The best learning leaders, in Rebecca Ray’s opinion, adapt to a changing landscape, exhibit thought leadership, collaborate with and learn from others and ultimately have a keen understanding of their business. People such as Frank Anderson, Ted Hoff, David Vance and Kevin Wilde, all former CLOs of the Year, embody these qualities, and now Ray’s work at MasterCard during the past three years has placed her in this select group.
When MasterCard went public in 2006, Ray, who is the senior vice president of global talent management and development and Chief Learning Officer magazine’s 2008 CLO of the Year, was an active participant in the change.
“There were many senior leaders who recognized early on that this was a learning opportunity,” Ray said. “Given my rank here at the firm, I, like others, was brought into the conversation, and all of us were expected to think through — given the role that we all play — how do we help MasterCard in this transition?
“Our employees needed to understand: what’s our strategy, what’s our business model and what’s their role in continuing MasterCard’s 40-year track record of success? So it was my task to come back to folks and say, ‘We need to provide support to employees at all levels to prepare for and thrive during this change.’”
Ray and her department not only had to engage people in the change, but they had to ensure employees understood the new realities of this environment. MasterCard would no longer be an association or a private company, but instead a public one, which meant there would be a number of significant changes on the horizon.
To prepare the workforce, Ray worked with the senior team to articulate key messages and create learning solutions; develop a robust learning team that would have the skills and abilities to support the change; and implement the tools that would help people understand MasterCard’s new strategy and its new marketplace.
“That was our way of helping MasterCard, just the way that many others were thinking, ‘What can we do to help from a regulatory, or legal, or educational or communications perspective?’” she said.
To guide employees through this metamorphosis, MasterCard built three Learning Maps that detailed the organization’s strategy, business model and the competitive landscape. “The strategy map deployment was the single greatest learning event in MasterCard history,” Ray said, because the organization’s leadership was involved. And the maps still can be found hanging in work stations all around the globe.
“Against the backdrop of an extraordinarily busy time, we asked senior business leaders to become certified as table captains to lead a discussion around a series of strategy maps. We asked the CEO to make a new video to play at the beginning of any session where he’s not physically present, [and we asked] people to take half a day off the floor or away from clients to participate in a session,” Ray explained.
“Without their strong partnership, I know that we would not have been as successful. But we were able to articulate the need, and it was extraordinarily successful from a learning perspective, from a deployment perspective [and] from a leadership perspective.”
But going public was just one step in MasterCard’s journey, Ray said.
“It’s not an end all and be all in and of itself,” she explained. “We are on a journey to continue the level of performance and success that MasterCard has enjoyed.
“I’d like to think I’ve been helpful in these last couple of years in part of that process, but it was an environment that was open to learning. I’ve never had to get up on a chair and say, ‘Look, learning’s important and please listen to me.’ How lucky am I? That’s part of the compelling story here at MasterCard.”
In that spirit, Ray is looking at the current state of the economy and brainstorming how she can help prepare employees for what lies ahead.
“We are considering another series of maps because I think the world, as evidenced by the headlines in the last few weeks, continues to change, and we want to make sure that our employees understand the role of MasterCard in that changing landscape and their role in continuing to support MasterCard,” she said.
As Ray reflects on her tenure at MasterCard, one of her many accomplishments is the Leadership Excellence program, a multiyear initiative that provides full executive assessment, custom learning and development, and assessment of impact on an individual basis. Based on CEO Robert Selander’s work in 2005 with his immediate team, Ray sought to cascade a similar idea down to the top 225 leaders in the form of the Leadership Excellence program.
“It’s had extraordinary support from our CEO, and it really started with his team,” Ray said. “In preparation for taking the company public in 2006, they were thinking about their own developmental journey. This Leadership Excellence program really models for the rest of the senior team what Bob and his executive leadership team were doing for their own performance. To hear them talk about their own developmental journey sends [a] tremendous message, and that put a lot of wind in our sails.”
Ray’s other achievements include working with the senior leadership team to build a comprehensive talent management system at MasterCard; developing on-demand learning and development for all employees; helping to launch six population-specific colleges within MasterCard University and augmenting the existing curriculum at the institution; and creating management development programs in which participants learn key management skills and engage in strategic projects.
“My team and I have spent [the past few] years continually improving, enhancing or building things,” Ray said. “It would be unfair to say there weren’t some great things when I arrived. [But] I think every new leader comes in and look[s] to see what value you can add, and there were some great people and great programs that we were able to build on. Certainly, there were many partners, internally and externally.”
Ray believes these achievements were possible because of the people who surround her.
“I don’t know that this award says as much about me as it does about this team and what they have done here, the value they provide and their successes,” Ray said. “I’m deeply humbled. It’s certainly the greatest professional accomplishment and award of my career, but I’d have no story to tell if it weren’t for this team.”