Mastercard builds workforce and learning agility for the future of work

Speaking with HRM Asia, Mastercard’s Amanda Gervay highlights how the company builds long-term success through demonstrating workforce agility.
By: | November 6, 2020

 “We are thinking about the future of work and how we should operate to ensure our company’s long-term success while offering the flexibility that is important to our people.” – Amanda Gervay, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Asia Pacific, Mastercard.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause disruption across the workplace, many companies have been compelled to rethink, reimagine and redesign the way they work. While the current focus may be on ensuring business continuity, organisations arguably also need to think about how they can prepare themselves for the future of work.

HRM Asia chats with Amanda Gervay, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Asia Pacific, Mastercard, to find out how the company is continuously building up its workforce and learning agility in response to change.

The pandemic has forced organisations around the world to adapt and restructure. What is your organisation doing to ensure that the workforce is agile enough to adapt to the current crisis and the new normal moving forward?

Mastercard’s culture of decency really shines through when the going gets tough. Since day one, every action that we’ve taken has been guided by the principle of helping employees to feel safe, secure and cared for. First, we gave everyone the option to work from home (WFH) and quickly put technology and tools in place to enable a rapid shift to remote working.

We then reassured employees that there will be no COVID-related layoffs this year and introduced a COVID-19 benefit that gives employees 10 business days of paid leave in case they’re unable to work due to any COVID-related reason. So rather than worry about their job, we told employees they should focus on each other and their families, and about their customers.

This approach has served us well, and allowed us to maintain not only our team’s wellbeing and productivity, but equally important, normal service for our customers, partners and the billions of people that rely on us every day. This global WFH experiment has also expanded our thinking about the future of work at Mastercard as we look to permanently adopt some of the new ways of working that we have trialed over the last several months.

The pandemic has amplified the importance of being agile in learning and adapting to changes. What is your organisation doing to improve the learning agility of your people?

Agility and speed are critical as we (the HR team) and our people have had to rapidly adapt to an all-remote working and learning environment. 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 boot camps for new hires to talent planning sessions, professional skills building and leadership development.

While this meant a shift for both trainers as well as trainees, we’re encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far. In particular, one myth that this WFH experiment has debunked is that learning and leadership programmes must be conducted face-to-face to be effective.

What we’ve found is that the blended learning approach (combining in-person and virtual learning options) is actually more effective, and that virtual programmes are great for enhancing internal collaboration amongst teams and individuals across geographies and time zones.

How has the pandemic changed your employee engagement strategy?

Knowing this is an anxious time, we pivoted quickly to provide our people with resources and benefits that show them that, no matter where they are or what their situation is, we will continue to have their backs. Considering solutions for employees in light of COVID-19, we identified those that would give them the greatest peace of mind — the flexibility of time off, mental health support and comprehensive health coverage for COVID-19. 

In addition, we launched our global, digital-first wellbeing programme, Live Well, which supports employees’ physical, emotional and financial security, with a focus on mental health. The platform offers programmes on stress management and mindfulness, how to stay active, get better sleep, healthier eating and preparing for retirement.

We also provide free, confidential, 24-hour access to counselling for employees and their families, as well as webinars on managing stress, work-life balance and mental health fundamentals for managers.

What is an increasingly diverse workforce looking for in leadership today, and how much leaders change and adapt in this new world of work?

The pandemic accelerated shifts that have been underway for some time. For instance, it brought even greater humanity to our management style as our leaders have been communicating with their teams at all levels more than they ever have before, not just on the tasks at hand but also on the emotional side.

The past few months have also spotlighted leadership qualities like inclusivity, connectedness and decency. While COVID-19 has demonstrated that we’re all in this together, WFH has taken it a step further by allowing everyone to show their more authentic, multi-dimensional selves. We see our colleagues and business partners in a new light – WFH with kids, pets, parents, you name it; everyone is more empathetic today. This shift been beneficial for the business and our culture more broadly.

From the many employee surveys that we’ve done, we know that this more humble, warm and open style of leadership is what people are responding to now. People want to know that you share their struggles and concerns, that you trust their judgment and that they are empowered to decide how and when to get their work done. This fosters a deeper sense of inclusion and trust and we believe this empathy and understanding is what many people are looking for in leadership today, regardless of their age.

How has this pandemic changed the role of HR at your organisation?

Just like how the global financial crisis elevated the role of the finance department, the pandemic is elevating the role of HR by demonstrating how it flexes to support the entire organisation – from people matters, to facilities, security and technology.

As you can imagine, the pressure on HR today is to make effective changes rapidly. We have been called upon to simplify processes and act with an even greater sense of urgency—reducing bureaucracy in favor of output and outcomes.

One Mastercard example is Project Possible – an internal talent marketplace that we set up a few months ago to support emerging business priorities related to the pandemic. We asked for 50 volunteers from across the company to work in five strategic areas of the business, and within a couple of days, we had over 430 volunteers! This is a classic example of how we mobilise our people and their passions in new and innovative ways. You could say that this crisis has accelerated our sourcing and talent deployment internally. 

Another part of the HR function that has changed is in our engagement with the Board. It’s no longer just about compensation and performance, but rather, ongoing engagement about people, culture and leadership, and drawing stronger links with the investor and shareholder community.

What is the organisation’s biggest challenge in the next 6-12 months?

We are thinking about the future of work and how we should operate to ensure our company’s long-term success while offering the flexibility that is important to our people. COVID-19 has forced us to think about what the future of our workplace should look like and how work is done.

As a large proportion of our workforce continues to work remotely today, it is exciting to think about what the future will look like. Do we need all the large facilities that we were so used to? What will the office layout look like when we eventually bring all our people back into the office? How do we continue to ensure the safety and security of our people and their wellbeing? For the policy changes we have made, which will be temporary and which will be permanent?

 Despite all the questions, one thing we’re certain of is that flexibility will be key – being willing to adjust and always thinking about what’s next. As we’ve seen through this pandemic, no one has all the answers, but it’s important to stay close to your people and communities, and to evaluate every action to ensure that the choices we make are the decent thing to do in that situation.