Article: Lenovo’s Subhankar Roy Chowdhury on how HR leaders can help employees navigate the economic uncertainty

Strategic HR

Lenovo’s Subhankar Roy Chowdhury on how HR leaders can help employees navigate the economic uncertainty

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Subhankar Roy Chowdhury, executive director and head HR, Asia Pacific at Lenovo, talks about some of the biggest challenges that HR leaders must prepare for in the post-pandemic workplace.
Lenovo’s Subhankar Roy Chowdhury on how HR leaders can help employees navigate the economic uncertainty

What started with the pandemic now has perpetuated into a volatile and unpredictable economic environment. While VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) has been replaced by BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear, and Incomprehensible), the impact and implication to both employees and employers are both short-term and long-term. The relationship and contract between the employer and employees have further become complex with conflicting and competing priorities and needs, says Subhankar Roy Chowdhury, executive director and head HR, Asia Pacific at Lenovo.

As the HR Leader for Lenovo Asia Pacific and Japan, Chowdhury helps shape HR agenda to build a long-term sustainable and environmentally conscious ethical business. Lenovo's presence in Asia Pacific across 14 markets makes for complex geography that has varied talent priorities, a multi-generation workforce, different socio-economic models of growth and different labour market practices.

Prior to his current role, Chowdhury was Lenovo’s Global Head, HR Analytics and HR leader for Middle East Africa and India. Prior to Lenovo, he served in HR Generalist and HR Consulting leadership roles at Nokia, IBM Global Business Services and PwC Consulting. 

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Chowdhury talks about some of the biggest challenges that HR leaders must prepare for in the post-pandemic workplace, the key to leading hybrid teams effectively, strategies to attract and retain Gen Z and the need to foster a diverse environment and culture to build a virtual workplace.

Here are the edited excerpts

What are some of the biggest challenges that HR leaders must prepare for in the post-pandemic world?

For HR leaders, talent priorities are shaped by what is happening internally in an organisation and externally in the world around us.  

Externally, there are multiple forces that are shaping the talent and leadership agenda which are economic, political, and social.

Economically, hyperinflation environments and high-interest rates by central banks across the world have led to widespread demand contraction and high commodity prices. This has led to economic pessimism and cost containment across industries including technology. 

Politically the world is more restive and fragile leading to both military and trade wars that have a significant impact on energy prices and supply chain disruptions.

Socially, post-pandemic employees have demanded better flexibility, working conditions and wages and in some cases, voluntary resignations have increased. Also, society at large is holding companies accountable towards ESG. 

While the above are all external factors impacting an organisation's strategy, it has a strong impact on talent and leadership priorities.  Internally, Lenovo has been on an accelerated path to transforming itself into a service-led technology company for the last three years. This necessitates the transformation of our capability, compensation alignment, culture and organisational structure.

Another strategic focus for us is a more harmonised cross-integrated organisation that fosters stronger collaboration between multi businesses and drives higher customer intimacy, and portfolio synergies to accelerate services business. 

What is the most important key for leading hybrid teams effectively?

Prior to covid, Lenovo’s values of trust, collaboration and ownership shaped the culture of flexi working. During covid, the transition to full remotely working has been seamless – supported by managerial skills to manage remote employees, technology to support remote working and a culture of ownership and accountability to drive business outcomes. Operating as virtual teams prior to covid was supplemented by in-person meetings that created a stronger collaboration between manager and employee. With covid that stopped completely. 

However, during the pandemic, we had a total shutdown of our office which led to a 100% remote working environment. To continue to sharpen our managers’ skills to lead successful virtual teams, we doubled down on virtual leadership skills, better programs to help cope with work stress and create organisational policies to manage effectiveness and efficiency.  A special focus was on sensitising and training managers on different demands on work-life balance between genders and creating a work environment of psychologically safe work culture.

With the pandemic ebbing, we have reviewed our effectiveness to work remotely versus in premise and have aligned our work models to ensure that we balance work styles, preferences based on the demands of the role and work environment in the diverse markets we operate in. It is well-recognised and acknowledged that not all job roles can be remote or hybrid. Hence, we identified job roles that are completely remote, those that need to be in the offices (eg. R&D and Manufacturing) and those that can be hybrid. 

Furthermore, along with the pandemic our offices have been re-designed to foster stronger collaboration, better automation and additional measures on health, safety and hygiene. Along with redesigning the offices digital, virtual and AI-enabled technology solutions have been implemented that help drive efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of our employees. 

Is there a need to foster a diverse environment and culture to build a virtual workplace?

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a very important priority for Lenovo globally and for Asia Pacific irrespective of building a virtual workplace. However, covid has made each of us be reflective of the need to have a higher degree of sensitivity towards D&I in building remote work models, policies and practices.

D&I in Lenovo starts with a business need in mind because we truly believe that diversity is good for our business. Our products, solutions and services serve a diverse group of customers and consumers. 

Diversity has also been critical to building an ESG-led organisation, as it indefinitely helps better social balance within the organisation and leads to stronger governance. Lenovo’s Asia Pacific operates in more than 15 markets, making our leadership team one of the most diverse teams across the organisation. 

While diversity has many definitions, the most common area is that of gender. Gender diversity in Asia Pacific is varied across markets. Markets like the Philippines and Australia top McKinsey’s diversity charts while India and Japan continue to make focused efforts to improve the participation of women in the labour market, especially for leadership roles. In each of our Asia Pacific markets, we have focussed initiatives to build a diverse and inclusive workforce strategy catering to the needs of that market.

Specifically at Lenovo, we have embarked upon a number of diversity initiatives that include the following: 

  • Hybrid work model that offers flexible work days and work hours.
  • Focussed female benefits programs to help in emotional, financial, and mental well-being.  
  • For LGBTQ+, policies wherever legally permissible. 
  • Interest groups working with the physically challenged section of society. 

What is your strategy to make Gen Z and Millennials a part of the workforce and be in line with their expectations? How do you attract and retain them?

Technology companies are the harbingers of change and transformation. Gen Z helps bring in new ideas and challenge the status quo. Hence, we try to create a culture that attracts, develops and retains Gen Z and Millennials. We bring focussed initiatives like purpose-led organisation, workplace flexibility, ESG, culture and career as an employer of choice.

Our organisation is centred on a bold vision to deliver ‘Smarter technology for all’. We are developing  technologies to make individuals’ lives better, move industries forward, and open up opportunities presented by the intelligence revolution.

Even before the pandemic, we had the flexibility of remote working and having a remote schedule. We firmly believe that the true girth of an organisation and employee success depends on the impact and contribution, rather than the time and location of the workplace. Our environment, culture, process, and technology truly supported us during the pandemic and post-pandemic we continue to work on a hybrid work model that brings out both the power of in-person interactions and flexibility to balance work and life. Our ESG initiatives are aimed at building a sustainable future for all. 

Being a large and diverse company, we cater to multiple markets across the world but the one thing common across the breadth of our operations is our unique culture built on trust. When the pandemic hit, forcing us to redefine work in a new reality, we relied on that very human feeling and emotion of trust in what was essentially a hyper-connected digital environment.

At Lenovo, trust is intrinsic to our organisational culture and defines our business and growth orientation.

What have been your personal learnings as a leader from the Covid-19 pandemic?

Covid 19 pandemic has been a great teacher where our values and leadership were tested. There are four learnings that resonate the most: resilience, empathy, agility and collaboration.

Resilience: Organisations, societies, employees, and leaders have displayed enormous resilience during the pandemic which has been very brutal in many parts of the world, specifically in India.

Agility: Different cultures are known to be agile. Lenovo being a highly agile organisation made quick changes to our business model, portfolio, ways of working and response to the crisis. 

Empathy: Employees demonstrated exemplary skills both in the office and outside supporting social causes. Stories of employees reaching out and helping other colleagues with whom they had no formal working relationship or employees giving back to society demonstrated an abundance of empathy by our teams.  

Collaboration and teamwork: You can't do it all alone. Collaboration and integration have helped us to ride through the crisis together. Being an organisation that is networked, matrixed and distributed helped to bring the best of collaboration and teamwork to ensure that we were able to tap into the expertise and resources we needed to help us navigate the pandemic. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, Leadership, Employee Engagement, Employee Relations

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