8 things we can learn about lifelong learning from Mastercard

Mastercard has come a long way since its conception in 1966 as the “Interbank Card Association” (and later in 1979 as MasterCard). Before its IPO in 2006, it used to...

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August 2, 2021
Team Engagement

One of the reasons for Mastercard’s renowned innovation mindset and success is it’s intensive focus on permanent learning throughout the entire company. And as nexxworks’ mission is to help companies build and nurture continuous and collaborative learning programs, I wanted to investigate what it’s ‘trade secrets’ were in the matter, in the hope of offering some inspiration.

Here’s what we can learn from them:

Have a powerful vision

Mastercard does not ‘just’ invest in learning where learning is needed. Its endeavors are part of a broader innovation strategy, which is what makes these learning tracks so durable and effective.

First of all, Mastercard is highly conscious of the fast pace of the context it is operating in, and that swift market evolution requires continuous innovation. Continuous innovation, in its turn, permanently requires new skills. Rather than only investing in a hiring and acquisition loop (which it also does for reasons of learning as you’ll see below), it aims at keeping its employees ‘valuable’ by retraining their skills over and over.

Mastercard is highly aware of the fact that, in a ruthless world of talent management, retention becomes a true competitive advantage. As chief talent officer Kelly Joscelyne explained: “For us in talent development and management, this is the triple crown for acquisition and retention of top talent: job satisfaction, social purpose and increase of skills.”

So the learning strategy focuses just as much on value for the company as on value for the employee (in order to retain them). Or as Joscelyne describes it: “We cultivate a culture of continuous learning to provide employees a variety of experiences to develop current capabilities and acquire new skills to sustain their marketability.”

When it comes to learning, having a powerful and embedded vision is key.

“The most important skill, in the words of Peter Drucker, is the skill of learning new skills – everything else will become obsolete over time.”

Focus on a learning mindset rather than on skills

Part of Mastercard’s vision about continuous learning is the insight that the shelf life of knowledge and skills is shrinking fast – for many topics about five year tops (or less, depending on the subject) - and that an agile and curious mindset becomes increasingly important.

As Steve Boucher, former VP of Global Talent Development at Mastercard puts it: “The most important skill, in the words of Peter Drucker, is the skill of learning new skills – everything else will become obsolete over time.”

Think in platforms

And what better way to foster the skill of learning new skills, than with a learning platform? Let’s face it, though on location classroom learning does still have a valuable role to play today, if you really want to instill a culture of lifelong and permanent learning, only a virtual platform can ensure the availability and budget realism needed to achieve this properly.

Wanting to offer its employees real-time learning, anywhere, anytime, anyhow, Mastercard opted to work with Degreed. It’s a data-driven and personalized learning platform which features a very comprehensive list of content providers. Degreed’s Mastercard platform includes Pluralsight, LinkedIn Learning, Harvard Business Publishing and Mind Tools among others.

Foster diversity of content

Degreed’s comprehensive platform approach illustrates the great attention Mastercard’s learning strategy pays to diversity, with so many different types and formats (from longer courses to bitesized ones) of courses and other content available.

I love how the learning at Mastercard is not restricted: employees can study what they find most interesting, which is of course a perfect fit with their ‘learning to learn’ strategy. It encourages its people to learn skills aligned with their career goals as well as their general interests, even if the latter may at first sight not seem very relevant for the company as a whole. This is how Steve Boucher explains the approach:

“We want our people to bring their best self to work – and sometimes that means learning skills that are unexpected. We have people learning everything from historical facts to wine tasting. This may not seem completely aligned with our business goals, but every learning activity is an opportunity to build power skills.”

Personalize it

No better way to personalize the individual learning experience than by offering a very diverse menu of possibilities and having people choose the path, content, people and experiences that are most aligned with their own interests and goals.

At the same time, Mastercard takes a very data driven approach to talent management. For example, in 2020, it built an AI Garage engine that helped analyse the development needs of more than 17,000 employees and it used the information to inform learning and development investments for that year. For instance, the marketing team obviously would obviously need to learn about AI and blockchain from a very different perspective than the engineers.

Young potentials, too, receive custom-tailored development plans that supplement the more traditional educational events and skill-building sessions.

Make it collaborative

In the fifth discipline, systems scientist Peter Senge wrote about the concept of “team learning”, which happens when teams start ‘thinking together’: sharing their experience, insights, knowledge and skills with each other about how to do things better. In other words, they develop reflection, inquiry and discussion skills to conduct more relevant change conversations with each other to create a shared vision of change and act upon that together.

Now, if teams are very uniform, and lacking in diversity, then this team learning will remain quite poor, as most players will have very similar skills and knowledge.

Mastercard seems to have a deep understanding of this type of dynamic, as its hiring process is just as much seen as a part of the learning and skills transfer cycle. Their strategy for hiring external candidates is about much more than simply filling missing slots. The real goal is “to change the gene pool” of their company, as one senior executive put it, by bringing in new talent, team members that offer different perspectives, not just ethnically and geographically, but in experience, knowledge and skill sets.

At Mastercard, lifelong learning is not just a knowledge and skills transfer in a (virtual) class, it’s just as much an enduring conversation between people who are so different that they can learn a lot from each other. This approach is fostered not just through the hiring process, but through “learning lounges” in office locations across the world, as well. These lounges are digital environments where technology connects employees across geographies in real-time, and serve as multi-purpose collaborative environments which offer an informal and intimate experience.

Keep it moving

If learning is part of your strategy to thrive in a fast moving world, it’s only logical that your approach evolves along with the changing market and customers.

During the full pandemic, for instance, Mastercard has been particularly focused on its people’s wellbeing. The content on Degreed, too, was adapted to this shift, with “pathways set-up to help people work from home, build resilience, and protect their mental health”.

At the same, the company also recognized that the past months were unlike any other time we’ve experienced. And so they haven’t pressured their people to keep learning if this isn’t a top priority for them in a highly stressful period.

In other words, your learning strategy and approach, too, must keep moving and adapting to the current situation.

Start small and test it

If your learning strategy isn’t as comprehensive as Mastercard’s, their approach may at first seem a bit intimidating. But, as with any change or innovation, the trick is just to start with small experiments, find out what works (and doesn’t) and then roll out the successful ones.

In the words of Amanda Gervay, Senior Vice President Human Resources Asia Pacific at Mastercard:

“Once your skilling content or program is ready, first test it with smaller pilot groups before you roll it out across an entire organization. Make changes based on employee feedback. Only after your program is tested and optimized, should you scale it to reach more employees.”

So, to conclude, these are the 8 things we can learn from Mastercard about lifelong learning:

  1. Have a powerful vision
  2. Focus on a learning mindset rather than on skills
  3. Think in platforms
  4. Foster diversity of content
  5. Personalize it
  6. Make it collaborative
  7. Keep it moving
  8. Start small and test it

What are your own methods, or your favourite continues learning organization stories? Let me know at blog@nexxworks.com!

Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence Van Elegem
Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and science on the way we work, consume and live our lives.
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August 2, 2021
Team Engagement