Photo: The Talent Acquisition Manager at Adidas, Carla Giménez de la Hija. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee 

By Jose Manuel Blanco 

Sport as a cornerstone of corporate culture is one of the keys to the employee retention plan at the Adidas tech hub in Zaragoza (Spain), according to Carla Giménez de la Hija, the Talent Acquisition Manager. The hub, whose employees have Cross-Fit and Zumba classes, launched in 2014 “as a small pilot project” to internalize talent, she explains, adding: “The volume and quality of the engineering profiles we received in Spain, along with the results of the teams, were such that it was decided that we would work on a growth plan for the hub. Today we are approaching 300 engineers.” 

Giménez explains her strategy for bringing tech talent to this medium-sized Spanish city and how, despite digital innovations, the human touch is still essential to recruiting, nurturing, and retaining employees.  

What kind of talent is Adidas looking for to support its rapidly growing tech hub? 

Mainly software engineers. We have some security and infrastructure teams, but most teams have a software engineering background. I always say the same thing: we are like a start-up within a multinational company. We are looking for that hybrid profile that has a creative mindset – of wanting to innovate, going above and beyond, and doing projects with the latest technology, but within a multinational environment where project management skills are required. It is also important to know how to work in teams spread across different countries with different time zones, with English present in their everyday life. That’s why we are not looking for code programmers, but rather for software engineers with a start-up mentality in an international environment.  

Speaking of technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing all economic sectors. Do you use or plan to use AI for talent attraction, recruitment, and management?  

Today, our strength is providing a hiring process in which we try to make the candidate live our brand. Therefore, we have relied heavily on hackathons, micro-challenges… to attract talent, because we want them to experience what it would be like to work with us and cultivate the desire to want to join us.  

Evaluating candidates using AI and achieving this bond with the brand is still complicated, so we are not using it at the moment. The candidate experience for us is of paramount importance. Technology is the DNA of all IT processes, but it is not yet the way to evaluate candidates. 

Also, we live in the era of big data. The analysis of large volumes of data provides companies with a lot of information. What kind of data is most useful to Adidas right now, both for human resources (HR) and for the business in general?  

Each candidate creates a lot of data that, properly stored, is a gold mine for the future. We work a lot with our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and our talent pools (groups of outstanding candidates) to maintain not only the current network of candidates, but also future ones. We work a lot with universities, where we scout out potential candidates that we want to keep on our radar to recruit when they finish in two years.  

In addition, as a retail company, we are fortunate that the consumer, in their life, can be a candidate, an employee, an athlete… They interact with us in many ways. We all have different areas of life in which we generate data that, if well-articulated, are a very powerful tool in any environment.  

You mentioned earlier that the company is looking for software engineers with a certain mindset. In a sector with such a high labor demand as the tech sector, what can a retail company, or more specifically a sports company, offer to retain this type of talent?  

One of the things we are most proud of at our hub in Spain is the attraction and retention effort we have undertaken. We know of two things that cultivate a desire to join us. Firstly, being at the forefront of technology; an engineer is excited to be able to work with the latest technology, discovering what a multinational environment allows you to do with a start-up mentality. And secondly, we live in a culture and have a brand power that attracts people: we take great care of our employees, we use everything that sports bring us in our day-to-day life as workers. If I do what I am passionate about, which is technology, why not do it in an environment that brings out the best version of me on a personal level.  

Speaking of rotation, the hub is located in Zaragoza, a medium-sized city in Spain. Is it hard to attract talent or are there reasons to move there, despite the pandemic? And while we’re speaking of the pandemic, does Adidas provide options to work remotely?  

We still have the advantage of being a medium-sized city, easy to connect, with important companies and a lower cost of living than Barcelona and Madrid (both in Spain). COVID-19 has changed the rules of the game a lot: uncertainty has meant that many people have not wanted to move from their home city, as is to be expected, and we have all learned to work remotely. That’s why at Adidas we decided that we were going to launch a new operating model, allowing our workforce to work 60% of their monthly hours from wherever they want within Spain. We believe more in a hybrid model (face-to-face and remote work) because we don’t want to lose a culture that encourages retention, and that means that the teams, from time to time, meet at the campus we have.  

What advice would you give to your HR colleagues in other companies for adopting technologies to streamline work? 

For me, CRMs that really allow you to track your network, future candidates and talent pool are key; that’s vital. Secondly, we believe very much in online candidate assessments. We currently have partnerships with coding platforms that help us not only to evaluate the candidate to see what he or she can contribute at the soft skills level, but also at the hard skills level, to see what he or she can contribute to a real-life example at Adidas. I believe that technology allows us to do this, to complete a 360-degree evaluation of the candidate and at the same time follow them very closely thanks to CRM.  

For me, these are the two key areas in which technology can help HR without losing the human side that I think those of us in HR management are afraid of losing. We take great care of candidate experience and the fact that they can experience first-hand, through the selection process, what it would be like to work at Adidas. 

With the technological changes that are taking place, what do you think the labor market will be like in the coming years?  

We can’t imagine it. For me, it’s one of the most attractive things about the industry we work in. I think that, if my 2014 self had been told that I would be recruiting in 2021 and the context in which I would be doing it, it would have seemed like a science fiction movie. It even motivates me to think that I still can’t imagine my 2030 self, and I believe that precisely this dynamism, this volatility (which is a double-edged sword that technology gives us), has to be a driving force for everyone and for all of us that live it: we cannot stay as we are now, but rather training, continuous learning of skills that we know will be key in the future, must be the force that pushes any employee in any sector, but especially anyone who is in the tech world.

Published by OPINNO © 2022 MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW spanish edition