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IN-DEPTH 17 August 2016
The people person: Issues and individualities of managing employees in gaming
In every industry HR is the conduit between a company and its staff. Christine Sutton, Interim Head of HR at Microgaming, speaks to Gambling Insider about the issues and individualities of managing employees in gaming
By Gambling Insider

Describe a typical day for you.

HR is an incredibly varied role and when you deal with people there is no such thing as a typical day. There are a number of ongoing strategic projects that I’m focusing a lot of my time on, and of course there’s the day-to-day activities, or eleventh-hour matters that need to be dealt with.

The combination of this workload, coupled with working in such a fast-paced business, makes the days fly by, and you need to have the ability to handle what each day brings with composure.

What do you see as your principal role at Microgaming?

I believe that first and foremost, the overarching role of HR is to protect the company’s interests, heritage, culture and strategy: to ensure that the company is adhering to and exceeding best practice in terms of its policies, and that these are aligned with the goals and objectives of the organisation or group.

Additionally, although a little obvious, it’s the HR team’s job to look after people. Microgaming is a people company and as our CEO rightly states, our greatest asset is our talent pool. So it’s our role to ensure that Microgaming is a place that cultivates its staff to excel in the workplace.

And what are the biggest challenges?

HR has changed so much over the years. As a company, we need to continually ensure that HR is working strategically for us, that its priorities are running in parallel to business goals. We operate in a relatively young industry that is changing daily, which means we are forever learning. But I think this adds excitement to the role.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that companies in i-gaming face is the recruitment of specialised, highly-technical talent. It’s a competitive industry and everyone wants to hire the best. Organisations have to be creative and find new methods of attracting suitably qualified candidates to their roles. This goes hand in hand with ensuring we stay informed of what motivates employees. To this end, we make sure that any issues flagged by leavers are addressed.

Leadership development is another challenge, but is something we are tackling head-on to ensure we have “bench strength” and that potential successors are receiving appropriate development opportunities. We’re turning this challenge into an opportunity. We have a training and development programme that every employee can participate in and benefit from, and we believe that coaching and mentoring from senior staff is vital for growth within the organisation. For example, the exec team has an open door policy whereby anyone can pop in to ask a question or raise an issue at any time.

Culture has become a hot topic as well. High-performance organisations tend to have exceptional cultures where employees are energised, engaged and mindful of the organisation’s strategy. A strong culture is something we are very passionate about here at Microgaming – it’s evident within the office. A recent culture review which saw every Microgaming employee take part in a detailed survey, which was managed by an independent third party, revealed some fascinating insights into what defines our culture and why our staff are motivated to work for the company. We listened carefully, analysing the findings and implementing a number of initiatives as a result.

How involved are you in Microgaming’s hiring process?

The HR team manage the hiring process for Microgaming. We have a talent acquisition specialist who is dedicated to finding new talent and managing the recruitment strategy, with support from the wider team. Personally, I oversee this and would be a point of escalation for any concerns, and it’s my responsibility to ensure managers are trained appropriately to make certain we are consistent in our approach to hiring the best talent.

What does the employee demographic for a gaming company like Microgaming tend to look like?

We are a global company. Whilst Microgaming’s headquarters are based on the Isle of Man, we have development houses and suppliers on every inhabited continent. Diversity is hugely important to us, as evidenced in part by our near 50:50 gender split and with over 10 different nationalities working for us.

Our CEO, Roger Raatgever, was fundamental in setting up Microgaming’s HQ on the Isle of Man in April 2001; 15 years on we’ve outgrown our existing office. Last year we announced the construction of a second office, next door to our current one. The five-storey, state-of-the-art building is set for completion in 2017 and we’re very excited. What’s nice is that we have engaged our staff throughout the entire process, including them in the design phase and asking for eco-warriors to take charge in ensuring the office is environmentally friendly.

Do you think we’ll see much change in this demographic in the coming years?

We understand the value of working in a diverse environment and welcome further diversity.

We also want to ensure we maintain an equal gender split. But, we’re not looking for a specific ratio, or working towards a fixed headcount. We look for character, ability and potential above all else, as this is what makes us the successful company that we are.

Have you noticed any increase in the volume of job applications in recent years?

The number of job applications we receive depends on the role. What’s evident is that Microgaming has an excellent employer brand on the island and within the gaming industry. When asking the question: “What attracted you to apply for this job?” Nine out of 10 candidates will state: “I hear you’re a fantastic company to work for”. Our reputation goes a long way, which helps attract quality people to the company. That is far more important to us than sheer volume. We also receive speculative CVs frequently, and if an excellent candidate gets in touch, we have been known to create a role for them because talent is something you can’t throw away.

And what backgrounds do the majority of applications have and has this changed?

There is definitely an increased demand for talent across the industry, so you have to be aware that not everyone is going to meet an exact specification. We have such a variety of people who apply to us and whilst most might have relevant experience in the gaming industry, we look at the person’s potential for success and their ability to learn.

Have you noticed a particular type of person who is well suited to the gaming industry?

In Microgaming, we always look for potential in candidates who apply to us. They may not have textbook academic qualifications or come from a gaming background, but the most important thing is that they have the ability to adapt and grow into the role and the right type of motivation to succeed. We’re well known for saying we want “self-starters” who can come in, learn, and take their role and job to new levels. This works well for us.

Is gender-bias or equal opportunities an issue in the industry?

We are proud of the diversity and gender mix within Microgaming, but there are definitely more males working in technology roles at the moment, so more needs to be done within schools to encourage greater diversity in the fields of science and technology. And that’s something we’ve supported locally. Derivco Isle of Man, who employ over 80 people on the island and share an office with us, have been working with Code Club and various schools to share knowledge and experience of the tech industry. We’ve also had several Microgaming employees get involved with Inspiring the Future, an education and employment charity that connects students with the world of work. We hope that this encourages more young people, regardless of their gender, to think about technology as a possible career.

Does the gaming industry tend to be transient for employees or do employees tend to stay at the same company for the long-term?

At Microgaming we have a longer average length of service than I have seen in other industries. I think that is down to the culture and the opportunities people have here.

Our people work hard to produce results and we offer a generous rewards package, as well as benefits like lunches, drinks and an on-site gym. And we very much enjoy cake and pasty day – every last Friday of the month to celebrate birthdays. But people development is key for us and we want to offer those opportunities for development and growth within the company to ensure we keep our top talent. Plus, with our second office opening next year, which is going to deliver an environment that fosters creativity and encourages learning, I think the company’s appeal will only increase.

How can companies like Microgaming ensure that their staff remain motivated?

It’s all about ensuring staff are engaged. Communication is something that is often talked about and organisations need to work hard at to make sure people feel connected; they need to know the challenges and goals of the organisation in order to actively contribute.

We take this very seriously. Knowing that your views are valued contributes to that feeling of engagement. As such, our CEO has regular breakfast meetings with all employees to ensure they are briefed on topics such as internal changes and product and market developments, plus they have a forum to ask questions no matter how big or small. We also have off-site sessions whereby our Finance Director discusses the business’ performance, and there are many other ongoing initiatives designed to foster our innovative spirit – these all contribute to ensuring staff remain motivated.

That said, we are always looking to improve every aspect of what we do. We never stand still – it’s just not the Microgaming way.
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