs worked and how I could take them and apply them to my own leadership style. They were also very open about the challenges they faced in people management and drew on their own experience to help me navigate them.
My Leadership Style
My team is mostly millennials, so I’m adjusting my style to find the right balance between empowering them to do their own thing, while not being completely absent. I try to provide tools to help them succeed, guiding and coaching them on softer skills and problem solving.
I acknowledge that the best ideas are going to come from my team members rather than me. Since I’m relatively new to the process, they’re going to know more than I do. So I see my role as helping to facilitate their idea generation, triggering their thoughts by asking the right questions and making sure that their solutions can be practically executed.
I also try to create escalation channels so that they can shout out when something isn’t working. I make sure everyone has set some personal goals, so that we’re aligned in the same direction as a team, but each individual can still fulfil their own career aspirations.
When I first took over the team, there were some who felt that they were not getting enough opportunities to develop. So, this January I conducted a portfolio reshuffle, redistributing the team’s scope of work to make sure that each team member takes on enough in-role challenges to aid their personal development, while still keeping the team stable and balanced.
Since then, I’ve seen higher levels of motivation and collaboration. I’m really happy with the pace the team is now working at and that they have more opportunities to progress with their personal goals.
Since I’m still early into my career, I’m looking for breadth rather than depth of experience. So, I’m looking for opportunities to learn new finance competencies that I haven’t yet had full exposure to in my previous roles.
Shell is such an open organization and it’s easy to strike up conversations across the business, so I’ll be looking to speak to people across various Finance functions for their advice and expertise. I want to know what other skills I can pick up that will build me into a well-rounded Finance professional, plus what I’ll be able to bring to the table based on my particular strengths.
At Shell, I am able to shape my career journey based on my aspirations. It has allowed me to take charge of my own development and I’m excited for where it will take me next.
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