Mastercard's Chief Learning & Insights Officer: Talent in the Virtual World

The Talent & Learning Next Practices Monthly series provides a forum for the Talent and L&D leadership community to come together to discover and advance next practices. Each month, you’ll hear from executives in Talent and/or Learning from some of the largest and most respected organizations in the world, learn about the latest i4cp research, and share and receive ideas from your peers.

This month's featured guest was Sarah Gretczko, Chief Learning and Insights Officer at Mastercard. The discussion was  facilitated by i4cp CEO and Co-Founder Kevin Oakes and Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone. Here are some highlights and insights from the meeting:

  • Most people think of Mastercard, which has around 22,000 employees, as a credit card company. But they are more accurately described as a technology company in the payments space. They don't issue any credit cards themselves, rather banks do and so banks are their primary customer.
  • Gretczko's role at Mastercard includes learning and development, but also human capital analytics, which they interestingly call "workforce innovation."
  • Mastercard's L&D structure has six learning academies: enterprise technology, sales and marketing, products and services, knowledge and trends, human skills, and leadership.
  • Gretczko's workforce innovation team covers data reporting, human capital analytics, and special projects--an aspect that was helpful during the pandemic, as it enabled several fast pivots in early 2020, such as the shift from in-person instructor-led training to virtual training.
  • The academies pre-pandemic were very centered on in-person training, though they were planning a phased evolution to increase the use of other approaches. Like many companies with remote workers, that changed quickly, with what was around 20% of instructor-led training becoming 100%.
  • Content designers in particular needed to upskill, as developing training for the virtual classroom is very different. They also found they needed almost double the number of people involved, as they quickly realized the value of producers to assist trainers in delivering the online programs.
  • One challenge has been people not always respecting the online modality as much, e.g., not showing up, dropping early, etc. Several participants on the call noted that they suffered this issue at their organizations as well, but found that involving leaders in setting the tone made a huge difference. Clear training objectives must be established, the cost of the training must be communicated (it isn't free to run), the required nature (when applicable) of the online training must be emphasized, and employees need to see "training as working" and not as something else. Trying to just influence people was not enough to change behavior.
  • Gretczko considers herself to be a "future of work enthusiast." She was leading a cross-functional team on this at Mastercard even before the pandemic. The discussion then was about technology disruption, e.g., from automation and robots. But a big signal was being missed, that the pandemic really brought forward--about the well-being and mental health of employees, how and where people can best do their work, etc.
  • Gretczko personally has been going back to the office workplace 3-4 times a week for quite some time, but she is a strong advocate for flexibility and employee choice. She noted that people want agency over the decision of where to get their work done. Mastercard is moving to a hybrid model, as they recognize there are benefits for employees to come in at least some of the time. The average might be two days a week, but it will be flexible based on employees' various commute times, work styles, etc.
  • An important practice they are implementing are team-level agreements that follow a provided template. These help to build trust, psychological safety, and preserve flexibility for each team.
  • In the past, skills profiling/etc. at organizations often fell to the L&D team, and it was often an uphill battle to create a skills database let alone maintain it over time. At Mastercard they are moving forward in this area by having leaders of each part of the business present regularly to the CEO as to whether they have the skills and capabilities to execute on their strategy and meet their goals. Getting into this sort of discipline is becoming a virtuous cycle each year.
  • When asked what her biggest areas of focus were going into 2022, Gretczko listed a continued focus on employee well-being, upskilling initiatives, and the need to learn as they go with hybrid work. They are approaching hybrid with a serious of hypotheses, and will make adjustments, in each geographic region, as needed.
  • Another key initiative is the implementation of an Internal Talent Marketplace, which will enable greater talent mobility. Employees in the past often failed to see the "what's in it for me" when it comes to maintaining their skills profile. But with such a marketplace of projects, gigs, and jobs in place and connected to their skills and learning profiles, the benefit to their careers becomes clear.

Be sure to see the schedule of upcoming meetings in i4cp's Next Practices Monthly series. (To ensure open discussion, this event is exclusively for HR practitioners. Vendors and consultants are not permitted to attend.)