Teaching Collaboration at MasterCard

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert

MasterCard Inc. is transforming itself from a credit card company to a broader technology enterprise to keep up with fast-paced changes within the payments industry and meet the ever-increasing need for security.

A desire to have a more entrepreneurial culture also requires a change in the company’s approach to learning. Janice Burns, with a background as a product manager skilled at launching products to meet specific consumer needs, was just the person to lead the revamp.

As chief learning officer and head of global talent development and organizational effectiveness, Burns is shepherding many collaborative initiatives in tandem with other senior leaders like Chief Innovation Officer Garry Lyons, the company’s communications leaders, and business resource groups within its diversity office.

Burns and her team are also revamping traditional learning programs to capture specific employee groups’ attention, particularly millennials.

That expansive, cross-functional collaboration is necessary. She said MasterCard’s new focus on innovation would flop if it were only top-down; it has to be grassroots to succeed. “Learning has to be about the culture, and it can’t only be driven or managed by the chief learning officer,” Burns said. “We’re building a culture of learning so it can happen anywhere, at any time.”

To foster creativity the company encourages employees to brainstorm ideas through innovation labs, peer-to-peer learning and reverse mentoring, and to bounce ideas off each other using MasterCard’s internal social learning platform. The brainstorming has yielded promising new ventures, such as contactless transactions at subway fare turnstiles, the ability to pay for items like cologne directly within ads in magazine apps and the launch of benefit cards for South Africans that identify recipients through fingerprints or voice recognition to minimize theft.

MasterCard is forging a new path within the risk-adverse financial services industry, said Daniel Latimore, senior vice president of the banking group at Celent, a Boston-based research and advisory firm. Trying to foster the necessary innovation without damaging the business can be a big challenge for financial services companies because most employees aren’t used to taking risks and have never been rewarded for doing so.

“Creating an environment where risk-taking is accepted and encouraged against this backdrop is extraordinarily difficult,” he said. “Leadership has to be seen to be rewarding employees who are trying new things.”

Product Management: It’s in the Blood

Burns and her team are also tailoring learning to specific employee segments, such as college new hires or veteran sales reps, by figuring out how they like to consume learning. The concept of learners as consumers grew out of Burns’ early history as a product manager, both at the former Chemical Bank in New York City and at her first position at MasterCard in the 1990s.

Her business acumen — particularly knowledge of MasterCard’s processes as she rose in the ranks within business units and then across the human resources lattice — landed her the CLO job, said Ron Garrow, MasterCard’s chief human resources officer. “She has watched the company evolve, and she understands the business very well. People who understand both sides of that equation can be very powerful HR leaders, as they understand all the levers to press.”

Burns said she still considers herself a product manager, and she expects those skills from her team when developing ideas for various employee “consumer” segments and then marketing to promote continued usage.

“This is a very different approach from that typically taken by other learning executives,” she said. “We always start with the business strategy, and we revisit it on an annual basis to see if our learning programs remain aligned with that strategy.”

For example, for time-constrained people managers, Burns and her team launched in July a pilot program, “Take 5 — Energize Your Mind.” The five-minute learning activity might be a video or a mini-case study that managers can access through daily email calendar invites. They can then chat with other managers about the topic within the social learning platform.

For the company’s various employee segments, talent development coaches reach out and remind employees to go on the social platform to check their guided learning journeys — a designated six-week period when employees engage in dialogue after reading posted items or videos. “We play the role of facilitators and motivators more than anything else,” Burns said.

MasterCard has been exemplary in using social media to get its employees to better understand its brand and to build opportunities, said Jeanne Meister, co-founder of Future Workplace and co-author of “The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today.”

The company has a Social Media 101 training program to teach employees “how to share in a safe, responsible and respectful manner as well as use social [media]to be become an ambassador for the firm globally,” Meister said. “Janice is a forward-thinking chief learning officer in using social collaboration in a holistic way to recruit, develop and engage employees.”

Connecting the Dots: Workforce, Learning and Business

While it builds products for businesses, transit authorities and governmental agencies, MasterCard is also shifting workforce priorities. For example, Burns and her team are tweaking the learning agenda to accommodate tech professionals from other industries, Garrow said. Also this year, the team launched a new onboarding video introducing new hires to the payments industry, MasterCard and its products.

The program is presented in a four-part challenge that incorporates videos and quizzes and mirrors a day in the life of MasterCard employees — who they may meet, environments they may encounter and questions they may be asked. This more organic way of presenting and then immediately testing understanding promotes comprehension for industry newcomers.

Burns and her team have launched other offerings in response to business demands. For instance, the team piloted The Art and Science of Business Modeling program for MasterCard’s global products and solutions organization in September 2013 to build project managers’ skills.

Burns said the course significantly improved product employees’ skills in value proposition development, hypothesis testing, prototyping new business models and communicating complex models. In January, the team expanded the launch to more than 500 product professionals and incorporated it into the full product management curriculum for next year.

Burns and her team are also crafting tools to better capture millennials’ attention, Garrow said. Some 38 percent of MasterCard’s current workforce are millennials compared with 10 percent four years ago. The demographic shift requires that learning programs be more entertaining to ensure they follow through with some of the more mundane aspects, such as compliance training.

For example, this year Burns launched an informal e-learning program that incorporates gaming and animation into information security compliance training. Employees act as “superheroes” to prevent security issues, such as not opening suspect emails that could contain malware and potentially get into MasterCard’s systems.

Within the animated interactive experience, employees become characters in the scenario, and they have to make critical decisions. If run-of-the-mill compliance training is more fun, millennials stand a greater chance of finishing the training, Burns said.

The superhero compliance training sits within the company’s learning management system, but Burns and her team push it out to all employees through emails to make it as easy as possible to access. Employees receive an email and click on a link to the LMS, or they can go to their learning transcript — selected courses that best fit their position and career development track — and take it later. They also can click directly into the email or access MasterCard’s intranet to get to the security compliance training.

Burns and her team are also exploring how to better measure the impact of the company’s social learning platform, Corp U, which is used to meet specific business needs. For example, in June Burns and her team offered Digital Marketing Academy on the platform to a select group of employees worldwide. The academy was a collaborative guided learning journey that explored emerging digital marketing trends and technologies, with specific discussion topics on website design, user experience, search engine optimization, online paid media, social media and digital measurement.

By the end of the program, participants were able to articulate the trends driving digital marketing tools and strategies; identify and describe the key elements of a complete and integrated digital marketing program; and evaluate key elements of a digital marketing plan’s strategy, design and execution. Burns and her team also measured participants’ engagement levels by tracking their involvement initiating responses to discussions, how often they accessed online content and completed individual assignments and the full six-week course.

Many of MasterCard’s employees also practice reverse mentoring within the company’s business resource groups. Burns introduced the strategy based on an experience during her stint as chief diversity officer from 2007 to 2010. The business resource group for young professionals came up with the idea of reverse mentoring, in which they collaborate on new concepts with the company’s corporate communications department. With Burns’ initial guidance, now the resource groups also host events such as informal lunch and learns, a speaker series and formal learning programs across the company’s global operations.

The Study of Behavior

Burns said there is a common thread to all of her various roles at MasterCard. Whether in her role as a product manager or as a learning leader, she loves to study behavior. She said studying why people do what they do better enables her to find ways to motivate them “to either buy a particular product or to learn.” With human behavior as an umbrella, HR and learning become a marriage of sorts between industrial psychology, analytics and high-impact learning.

Burns has spent most of her career at MasterCard. As her career path evolved, she not only picked up new business skills, but also she went back to school, earning a master’s degree in public administration at New York University in 1995, and then completing the advanced HR executive program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Wesleyan University in 1986.

“I’ve been afforded opportunities I don’t think I would have had at other companies, particularly larger companies,” she said. “I’ve been able to build some great programs from the ground up in several different roles. It really feels like I’ve had many different career experiences over my 22 years.”

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

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