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On scaling emotionally intelligent leaders - Yvonne Tan of Dentsu

Conversation with Yvonne Tan about organizational values, culture, leadership, and employee engagement.

Cultivating emotionally intelligent leaders was one of the major themes of my conversation with Yvonne Tan, Chief People Office of Dentsu South East Asia. Yvonne is a richly experienced HR leader, with long stints at organizations including UBS, mining giant BHP, PwC, and Dentsu. I’ve been wanting to have her on the Atomic Conversations podcast for a while.

Though Yvonne has worked in every aspect of modern HR, I wanted specifically to speak to her about something she is personally invested in - scaling emotionally intelligent leaders. We also spoke about organizational values, culture, and employee engagement.

We started with a discussion of the post-pandemic adjustment in the world, and what challenges HR is going through. Yvonne touched upon how everything is different now, and how we need to look at the post-pandemic world through that lens.

I wanted to go deeper into something Yvonne has been passionate about her whole career: Developing managers. And I started by asking her how difficult it was to create managers in a creative place like Dentsu. The answer surprised me because Yvonne said that creative people were easier to develop into managers, as opposed to non-creative talent.

Something I also wanted to know was why developing managers was essential to Yvonne. Her answer should be required reading for talent executives: Because at scale, people experience companies through managers and their relationships with them. This is why any development effort interaction should start with the manager, and remedying anything should also start with the manager. Another point Yvonne made was about cultivating emotionally intelligent leaders, and how leaders who are high in both EQ and IQ go far.

A crucial point of conversation with Yvonne was also the ‘hybrid’ nature of our jobs. How can HR deal with this ‘reality’ better? She felt that a company could offer a platform, and provide principles and autonomy. The company needs to be purpose-driven. 

Another segment I loved was when I asked if culture can be delivered across the organization. It is “delicate” to build, said Yvonne. It is about deciding what to take a stance on, what needs to be nurtured, and what needs to be defined, recognized, and celebrated. 

One of the most interesting points of our conversation was when I asked her how HR execs can communicate both to the leaders and employees and make their lives better. Yvonne said it starts with being in the minds of senior execs. If one were to think about it, it makes perfect sense. Senior execs are in back-to-back meetings and their strength is context-switching. If you get that bit right, you know how to structure your meeting with them--start by bringing them into the frame, set the context, objectives, and finally the summary. You need to allow them to understand and give an opinion with full context. 

The same goes for dealing with employees. It starts by being in their shoes. 

Finally, I asked Yvonne what HR folks should do to grow in their career given the ever-changing environment. Pat came the reply! “Definitely focus on what is in front of you”. She expanded to say, how one must focus on the quality of work and be exceptional team players in the ecosystem. More importantly, it is just not about delivering the work assigned to you, it is about how you deliver with little friction.

You can listen to the whole podcast here.

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