Executive Interviews

Experiences shared
by leading experts

Feliciano Gonzalez Munoz - Group Head of Human Resources at LafargeHolcim

  • August 02, 2021

How can companies reduce bias in the hiring process?

We work on the mindset of the leaders, the line managers and introduce varied ways to equip them to experience good quality interviews completely bias-safe. It is a dedicated and persistent proactivity that we deploy to secure the positive mindset change that eradicates potential types of bias. Helping hiring leaders become aware of this topic benefits their efficiency in the process of capturing the best talent.  

I put my trust mostly in an interaction between a) the definition and roll-out of the right HR processes, and b) the respect to the principles that inspire the organisation culture. It is balance between the cultural and spiritual side of the organisation and process discipline. Everyone needs to be part of this communication and learning experience.

In the day-to-day activities, it is indeed a challenge to identify when bias has happened; it’s really a guess in most cases. We need to rely on the clarity and good understanding of the process to follow, which somehow states the avoidance of any type of potential biases.

From my side, I constantly try to align the HR community around these principles, because they are the ones who act as sort of gatekeepers of the compliance of adequate processes.

How do you feel the workplace will have changed as we emerge from the global pandemic?

In general, we all have adapted to more flexible forms of work. Being an industrial company, most of our jobs demand presence in our sites and customers. However, I believe that this pandemic has increased the awareness towards the need to balance work, personal lives and health. But also, in Manufacturing jobs, it is the development of technology that is bringing innovative ways of work.

Another interesting aspect is related to communication and collaboration technology. We have experienced a rise in technology solutions to support this evolution to adapt work schemes to individual circumstances. This has helped to grow the understanding that solid performance can be achieved through different ways of work; this is a relevant transformation overall.

In general terms, I dare say that, as an effect of these pandemic months, we have developed our individual empathy capability. I mean the way we observe, tolerate and support other colleagues and situations.

It’s a real talking point across different countries now about larger organisations and do they keep their huge offices, do they change and have those smaller hub or site offices where there is that flexibility to come and go, because then you can offer employees that mix of both?

Indeed, that is happening. Office design is in line with the idea of building collaborative spaces for people and adapting an engaging work environment to the way each person is working.

We’re now refurbishing some of our offices following that concept. Clearly, the size of the office needed is smaller, but must be more engaging and facilitate collaboration.

Do you mean where some of your colleagues may be working at home on their own through the pandemic, or they’ve got children and they’re trying to work while they’re looking after the children?

Exactly. Personal circumstances that may need a different way of working or collaborating with others. Somehow, during these months, we opened our domestic environment through the public domain of the screens and in the background sometimes there is a dog barking, or there are children running, or your partner is suddenly coming in and out. And this is now part of our normality.

We have been impacted in our workforce, sometimes going through terrible circumstances, and that kind of moral support, compassion, etc. is a regular attitude that is popping up in the organisation. Not solidarity feelings - all that has been re-bunked; I think that shouldn’t be lost.

What excites you about working for LafargeHolcim?

I think the company is definitely an exciting company. I have been here for 15 years in diverse jobs and I have always found that the company is continually changing, transforming at the right pace, and that transformation attitude has opened options for the business and for our people. People in Holcim are proud of the company. Sometimes it’s the cement plans, sometimes it’s the country where they were, sometimes it’s the region, the group or all together, and now it has jumped into a very intensive and proactive strategy on sustainability; it makes this company quite interesting in the day-to-day. I personally find it very inspirational and engaging to be part of Holcim.

It sounds like it’s a place where you’ve been able to flourish, where you’ve been able to be yourself and be able to bring new ideas, but then if you don’t have ideas at that particular time, you’ve probably got a number of people around you that would have ideas?

We work under the principle of people accountability, empowerment and decentralised management.

Our inspiring challenge is to have a chance to explain, openly, our story, because there is a very exciting story behind our strategy related to our contribution to society and environment.

How do you see the Swiss economy evolving in the next 5 years?

Well, I am not an economist, nor a guru. What I can suggest is a modest opinion. I have a feeling that the Swiss economy will be a strong economic engine in the heart of Europe for many years. I think this country is doing the right things, and attracting the right talent and capital. There is a challenge that I comment with my Swiss colleagues frequently: the relevant opportunity in the relations that Switzerland can build with the European Union, which will make this economy and social model even more interactive and strong.

Switzerland is an example in many aspects, and has learnt to evolve and adapt: this is a guarantee for future.

What are the biggest challenges for a leader overseeing a remote team?

My team has been working in a flexible approach for more than a year. Where I find a new element is in the follow-up of the team, because we were accustomed to come together for morning meetings, weekly meetings… We need to address what the engagement aspects that you need to fit properly in a remote way are, so that everyone in the team feels the closeness of being integrated in the team, even if they are hundreds of kilometres away.

One person in my team is based in Singapore, my colleagues in HR are in Latin America, US, Canada, one is in Madrid, another one is in Switzerland, etc. So, it’s a kind of remote team, but by frequent talks on the key topics and the exchange through different channels, including social media, we keep that day-to-day, we keep that closeness, that confidence. There is something that it’s a bit damaged, especially for HR professionals; sometimes we have the feeling that we’re maintaining ourselves with the efforts done in the past to get to know people. Now we start to know new colleagues, newcomers, through screens, through technology, but we are missing the opportunity to have enough time together to get to know each other face-to-face. So that is a challenge that is not 100% replaced by remote contacts.

It’s not so bad with team members that you’ve known for a long time, but when it’s a new person coming in, that chat over coffee will never be replaced by the remote virtual world.

That’s the challenge and there are ways to balance - we do more intensive talent reviews, for instance. We are planning to do it quarterly, instead of once a year, so there are ways to overcome that difficulty.

What risks have you taken throughout your career and how did they help you get to the level you’re at now?

The trick of the question is, when you perceive a risk is when you’re in front of it and you have to do something about it, then you experience a certain mix of panic and courage. When you go through it and you do something right, then you look behind and you do not see the risk, you see the story and how it has turned into a positive experience.

But what are the risks? I would mention attitude. I’m saying this to colleagues, to anyone that I can, that you really need to jump in the water. When someone comes and says, “Hey, would you agree to do something, would you get into this or that?”, then you need to be ready with the answer that day, you need to be ready to say, “Yes, I take it up”. And then you learn the way, and you plan and find a way to do it; that’s attitude. I have recommended that attitude to our young people joining the company any time that I had the opportunity. You may not do it perfectly well, but you gain that experience from every moment you face one of these risks, let’s call it a challenge. It is a huge learning both in terms of job skills, but also in terms of your own maturity and personality, so you grow as you move.

I like the fact that you mentioned throughout your career, if you say yes to opportunities and jump in with two feet and, yes, there may be times where it might not go so well, but ultimately, those are your learning experiences, and you will carry them with you for the next challenge, risk or opportunity.

When I was living in Madrid, one university gave me the opportunity to contribute as a professor and I could make it compatible with my working hours. So, I said “Okay, fine” and I thought he would come to tell me to teach something about HR or labour of law, and the person came and said “No, it’s about legal ethics”. I was shocked, because that was not my comfort zone. Then I said “Okay, fine”, and I ended up doing 5 years teaching legal ethics and professional ethics. One day I asked that professor, “Why did you ask me that?”. She said, “You know, I did it on purpose, because I was sure you had to fight for it”. The risk can be challenged from things that you are not comfortable with, it’s out of your comfort zone.

What is the biggest myth about your profession that you want to debunk?

Well, there are a few, because in HR most of the things we say sound like myths - sorry to be so realistic. For instance, around Talent Management, there are plenty of myths in the concept of feedback - there are lots of them. We want to believe not only that we need feedback, but also that we’re entitled to provide feedback to anyone and that we do a good thing by providing feedback. That’s a dangerous thing to believe. We need to be modest and adopt a helping, coaching attitude when providing feedback to anyone, understanding upfront that what you do is projecting your experience and opinions to produce a positive outcome for that person. I believe that all around methodologies to understand people’s behaviours need to be revisited continuously.

The other myth I want to mention is more related to organisational culture, the importance of corporate values. I am a bit of a sceptic with exercises of definition of values and the implementation efforts that intend to align everyone’s behaviours around them. An excess of prescriptive frameworks runs the risk of killing diversity, innovation and, in an extreme situation, even engagement.

What is the most surprising thing that has happened to you during your career? What have you found that really made you think, wow I wasn’t expecting that to happen or where has this come from?

Every time I was given a nice project or a job, I was considering that as a great thing that was happening to me and a personal reason to be proud.

Also, I have found working with people extremely motivating; people who you could influence, who you could help to work for them, or they work for you. To see them growing, to see them becoming your peers, that for me is absolutely engaging and motivating. If someone tells me when I finish my career one day what is really the takeaway of my career, I’d say, “The amount of people I’ve seen developing with me thanks to my help or who were collaborating and we grew together”, so that is really what’s worth for one’s career in my opinion.

With the Executive Interview and the approach that we have, why were you quite interested to do this? What were you hoping to get from this as well?

Your questions provoke thinking and, in your day-to-day activity, you mostly do a lot of things, but you think in the middle of a rush. Having the chance to talk now to you and share my views is building on my own thinking. So, I found this was a great opportunity. To have some minutes to reflect and to share, to provoke a bit with the answers, but as you speak you will listen from yourself as well and, maybe next time, I will answer it slightly differently because I’ve learnt in our conversation.

Thank you to Feliciano for speaking with our Manager - HR Division, Keeley Cunningham.

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.