February 7, 2022

Preserving Human Interaction in a Remote World with King’s Chief People Officer, Colin Daly

Melissa Malec

The vast advances we’ve seen in technology and the acceleration toward remote working has recalibrated the need for values at the core of a successful business. 

Founders and business owners should consider the principles for their people in light of these technological transitions.  Foundational pillars should accommodate and encourage positive, pragmatic and progressive actions around diversity and inclusion.  

A mobile workforce has meant, more than ever, that attention and care is required to ensure employees and prospective talent have an equal opportunity. For instance, there are still places within business and HR, where human interaction is required, preferred and more effective than technology.

Colin Daly, Chief People Officer at King talked to us about the technological changes he’s seen within business and HR over his 20+ year career.

He discussed how remote working has allowed some to flourish but created challenges for others, and stressed the need for guiding values to foster a consistent culture. 

Key takeaways

  • Human touch and interaction is still important in HR - The dynamics of in-person conversations are yet to be fully replicated online. When it comes to the People function, it’s important we still function in as human a way as possible.
  • Startups and scale-ups should have a clear set of values for their people - this will not only shape the culture and calibre of talent but also aid in business decisions and guide the company direction. The founder of King, Ricardo Zacconi, is the embodiment of this, with his mantra of treating others as you would wish to be treated.
  • Diversity and inclusion is an ongoing conversation but it hasn’t developed enough - we’re a society that’s systemically biased and we are wired to make decisions that are based on our biases. King is combatting this by championing diverse talent and challenging unconscious bias every way we can.
  • People want to feel they are building up skills and knowledge for the long term - they want more control over learning that is personal, accessible, measurable and impactful. 
  • Don’t limit the capability of people with negative expectations - believe they can be the best versions of themselves, embrace new dynamics with positive expectation and potential will be realised.

Can you tell me about your journey into HR?

It was a very circuitous route. 

The first seven years of my career were in aviation safety, working as a psychologist. I got exposure to selection techniques for pilots and thanks to my psychology degree, I was able to start working in that area and ultimately transitioned into HR. 

The psychology background was fuelled by my interest in human behaviour and motivation, the way people work together and social psychology. I also enjoy enterprise and the way it works. 

When you combine the interest in people and how they interact and business it makes for a great career path. It was a bit unintentional, but when I got there, I discovered what I love. 

What are the biggest changes you've noticed in the HR industry?

The changes in technology have been enormous and these changes have impacted everything we do. Sometimes businesses take the lead and other times the technology moves faster and we take time to catch-up.

Over my career I've seen it move talking about a digital workplace to digital working being our everyday reality. I've printed maybe two sheets of paper in the last three months. That's a very physical and real example of how online business has gone. We're there and beyond it now, I think what's next is going to be very interesting.

What area of HR is yet to be disrupted by technological advances?

The places where human interaction is still key to supporting employee wellbeing. 

Sometimes you need to be seen or you need to be heard, you need physical presence for comfort and understanding. It's not as effective to do that by email or by video call.  There's still that real need to be in the room and observe the dynamic, to understand what's going on within a team or with a manager or a colleague. We're in a place yet where technology is giving you the same cues as an in person meeting. 

There's also still some legacy stuff, particularly in administration where it’s very cumbersome. For example, we still need wet signatures in some jurisdictions on contracts - that's the other end of the scale. We're still dealing with couriers delivering a contract pack to somebody so that they can sign it with a pen - only then is it official. Again, the pace of change is sometimes too fast for some.

We still believe there is a place for human interaction in the long term though. 

In light of the changes COVID-19 has brought, is remote working the way forward? 

The shift to remote working is absolutely fascinating. It's like a global, social experiment and unprecedented in nature. 

We need to study and understand to see if we can completely revolutionise the way work gets done by a distributed and mobile workforce. I've found from a lot of the data that remote working is very divisive and polarising for people.

Some people are delighted to work from home; productivity is up, they are in very comfortable working environments.  Others are suffering; they're feeling social isolation, suffering from depression and feeling excluded. It can all depend on the personality type or the personal situation that person is working in. It certainly isn’t a case of everyone moving to completely mobile from now on without any issues. I think it's going to be a real challenge to figure out how to make remote working successful for everyone.

How should start-ups and scale-ups set good foundations for their People and HR teams?  

Setting good foundations, in a strategic way, is the way to go. There's a temptation and danger to leave some of these decisions to pragmatism and speed. Founders can be very product-focused, then discount the need for foundations based on people, because they don't have the time.

If founders can make some of these decisions upfront, around how they treat people and their core belief of how the company should behave, then it makes other decisions a lot easier. You have a set of principles to which you can align. From this place, you can build a company and culture that is consistent and that allows you to be much more effective in my view.. 

I would take a step back if I was talking to any founder, and ask them ‘what do you believe fundamentally in your core?' whatever the answer is, they should build a company that's consistent with that. When you meet some founders, like Riccardo [Founder of King] it’s very clear that he wanted to treat people in the way he would have wished to be treated himself. That principle led him to make decisions and enabled him to combat challenges with a north star to guide him.

That's how you build a company that has more power than just the product. 

How do you cultivate a world of fun within King itself, as the Chief People Officer?

It comes through in the tone of voice we use and in our strive to be fun and friendly. We try to keep it colloquial, easy and keep the jargon out. An example of how that works well is if we’re sharing updates about the Christmas party or something recreational. 

It can be challenging to get the tone right when we’re talking about restructuring or other challenges to people's lives within the business. Even within those topics, you can still remain consistent with those principles. We still try to keep it simple, be clear, be honest and keep the language understandable.

When you get to the challenging stuff, when we sit down with somebody and say, look, we need to change for this to be successful - honesty and simple language works. Being direct is still consistent with our values and our principles, even if the subject's tricky. 

What are your views on D&I in the Gaming industry?

It's not a new topic and I've been working in this area for a very long time. My graduate thesis was psychology and my CIPD project to get my HR qualification were both on selection bias and employer's bias. I'd always had a belief that the systems were broken, I wanted to understand how biases work. I think it’s accepted now that we're dealing with a society that is systematically biased and it’s on us to reshape it.

We're mentally built to take these shorthand notes and make these quick decisions that are based on our biases and not necessarily based on facts.  And from that bias and set of preconceived notions we’ve built a society that is very male-dominated for example. 

It gets worse when you get into the gaming industry. It has the entrenched history of a white-male bias. I still struggle to understand how the industry became like that because everybody plays games from a very young age regardless of gender or background. Somehow the creation of this form of play became very male.

When you're trying to change these very strong currents, to alter the flow; you need to be very determined. You need to really resource it steadily, we're going to be working on this for another 20 years. 

At King we've had to take that struggle forward, we’re rolling out efforts to combat everything from unconscious bias to supporting female leadership to education and BAME employment. 

The key for me is persistence at delivering those core values but it’s a long road ahead. 

What is the role of learning and your vision for learning at King?

There's a desire to get access to learning that is self-directed, beyond the current task or set up of the day. Our people want to feel they are building up skills and knowledge for the long term. They want to feel like they have much more control over their learning and that it feels accessible.

We want people to find the right resources to ensure they can develop careers and grow expertise. It's a very democratised, very distributed and accessible future. We still have access to subject matter experts that help make sure that the quality is very high.

Within that, we want our people to have much more freedom to access learning, for it to be portable, customisable and tailored. We want to generate that feeling when our people walk away from a learning, or when they need to learn, that the experience is very positive and helps them build up their skills and overall was easy to find the right way to learn.

What's a key learning that has played a pivotal role in your career or outlook?

There's certainly one moment of realisation I always refer back to (I’ll spare you the details) but what I took away was simply this.  If we view people with a lens of positive expectation, embrace them with openness and opportunity, they will rise to it. They’ll surprise you with how well they handle pressure and challenges, and will reward and return your belief in them.  If we treat people with suspicion, nervousness or caution and we’re more worried about the bad things that might happen, then, I think, you tend to find what you’re looking for.

If I go in with a positive expectation of people, I find that more often than not, my expectations are met. If I go in with a negative expectation l see less positive outcomes.  I remember distinctly hitting that realisation and I’ve gone back to it time and time again throughout my career to help me see the way forward.

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