We sat down with Yolanda Conyers, VP Worldwide HR and Chief Diversity Officer for technology giant Lenovo, and best-selling co-author of The Lenovo Way. Aperian Global supported the deliberate transformation process of cultural inclusion that Lenovo underwent when they acquired IBM’s PC division. The initiative required engagement & alignment of executive stakeholders from China, the U.S. and Europe, as well as the creation and communication of a new integrated culture across all levels of the organization. Read on to hear more about the globally-recognized successful merger, including key challenges & Yolanda’s advice to professionals working through global integrations.
Congratulations on your book The Lenovo Way, co-authored with Gina Qiao. What motivated you to write this book?
Gina and I knew we wanted to share our story of the great challenges and successes of blending both Eastern and Western business cultures philosophies and ideas into one. The Lenovo Way explains the unique and high-impact journey that defines Lenovo as a next generation, global company. The international acquisition of IBM’s PC division in 2005 was successful because, from the beginning, we knew we had to focus on diversity and inclusion to create a new business culture for the how the organization was to operate. Revealing the story behind Lenovo’s iconic journey to become a global leader is something we knew we wanted to share from the beginning.
Also, as two women executives we wanted to be daringly open and share our challenges and successes in learning to be global leaders in a male-dominated industry.
What were the main challenges in this particular acquisition process?
At the time of the acquisition, many naysayers predicted failure on all fronts. Our Chairman at the time of the acquisition, Yang Yuanqing, insisted on fully integrating all of the Lenovo and IBM employees to promote learning from both Eastern and Western best practices in business.
As we started the integration process we ran into the obvious challenge of the language barrier. Lenovo’s Chairman knew from the beginning that he wanted to make Lenovo’s dominant language English. This caused our Easterners to feel overrun and created confusion for both our Western and Eastern colleagues during our interactions. Of course this was all unintentional, but the language barrier caused us question other styles of doing business and how we could effectively navigate gaps and merge differences.
Everything we did was examined based on collectively the answering the questions “what message are we sending?” and “what message are others receiving” — from running internal meetings to simply how someone was greeted when arriving at the office became some type of challenge for everyone involved.
One personal example I remember is being so very, very confused when my “request” for a meeting created mistrust and offended one of my colleagues when I first joined Lenovo. We all had a lot to learn about how to leverage our differences in order to work together as a team.
You were involved in this process from a Diversity and Inclusion ‘lens.’ What measure(s) did you take with your team to ensure that the global corporate company culture would reflect the vision of the leadership team? Can you give a specific example?
From the beginning, we knew that we had to take on a ‘zero-mindset’ to ensure diversity across all of Lenovo’s business functions. We achieved this by being more humble and focusing on listening in order to understand how to combine our employees’ range of knowledge and expertise. Ultimately this has given us the edge in the marketplace.
To ensure we were incorporating our corporate strategy correctly, we wanted to make sure it was being applied to every single employee’s daily work. We measured progress by developing and implementing a survey that was distributed before the new strategy was designed and announced. The results uncovered that there was a large amount of uncertainty among our senior leaders about what our corporate strategy. About six months later, we conducted the survey a second time and received vastly different feedback which indicated we were being successful to conveying our strategy across the company’s leaders.
Since the 2005 acquisition of IBM’s personal computer business, Lenovo has been involved in additional acquisitions, most recently Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility smartphone devices and IBM’s low-end server unit. What are the adjustments, if any, you are making to the process you had established, and if so, what are they?
Lenovo’s Protect and Attack strategy was created to help drive business momentum while guiding merger and acquisition decisions. Every year, this business development strategy evolves, but everyone at Lenovo understands the guiding principles. This methodology is of course unique to each acquisition we complete so every time we embark on a new deal we determine how the process needs to be tailored.
Generally though, the first step is to complete research to understand if the market is attractive or big enough for the acquisition. Secondly, we do a full audit of our strengths as a company and determine if they are a good fit for this new business. This is one the most important steps you can take in a merger and acquisition process. Thirdly, even if our strengths fit, we need to measure what other necessary strengths we are lacking and do we have the resources to fill the gaps. This process was used both for the IBM Server and Motorola Mobility smartphone device businesses.
What advice would you give professionals involved in the merger of two different sets of cultures (both national and corporate cultures)?
This kind of work takes time; there is no path to overnight success or a cookie cutter way to integrate diversity as a business strategy. The main struggle companies often face in merger deals is cultural differences and how to bridge the gap. During the entire process, professionals need to keep their eye on the bottom line, while being mindful of diversification tactics. Diversity is much more than race or gender to us, it’s about reflecting what our global customer base looks like and how they think. Business leaders should also adapt a global-local mindset when hiring best talents locally. What this means is you need to empower the local employees and plans supported by the strength of the global brand and enterprise.
What did you personally take away from being so deeply involved in this complex process?
I’ve realized how important it is to step out of my comfort zone while managing diversity at Lenovo – both Gina and I have realized this. In the decision to make parallel transatlantic moves, that really pushed each of us to new heights. I’ve learned that to reach maximum growth, both professionally and personally, you need to stretch far beyond your comfort zone. Working in the inclusion process post-merger really has opened my eyes to new ways of doing business – and I have Lenovo to thank for that.