Sarah Gretczko: Agility and The Future of Work

How to prepare employees for future employability with Sarah Gretczko.

Sarah Gretczko is the Chief Learning and Insights Officer at MasterCard where she preaches the importance of agility and preparing for multifaceted careers. In this episode, Sarah dives into the importance of flexing unfamiliar muscles so you’re always prepared to pivot and thrive, no matter the environment. 

For many, the pandemic was detrimental but it also provided us with a unique opportunity to peer into the future of work while recognizing the importance of agility in the workplace. Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn how Sarah describes the last 18 months as they pertain to the future of work. 

1 Who has been the most memorable leader in your career thus far?

There’s one person that has stuck out for me and she’s a woman that I worked with when I was at Deloitte named Susan Burnett. Why I remember her so fondly is because she was the first boss that I had that I felt like truly had my back, and would give me positive feedback, but would also give me feedback to help me get better that might have been tough to hear. She did it in the Kim Scott style of radical candor and I always knew that she was giving me that feedback to make me better and the conversation she had with me has influenced how I interact with and manage my teams today. 

2 What were some of the mistakes that you made while leading a team early on in your career? 

Leading a team is an acquired taste. I went into it thinking that because I had had all these other experiences where I had been led, that I could do it better. I went into it thinking that everyone was like I was and wanted what I wanted. So, if there was any mistake, it was assuming that there was only one way to lead when in reality there are many different types of people and they all have different wants, needs, and motivators. When you’re managing people, you have to relate to them in a way that makes sense to them because everyone has different experiences or backgrounds that make them have different perspectives. 

3 How did you first get interested in behavioral insights? 

I spent the majority of my career in consulting and one of the things that I realized being part of massive project teams was that the more successful projects, actually put more investment in the people side. They invested in things like change management, communications, and training. Some project teams did not make the same investments and what I realized having been part of both were the teams that did or the project teams that did make those investments, ended up with better results. The work itself is pretty similar, yet we were having wildly different outcomes so that’s what initially piqued my interest. 

4 How do you envision what the future of work will end up looking like?

We’re at a real inflection point and I think in some ways, the silver lining of the pandemic has been that it’s made us all realize that the future of work is human. It’s getting the human piece right. I think fundamentally, before the pandemic when we would talk about the future of work, a lot of the talk was about how technology was going to disrupt people’s jobs and take their jobs away and since the pandemic started, what we realize the future of work is learning how we can tie in the human connection that we all crave while working in a digital-first world. 

It’s more so about learning how to teach leaders to be more resilient in the face of unpredictable environments, where each day brings new challenges that we’ve never had to deal with before. How can leaders manage managing themselves, and what’s going on with them individually, and then also be able to show up to their team and be optimistic and set a vision? We’ve put a lot of weight on the shoulders of leaders in this environment to lead in ways that we haven’t necessarily prepared them for.

5 What is your mission as the Chief Learning and Insights Officer at MasterCard? 

The future of work is really about learning and about skills, and how we can provide to our people with the skill sets necessary for future employability by making sure they’re ready for whatever the world throws at them. The past 18 months have been a great example of the importance of how learning agility matters. Hopefully, there won’t be another global pandemic anytime in my lifetime but there’s going to be other situations that come up, that we’re going to need people to quickly react to, and be able to pivot and I know when the pandemic first happened, even at MasterCard, we had to shift priorities very quickly and we needed to have the flexibility to be able to do that. The focus on learning is very important.

6 What is reverse mentorship at MasterCard?

Reverse mentoring is meant to acknowledge that we can all learn from each other. So, reverse mentoring is about not just thinking, you have to look up to someone that’s in a more senior role, who is older than you, or that has more experience, but that we can all be learning from each other. A great example of some of the stuff that we do at MasterCard is pairing some of our more experienced executives, with more junior career-level employees, to help them get more comfortable with things like emerging technologies or things that may not be second nature to them. 

7 How can managers create clarity around expectations? 

You can be very clear with your team on what you’re trying to achieve. Clarity around those outcomes allows you to be more flexible so when something happens, you have more flexibility on how you can achieve what you need to achieve because everyone is aligned on what it is that you’re trying to achieve. It’s critically important to be aligned and working towards a common goal or in line with the same vision. 

8 How can you improve clarity? 

It’s all about taking the time upfront and not assuming that just because I heard feedback a certain way, or I wrote down a certain note that that’s exactly what it is. Compare that with other people that are hearing the same thing, because we all interpret information through our own lens and our own experiences and sometimes, even two people that are part of the same meeting having the same conversation are not aligned on what those key takeaways might be. 

9 Can you expand on the two plus two plus five model? 

The intent is to not just think about yourself, or not just be defined by the job that you’re doing today, or even the role that you got hired into but instead to think about where you can play across a range of areas. When you think about that range, you should be thinking about different things you should be thinking about. At MasterCard, we have different business units, different regions, different functions, and different learning academies that help shape different content for our people and that model intends to say, for you to grow and develop in your career, you shouldn’t just be focused on one area but you should be focused on several areas because that allows you to be a bit more well-rounded to understand the business. Even if you’re a specialist, understanding other areas will help you improve because you’ll be able to understand the bigger picture of how everything works in tandem. 

10 How do you empower people within your organization to build consistency? 

We did our first ever Virtual Learning Conference this year and the major touchpoint was the concept of range. David Epstein wrote a fantastic book called Range and it was basically about how a lot of us you know, in our heads, have a certain perception of how things work and what David Epstein starts to tease out in his book is that those are the exceptions and that that type of model works well for the type of work that is very predictable, but if you think about the world that we live in, most of our jobs aren’t really like that. So, what seems to be more useful is this concept of the range whereby having a diversity of experience, even diversity of education and diversity of jobs makes you better at being able to solve complex problems. 

We’ve been making a big push around education around this concept and what it affords people in terms of flexibility and their career. Just because you join MasterCard on a sales team, and you’re with one account it doesn’t mean you have to be there forever. Maybe you want to get on the product side? Or maybe, you want to pivot into a more technical role? No matter what it is, it’s ok and we encourage it because we think you’re going to be a better technical person if you’ve had some sales experience and we think you’re going to be a better salesperson if you’ve had some product experience.

11 Do you have any tips, tricks, or words of wisdom for managers or leaders that are looking to get better at their craft? 

The number one thing is to continue to stay curious because learning doesn’t stop and there are always opportunities for us to change our perspective. Kids here are excellent at that if you think about the questions that little kids ask and if you’re not around little kids, go spend some time around them, because it’s super fascinating to see how their brains work. It’s all about asking yourself to dig into things a little bit more so we can ultimately understand why we do the things we do. Try to find some inertia, and think about how we can do things in new and different ways.


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