Previously regarded as a backwater with little interest in developing its
people, the HR mantra in Spain is no longer ‘manana’ but ‘estrategia’ and
leading the revolution is its HR society president, Mateo Borras. Liz Hall
Spain has undergone a transformation when it comes to HR practices. Not only
has it embraced developments such as knowledge management, e-learning and
strategy, but Mateo Borrss, president of the Spanish equivalent of the
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), believes the best way
to make impact is to work with traditional rivals to ensure HR has a
substantial voice in business.
With David Beckham’s arrival at Real Madrid dominating both Spanish and
English news in recent weeks, football metaphors spring to mind when discussing
the state of play of HR practice in Spain with Borras.
Asked where Spain would figure in an international league of HR practice,
Borr s chuckles: "First division, of course."
Gone are the days when Spain was considered an HR backwater, and
far-reaching HR practices are now high on the agenda in Spain’s businesses.
Recent years have seen an influx of foreign multinationals into Spain and
indigenous multinationals such as oil company Repsol, telecoms giant Telefonica
and energy firm Endesa have gained firmer footings globally.
"Spain has leapt forwards HR-wise and is very much taking part in the
creation and generation of HR policy rather than just complying with policies
drawn up by others," says Borras, who is in the third year of a four-year
tenure as president of the Asociaci¢n Espanola de Directores de Personal
Borras is also director of HR and social affairs at 3,500-strong car
manufacturer Nissan Motor Ibérica in Barcelona which he joined in 1986.
In recent years he has witnessed a transformation in the role of the Spanish
personnel director. As in the UK and other European countries, this has been
marked by a shift away from the more traditional roles of administration and
management towards a more strategic role.
"The HR function in Spain is increasingly about strategy. Until recently,
the function has been about implanting and applying policies drawn up
elsewhere, now it is about drawing up strategies for line managers to apply and
about acting as internal consultants to line management," says
As he sees it, the most important task for the HR profession in Spain – and
Europe as a whole – is to gain staff commitment and tie it in with company’s
"Commitment is very fashionable. What does this mean? It is about
maximising communication, decentralisation and personal development," he
explains. "I am promoting this commitment, where the worker feels a sense
of what is going on in the company and readily participates."
According to Borras, it is up to HR to spearhead this change process.
"What is HR’s role in this – to lead this process of change towards a
culture of trust, knowledge and commitment, fostering communication,
decentralisation and empowerment," he says.
Borr s says there has been a shift in HR values with trust, knowledge
and staff commitment coming to the fore. "The HR profession is now more
about giving weight to principles rather than rules. These days, we are talking
much more about self-responsibility, trust and knowledge rather than the
ability to follow instructions clearly and concisely."
Borras highlights knowledge management – gesti¢n de conocimiento – as one of
the key items on Spanish HR’s agenda.
"Spanish organisations, particularly the financial sector, are working
very seriously in the areas of personal development and knowledge management,"
he says. "One of the greatest roles for today’s HR director is that of
managing knowledge in the widest sense of being capable of sharing people’s
talents with the rest of the organisation – of maximising adaptability and
Along with knowledge management, e-learning, managing the decentralisation
of HR and empowering line managers are also high on the agenda for many Spanish
HR professionals. "We are seeing a growth in the number of
decentralisation projects in Spanish businesses, and developing line managers
is becoming much more important," says Borras.
AEDIPE recently named telecoms firms Alcatel and Telefonica as among those
exhibiting best practice in e-learning. And in terms of knowledge management,
Borras cites Caja Madrid as running a very good model. The savings bank also
recently won the accolade of Spain’s top place to work in the 2003 Great Place
to Work list published by business school ESADE and the European Commission’s
Great Place to Work initiative.
Nissan is currently in the early stages of developing a Europe-wide list of
competencies for line managers. It is working on a pilot scheme which will
incorporate coaching, recognition and management skills.
Four years ago, the 6,000-strong Nissan Spain, which has two plants in
Barcelona and one in Madrid, embarked upon an empowerment programme for line
managers, with the slogan ‘Que cerramos la ventanilla de’ – ‘We’re shutting the
The programme, which is still ongoing, has involved HR handing over responsibility
for small tasks such as handling medical problems to supervisors who deal
directly with medical services. And staff no longer clock-in, but have line
managers responsible for their movements.
"These things may seem petty, but they’re not. The added value comes
from the supervisors feeling empowered and that they now have to talk to staff
direct rather than just supervising them," says Borras.
The new competency framework will consolidate this previous work.
"We will be looking very closely at individual knowledge," says
AEDIPE, which was set up 39 years ago, has a 600-strong membership split
between some 35 per cent HR consultants and 65 per cent HR directors in
organisations in Spain. Borras is very aware that HR consultants are a fast-growing
group and is anxious that AEDIPE should cater equally for them.
AEDIPE also has an HR development arm FUNDIPE (Fundaci¢n para el Desarrollo
de la Funci¢n de Recursos Humanos. And research and development is an area
Borr s is very keen to expand.
"We still have a great deal of work to do in getting involved with
academia compared with the CIPD which is 100 years ahead of us," he says.
Since taking the helm of AEDIPE, Borras has made it his mission to
revolutionise the organisation, updating its image and making it much less
elitist. AEDIPE’s magazine has been revamped and Borras has set about forging
closer links with other HR bodies and event organisers who would have
traditionally have been deemed rivals.
Borras says there is a crisis right now in terms of the growing number of
associations, and trying to harness what each has to offer is a constant
"Before, we were the main meeting point, the reference for the whole
profession. Now, apart from HR publications, we still represent somewhere
people can come to if they have a problem, but there are many annual events
such as [the exhibition] Capital Humano."
Borras also plans to dramatically change the face of AEDIPE’s annual
three-day congress, held this year in C¢rdoba.
"If our role is not to defend the profession like a law college, we
must make the most of the synergy of the different organisations, making the
most of all the tools available."
This year will see congress delegates taking a much more active role,
participating in workshops rather than just sitting back in lectures.
"In the past, the congress was like a holiday or escape for delegates.
That doesn’t work any more. What we need is debate, to share information,"
Borr s has also stepped up AEDIPE’s efforts to share information
between the association’s eight regional groups – its central Madrid-based
group is the biggest followed by Catalonia – and with other HR bodies such as
the European Association of Personnel Management.
Along with about 35 other professional bodies representing some 35,000
members, it has also joined forces to form top management group CEDE
(Confederaci¢n Espa¤ola de Directivos y Ejecutivos), giving AEDIPE more of a
"We are almost a lobby group now; regularly treading slippery terrain,
holding quarterly meetings with parliamentary representatives," says
Borras, who is vice-president of the CEDE management group.
Borras acknowledges that, in common with other European countries, the
Spanish HR profession is frequently dictated to by trends manufactured by
international consultants. Take a look through any of the Spanish profession’s
publications and they are peppered with English phrases such as ‘knowledge
management’. But Borras welcomes these fashions as a chance to take a fresh
look at things.
"The fashions imposed by multinational HR consultants – such as
individual knowledge – do not worry me as they serve as a catalyst for
Which ties in nicely with the Borras vision for the Spanish HR function in a
"I’d like the HR function to be without any short-term executive
responsibilities, to exist solely as an internal consultancy," he says.
"Talking about visions is all very well, but what is important is whether
something will really be useful. It is vital to have a common aim and reference
point within the organisation and then secure staff commitment to this aim. For
me, the main aim for HR is to manage this and nothing else."
– Spain is the eighth-largest country
in the OECD
– It is the world’s largest investor in Latin America
– It is the sixth-largest car manufacturer in the world
– Its population numbered around 41 million in 2002
– Unemployment in May 2003 stood at 8.64 per cent
– The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 2 per cent by end of
2002 and is predicted to grow by 3 per cent by mid-2004
– Spain’s service sector is its main contributor to GDP,
followed by industry which together account for 90 per cent of its GDP.
Agriculture now accounts for 4 per cent
– Inflation stands at around 4 per cent
Source: Ministry of Economy,
Instituto Nacional de Estadistica