Ronnie Lee, General Manager, Lenovo Singapore, oversees Lenovo’s Personal Computers and Smart Devices business. Passionate about nurturing talent through empowerment and facilitation, he tells Aditi Sharma Kalra how he achieves this.
Q Having spent your career in the tech sector, with IBM, HP and Lenovo, what excites you most about this industry?
Technology is the driving force behind many of the activities we do every single day – from the moment we wake up to the time we head to bed. Over the past year, technology has become more pervasive, not just as an entertainment source, but has now become crucial for necessary practices such as work and study. There are no two days which are the same when it comes to technology and that keeps me excited. Every day presents new opportunities for growth, new inventions and innovations, and new ways to leverage on technology meaningfully.
Q You moved from sales into general management during your vast experience. What are the attributes you picked up in sales that help you in your current leadership role?
In sales, a common practice is to put people first, and in this case, our customers. We need to be able to identify, cater to, and satisfy their needs in order to build meaningful relationships and to succeed. The same attitude is needed of me as the head of Lenovo, where our people need to come first as they are our most important assets. At Lenovo, we believe that our employees are our most valuable strategic resource. We are committed to our employees by providing a supportive environment that looks after employee wellbeing, including the provision of an inclusive and safe environment, as well as competitive compensation, employee benefits, training and career development.
Another important takeaway from my sales background is the importance of staying agile despite any disruptions and challenges that may come our way. Agility has proven to be vital, especially in the past year and it has helped keep Lenovo ahead of the curve and adapt greatly through the pandemic.
Q One of your key responsibilities as Lenovo's Country GM is to develop and empower talent. What initiatives have you taken to and would like to highlight on this?
At Lenovo, we focus on women empowerment through initiatives such as the Women In Lenovo Leadership (WILL) and Grow@Lenovo programmes. Launched in 2019, the WILL Asia Pacific chapter presents opportunities for Lenovo’s female leaders from across the region to come together to discuss how the company can take bold and decisive steps towards ensuring that women’s voices are heard around the world. In addition, the Grow@Lenovoprogramme aims to empower talent from the inside, through a learning management system that hosts almost 3,000 different online and instructor-led courses.
For me, I genuinely enjoy grooming the leaders in this organisation and providing them with the necessary tools and one-on-one coaching so that they can grab the baton and be effective leaders in the future.
Q How have these initiatives borne fruit? In terms of measuring their impact, business results, or ROI, could you share some metrics.
Lenovo Singapore has a system in place where it uses its regional programmes and customises them to suit the local market. In fact, through our annual employee engagement survey, “Lenovo Listens”, our programmes have come to fruition as employees have shared favourable responses and findings that have improved from year to year.
In FY 20/21, we saw a 90% favourable rating by Lenovo employees on diversity and inclusion at Lenovo (up from 86%), reflecting the effectiveness of our efforts in empowering our female employees.
Lenovo will continue to interact and listen to our employees to ensure our programmes are up to date and effective. Our hard work in providing the best workplace possible was recognised last year where Lenovo was named as one of the ‘Best Companies to Work for in Asia’.
Q As GM, how closely do you work with your Regional HR Director, and what support are you able to provide him/her?
We work really closely with our regional HR Director to adapt regional initiatives and customise it to suit our Singapore employees. This relationship helps us tap into the regional resources to provide our employees with an extensive network as well as opportunities to ensure a safe and diverse working environment is created for them.
Q What kind of leader would your staff say you are? What is your signature leadership style?
In most situations that encourage a more cohesive and consultative environment, I play the democratic role where I interact with my employees to hear their ideas and create purposeful discussions that help us make decisions as a team. As a leader, I believe it is also important to wear the authoritative hat once in a while and set expectations and goals for the organisation especially in times of crisis. Overall, it is important for leaders to be agile in their leadership styles, and be able to adapt and showcase flexibility in different situations.
Q What are the ways that business management has evolved in the past year?
COVID-19 has taught us that change is constant. At Lenovo, we had to quickly adapt and practise organisational agility to ensure that our employees remain safe and healthy, remain motivated and feel supported during what can be deemed as a challenging period. As younger workers enter the workforce, traditional methods of leadership may no longer work.
Lenovo has evolved its HR practices and policies to meet new expectations and attitudes at work. One such example is ‘LifeWorks’ that engages employees through online sessions. We have tweaked this to include fitness and meditation sessions to address the employees recommendations and needs.
Our commitment to our employees is shown through our other initiatives such as DEAR Fridays: Drop Everything and Run, where employees leave early every Fridays to spend quality time with their loved ones, as well as the provision of support and subsidies for employees to set-up their home office.
Q Taking reference from your experience, what are some relevant practices followed at Lenovo that can be applied to SMEs? (We're looking for pocket-friendly HR ideas!)
If there are three best practices from Lenovo that could be replicated by others, I would list these three:
- Continue to put your people first – Even though the working environment has changed, the basic factors for employee retention and satisfaction remain unchanged. At Lenovo, we have a range of employee benefits such as family-care leave, flexi-benefits for staff and birthday leave that employees have repeatedly expressed their appreciation for. Employers need to also continue to provide opportunities for learning and development, have an open-door policy for employees to exchange ideas and opinions and reward employees appropriately.
- Understand that ‘flexibility’ is key in today’s hybrid working arrangements – WFH arrangements started in Lenovo Singapore nine years ago. When the pandemic hit, Lenovo Singapore was quick to switch to the WFH arrangement, which is still our default mode of working today. We understand that it is not possible for WFH employees to have a schedule that is similar to that of a work-from-office and we therefore need to track our employees via their objectives and tasks, as compared to their official work hours.
- Use technology meaningfully – In an era where work and technology come hand in hand, be mindful of how we use technology to communicate with employees. Given that our employees spend a lot of time on their devices, eliminate unnecessary virtual meetings where possible. Instead, organise face-to-face meetings while still following safe-distancing measures. Also, technology can now be used to gather insights on how employees are coping and performing. Use this to our advantage to bring about more positive changes for everyone
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