Foto: The Director of Human Resources at Banco Sabadell, Conchita Álvarez. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee.

By José Manuel Blanco

Before joining Banco Sabadell, Conchita Álvarez worked in consulting. After playing roles in the corporate and analytical operations of Sabadell, she has worked as the Director of Human Resources since 2017, a position that has allowed her to see “that it is good to bring people that know the business and to have faith in people to transform areas,” she says. We have spoken with her before to understand how technology is impacting the management of people and how it is helping people cope with change.

What is your strategy for Human Resources?

We believe that certain profiles must be incorporated that we either do not have or that we ourselves cannot produce. Nevertheless, we are convinced that, in good measure, we will continue to surge forward with the people that we have, whom have developed close and trusting relationships with our clients.

How does technology influence the management of your department?

Technology, much like any change, presented a new opportunity. From a Human Resources point of view, I see it as an opportunity in three parts. Firstly, which seems to be the most obvious, is productivity: We are capable of accommodating and redistributing the workforce to better reach that which makes us unique and extricate ourselves from processes that do not differentiate ourselves.

I think it is also an opportunity in terms of talent management, because it permits us to improve the meritocracy. As of this moment, more than 60% of the training is online. Before, we could not have possibly brought so much knowledge to so many people.

Last, but not least as it is perhaps the most transformative, is [an opportunity in] the culture. It is allowing us to emphasize many of its aspects, such as flexibility and conciliation. We deeply believe in it, and technology allows us to.

What about the other side? Technology, as is true with every great change in a company of people, generates fears. From Human Resources and the management in general, we must ensure and accompany our employees so that their fear may be molded into something positive and an attitude of “I must move to progress, and fear will not stop me”.

Every year, MIT Technology Review en Español publishes a list of 10 technologies that can change the world. In this year’s list there were artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that can be executed on a smartphone without the cloud. In last year’s list there was AI conversational assistants. How do you think artificial intelligence impacts employability and the processes within Human Resources?

There will be a series of jobs that will disappear (especially those involved in highly repetitive processes), another series of new jobs and a large majority (I am absolutely convinced) that will change. I speak from the point of view of a services company that relates with people: the majority of jobs will have some sort of change, starting with Human Resources and following with everyone who deals with clients, those who manage risk or compliance…

We have spoken about jobs that are going to disappear and the fear of change. These are times to focus on employment. What else are you doing to prepare your employees for the digital transformation? What benefits are evident to them?

First, in attempt to reduce this fear, a message must be conveyed that we are counting on them. Also, we must tell them every one of us is the master of our own destiny: you are responsible for your professional career, of progressing. We have to convey a balance between “there is no need to fear change, only to recognize that there is an opportunity within it” and that we must adapt at the same time.

We are doing training and reskilling for our employees. There is a lot of volunteering going on. We tell them that it is for their future employability. We are focusing ourselves on internal training: we see that trainings imparted by colleagues are much more valued, as they empathize more. We work on the development of the person always with the perspective on opportunity: employability, professional progression, and success are generated in the current job and there is nothing that motivates for than success.

How do your employees view this transformation process?

In general, it is seen as a positive thing, because at the end of the day, people want accompaniment and support. The essence of people is that we want them to dedicate time to us and that it be done from a place of genuine interest.

How is technology used in recruitment?

It helps us in the outreach [of job offers]: social networks, chatbots… We are looking for young people so that they development with us. In the selection phase we use business cases with real tools, from an Excel sheet to programming in R. In the second phase, we analyze which hard [technical] capacities are different among the candidates.

We have every person that enters or moves internally take attitudinal tests. We see the collaboration, adaptation to change… It helps us detect who has the capacities and are therefore spearheads.

Banco Sabadell has a data center of back-up data in Alicante, Spain. What does Human Resources use data for?

For everything. We have a program with which, by the end of 2018, we selected a few candidates [for the analysis and treatment of data in their areas] and we are now going to repeat. We try to run thousands of diagnostics to be a better entity as a whole, and better managers as well.

They function to allow us to see whether there are any diversity biases: often there are unconscious biases in our actions. We are a mapping the number of women who receive a raise in their salary with respect to men. Even the bank’s remuneration commission is being reported, because there is interest.

What suggestions would you give to fellow Human Resource Directors at other companies to face these changes?

We have a purpose: accompany people and companies to take the best financial decisions. It is a long-term purpose and I believe that to think in the long-term is important.

We are a financial entity with a relationship based on trust with people in the center. We can say that it is better to undertake a transfer or other digital processes, but people still trust in other people: they have faith in one another. Just as we base our relationships with clientele on trust, so we have to build relationships within our teams and staff. Basically, believe in them.

If we have large staff, we will often focus on the talent that we will hire, but I think that we have to put that focus on evolution: we must make them see that, if the company is doing well, it will be doing well for everybody. It will go better for them, as people, because we are improving their employability and capabilities.

Lastly, we have the sensation of managing the balance between fear and urgency. We do not want to create fear with changes. We have to wake up the attitude of changing without fear.

*This interview was executed with the support of the CEO of Parangon Partners, Antonio Núñez.

Published by OPINNO © 2022 MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW spanish edition