Speexx Exchange 2020: Accelerating Change in HR & L&D with Montserrat Ventosa

Speexx exchange interview 2020 with Monserrat Ventosa

Our annual Speexx Exchange conference is almost here and this year is particularly special for us for a few reasons. One, this is our 10th anniversary of the annual Speexx Exchange event. Second, for the first time ever, we will be holding the event 100% online. Traditionally, the all-day event was held in Berlin, but due to certain events this year, we are delighted to open the event up to our attendees online. 

For those who haven’t joined before, this is a leading industry event on best practices in the HR industry, bringing learning and development (L&D) leaders together from around the world for a productive day of sharing, learning, and of course, exchanging information. This year, we’ll be hearing from different leaders in the industry on how they have successfully accelerated digital transformation in the new normal for HR and L&D. 

And with that, we are pleased to share a preview of the upcoming event with this interview post. We spoke with Monserrat Ventosa—As VP Talent, Wellbeing and Purpose, to get her take on how organizations can accelerate the necessary changes to their departments by utilizing technology and breaking down silos. 

Do you think is there a “New Normal” in HR and Training and Development? If so, how would you describe it?

Well, I don’t like to use the word normal as you have heard, but I think it’s a new reality and the new reality is here to stay and it’s going to be much more changeable so it’s better we don’t interpret it as a normality that is going to be always the same. I think we’re going to come in now in a period of lot of change so I will say, or I will add, that are three main shifts in the focus of L&D. Which I will say is, in the “what we learn”, mainly, and in the “why we learn” and “who we learn”. And I think the “why” is- we have to shift from learning solutions to problems that somebody has done before- to really learning together solutions to problems we never had before. So, there is not a solution, nobody has designed it. So, what we have to do is see how we equip our learners together to find solutions to these problems. So, it’s not giving the solution, as in traditional L&D. The solution to it, the solution to why the solution to communication. There is no formula because it’s so new, this reality. And then also that impacts what we learn. The content of what we learn has to move from content being the king to really how we use that content being the king. So, it is not the “what” we teach, but how we use that in order to create those solutions. And of course, that involves that who learns is not just one person on its own.

We have to go back to the old times, to the learning clubs, circles of learning where people share and learn together how to face this unique and huge problems. And we have to do it together because, you know, it’s impossible for just one person in any role or position to really find a solution to this because it’s very systemic is not a simple linear problem, it is a systemic one, and it requires systemic solutions. It’s a high level of complexity now.

What can we expect to be prioritized in 2021 for the L&D industry?

So, I will start answering this question, but it got me thinking about all these conversations. I love it. That’s why I love talking to you guys because it’s the rate of learning that always has to be equal or bigger to the rate of change. You know, it’s not me saying that many academics of learning have said this before, and when this doesn’t happen in the case of a person who gets depressed, you know? An organization too, it translates into the inability to respond. So what we need to do, and the priority for L&D has to be: to accelerate the pace, the speed, and the velocity of change by accelerating the speed, the velocity of learning. And learning has always been seeing the return of investment of the learning as something in the long term. Oh, you will train these people and in the long term. But now it’s like oh, you know bad news, now there’s no time, this needs to be done now, we have this problem now, not in six months. Everything we knew from the past is almost not applicable anymore, not valid.

So I think the priority is accelerate the speed exponentially now and for that to incorporate machine learning, virtual reality, artificial intelligence much faster. Because, I’m very sad to see how all these new technologies are not always in our agendas as professionals because it’s too disruptive to what we’ve been doing in the past. And obviously additionally to the speed and velocity with the machines coming to help us and the third point I want to make is to prioritize culture. We have to create a learning culture because we know culture eats strategy for breakfast and we know it, but we don’t do it. You know, companies still have cultures that they are not productive and they are not efficient or effective and sometimes they become a burden more than an accelerator and now it’s not time for that. So learning and development departments have to become the engine of how we shift this culture into more positive ones where people can flourish.

I think the resistance to change is a natural mechanism and my 7-year-old yesterday was saying he didn’t want to try something to eat and he was crying then at the end he tried it and then came and said, Mommy, I realized I didn’t like to get out of my comfort zone and I was like wow, I wish when I was seven, I could have learned that. And then he was eating and we were asking and I said, how is that my son, and he said, Mommy it’s lovely, and I say what did you learn? He said, that getting out this better. So, I think that the resistance to change is natural because we are afraid of what we don’t trust. But now this new reality has given the unique opportunity to really learn that it’s actually better. I mean people now and companies are finding out people don’t want to go back to the office. People are happier or some people not, but you know, we have realized that when making things different, meetings are more effective, how we are learning to communicate more straightforward. So, at the end we learn that it’s not that bad. So, I will say that in many cases, resistance to change should lower.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced at Tecmilenio due to the pandemic? How did this impact any changes made to your organization?

Well, in our case we are really a university. We are digitally native because we were born in 2002 but really it’s not that you have a more of a flexible culture but it is not there yet, now it’s very hard. So, in 48 hours we had to move 60,000 students to 100% virtual. It’s true that we had online already, we have the some of the capabilities. However, we were not fully virtual and we did it in 48 hours, literally. And we had 2,000 employees in Tecmilenio and around 7,000 teachers. So, we have to really give them the support to students to their families, you know, the tranquility knowing this was under control to the employees and also to teachers and Tecmilenio is addressed to a level of students. Our objective is social mobility and a very inclusive education, so it means we were very concerned that many of our students will not have the resources, the Internet, the laptops to do their job, and one of the first things we did was that. We made sure everybody had what they needed. Some people didn’t have computers at home, (some other employees) and we let them take the ones from the office, the same with chairs to create offices. So, the first thing we did with this was make a survey for all our employees, students or teachers and asked them how they were, what they did need. We had to learn very fast, and the best way is talking to them. And that’s what we did!

There are two things I want to share here. One in that they are going to be impacted positively by how we accelerate our rate of learning by talking to everyone. The second was creating teams that were transversal, so we kind of break the silos. You know, we break them quickly because in these teams they needed to be people from all departments and hierarchy didn’t matter as much, but finding solutions together, and that was great. And also, from those conversations with our employees, we learned that it was very hard for them. Sometimes the relationship with their leaders, we’d find out that 80% of their experience at home was determined by the quality of the leader. So, we rapidly (in less than a month) put together a training for leaders. We called it, “Virtual leadership- Leadership in the Distance” to give them also the tools to manage the people in a context they’ve never been in before. And we created it with them, for them. More like a community, like a leader’s club. And those things are here to stay. They are working well so far, so we’re happy.

What advice can you give an organization who is feeling overwhelmed by the idea of moving from face-to-face training to digital and doesn’t know where to begin with digital transformation?

Well, I think that here the answer would be very quick. It’s really about changing your mindset and moving to a startup mindset. I mean, many organizations have lots of processes. Sorry to say, but bureaucracies, with many things that aren’t useful anymore, but we keep them because they’ve always been there and at the end, we end up working for those processes, not for the clients or their needs. And now is the opportunity to get back to the roots to the essence of our busines. Whoever we are serving, we are we serving someone with a startup mindset, because if not, think about it. The opposite of startup, what is it? Literally in English, “stop down” isn’t it? So, you have two options. In the middle, there lots but either you are a startup or you are stop down and if you are stop down, you’re dead, so you can’t move forward. You’re stopped and you’re down and you need to be starting and very up so the only solution is startup mindset. Don’t be afraid, everybody’s here and learn to fail fast, that’s a startup mindset. Learn what you don’t need and get rid of it. This is the perfect excuse for all the things that are not useful. Like we broke the silos working in a different way and that’s what we can do. It’s a great opportunity to do what we always wanted, and we didn’t dare.

What role does training play in organizations to help people achieve the goal of Wellbeing 360º?

Wellbeing 360º is a summit we’ve done virtually, but really the objective for us is the well-being. Without well-being you cannot learn. I mean the opposite of well-being, if we continue with the words it will be “bad-being”. In English doesn’t exist but in Spanish it does. But really, we always have two lines where our learners are going parallel and learning the content- the what, the how. But really also going through another path of learning to increase your well-being because if not, you cannot really learn. So, if we want to learn fast, if we want to accelerate the speed of learning in order to be bigger than the speed of change, and we want to have a startup mindset, the only way of doing it is through well-being. Your people need to be in a well-being state, you cannot be stressed, you know, like the homeostatic point where people can really grow from there. And so it’s the only way to go, and training and learning plays a very important role because it needs to incorporate that component into their practices into the way of being, into their cultures. Because higher well-being of people, of teams, of culture, equals a higher well-being of our objectives and our profit and loss.

What should technology and AI mean for HR now?

Well, I think technology and AI has a