ABJ: When East meets West: 3 major hurdles Lenovo jumped to combine teams halfway across the world

By September 10, 2014 Blog

It’s no easy task for a Chinese company to acquire an American one. I learned this recently when I spoke with Gina Qiao, senior vice president of global HR at Lenovo — the world’s No. 1 seller of PCs — and her colleague, Yolanda Conyers, chief diversity officer and VP of global HR operations.

The pair recently co-authored a book this year titled “The Lenovo Way: Managing a Diverse Global Company for Optimal Performance” about the process of acquiring IBM’s personal computer business in 2005.

And boy, were there complications. Here were just a few, and how they resolved them:

The meeting-request dilemma

Soon after the companies merged, Conyers made a couple of trips to China to spot gaps between the cultures. She experienced it firsthand soon after one visit, when she requested a meeting with one of her Chinese counterparts.

In the West: Sending a meeting request is a formal and polite way of asking for someone’s time.

In the East: As Conyers soon learned, “You usually ‘request’ something of a lower-level employee.” So by using that one word, Conyers was unknowingly telling her peers she was superior and that the meeting was mandatory. Enter disruptive power dynamics. So the head of HR for the company reached out.

“She said, ‘There was some rumbling about you. …It’s your style and approach. They find you aggressive,’ ” Conyers recalled.

The resolution: This misunderstanding was one of many that ultimately led to the creation of the “East and West” course at Lenovo, where employees could discuss their differences and how they each approach workplace situations, from planning a meeting to canceling one (an insult in China).

And these days, many of her Chinese colleagues “request” meetings all the time, Conyers said.

Read More: Austin Business Journal