Creating a global identity during mergers


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For a merger to succeed a business should be looking to adopt the strongest aspects from each culture

For corporations, entering new markets often happens through mergers and acquisitions. An M&A strategy that breaks through regional and cultural differences helps organisations navigate the often unseen pitfalls of integration.

When Lenovo acquired IBM’s personal computing division our strategy was about creating a work culture to suit our employees in both the East and West. This cross-cultural framework for how to work together and achieve together was a main priority for the business and a key driver of Lenovo’s success.

As part of my role as chief diversity officer I made several trips to China to develop a cultural integration plan. I witnessed first-hand the stark differences in business practices and approaches between Eastern and Western cultures.

In the West sending a meeting request is a polite way of asking for someone’s time. However, when I tried to schedule meetings with colleagues in Beijing I learned that the word ‘request’ carries a very different meaning. In the East ‘requesting’ something translates more accurately to ‘demanding’ – so I was unknowingly offending my new co-workers.

These misunderstandings, and many other similar issues, ultimately led to the creation of our ‘East and West’ course, where employees could learn about each culture’s different working styles to develop a cross-cultural competency. We taught staff everything from dinner party etiquette to scheduling protocols.

For many Westerners cancelling meetings is a common occurrence, while in China cancellations can be interpreted as an insult.

Doing business in the US occurs at lightning speed, whereas in China the focus tends to be on the long term. By blending these two business cultures we have overcome problems to achieve great success. The Lenovo Way is a cultural framework that emphasises the five Ps: plan, perform, prioritise, practise and pioneer. These behaviours and principles enable our company’s vision and strategy and encourage us to slow our pace when working with global teams in order to better communicate and understand each other. While the pace of innovation never slows, the pace at which we communicate with our co-workers is an example of how we successfully put our five Ps into practice without affecting our product innovation.

Driving culture changes can be a difficult process as an organisation breaks down language barriers and adapts HR and business processes.

At Lenovo we introduced a ‘Managing Across Cultures’ training session for managers, which focused on handling multi-cultural and cross-cultural differences. For new employees we also offer Mandarin classes to help English-speakers communicate better with Chinese colleagues.

Adapting your business’s hiring strategy is another move critical for global success. HR teams must approach hiring new talent with a global-local strategy. This means making all business hires beneficial to the global organisation while striving to find the best talent locally to suit these needs. It is also crucial not to enter the M&A process with the attitude of ‘importing’ the parent company culture. For a merger to truly succeed a business should be looking to adopt the strongest aspects from each business culture to create a global identity.

In essence, integrating Eastern and Western cultures to drive business success is a process that shouldn’t be rushed. To truly integrate both cultures it needs to be a constant consideration in HR and business strategies to help build an environment where employees feel part of one global firm. Globalisation will present many challenges, but facing these obstacles head-on was how we were able to grow personally and professionally. Global leadership requires taking risks, being humble, and making a commitment to learning from people who are different from you.

Yolanda Lee Conyers is vice president for worldwide HR and chief diversity officer at Lenovo

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