It all started with a cultural audit in 2009 that served as an eye-opener. In the last one year, a lot of things have changed at Lenovo India.

For the first time at the six-year-old company, 21 future managers were picked up from B-school campuses in 2010 – from the likes of IIM (Lucknow and Indore), XLRI, MDI and FMS. With ‘cautiously optimistic' growth projections aided by a climb to the second position globally in PC shipments (and to a double-digit market share in India), the HR team's intent is to go to B-school campuses again, with IIM Calcutta now added to the list.

The leadership pipeline is in focus, and the hunt is on ‘for those who do' - in keeping with the brand's consumer promise. There are other things on the HR agenda too.

Today, 50 per cent of the 14-member leadership team is new – half of them elevated from within and the rest handpicked from a hypercompetitive market place. Close to 40 people moved up the ladder last year.

A team of engineers, technicians and others assemble Lenovo products in Puducherry. Perhaps the only part of the company untouched by substantial change is that factory. Last year saw the rest of the operations move to a regional structure. While the businesses segmented as enterprise, SMB and consumer remain, the regions now form subsets of North, South, East and West.

The female employee ratio has climbed from just over 15 per cent last year to 19.4 per cent now. There is a conscious attempt, even at the campus recruitment stage, to improve diversity.

Across levels, the average remuneration has gone up. So has the demand on employee productivity. Metrics displaying earnings per employee are keenly watched.

Attrition at the 350-member Indian operations has dropped from around 28 per cent in FY 2010 and 26 per cent the year after, to 10 per cent in the first half of the current financial year.

Extending the medical insurance cover to parents of employees is just one of the many things that have changed on the HR front, says Subhankar Roy Chowdhury, Executive Director - Human Resource, India, Middle East and Africa. Chowdhury is part of the change; he joined Lenovo 16 months ago.

Inside Lenovo

The leadership team in India is backed by a middle management team of around 40 people. There are 50 in the company's global marketing hub in Bangalore. Most of the rest, numbering close to 200, are spread out across the country driving market-facing functions such as sales and marketing and supply chain management, while a handful are driving the equally critical back-end, including the 10-member HR team.

The average age of the leadership team is 42 years. Wanting to make Lenovo a company driven by those with an entrepreneurial mindset (intrapreneurs) has been on the minds of the leadership and HR teams.

“We have been growing rapidly, and the industry is one that sees changes everyday. Identifying those with the ability to manage change, and deal with the ambiguity one faces in a dynamic industry has been a priority, both in terms of leadership from within and identifying talent from outside,” Chowdhury says.

Leadership will become even more critical as the company scales its people strength to growing sales numbers – and targets. While scaling up is on the cards, the exact numbers will be known after the people metrics exercise culminates in January or February 2012.

One of the events hosted at the office premises in Bangalore had the theme ‘Mr and Miss Confused'. There was clarity in its purpose - to make the office a fun place to work, to foster creativity and innovation. To put it in a nutshell: ‘How to get people to want to come back to work every day?'

Work-life balance

Another leg of HR activity has been focus on employee health and well-being. Health check-ups and counselling, besides awareness and education on lifestyle diseases, have found a regular place in the activity charts. The last bit within this leg is to help staff meet both ‘work' and ‘life' commitments.

The emphasis on work-life balance stemmed from a global engagement survey that was kicked off last year at Lenovo. It is now identified as an area for further focus. And the HR head heard the echo of the global survey firsthand. A colleague on his team went the family way, he recalls, and a rejig of her KRAs (key result areas) was in order. “We built in flexibility on when she wanted to work, and let her handle internal communication vehicles that were more suited given her constraints. When she came back – much more energised – we also moved her from operational HR to a project-based job responsibility,” recalls Chowdhury.

He notes that with benefits such as advance leave and wedding leave, employee engagement and morale has improved. Feedback channels have been opened up wider, including regular town halls with the top management besides one-to-one meetings.There is a three-member team within the leadership team driving the work-life integration agenda. Proposals such as flexi-work policy have been formalised and communicated, though they existed in myriad - and often unknown - ways. There are coaching sessions to help people manage their time better. And lastly, no conference calls are encouraged after office hours.

Voluntary and ‘other' attrition

While the total attrition figures were provided, there is one statistic The New Manager is not privy to - the split between voluntary attrition and instances when the organisation has had to ask people to leave. Instances of the latter are rare at Lenovo, according to Chowdhury. He is quick to add that such cases would be seen in any progressive and competitive firm.

“We are a performance-driven company. But there are enough checks and balances to ensure that non-performance is not because of factors like skill gaps not identified during hiring, and factors not in the control of the employee. This could be non-support of the management, non-support from co-workers, or some systemic shortcoming. The first step would be to remove these factors, if any, and make the employee more competent in performing the tasks assigned,” he adds.

When all else fails, the recourse is to part ways, which would be mutually beneficial. The better way to address this is at the source – so there is heightened focus on the talent input. This explains, in part, the rise in average remuneration.

“The more the competencies brought in by the employee, the higher will be the RoI, which reflects in the expense to revenue ratio and earnings per employee. Besides focus on the entry level, it is our job to build competency, and ensure we move people appropriately, up or laterally,” Chowdhury adds.

The annual talent review process is supported by IDPs (individual development plans) reviewed on a quarterly basis. And in line with being a performance-driven company, the incentives are aplenty, including those in the form of postings overseas.

Saurabh Agarwal, who was Deputy CFO in India, is now CFO for Middle East and Africa. The head of the enterprise business for India, Rajesh Dikshit, is now the product head for enterprise segment across emerging markets. Along with them, 10 more have been assigned to positions in the Lenovo network outside India. The changes have not just brought down attrition, but have made Lenovo attractive for outside talent too, according to Chowdhury. Employee referral is increasing in scope, while the engagement of talent-hunters is coming down.

Streamlining the talent input is a holy cow on his team's to-do list. ‘Wrong hiring' can be costlier than anything else, says the HR head.