People management at fast growing Zynga

Mark PincusAs part of an occasional series of management tips from real-life examples, and following on from the last post about the World’s largest company – Walmart – this post looks at one of the World’s fastest growing businesses, Zynga, and how they, like Teamly, use Priority Setting with their people.

Zynga is one of silicon valley’s hottest companies, and is responsible for the hit games you will have seen on Facebook such as Farmville and Mafia Wars which are played by an incredible 60M people every day. Zynga is just over 3 years old, and in the last 18 months alone has grown from just 100 employees, to over 1800.

Mark Pincus is the CEO of Zynga, and explained in the New York Times that, “You can manage 50 people through the strength of your personality and lack of sleep”, but this doesn’t scale. At Zynga they used to have a daily scrum conference call with the entire company, and everyone would share what they were working on.

Instead – in a company moving as quickly as Zynga – they really need people who just get on with stuff, take ownership and make things happen. This means every is the CEO of something, everyone is expected to own an outcome, and be the “CEO of your job”. But you need still need to get people to focus, and also keep their colleagues and managers informed.

Pincus explains in more detail how they do this through  Priority Setting:

John Doerr [the venture capitalist] sold me on this idea of O.K.R.’s, which stands for objectives and key results. It was developed at Intel and used at Google, and the idea is that the whole company and every group has one objective and three measurable key results, and if you achieve two of the three, you achieve your overall objective, and if you achieve all three, you’ve really killed it.

We put the whole company on that, so everyone knows their O.K.R.’s. And that is a good, simple organizing principle that keeps people focused on the three things that matter — not the 10.

Then I ask everybody to write down on Sunday night or Monday morning what are your three priorities for the week, and then on Friday see how you did against them. It’s the only way people can stay focused and not burn out. And if I look at your road map and you have 10 priorities for you and your team, you probably don’t know which of the three matter, and probably none of the 10 are right.

I can look at everyone’s piece of paper, and their road map shows every item you were going to do and your predicted results and actual results, and then the results are in red if you missed them, yellow if they’re close and green if you passed them. I think road maps are a great principle just for managing your life. It keeps everybody focused, and it lets me know what trains are on or off the tracks.

How about traditional performance reviews? These don’t exist at Zynga; instead Colleen McCreary, Chief People Officer introduced “in the moment coaching”. She explained, “I don’t believe in Performance reviews. They are super-negative. Instead we make sure each manager has a quarterly conversation”.

Employees have to answer:

1. This is what I rocked this quarter
2. This is what didn’t go well
3. This is what to do in the next quarter
4. This is what I want out of my career

It’s great to see an innovative, high-growth company like Zynga using straightforward techniques, and while we differ on the number of priorities you should set, (we prefer 5), the Zynga approach is really very similar to Teamly’s – the point being – simple stuff works. I look forward to seeing what business results Zynga are able to get from putting these “HR 2.0″ ideas into practice.

For a more in-depth look at Zynga people, values and recruitment visit my personal blog where I summarised a recent talk by Colleen McCreary of Zynga at BizTechDay.

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Teamly is a SaaS based people management and productivity tool which automates the process of priority setting, and provides an easy way for employees to identify what’s important, commit to it, share it, and track how well they’re doing.
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This blog uses quotes from “Are you CEO of something?” by Adam Bryant which appeared in the New York Times.

About Scott Allison

Co-Founder and CEO of Teamly

2 Responses to People management at fast growing Zynga

  1. Nice article. Managing people really is the key to any company in any industry succeeding. Too many employers look for people with the right skills or an impressive resume and forget to consider someone’s people skills, principles, and goal setting experience. The model outlined above, or something similar, does a great job of keeping people focused on the most important things…..outcomes. Thanks for sharing.
    @BrettRelander

  2. […] by Intel, popularized by venture capitalist John Doerr, and now adopted by companies including Zynga and Google, the idea is that the company, department, team and employees set not just their […]

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