Shveta Miglani has been leading the learning and development function at legacy SanDisk, a Western Digital company. In her day to day, she gets to “define, execute, and manage all of the employee development”. She’s responsible for answering questions like, “What does a manager or leader need to look like?”
A thoughtful and perceptive leader, Shveta sat down with us to share her experience as a leader and mentor throughout her career.
How did you get into learning and development? What interested you about doing what you do?
Well, I have to take you to 15 years ago. I actually came to the U.S. to do my Master’s in journalism in Kansas, because I loved media and video production. After one semester, I realized I didn’t enjoy the writing aspect of it though, and it was very different than what I thought it would be.
That’s when a mentor of mine sat me down and asked, “What interests you?” I took a step back and said, “Well, I love delivering messages through different formats.” He looked at me and he said, “Have you looked into instructional design?” and he asked me to go and talk to the instructional design faculty and get some information from them. Before I knew it, I had started my Master’s program, focusing on e-learning and video production and using design principles to create messages. That’s when I was introduced to the world of training. It’s interesting because mentors have played such a strong role in my career from day one.
Are there any great stories from your work that you can share?
A senior technical director had been with the company for a very long time, and he was an engineer. He felt like he was ready to make a change, but didn’t want to leave the company. He felt he had a lot to explore, but didn’t really know how to go about doing that, and he was part of our high-potential program.
Through that program, it was very clear that he wanted to explore business development opportunities with a background of being a hard-core engineer. So, it was very important for us to work with Everwise to match him with a mentor who had the same background, or at least had knowledge of it, and who was willing to really work with his communication style. Everybody’s communication style is different, and we wanted to make sure that if they had to click, it was not just skills and competencies on paper, but even their styles matched.
Now, he’s in the strategic business development team, and he made that move six months ago.
Last year, we also had a structured program run by our talent acquisition team on a smaller scale. We asked people to sign up to be mentors, and we paired new college grads with senior director level and above women. One of the stories which really is interesting is, we had a young woman who was not sure if she wanted to stay or wanted to go or explore other Silicon Valley companies. With this mentoring opportunity and the support she received, she decided to stay and openly talked about it.
Now we can say, not only does mentoring help people find a different career path and explore their skill sets, but it also creates an environment of support and an opportunity to learn from leaders who’ve been in that space.
You’ve also mentored others, what was your experience like mentoring through Everwise?
Honestly speaking, I just did it to check it out. I’ve always given back, so I thought this would be another opportunity. I was paired with somebody in New York who had just moved from Canada. Not only from a skill set perspective were we very aligned, but even going through cultural challenges, we were aligned. I don’t consider Canada as being too different from America, but when you leave your family and you’re in a new place, I went through that, and I knew exactly what she was going through. The very fact that she reached out to get support, that was amazing.
She already knew what she was doing, and she would come prepared with our sessions. She would ask me the right questions, and every time she would ask me a question, it helped me reflect back and say to myself, “I did it, and I was successful in the same situation. Maybe this might help her.”
It really helped me to reflect back on my successes, on my events, and places I’ve learned, my mistakes, and it put my faith back in myself, which I think is a very big thing, because I think on a day-to-day basis, you might lose that sometimes. So, it was a very humbling experience for me.
You mentioned cultural challenges, how can mentoring help break down some of the cultural challenges we see in companies?
For example, I would say I grew up speaking British English, but it was still different from American English. So, writing was different, and people were more informal here. I always had a habit of saying “Dear Laura”. I would always start my emails with that, and slowly I learned it’s okay to just say “Hi” or just say “Laura”. It’s these nuances that I learned when my mentor actually wrote back to me once and said, “You don’t need to be this formal. It’s okay if you just say ‘Hi’.” It was a simple comment, but it really helped me, because it kind of confirmed that it’s okay to lose what I’ve learned and learn something new. That’s a very small example, but even when discussing things or working with leadership, mentorship can help break down challenges on how to navigate through that.
Navigating through corporate or organizational environments is tough. You learn by observing. You learn by asking questions and that is something that I learned and that was a huge cultural difference for me. Growing up in India, culturally, you wouldn’t want to ask questions, because you don’t want to look like, “Oh, I don’t know what I’m doing.” Here it was okay to do that, and sometimes I took undue advantage of that, where I would say, “Hey, I don’t understand this.” It worked in my favor because I could get away by asking really very deep questions because I always said, “Hey, I’m new here.” So, I think culturally, those are the things that I would point at that helped me to learn, and helped me in my career.
What advice would you give to other L&D teams?
L&D is such a deep space with large breadth, that there’s always something more to do when it comes to development. Whenever we are creating a roadmap of what trainings we are going to do this year, we always keep a buffer available for us, because we know last minute something new will come up. I think one aspect of this field is that I cannot walk into a meeting with our leads and say, “This is what I prescribe.”
I need to be flexible enough to walk in and say, “What are the problems you’re facing?” and then try to match it with what we have available or customize it for what they think is best. Being flexible is a key aspect of our success, which is also the hardest part, because we still need to define a budget and what the road map looks like. Just like any other business function, L&D faces that challenge day in and day out, especially as we’re dealing with social psychology. We’re dealing with groups and individuals. It’s not technology only. It’s about what they feel they need.
Having a depth and breadth of available solutions of flexibility and customization is what makes L&D successful and that keeps me up at night, to be honest. That keeps me thinking, “Okay, what can we do next? How can we keep on going?” That makes my job more interesting.