Thanks, Rob Bye

The Most Common Problem in Game Dev

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with the CHRO of a large game company. In response to his “So, what do you do?” I explained that I solve people problems.

“Really. What’s the most common problem you’ve seen?”

Here’s what I told him. Across the games industry, at companies big and small and North American and elsewhere, most people arrived at their first leadership role with zero training.

Now, a close runner up to Problem #1 is this: we think it’s a great idea to take a contributor who’s good at X and make them a Lead X.

In America we call this taking your best quarterback and making them coach. Thing is, the overlap in skills is so miniscule that the frequent result is you now have a lousy coach. And no quarterback.

If you look at both of these problems and go back up the family tree of leadership dysfunction you’ll find a couple of shared ancestors: a failure to grasp what a leader does and little thought as to what it takes to become one.

Before your company promotes or hires a lead you should have a definition of what a leader is. You should have explicit expectations — like, documented — for the role in question. And you should make sure your candidate understands all of the above and has been provided a modicum of education such that they feel prepared to deliver on their responsibilities.

Legitimately taking care of all of these things will take time and effort and serious thought. We’re not just talking about that horribly generic job description you posted. That’s not enough. We’re talking about what your new leader will actually do.

Provide development opportunities.
Enforce standards for behavior.
Track goals.
Settle conflicts.

When you promote Biff to a first time leader, is Biff’s manager prepared to back him up in the execution of his duties? Does Biff’s manager know enough about those duties to defend Biff’s actions when he’s in the right? And hold Biff accountable when he’s not?

We’re not talking about the Gordian Knot or intractable sociological problems. These things can be solved with open communication. It’s just that few companies are willing to take the time to address fundamental people issues before building a work environment on shifting sand.

Maybe that’s the Most Common Problem.