Talent Garden’s Lorena Pérez on company culture and AI in HR

22 Nov 2019

Lorena Pérez. Image: Talent Garden

Talent Garden’s Lorena Pérez discusses her previous work with Cabify and how she’s taking her experience with AI in HR and bringing it to her new role in European co-working company Talent Garden.

Earlier this year, Talent Garden hired Spain’s Lorena Pérez as its new chief people officer. With more than two decades of experience in HR, Pérez plans to use her expertise to scale Talent Garden in Europe while coming up with ways to retain and motivate the company’s talent.

She discussed the importance of conserving company culture while a company scales, and some of the ways she uses technology to improve her work and efficiency in HR.

Let’s start with your background.

I come from the HR world, of course! I’ve been working for multinational companies, mainly creating and developing HR and people departments. I have more than 20 years of experience now, with my first relevant experience being in a communications company in the tech sector. I’ve always been surrounded by tech. I worked there for 17 years, building the HR department, first in Spain, then I took responsibility for all of EMEA for HR.

I helped to create and develop HR teams, policies, systems, and so on. After a long time there, I was approached by Cabify, which was the first Spanish unicorn. It’s like the Spanish Uber. We expanded a lot. I was hired when Cabify was just a group of friends thinking about expanding their business. They got an important funding round, so I joined and set up the HR department. We grew Cabify from 40 people when I joined to 1,800 when I left.

This summer, I was approached by Talent Garden, as they were looking for someone with an international background. Because of my two previous roles in tech ecosystems and my experience with start-ups and scale-ups, I got to join Talent Garden’s amazing project. It seems like I’ve been working here for a year, although it has only been a few months!

A young man in a white shirt leans on a white table beside two women on either side of him. They are wearing black shirts and using laptops at a table. In the background, the wall says 'community space' on the wall.

Talent Garden Dublin. Image: Talent Garden

What are your plans for Talent Garden’s Dublin location?

One of the main plans at the moment is to scale the rest of Europe. We’re in Ireland, Italy and Spain and we want to build a major relevant tech ecosystem in Europe. Ireland is one of these countries we are focusing on but we really want to scale and create an ecosystem and community in Europe. We gained some really valuable experience from setting up in a place like Ireland. Now we want to scale not just our company across Europe, but also our culture.

How does this compare to growing a company like Cabify?

I see many, many similarities. Those scaling up models are very similar. It’s about growing fast, but keeping consistent both operationally and culturally. It’s almost like a ballgame, growing the company and at the same time operating and fulfilling the daily duties at the same time.

It’s all about growing and creating the right processes and structures to scale in the best way possible. Things like brand positioning. When you’re scaling up, your brand positioning is very important. The people delivering your product need to be well trained in terms of global consistency, and things like that. There are some factors that are pretty much the same, but they are two different sectors. You’ve got to learn about the sector and do it in the right way, but the steps are very much the same.

Has Talent Garden been successful in creating a consistent culture across Europe?

I would say that at the moment, there is something unique about each of the locations, but we need to watch that carefully. In the beginning, when you’re very small, there’s a family culture where everyone gets along with each other and everyone is direct and straightforward with each other. I think the culture is pretty much the same.

I did a world tour since I took over the role at Talent Garden and I was very happy to see how engaged people are and how motivated they are. People really want to have an impact on society and on our community. As we grow and scale, we can’t forget this culture. Culture is one of the main factors to take into account to go global. We are now more focused on learning development and providing everyone with the appropriate skills for the company we are creating.

Tell us a bit about how you apply AI in HR.

I had the opportunity to use AI in my past experience, mainly with Cabify. In terms of equipment, in the HR field, we saw AI evolving to the point where it allowed us to search for data people leave online, like CVs, professional portfolios and social media to find passive candidates that could meet our business needs.

It was also useful for candidate screening, for searching for keywords on the profiles of people applying, it can save a lot of time. It’s also useful for candidate matching. At Cabify, our main job we were posting all the time was for programmers and developers, which is a highly technical role. We used AI to review skills and to hold coding tests. It saved a lot of time for our engineers, instead of them having to review 50 applications or coding tests, they could review the top five coding tests.

It could also be used for interviews, but I didn’t go that far! At the moment, we don’t have very big recruitment drives. For me, it’s difficult to give up the human experience of interviewing someone. In a larger recruitment process like retail, or hotels, where companies have a huge turnover and a lot of people to manage, it makes more sense.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic