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Snapshot: Lenovo's APAC HR head on the skills CHROs need for successful transformation

Having executed multiple large-scale organisational changes successfully, Subhankar Roy Chowdhury, head of human resources, Lenovo Asia Pacific, speaks to Aditi Sharma Kalra to reveal his biggest learning from such experiences.

Q. Over your career, you’ve held both in-house HR and consulting roles – what was the biggest difference between the two?

I started my career as an HR business partner and did that for three years before going on to do HR consulting with PwC, IBM and Siemens Information Systems for the next eight years. Consulting offers both a breadth and depth in multiple HR domains across industry verticals and solutions at an accelerated pace. Being in HR consulting roles also made my skills fungible – client-focused, business-focused, industry-focused and entrepreneurial.

However, HR consulting roles may not suit everyone in the long term as they require more business ownership and less functional expertise. In consulting, we always “plant the seed, but do not see the flowers bloom” as we work with multiple clients for short durations.

As an HR partner in a large organisation, my role is that of an in-house consultant to the business. It means I need to have my finger firmly on the pulse of how the business and industry are doing.

This enables us to deliver high impact and help drive the organisation’s strategy through organisation design, talent strategy, employee programmes and change management.

I have been able to integrate a lot of my consulting knowledge into in-house HR roles and make these roles a lot more strategic and fulfilling.

Q. What is the most innovative HR piece you’ve worked on at Lenovo and what was your biggest learning?

Lenovo is a very entrepreneurial company that has provided me multiple opportunities in the past eight years in various roles and geographies.

In 2009, Lenovo rolled out a new culture framework that focused on ownership and innovation leading to entrepreneurship. Lenovo conducted a culture audit to assess the strengths and gaps in its culture.

There needs to be a compelling vision, a clear plan, significant investment in stakeholder alignment, frequent and clear communication and ability to measure the change impact.
As the HR leader for the India and MEA region then, I designed and implemented a change management and cultural transformation campaign to institutionalise and internalise the new culture. A key component of the campaign included creating an inclusive, innovative and informal workplace culture by revamping our workplace design, refining our remote working policies, corporate attire and benefit programmes.

My biggest learning is that to execute any large-scale organisational change successfully, there needs to be a compelling vision, a clear plan, significant investment in stakeholder alignment, frequent and clear communication and ability to measure the change impact.

Q. Having led large, complex HR transformation projects, what are the skills CHROs need for these?

Transformation is today’s buzzword that suggests if we do not transform, we will perish. I have seen transformations succeed and fail, and in my view, these are the qualities and skills that a CHRO needs to have for ensuring a successful transformation in an organisation:
  • Engaging with business leaders early on and articulating and aligning on the needs for transformation and identifying people actions.
  • Creating a transformation team while keeping in mind the deep insight CHROs have on talent and influencers.
  • Offering strategic advice on organisation design, talent gaps and culture change.
  • Having a pulse on the organisational change as the transformation happens, and feedback to leadership.
At Lenovo, we are on the cusp of transformation from being a product-centric company to a customer-centric company. We have made significant shifts in organisation design, metrics, culture and rewards and we have made great progress.

Q. You recently said: “Analytics is a lot about experimenting. It’s like a lab – you try out projects, some take off and some don’t.” What is your advice for organisations starting out on their people analytics journey?

Most organisations have implemented core HR solutions and are sitting on a huge repository of employee data that is not fully utilised. There is huge potential for organisations to mine that data and convert that into information, and the information to insights and knowledge.

There are five key suggestions I offer to organisations keen to get started on people analytics:

  • Start with a customer’s problem such as how to maximise ROI of sales commissions through data-driven insights and prediction. Customer problems can range from simple to complex issues.
  • Expend effort to understand the current state and quality of data in terms of accuracy, completeness and structure.
  • Focus on building a data-driven culture by embedding analytics in different HR processes.
  • Experiment, fail and learn from the experiment. People analytics is like a lab and there are diverse projects that can be built.
Work-life balance is a lot about offering flexibility to employees to manage their work and life using digital collaborative and communication platforms.

Q. Do you believe there is a principle such as a work-life balance in today’s times?

Work-life balance or work-life harmony or work-life integration is very different in different industries, geographies, generations and roles. In the technology and consulting industry where I spent a very large part of my career in, it’s a lot about offering flexibility to employees to manage their work and life using digital collaborative and communication platforms.

Organisations today have built workplaces that offer choices to employees to work for longer hours in offices, and at the same time, allow remote working. I believe we manage and control our priorities and are measured by our deliverables instead of the fixed time we put into our work. Studies have shown that organisations which offer flexibility to employees to own and manage their work and life schedules are a lot more productive than those who do not.

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