Mastercard's global business strategy for the last decade focused on three pillars: grow the core business; diversify the customer base across industries/geographies; and build new business offerings. Therefore, these objectives inform all L&D needs, says Rajan Krishnakumar, Vice President, Talent Management, Asia Pacific, Mastercard.

During the past four-five years, Mastercard's business has significantly transformed. Whereas historically, Mastercard was known for processing consumer credit or debit card payments, today it processes payments in all forms, including B2B payments, real-time payments, account-to-account transfers, government disbursements and payments by smart wearables (like watches) just to name a few.

To support this shift, the organisation's training approach also needed to change. Let's find out how this shift took place in this interview with Jerene Ang. 

Q Talk us through how the training approach at Mastercard has transformed in line with business needs.

Rather than having each team or function conduct their own version of a training on a topic like artificial intelligence (AI) – as was done previously - we created six Global Learning Academies across a number of subject areas like Sales & Marketing, Products & Services, Enterprise Technology, and Leadership.

Then we identified our top experts across the entire company globally in each of these areas and asked them to collaborate in developing the learning strategy, content, and mode of delivery that would be rolled out across the organisation regardless of the trainees’ function or geography. This ensures consistency across the organisation in terms of how we’re approaching knowledge and skill/capability building for each area,and also allows us to have our best subject matter experts involved in driving learning efforts.

That said, one size doesn’t fit all, so these learning journeys (which can last anywhere from one-three months) are also what we call “fit-for-purpose” learning experiences, meaning that the journeys, and modules within them, are tailored for the experience level and roles of the trainees. For instance, the sales team needs to learn about AI from a different perspective than the engineers do, so our programmes account for those differences.

This approach has proven to be very effective in developing and nurturing new capabilities and skills amongst our existing workforce. If anything, COVID-19 has only made it more urgent and important that we enable our workforce to be creative, nimble, agile and adaptable. Of course, we hire new employees to fill skill and knowledge gaps too.

Q With the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations have been forced to take their learning programmes fully virtual. Was this also the case for your organisation? Or was something like this in the works all along?

Since the start of the COVID-19 situation, the health and wellbeing of our employees has always been our top priority. Even in the early stages, we very quickly put a stop to face-to-face leadership development programmes and training sessions that would bring too many people together into one room.

Soon after, we transitioned completely to remote working and virtual learning. This entailed adapting all of our activities from physical to virtual formats, spanning a wide range of programmes such as summer internships for 500+ interns globally to onboarding bootcamps for new hires to talent planning sessions, professional skills building and leadership development.

Q How did your organisation go about moving to virtual learning? What were the key investments made for it to be possible?

We tackled the challenge by splitting up into internal project teams and collaborating with external partners to re-design and pilot critical in-person programmes for virtual environments. The next step was to scale these virtual programmes over the coming months to reach more employees across the region. The coming 9-12 months will be critical as we assess how the virtual offerings perform in our new normal environment and how to incorporate them into our medium- to long-term plans.

In terms of investment, we increased our internal technology bandwidth, expanded access to highly-rated online course providers, and brought in video platforms to offer technical and functional skills training virtually.

Q Were there any challenges faced along the way?

Like everyone else, we had to rapidly pivot our entire global workforce to remote working in a matter of weeks which certainly posed challenges. What helped us to adapt quickly was increasing our internal technology bandwidth to facilitate faster streaming and downloads of video content for internal training, meetings and client engagements. An important thing that we’ve been keeping in mind throughout this time is the need to balance urgency with the non-negotiable need to ensure compliance with Mastercard’s data confidentiality and privacy standards.

Q What was the employee feedback like?

Employees are enjoying the virtual offerings and have adapted quickly to the new normal. We’ve seen strong demand for webinars and virtual learning journeys with many sessions being ‘sold out’ and over-subscribed as soon as registration opens.

Q Please share your three key takeaways from this experience. How will this help you approach similar projects in the future?

  1. Agility and speed is critical as we’ve had to rapidly adapt to an all-virtual work environment. Where designing and planning learning journeys previously took a few months to do, we’ve now cut the time down to a matter of weeks. Once the programme is ready, we test it with pilot groups, make changes based on employee feedback and then scale the programmes to reach more employees.
  2. We’ve found that the blended learning approach (combining in-person and virtual learning options) is more effective. This global WFH experiment has also debunked the myth that learning and leadership programmes need to be conducted face-to-face to be effective.
  3. Virtual programmes are great for enhancing internal collaboration amongst teams and individuals across geographies and time zones.

Q What is your long-term vision for the virtual learning courses prepared?

The virtual learning courses are here to stay, and will continue to be an integral part of our learning and leadership development offerings.

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