You have been working as an HR professional for 20 years. Looking back on your experience, could you please describe the evolution of the HR function in this fast shifting ICT sector that occurred over the last decade? As traditional business models are now disrupted by a generational shift and Digital transformation, what are the main challenges faced by an HR Director at Lenovo nowadays, which may not have existed ten years ago?
A huge shift occurred in the recent years from the HR perspective: We moved from a typical service provider function, where the HR basic role was to make sure the contract was legally compliant and Payroll runs smoothly, to a more business oriented and consulting function. Nowadays HR leaders seat with Marketing, and Finance leaders around the table to discuss business issues. We are part of a leadership team, which means that HR needs to better understand the business, to consult the other leaders. We also need to adopt an outside-in perspective regarding our customers and to get a better understanding of their needs. So I would say the HR function is much more involved in the business than the previous years.
But overall it is the whole IT Sector that is changing very fast: there are much more flexibility, speed and dynamism requested nowadays.
Would you say the new generation of talents have more expectations in the workplace than the previous generation?
I wouldn’t say the new generation have more expectations, I would say they have different ones. People who graduated from university are more interested in development opportunities, assignment opportunities, in working in different countries, they want more flexibility, remote management… they are not so much focused on security, they don`t feel that they will retire from the same company. Of course expectations from the young generation are different from 10/20 years ago and it raises new challenges for companies to be able to retain talents. Especially in Lenovo which is growing very fast, the requirement for HR department is to keep the pace, to stay flexible, to fulfill the need of the business. The strategy is changing and we really need to stay connected to our employees and costumers’ needs.
Diversity and integration are also keys here: Lenovo have conducted many merge and acquisition projects during the recent years, and probably more are coming in the next years. From the HR perspective it is a challenge as well as an asset to work with different work cultures: For example, the culture is different if you work for IBM, Motorola or Lenovo so we have to do a lot of integration to turn this diversity into an asset.
Regarding work culture environment, you were a team manager in several European regions: First as an HR Director for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, then for the Western European countries, and currently you are in charge of the EMEA East Region. What would you say are the main challenges of managing cross- culturally? How did you adapt your leadership style to the different business cultures?
From the leadership style, I did not really changed a lot. You just need to listen more and to be open to the feedback you’re getting from your peers and team members. Communication is key. Now that we have the help of technical supports such as Skype and online messengers, you are able to keep close contact with your team whereever you are, i.e. in my home country Germany or travelling through my region and that is really important. Especially in our East Region (understood as Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, CIS Countries) which is a huge territory, you’re facing cultural differences: they have many different languages, currencies, bank holidays, different ways of doing business, different hierarchy perceptions, economical and political crises or significant currency devaluations from one day to another than in Western Europe. But despite the various economic crisis that occurred in this area, Lenovo is very successful there because we managed to be very responsive to the local needs, thanks to the local teams implemented in the region and our market share is significant. For me personally, it is a very enriching experience to work for a different environment from where I am coming from. I am a typical German, always on time, always responsive, so I am used to that behavior, while in Eastern Europe the work behavior is a little different. But it is a successful region, and it is a great enrichment for me to work with those people.
Lenovo has launched "Women in Lenovo Leadership" (WILL) program in 2007, which supports women’s growth and drives gender diversity projects for Lenovo. Could you tell us more about this initiative and its goals? Why do you think gender balance and diversity are key factors of performance for big companies like Lenovo?
Gender balance is a relevant topic for Lenovo, because we are operating in a very competitive environment where we are constantly fighting to attract and retain the best talents, no matter if they are men or women. This initiative was launched in 2007 and we are all very committed to it: we make sure we are looking for the best opportunities of networking, mentoring and coaching for the talents at all levels of the company, especially on Women. Today we have around 36% of women in Lenovo in the whole workforce, which is ok for an IT company but still not enough. We always can do better. Overall in companies’ boards, the higher we get in top leadership position, the lower is the percentage of women, and this gap between men and women still needs to be balanced. Lenovo is trying to do more on gender diversity by launching this WILL worldwide initiative, and we do our best to partner with other initiatives, such as the Women’s Forum in Deauville and in Dubai, the Cercle Inter’Elles with Catherine Ladousse (WIL Board member ndrl). We plan various activities on Women’s Day to address key priorities that would support women’s growth and close the gap between women and men in Lenovo and we are looking especially on development opportunities for our female key talents.
What advice would you give to women in the early stages of their career?
Maybe this is an answer that not everybody wants to hear, but I think that if women want to progress in their careers, they just need to work hard. Very hard. Sometimes even harder than men and it is not always easy, especially if you also have to take care of your family. We talk so much about work-life balance and integration, but sometimes it is just really a matter of accepting to get into discomfort. That is not easy and you will fail but you have to move forward and take failure as a learning opportunity. Don’t get demotivated, next time you’ll do better and it’ll make you stronger. My advice would be: find a good mentor, no matter if it is a man or a woman, who really listens to the issues and obstacles your facing in your career, and who would help you and give you advice to overcome those obstacles.
Do you think women are holding back by the fear of failing in their career?
Exactly. Men fail, but they get back on their feet and keep moving on. They don’t overthink about it too long, while women tend to criticize themselves too much. Of course self-reflection is important to perform better, but do not look back and focus on the future. It is normal to fail, to be uncomfortable sometimes, but next time you’ll do better. Every great leader faced failure in his career, but he or she grew even stronger by learning the lessons and moving forward!