Article: Soft skills are now more important than ever before: Mastercard’s Amanda Gervay

Learning & Development

Soft skills are now more important than ever before: Mastercard’s Amanda Gervay

The importance of soft skills such as cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovation, adaptability and resilience, social intelligence, negotiation, and virtual collaboration skills are more important than ever, says Amanda Gervay, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Asia Pacific, Mastercard.
Soft skills are now more important than ever before: Mastercard’s Amanda Gervay

As Human Resources leader for the Asia Pacific (AP) region, Amanda Gervay works closely with the AP Leadership Team to drive and implement the regional HR strategy to ensure that Mastercard is where the best people want to be.  

A seasoned HR leader, Amanda is well versed in the dynamics of organizational design and restructuring, as well as culture change across Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Prior to joining Mastercard, she was the regional HR lead for Thomson Reuters in Singapore, where she oversaw the people strategy, with a focus on diversity, talent, and leadership development, as well as organizational change arising from M&A and divestiture projects. Amanda is now based in Singapore.

Here are the edited excerpts.

How do you see the current business landscape amid this pandemic? What are some of the top questions that leaders need to ask to prepare for the future of work as we strive to come out stronger from this pandemic?

The pandemic has forced organizations all over the world to adapt and restructure at a lightning-fast pace. At Mastercard, we started thinking years ago about what the future of work means for our business, industry, and society. We conducted research, worked with analytics teams, academics, peers, and even history leaders, to understand the challenge from multiple angles.

One conclusion that we came to is that leaders need to ask, what great opportunities can come from reimagining the way that work gets done? What variables must be considered, and what are the practical implications? Another critical consideration - especially in turbulent times - is how will changes impact your people’s well-being and company culture? To answer this, you need to know what issues your people are dealing with – both at work and home. Then ask how your policies and benefits should flex to meet their needs. Like most companies, a key question we’re working through is how to maintain our strong culture and spirit of collaboration while also offering the flexibility that is important to our people.

Also Read: IMF's Kalpana Kochhar on COVID-19 & the world of work  

What we do know is that the new normal is about creating a workplace ecosystem that supports convenience, functionality, and well-being. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The recipe for the ideal work environment will vary from person to person and change as they go through different stages in their lives and careers. The magic ingredient is flexibility.

How do you see the larger picture of L&D and skilling initiatives across organizations and how have employee L&D strategies evolved in the last few months?

Like everyone else, we had to rapidly pivot our entire global workforce to remote working and virtual learning in a matter of weeks. This entailed adapting all of our activities from physical to virtual formats, spanning a wide range of programs such as summer internships for 500+ interns globally to onboarding bootcamps for new hires to talent planning sessions, professional skills building, and leadership development.

But a few things never changed: our commitment to learning and development, the types of skills our people need, and our “fit-for-purpose” training approach (where learning journeys, and modules within them, are tailored for the experience level and role of each trainee). For instance, the marketing team needs to learn about blockchain from a different perspective than the engineers do, so our programs account for those differences.  

Over the last few months as the world shifted to working from home, the HR team tackled the challenge by splitting up into project teams and collaborating with external partners to re-design and pilot critical in-person programs for virtual environments. We then scaled the virtual programs to reach employees across the region. 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.  

How can employers foster their employees' morale and productivity amid these uncertain times?

Knowing this is an anxious time, employers should provide their people with the resources and benefits that show them that, no matter where they are or what their situation is, their employer will continue to have their backs. This is what has worked for us.

As we considered solutions for employees in light of COVID-19, we quickly identified and implemented benefits that would give our people the greatest peace of mind — our guarantee that there would be no COVID-related layoffs this year, the flexibility of time off, mental health support, and comprehensive health coverage for COVID-19. 

Besides, we introduced a COVID-19 benefit that gives employees 10 business days of paid leave (over and above annual leave) in case they’re unable to work due to illness, quarantine, or caring for a family member. We’ve also made a concerted effort to continuously remind employees that, they know their personal circumstances and needs best, and that they have complete flexibility in terms of how and when they want to work, and that we support them in their choices. 

We also launched a global, digital-first well-being program, Live Well, which supports employees’ physical, emotional, and financial security, with a focus on mental health.  

Given that the majority of workers are now working remotely, employees and leaders must focus on their skilling initiatives. What are some of the skills that will play a critical role for businesses to succeed and thrive in a remote work environment? 

The upskilling and reskilling of our workforce has always been a key pillar of Mastercard’s global people strategy – and will continue to be post-COVID-19. If anything, we will only accelerate the development and execution of these training programs and solutions to help us emerge stronger from this situation.

While the pandemic hasn’t changed the functional skills that our people need, soft skills such as cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovation, adaptability and resilience, social intelligence, negotiation, and virtual collaboration skills are more important than ever. The past few months have also spotlighted the need for leadership qualities like inclusivity, connectedness, empathy, and decency. From the many global employee surveys that we’ve done, we know that this more communicative, humble, warm, and open style of leadership is what people are responding to now, especially as they work remotely. Business leaders that possess these qualities will help their teams to survive and thrive in these unusual times and beyond. 

What are some key upskilling and reskilling initiatives that you have implemented in your organization and how do you ensure a high-impact learning culture?

One of our biggest challenges and successes to date has been the execution of our first-ever virtual Launch Bootcamp in September which brought together more than 250 new graduate recruits from across the Asia Pacific region for five action-packed days of virtual training, interactive webinars, fireside chats with executives, virtual parties and more. The Launchers learned a lot about Mastercard’s business and culture and emerged as an inspired, tightly knit group despite the distance between them. It has been exciting to see just how effective virtual programs can be for enhancing internal collaboration amongst teams and individuals across geographies and time zones. In the future of work, where you’re “based” or what office you’re in will no longer matter. 

Another way we’re helping our team to develop in-demand skills is through our recently launched learning partnership with NUS SCALE (National University of Singapore’s School of Continuing and Lifelong Education). For early-career talent, in particular, we continue to focus more on soft skills development in categories such as higher order cognitive thinking, emotional intelligence, and social skills which are essential for preparing this group for the future of work.

What is your advice for CHROs and people managers who face challenges to upskill and reskill their employees including cost and other bottlenecks?

Don’t wait long to go digital: If there was ever a time to transition your skilling program from the physical world to the virtual world, now would be it.

This global WFH experiment has debunked the myth that learning and leadership programs need to be conducted face-to-face to be effective. What’s more, we’ve found that our 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. 

Another important benefit of moving your L&D programs online is the cost-savings. While you may need to invest at the start to increase your technology bandwidth or provide access to online course providers, over time, the costs should be below what companies would have typically spent on travel and accommodation for trainers and trainees, venue rentals, F&B, printing course materials, and other such expenses. It’s also friendlier to the environment.   

One more silver lining of shifting to virtual learning is that it is borderless, which allows for greater inclusion of the entire workforce including freelancers, contractors, or others that may work remotely (even in normal times).  

Start small then scale: 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.

We will continue to accelerate the development and execution of upskilling and reskilling of our workforce training programs and solutions to help us emerge stronger from this situation, post-COVID-19

Read more such stories from the October issue of our e-magazine on 'Reimagining Workplace Learning

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Topics: Learning & Development, Skilling, #ReimagineLearning

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