7 minutes with José Antonio Pérez

Josiño (which is the “real” name of José Antonio Pérez Seoane) is the Head of Training & Development at Hijos de Rivera (also known as Estrella Galicia). We met many years ago, when we worked in the same company. Since that day, we have done many projects together, philosophized endless hours (and counting) and discussed about how to fix the world several times. Among the many things Josiño and I share is the perspective on the universe of training (and human resources in general) within corporate environments: what it represents, what “real” training is like, and how it positively makes an impact on people and, consequently, operations.
One of the aspects I most appreciate in his profile is the curiosity and constant drive that are reflected in the type of professional he is: authentic, eclectic, self-made and dedicated to people. But, above all, Josiño, both professionally and privately, works tirelessly for something that I also share 100%: to make the world a better place.

1.How can we define the objective of the training or learning areas in an organization?
I would like to be very concise in order to give a clear answer: in my opinion, we have to contribute in a focused and consistent way to the improvement of the organization, providing solutions to develop the competencies that its teams need at all times.

2.What role do people play when designing the optimal training ecosystem?
People play the central role, without any doubt. There is no learning or development without people. If we set up a training ecosystem, it is by and for people. So the optimal design has to place individuals at the very core, which translates into making them the real stars in each of the phases of the design: having their opinion when analyzing the needs, working with them to help us create and implement the solution and listening to their feedback throughout the implementation. And here I would like to highlight two elements: On one hand, it is crucial to work with them on the design. I learned this from you (you defined yourself as “a big fan of co-creation”), and in my experience I have seen that it works beautifully. On the second hand, we have to tell our people that their appraisal is essential to achieve the success of the training. We have to make it very easy and natural for them to give us a lot of feedback at all times.

3.How can we move away from transactional training and embrace a more experiential and inclusive approach?
I think by putting people at the core of the process, as we mentioned in the previous question. This implies working a lot with them. Let me explain this. If we stay in our HR offices, working in front of a screen, with our presentations and our “HR stuff”, we are probably moving towards a more transactional model, like “ask me for courses, and I’ll sign you up for whatever is available”. But if we leave our offices, if we work with people and not with our screens, if we are part of the day-to-day work of the teams, if they are used to having a good relationship with us, then we can go hand in hand. We can analyze together the needs of the organization, we can work with the teams on the best solution (the best for them, the one that provides the experience they need, the one that includes everyone they need, etc.), and assess together to what extent we have got it right or what we have to improve. In this way we will get them to see us as partners and they will understand the value of a good training and learning system.

4.An old question, very 20th century but still valid in many cases: In the case of training, what marks the boundary between expense or investment?Well, this question is always valid because organizations have limited resources that have to be managed efficiently and we, in the training department, have to be very clear about how to argue that each of our proposals is an investment and not a mere expense. To me, a training program is an investment for the organization if it is a high quality program that contributes directly to the achievement of one or more of its key objectives. We have to keep ROI (return on investment) in mind, but not always obsessing over it. For example, it may be relatively simple to talk about the ROI-related investment applied to operators training for a machine that costs €5,000, but generates savings in terms of overall plant efficiency of €2,000 per month. And it can be very complicated to try the same strictly numerical exercise in a management skills program. But a high quality program (well designed, executed with good trainers) that gets positive feedback from the participants and, above all, from the teams they manage, is surely one of the best investments any organization can make.

5.What are the essential aspects to take into account in order to carry out a successful training project? And which ones do we have to avoid at all costs?
I will try to summarize the most relevant to me. Essential aspects of a successful training project: we have to be 100% positive about the contribution this training will bring to the organization. We have to take into account for whom you are designing the project and involve them from the very beginning. We have to have the best possible trainer (in my opinion, the trainer is not everything, but he/she plays a very important role into the overall success). We have to seek feedback constantly, make it very accessible and thank people for their feedback as an essential part of the process.
What we have to avoid at all costs: doing a project simply because others are doing it, or because it is a trend, without being sure about why and how my organization needs it. Offering low quality products or hiring bad quality vendors when you have to contract the project instead of developing it internally. Hiring low level trainers (we are talking not only about technical knowledge of the subject but also about the ability to transmit it beautifully).

6.Hijos de Rivera is a very interesting case where, in times of pandemic, the Training team quickly reinvented itself and played an important cohesive role. Can you tell us how you experienced this evolution from the inside?
The first thing I have to say is that the breakout of the pandemic and the lockdown was a huge shock for the business. However, our management reacted quickly by communicating that all employment conditions would be maintained, which created the best possible environment for the teams, who welcomed our training proposals very happily. It gave us the chance to offer our best as a team to provide useful content to all the areas of the organization.
In this scenario, the reinvention you are talking about consisted of pivoting from a training model based on face-to-face sessions to a fully digital environment, composed of online content and webinars with internal and external trainers, always on a variety of topics of real interest. We launched a weekly training newsletter to enhance both, so that if your situation allowed you to participate in the weekly “live” webinars you could interact with the trainers. If it was not possible for you to participate live, you would always have the session available on video to watch at any time. It’s a model that has worked really well for us, especially in times with less workload due to the pandemic. Therefore, it is now integrated in our training scheme.

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with the Shaker community, Josiño!

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