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Creating Opportunities to Learn and to Lead
TD Magazine

Creating Opportunities to Learn and to Lead

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Visa: 2022 BEST Award Winner, #1

Jennifer Saavedra, VP & Head of School, Digital Payments; Karie Willyerd, Former CLO; Bee Ng, VP, Visa University Productions & Technology College

Visa's talent development efforts facilitate employees' career growth, taking into account their personal aspirations.

Organizations with learning cultures support their employees at various stages in their careers, offering talent development opportunities when and where they're needed. Visa has created training programs for new employees and new managers, as well as opportunities for short, targeted learning assignments that expose workers at all levels to new skills and business areas. The company also recognizes teaching as simply another way to learn and encourages its senior leaders to deliver training in their areas of expertise.

Above all, Visa recognizes that it's not just about what employees achieve but how—and it incorporates its expectations for how things should get done into all TD initiatives across the organization.

Matching learning needs with business needs

Visa encourages on-the-job learning and cross-collaboration through its Go-Share job rotation program. The initiative is a win-win: Managers can set up a Go-Share assignment when they need help with a short-term project or temporarily need a certain skill, and employees who volunteer for it gain hands-on experience in a part of the business to which they wouldn't normally be exposed.

The assignments typically last two to three months. Managers post opportunities on the company's internal career portal, where staff can apply for them. If the assignment aligns with an employee's development need, the individual will work with their manager and the manager who posted the assignment to coordinate the details.

Some project examples include planning and developing global innovation initiatives, operationalizing a regional government engagement strategy, and producing new marketing collateral.

"The Go-Share program works by matching a business need with an employee's development need," says Wendy Branche, vice president of talent management. "This allows teams to accomplish their goals while providing a unique opportunity for employees to develop their skills, learn about our business, and broaden their network."

Give-or-take learning

To increase voluntary participation in L&D programs, Visa introduced an initiative in 2018 called Give or Take 40, which enables staff to spend 40 hours each year learning or teaching.

The program encourages "all employees to actively engage in their own growth and development or the growth and development of others," says Austin Dennis, senior product manager for Visa's corporate university. "Our CEO consistently reinforces the importance of curiosity and learning within our company culture, and this initiative presents it to our employees in the form of a challenge to either attend or teach five days' worth of training each year."

The initiative has also reinforced the company's leaders-as-teachers approach, resulting in more senior leaders delivering training sessions across the organization. Since Give or Take 40 launched, there has been a consistent increase in senior leader involvement in training efforts. For example, executives at the vice president level or above mostly lead the global onboarding program. Give or Take 40 has also helped grow the Visa University Faculty program, says Dennis, which identifies business leaders to serve as faculty for various courses within the corporate university.

Supporting new managers

Managing direct reports for the first time can be a difficult transition for any employee. Visa wanted to make sure its new people managers are fully supported in their roles, so it set up a five-month People Leadership Essentials training program that is mandatory for new managers to complete during their first year in the role.

The initiative involves a 360-degree feedback assessment, which is built around the company's six leadership principles, and three online classes that cover foundational leadership skills. After completing the online classes, participants get the opportunity to work one-on-one with a professional coach for up to 4.5 months.


Visa University faculty members lead the online classes, which new managers attend with colleagues from a range of functional areas within their region. "Our experienced Visa University facilitators provide a welcoming and stimulating learning environment," says Dennis, "setting the stage for rich discussions about the transition from individual contributor to people leader, developing self-awareness as an inclusive leader, and supporting team members' psychological safety."

In 2021, 91 percent of People Leadership Essentials participants demonstrated improvement in the leadership skills covered, such as setting direction, motivating others, delegation, coaching, and giving feedback, the company reports.

Not just what but how

At Visa, how an employee accomplishes something is just as important as what they accomplish. In annual performance reviews, managers evaluate staff against the company's six leadership principles, which offer guidance on how employees should complete work. (Those principles are also embedded in all training content across the company.)

Every year, each worker must set one leadership goal for the year. The goal should reflect their development needs, either as a manager or individual contributor. Throughout the year, workers' managers assess their progress toward their goal. At the year's end, employees complete a self-assessment to reflect on both what they've accomplished and how.

Managers review the self-assessments as well as stakeholder feedback to deliver their own feedback, focusing particularly on any leadership principles that still need development. For example, if an employee delivered significant business results relating to their leadership goal but came up short in the area of "serving as a role model," they may receive an "outstanding" rating on what they accomplished and a "needs strengthening" rating on how they accomplished it.

"Visa places equal emphasis on what you do and how you do it," says Branche. "By providing a rating for both the what and the how, managers are able to send an integrated message about the employee's performance, which highlights strengths and needs for both the what and the how. In addition, the two ratings are equally weighted when factored into year-end compensation, which reinforces the message that consistently and proactively demonstrating all of Visa's leadership principles is as important as delivering outsized value through accomplishments."

View the entire list of 2022 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Stephanie Castellano is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). She is now a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida.

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