HR leading the way toward digital transformation at Monsanto

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Digital tools are vital to a research and development-based company like agriculture giant Monsanto. Such tools include dashboards that help managers monitor their departments’ progress towards key employee performance, training and demographic targets. Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, leader of Monsanto’s HR global R&D integration planning and cultural change management efforts, recently discussed this topic with EBN. Edited excerpts follow.

Employee Benefit News: Monsanto has stated that it’s trying to instill an “analytics mindset” in its HR function. What does that mean?

Bandyopadhyay: HR was one of the first functions to start a digital transformation effort. We wanted to help HR to start making bigger data-driven decisions, using different dashboards that integrate data. We wanted to equip HR to go to the table with business leaders with a few key insights on the levers to pull to make a difference in core aspects of the business.

EBN: Can you illustrate that?

Bandyopadhyay: Employee engagement is a key focus for us, as it is for most companies. We do pulse survey tracking engagement on a quarterly basis and get a report on some of the key dimensions, and an overall engagement score. The top 120 leaders at Monsanto look at it. We also report on the engagement to our board of directors. That data-driven approach gives us a detailed sense of what’s going on, and employee concerns.

EBN: What has it told you lately?

Bandyopadhyay: When we were in the midst of a transformation, we would ask questions like: Do you understand your role in the transformation, do you understand the value of the transformation? If we saw any issues, that would lead to action items to address it. Another example is how we’ve driven inclusion with a data-driven approach and an “inclusion index.” We look at our talent pipeline to assess [diversity], looking at promotions, hiring data, cross-functional movement. It led us to introduce interventions to, for example, accelerate the development of our women and in the U.S. our multicultural leaders.

EBN: How does the “inclusion index” work?

Bandyopadhyay: It’s a number we use so that leaders in different units can track how they’re doing over time. At an organizational level we can aggregate that data, say, for all of R&D and see whether we’re making progress. One of the inputs for the index is employees’ assessment of whether their manager is truly committed attracting and leveraging diverse viewpoints and backgrounds of the team, whether it’s an inclusionary environment, whether all voices are heard.

EBN: Do you have a way to measure the business impact of that whole initiative?

Bandyopadhyay: We believe that diversity — bringing in people from various backgrounds who never worked in agriculture, especially in our R&D area — helps to drive the innovation that is so critical to our success.

EBN: How else are you using data to assess HR performance?

Bandyopadhyay: We have had to pull data together from different systems, and do some data modeling to create different dashboards. They show not just data, but trends, what’s going on with headcount, attrition, diversity, base pay, total cost. You can look at the nine box [talent development matrix] distribution to see what’s going on. The key is the ability to pull data from multiple systems and put it into one user-friendly dashboard.

EBN: Tell me about how you keep track of skills development.

Bandyopadhyay: We’ve done some pioneering work with this in our global supply chain organization. The way it works is we identify and put in key functional competencies and skills for supply chain that were critical to drive transformation of that function. That led to creating an online model for managers, and also for employees to access to self-assess against those competencies. Desired levels are established for each talent segment. Gaps between actual and desired levels are easy to identify.

EBN: So how can employees who see they’re falling behind address the situation?

Bandyopadhyay: It’s built on the 70-20-10 principle, in which 70% of learning is experiential, 20% is based on coaching relationships, and 10% is from formal training. The individual can then go into a learning management system, and click on development actions. So for the 70, it offers some ideas to develop this particular competency. For the 10, here’s some training that you can click on to learn more about this particular competency. Individuals can go to their managers to build these recommendations into their development plans.

EBN: How do you use bots?

Bandyopadhyay: The idea is to look for highly repeatable transactions which you can break into pieces, code and then use a software bot to basically replicate that whole process. One we have focused on is our rehire process. We have a lot of seasonal workers in certain areas of our business, so every year there’s a significant number of rehires. In the past what would happen is our people in more remote worksites that don’t have access to our HRIS would fill out the data into an Excel sheet, then email over to our data center. Somebody at the data center would go line by line and enter it into SAP. That’s a cumbersome manual process prone to errors. So to get past that, we’ve created a bot. When the Excel file comes in, the bot has access to that particular inbox, opens the file, takes each line item — whatever all the details are — and goes into SAP and logs in all of that data. If it detects any errors, they are flagged. So the human interface only occurs to address any identified errors.

EBN: Any other uses?

Bandyopadhyay: Yes, another repeatable process involves protection of confidential HR data. When a data request comes in, there’s a manual check of the data privacy statement. Very soon we’re going to use a bot and basically automate the whole process. And we’re looking for more repeatable processes that can be automated.

EBN: It sounds like a lot of what’s being done with digital transformation in HR can be replicated elsewhere at Monsanto.

Bandyopadhyay: Yes, our company as a whole has been on a journey on driving digital transformation. The success stories from HR have played a huge role in enabling that digital mindset across the company.

EBN: How so?

Bandyopadhyay: We’re attracting all kinds of digital talent from places like Silicon Valley. We created a data science council to collect our data scientists across the different parts of the enterprise, building these functional competency models, showing how analytics is embedded in what we do, and communicating expectations about how we expect digital to be the absolute critical enabler of the future, and what it means for people in their jobs.

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