Thanks and Joseph Barrientos

People Operations in Game Companies: No one at the Helm

How most of us view HR is depressing in a couple of ways. As in, it’s a depressing view (we really don’t want to think about HR because that just means paperwork and boring benefits stuff) and it’s depressing that we think so little of it as a discipline. This is why I prefer the term coined at Google, “People Operations”. Because it’s so much more than which dentist you can go to.

Many game studios hold a disdain for people operations. Because it’s not art. It’s not programming. It’s not immediately contributing to shipping a game. It’s fuzzy and grey and a luxury that only the really big companies can afford.

We don’t need it the same way we need a good server engineer.

With this thinking, organizations can grow to well over 100 developers before they consider hiring an HR person, or even outsourcing to a consulting service. When they finally acquire an HR manager, that person isn’t empowered in any way. They’re really just there to prevent lawsuits.

By not appreciating the importance and scope of people operations here are some of the critical areas you’re impacting.

Values — Defining values for the company. Enforcing accountability for acting in accordance with them. This is the foundation for the integrity of your company, and it’s how you make sure the people you hired are doing what they should at the highest level.

Recruiting and Interviewing — How do you know who to consider as a candidate? Purely basing these decisions on technical skills or a resume without assessing cultural viability is a mistake. Do you have clearly defined processes designed to reduce hiring bias? What diversity measures are you pursuing? Is there data proving you’re getting better at hiring quality people? If no one owns these things they won’t get the attention they deserve.

Onboarding — You may have a probation period for new hires, but smart employees will also have a probation period for their new employer, asking themselves, “Is life at this company actually how they described it when they interviewed me?” Is there someone at your studio who’s responsible for examining and improving your onboarding process?

Work Environment — Allowing flexible hours. Remote work. Reasonable parental leave. Removing micro aggressions. Fixing the awful meeting discipline. Leadership transparency. These all require active guidance.

Professional Development — Are employees challenged here? Who ensures they’re growing? Where is the company missing out by not extending greater responsibility to someone? What processes exist to make sure everyone gets an equal opportunity to excel in an area of strength?

Leadership Training — Emotional intelligence. Communication skills. Handling conflict well. Motivation. Collaboration. Ability to deliver effective one-on-one’s. These are just some of the prerequisites for leadership. Does your company have explicit expectations for leaders? Who enforces them? Who makes sure training is delivered and that it’s getting results?

Engagement and Retention — From my observations, most companies in our industry are losing on average about 10% of the value they expect to derive from their single biggest expense: salary. You’re paying someone to do a job but they aren’t delivering everything they can because your organization isn’t actively seeking to increase employee engagement. Then you have trouble retaining developers and you spend enormous amounts of time and resources to replace them. Who is taking ownership for these areas?

Employee Recognition, Compensation, Health and Wellness — This list goes on.

All of the above topics fall under the heading of people operations; it’s well beyond the scope of dentists and lawsuit prevention. Neglecting these areas reduces the fulfillment level of your developers and increases your costs. People operations have incredible impact on your company. Wouldn’t it be worth it to have someone responsible for them?