HR2IT Trailblazer: Monsanto’s Malvika Jhangiani
by Dan Roberts
Malvika Jhangiani brings a global perspective to her HR career. Global in the sense of “worldwide,” having succeeded in multicultural environments in India, Oman and the United States. And global in the sense of seeing the big picture. In the case of her work as the HR liaison to IT, she’s focused on broad organizational change. For instance, the just-launched Digital Leadership program focuses on raising the digital skills of not only 1,000IT staffers, but all 20,000+ Monsanto employees—now a division of German pharma giant Bayer.
Her CIO, Jim Swanson (who is now Senior Vice President / CIO and Head of Digital Transformation at Bayer Crop Science), calls her a powerful change agent. “Malvika thrives on making things better, on transforming and disrupting—and she’s got the courage to do it,” he says. “I don’t just talk to Malvika about our attrition rate or how to develop talent. I listen to Malvika because of the thought leadership and the diversity of thinking she brings to any problem or opportunity I have in front of me. She’s critical to my success.”
With a background at retail sweet spot Cadbury Schweppes, and before that as a consultant with Ernst & Young and Andersen, Malvika brings a diverse range of experience to the agricultural-focused biotech giant as it enters a new phase with the recent acquisition.
Q: Let’s start with your move toward IT. Across your HR career, you’ve focused on various aspects, such as compensation, or general HR management for particular business units. What made you want to tackle IT as a focus?
It started with Jim Swanson, Monsanto IT CIO at the time. I took my current role because I once heard Jim speak about digital transformation to the HR organization. I went up to my manager and said, “That is the next job I want.”
I’ve learned with HR that it’s very important to have great chemistry with the business leader you partner with, and to find a progressive business leader. But more than that, as I looked at my role and what I wanted to do, I saw the importance of digital. Customers today want a better experience, with more intimacy. We’re no longer selling products and solutions—they want advice about what seed to plant, in what density, in which field. IT is critical to all that.
Q: Technology changes fast, especially at a company embracing transformation as thoroughly as Monsanto. Did getting into the IT space intimidate you?
Not at all. Throughout my career, one of the running themes has been that I have huge passion for driving change. I don’t want to be in a status quo job. And digital transformation is all about business transformation, people transformation and cultural transformation. So, this just seemed like an exciting arena to jump into.
Q: I imagine there was a learning curve, though.
Absolutely. My first meeting, they’re using all these acronyms: “IoT,” “PoC.” and I’m thinking, “PoC … people of color?” Of course, it was “proof of concept.” It’s really important to be a student of the business, so I did what has always helped me in my career: I worked to identify one or two technical coaches.
I spent some time with Jim’s leadership team, and digging deeper into the organization, and I found my two or three “gurus,” who I can go to where I can say I just sat through a presentation, but I don’t think I fully understood it. And I can ask them to walk me through, for instance, blockchain.
The other thing I started doing was listening to tons of podcasts, what’s happening in Silicon Valley, entrepreneurship, funding, what’s happening in the tech space with gender diversity. One of my favorite podcasts is Business Wars from Wondery. The Netflix vs. Blockbuster episodes provide a great insight on how digital disruption and business strategy play together. All of that helped me come up to speed with what’s happening in the domain of technology. I’m in no way expert, but now I know enough to follow along and ask smart questions to continue learning and supporting the organization.
Q: I understand that a few years ago, the focus at Monsanto, or in IT particularly, was on upleveling talent, particularly through recruitment. These days, the focus is on retention, on focusing internally. Can you discuss that pivot?
When we first started our digital journey, we realized that there were certain skills we didn’t have enough of, or didn’t have the level we wanted. So, we defined some critical talent segments: data scientists, software specialists, full-stack developers, and so on. And we went out and hired them.
Currently, we’re at the spot where we have this extremely valuable talent in our enterprise, and we want to ensure they stay engaged. Primarily because we’ve been going through an acquisition, and change is never easy on people. Our focus is on how we ensure that we maintain business continuity and employee engagement, while we don’t take our foot off the pedal when it comes to digital transformation.
Q: Being part of a science-focused company must change the way the business looks at IT, and vice versa.
Yes! The nice thing about being in IT in Monsanto (now Bayer) is that, because we’re so STEM-focused, there is a huge premium to being in IT. IT is not back-office here, not an order taker. We are truly a demand shaper. And those are skills we need—people who partner with the business, who influence and shape the future.
When I came to my role, I noticed that the IT person could explain the business as well as a business person. That’s been great, that we’ve been able to embed this level of business acumen in our technological talent. They can truly talk business and connect the dots.
Q: What do you see as the crucial role of the HR liaison to IT?
Technology is changing so fast that I think our role in HR is to help leaders and employees embrace that change, not be threatened by it. And also get them to get to think about the “what if” scenarios. What if the world was different? What if your business model was different?
And we need to continually help IT to hire and nurture disruptors and innovators—and figure out how we incubate their ideas and provide them the resources to pilot some of these concepts. How do we set up a culture of collaboration where maybe the innovator is great at generating the idea, but there is a team, as well, that can execute that idea?
Q: How do you see the role of a peer-based organization like HR2IT helping you improve your practice?
I hope to build strong relationships. I hope to learn from others about their journeys when it comes to shaping talent, future-proofing talent, as well as pivoting organizations to the digital space. I hope to share the grit as well as the glory. We will have bumps along the way, and I see HR2IT as a forum to share success and some of the grit, as well.
I am really looking forward to cross-pollinating ideas, as we say in agriculture. Cross-pollination is is the key to a brighter future.
Malvika says that embracing the IT side of digital transformation has made her a much stronger business professional as well as an HR professional. We look forward to bringing more of her insights to the community.
If you are interested in joining Malvika and other HR leaders in the HR2IT community please contact Lorraine Ludwicki, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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