Weathering the HR storm
VITAL STATS: Ron Garrow is the chief human resources officer of MasterCard. In this role, he is responsible for all HR functions globally, including driving cultural transformation, building leadership capability and creating a company that is “most valued to work for”. He has more than 27 years of experience in HR with broad skills and knowledge of various HR disciplines, including managing multiple HR functions. Before joining MasterCard in 2010, Garrow spent six years at Bank of America as the HR executive for the chief financial officer and chief learning officer, among other positions.
How has your journey been as the CHRO of MasterCard since 2013?
One of the things that attracted me to MasterCard was the presence of an impending HR storm.
Here was a company which was going to go from being seen as a credit card company, even though it didn’t issue credit cards, to a tech company in the payment space. This meant the company was going to revisit all of its processes, including those of HR, completely.
It’s been great being part of a company that’s undergoing a major transformation, especially when you have a CEO that values HR and values the people side of the organisation.
Keeping in mind all these changes, how would you define the new workplace culture at MasterCard?
One of the things we’re doing across the globe is that we’re moving to a very open space environment at MasterCard. Our people are connecting more, and they are working on teams cross-functionally – you’re starting to see product and engineering experts in our tech hubs. Three to four years ago, we didn’t even have tech hubs. Now we have over a 1,000 employees in tech hubs, whether it’s in Dublin or in New York.
You’re seeing innovation being embedded in the culture, along with more connectivity and consumer thinking. Ultimately, it’s all about being consumer-centric.
Yes, we’ve heard reports that MasterCard is changing its image from just being a credit card company to one which is focusing on customer payment technology. How have your employer branding initiatives evolved to suit that image?
When I joined MasterCard in 2010, we were a little over 5,300 employees, and today we have over 10,000 employees.
Here was a company that wanted to be seen as an innovative company. It was a company that was seen as a credit card company, only working with the banks or the issuers. But it wanted to evolve to a company that had more stakeholders, including working with governments, telcos, transit authorities and merchants.
It was a company that traditionally hired bankers and consultants with 10-15 and 15-20 years’ worth of experience – that’s how our job descriptions were written. As such, we naturally targeted people who were at the age of around 40-45.
Our journey involved changing the company’s culture, keeping in mind the present talent, and keeping in the mind the way leaders were leading the organisation. To be innovative, we knew we had to drive positive energy across the company.
We had to ask questions such as how do we create affection for our brand? And how do we get employees to be always thinking about the consumer experience?
I started talking about providing priceless employee interactions within the company, but that didn’t resonate either because not every interaction an employee has is going to be a priceless employee experience.
Rather, we have realised the journey we are now on is about connecting people to priceless possibilities because as a company we’re talking about doing work on big issues now, such as water scarcity in the world.
This is important because the next generation love being part of something that’s greater than just doing their job. It’s about doing good and doing well in the world.
So this is why our employee value proposition involves connecting people to priceless possibilities.
It’s not only around how you can be part of this cool tech company in the payment space as an employee, but also about being part of something greater.
I think that’s the power of our brand. It’s about trying to paint a bit of this evolution of the world.
Indeed, as you mentioned, Millennials are looking out for something to drive change as one of their corporate ambitions. How has your experience been with Millennials in MasterCard?
What I love about Millennials is there are no barriers for them. They don’t seem to be intimidated by the hierarchy.
They want to be part of something greater, they like to be part of volunteerism, they like to be involved with things that they know they’re impacting change and I know that’s where we’ve had an advantage with the whole financial inclusion piece. When they see they are part of projects such as the South African Social Security Administration Card, they get excited.
But what I’m worried about is the rapidity of their career development, and whether organisations are nimble and flexible enough to develop them sufficiently.
How have your recruitment practices changed to suit the shift in MasterCard’s culture?
As I mentioned, if you go back to 2010, we were basically recruiting bankers, consultants and we were recruiting people in technology.
But the majority of the people we were recruiting were what we would call experts in traditional areas – that is, banking and finance. Now, more than 60% of new hires into the company are from non-traditional backgrounds, which is an increase since the company started measuring in 2012, when the ratio was 41%.
We also removed the years of job experience in our job descriptions so that we are just focusing on the skills and capabilities of those we’re trying to bring into the organisation.
That said, we have had to put more thought into leadership and training in how we develop such candidates’ knowledge about the payments industry.
We’ve also been doing a lot more campus recruiting as well, particularly here in Singapore because it is our key office for APAC.
It’s a growing trend these days – hiring less for degrees and instead hiring for personality fit or culture fit into the company. So what role do degrees have in the workplace now, do they still hold significance?
Degrees are important still in some areas of expertise where you require specific skills – such as a lawyer or technologist.
But what we are looking for is whether candidates are tech-sensitive, whether they’re able to think critically, if they’re a cultural fit, or even if they’ll be able to bring in a positive energy to the company.
I see that playing an important part in the selection process. I’ve seen some really great, smart folks in the interview process that look great on paper, but if we don’t feel like they are a cultural fit, then we’ll pass.
So now not only do you have more than 10,000 employees from diverse backgrounds, you’ve also got ample diversity in backgrounds and expertise. In such a situation, how do you encourage diverse teams to work together?
We are definitely pretty diverse as a company. When people join us, they will often say, “Wow, I had no idea how diverse MasterCard is”. In the US, you’ll have certain demographics and diversity challenges, but because of the way our business operates, the make-up is just there – from a demographic, ethnic and generational point of view.
The thing that we do need to focus on more in our company, though we’ve made great progress, is the gender piece. We’re focused on increasing the number of women in the technology industry.
Can you give examples of any initiatives that have you launched to encourage more women to join the technology field?
For the past two years, our focus has been around supporting women to work in the technology sector. This doesn’t just mean making roles in HR and communications for them. We have to think about getting them to be really tech-sensitive.
We recently ran a “girls for tech” programme in India, which reaches out to schools and encourages girls to continue with their STEM-related studies. It also provides them with information about tech-related roles and how they can apply for them.
We’ve done this programme in Australia before, and this is the second time we’re doing it in India. This is also run globally in the US.
These are the longer-term strategic things that we’re into. We target girls who are in middle school, so we can make a positive impact on the future workforce.
A development programme which has recently made headlines is MasterCard’s reverse mentoring programme. Could you take us through what the programme entails?
Yes, it’s not a very complicated programme – we keep it quite simple, yet effective. It is called YoPros (short for young professionals).
The mission of YoPros is to build a global network of young professionals to both inform MasterCard’s business strategy and create an environment that fosters information-sharing and relationship-building among young and seasoned professionals within the organisation.
The YoPros, in partnership with communications and HR, came up with this idea that they could encourage younger employees at MasterCard to give reverse-mentoring sessions to older MasterCard employees such as me who may have accumulated valuable experience, but may not be familiar with things such as social media.
These sessions are meant to be casual one-on-one meetings where people can reach out and ask about getting some help with different social platforms, even if it is not related directly to work.
If you want a reverse mentor, you reach out to the YoPros and what they will do is they do a match up and they connect you with someone who will be your reverse mentor.
I have been matched up with a colleague called Rebecca, who is now 24, so she could provide me with some help regarding social media.
So she got me comfortable with Twitter and LinkedIn. Now I check LinkedIn every single day, and she has changed my whole thinking and perspective on how these sites work and the impact they can have.
Essentially, the whole aim of the programme is to help someone else in the organisation. We’re not trying to directly say that these mentored seniors all become better leaders, but I would say that one of the impacts we see is that it does help improve their leadership skills.
What are some of the biggest challenges in this programme?
I would say there are three main issues – the first being the scalability of the programme.
There are only so many YoPros who can be involved in the programme. It’s not like you can hire somebody to come in and be a reverse mentor. While we haven’t had any issues there so far, we know that at some point, we need to keep the numbers in mind.
The second thing is around measuring the effectiveness of the programme.
I’m not going to do forced measurement around it. I’ve had a few media interviews and a couple of my colleagues have advised me to measure how well the programme has been doing.
But I’m not going to measure this programme. It’s part of our culture change and I don’t want to over architect that.
That’s really the third issue surrounding the programme – that we don’t want to over architect it.
Sometimes mentoring programmes dictate that you have to meet your mentor X times a month through a certain mode. For us, the process is very fluid. Sometimes it’s through email and sometimes, it’s face to face.
Every now and then I’ll send tweets out and Rebecca will send me a mail saying “good tweet, you did good, good use of hashtags”.
That’s interesting because performance measurement is something that has been coming under fire recently. I’m sure you’ve heard Accenture has let go of its annual performance review and a few other companies are deliberating about this as well. What’s your take on that?
We’re not ready for the removal of the performance management process. At least, not yet.
What we did a couple of years ago was that we took our performance management process and redid it according to two key things.
One is that in the beginning of the year, our employees will set their objectives with their manager. Once those are set, the manager should coach their employees against those objectives all year long.
We’re not going to set up quarterly conversations and things like that. We went through and trained all our managers at that time and now it’s part of what we call programme managing at MasterCard.
Our expectation is that objectives are set for the year and you are coached against those, so that at the end of the year, when it comes to your annual review, there’s no surprises.
What happens in mid-year for us is a development conversation.
It’s not part of the performance process, but rather a time for you to talk with your manager about what you are going to do next and what are the things you can be working on to prepare you for the next role.
There’s a reason why we’re doing this. For example, you could be in a sales role, but because you were having an off-year, you might not have met your objectives. But does that mean that you are not a long-term performer or don’t have high potential? No, it does not, and that’s why we separated it and that works for now.
We also conduct career development days across the globe.
How do you think corporate training in general has evolved in the past five years?
It’s fascinating to watch it, especially because I used to be a chief learning officer. Of course, I’ve been out of the space formally for six years, but here’s what has changed.
Some of it you might have already heard, it’s not like it’s revolutionary or the latest news, but it’s very true.
People need bite-sized chunks of learning, and they still enjoy the classroom. We do conduct classroom training at times. For example, in some of the management leadership training, it’s nice to come together.
In today’s age, however, there’s a real convergence of communications and training and all of that to be conducted in real time.
The real question you have to ask yourself is “how do you have bite-sized chunks of learnings available that are easy to find?”
It’s just really about how you shorten up the learning and make the content simple and easy to navigate.
It’s got to be easy, but that’s the real struggle with corporate learning – leaders still want to throw in all content during training. But that definitely doesn’t work.
It should sound really sexy, but it’s not.
One of the other challenges which we have seen is that some of the employees report that they have been given training that is irrelevant. Trainings are sometimes provided for the sake of giving employees training to do. What advice would you give HR leaders to make training sessions more relevant?
That’s one of the nice things about MasterCard because we are not a big new hire organisation.
We don’t force employees to undergo training, especially if it is irrelevant.
There are times when we want everybody to go through certain classes or programmes. For example, when it comes to product and management training. But where we really have shifted our energy is towards creating the right content and making it easily accessible so that people can get it when they need it.
Because if you train somebody on something and they don’t use it for six months, it’s irrelevant, and that’s the key. I grew up in the days where I used to be so proud of producing a catalogue and running all these classes, but it’s clear those days are over.
What skills do you think HR leaders really require today to lead organisations?
I firmly believe that today, organisations have got to be consumer-driven in their HR efforts – you have to start thinking of your employees as your consumers.
You also have to be an upfront HR leader. Some of my peers won’t agree with me, but I feel very strongly that the 350 people on my HR team need to be available front and centre.
Employees need to know they can have access to HR leaders and they also need to know they can trust them.
Also, I think it’s a given that you have got to know the business.
In my role, yes I’m the head of HR, and by all means, people will come to me with all the HR things. However, when I’m sitting at the table, I’m not talking about the latest HR programme or plan. Rather, I have to think about the business, what I need to do to enable the business, and better yet, how to anticipate where the business is going so that we are ahead of it.
Here’s a great example of how I messed up here.
In 2011, our CEO was talking about dealing with merchants, and how we needed to focus on merchants. He added that we also needed to get more talent who were able to deal with merchants.
My team had started to do more recruiting in the area, but I hadn’t moved fast enough on that. If I had started recruiting a year earlier, I would probably have had the business more prepared without our CEO having to say something.
That’s the challenge we as HR leaders are facing.
Folks who are in HR need to focus on the talent management agenda. They need to understand that cultural shifts are occurring and they need to be flexible. We’re an enabler of the business and that’s what we have got to be constantly focused on. I’d love to watch how HR is going to evolve over the next 20-30 years. It’s a cool space.
I know you’ve worked in countries such as Belgium as well. How do you think HR priorities are different in the west, as opposed to Asia?
There are interesting differences. In the west, what you’re still dealing with, from my viewpoint, is that they are trying to get leaders to operate differently. They’re thinking about how to make coaching and the development of leaders better in their organisations.
It’s a bit harder to change things in your western markets, such as in Europe and the US because of the way this model has worked for so many years.
In comparison, in APAC, there are a lot of emerging markets that are already dealing with this rapid change. The flexibility is there, and that is driving that fast pace of change. People are flexible and nimble. That is why leading change takes a bit more work in your western markets than it does in your emerging markets.
As far as what we are trying to drive from a company perspective, it feels pretty consistent across the globe because you’re trying to drive major core transformation across the company.
We’re also actually quite small in terms of headcount considering the scale of the business, so it’s easier to adapt and pick up on best practices from each other. So if we’re slightly slow in one area, it’s not for very long.
Are HR leaders today sufficiently skilled to become CEOs?
I don’t think all HR leaders are cut to be CEOs. I’m not, that’s not who I am, but I do think that as organisations continue to evolve, it’s very clear that they will have to address people issues in order to formulate a company strategy.
That means talent management, talent development and organisational development are taken care of.
Given the fact these issues are key to a company, key to the future of any organisation, I do believe that we’ll see a trend where some heads of HR will step in as CEOs.
I think we’re in our infancy though, to be honest with you, and I think it’s just going to take time as CHROs of Fortune 500 companies develop further and become more capable.
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