David Harrison-Colley has worked as part of the People Ops team, more commonly known as HR, for the past three years. He is now the Senior HR Business Partner, and works with the Central Corporate teams, the BossAlien team in Brighton and the Craft Leadership team. In addition to supporting these teams, David leads our Learning and Development, and our Employee Experience and Wellbeing strategies. David joined NaturalMotion as a contractor and was soon offered a full-time position. He leapt on the opportunity to really make an impact on a fast-growing gaming company. David really has played a huge role in shaping NaturalMotion’s culture into what it is today! He believes that our culture is especially great because we value individual identities and that allows us to continuously improve and evolve.
Keep reading to learn more about David’s journey with NaturalMotion!
What is your role within NM/BA?
I have worked as part of the People Ops team, more commonly known as HR, for the past three years. I am the Senior HR Business Partner, and I work with the central corporate teams, the BossAlien teams in Brighton and the Craft Leadership team. One of the things that I love the most about my role is that it’s just incredibly varied. In addition to partnering with those people, I lead our Learning and Development, and our Employee Experience and Wellbeing strategies for the studios. No two days are the same; I could have one week of talking and catching up with people, and another week I will delve into some exciting project to help drive the culture forward, which is what I love.
Tell us more about how you came to Join NM/BA.
I joined as a contractor originally on a maternity cover. I’ve worked in HR for 18 years now and in a variety of different sectors as well. So, as a contractor I was coming in initially only for one year into an industry that I’ve never worked in before, as I’ve always worked more in the corporate and financial services sectors. One of the things that attracted me the most was the variety of projects that we could get involved in as a small team. We were also a new team, as I joined at the time of NM’s transition from Oxford to London. It was our role to start shaping the culture, and we had a clean sheet to fill in. There were also so many people that had to be hired, so it was the perfect time to set out our onboarding experience and determine how we would support our employees. Being able to have such an impact was what attracted me in the first place, as I knew I only had a year to make a real difference on the company’s HR. During that time, I was loving it so much that I didn’t want to leave. It was also a challenging situation because of my contract agreement, but I realised how attached I was to everybody and how much I loved working here. When I was offered a permanent position, I grabbed it without hesitation.
How would you describe the progression of the company culture since you’ve joined?
It’s definitely been organic, and I feel proud of being part of a team that enabled this culture in the first place. We’ve won awards for the last three years and got recognition from all the work we’ve done. The recognition comes from the employees themselves, as they share their genuine feedback through all the surveys about the company culture.What makes our culture especially great is that while we’re part of the wider Zynga and we have that security and backing from a global company, we’ve been able to retain our individual identities. Even then, our UK studios, Boss Alien and NaturalMotion, have such different cultures, and that’s very apparent to me because I work between the two. Being able to retain those individual differences and appreciate the individuals within those studios is what allows us to continuously improve and evolve. Avoiding that ‘one size fits all’ approach lets us be the best in the industry. We’re also constantly thinking about attracting, training and retaining people and making sure that they get a rewarding experience and want to stay at the company, and that’s never been more important than during the last six months. It’s been fascinating to see the creative depth of the things we’ve been able to do during the lockdown in order to really help our people get through the challenges and be the best they can be. Our mission is to enrich lives through play, and that statement is as important as ever during these times, as we enable people to make games that wow others through ongoing help and support.
What have you been able to learn during the three years of building the company culture?
One of the key things that I’ve learned is my ability to be flexible and creative. For some of the people working in HR, it can very much be about policies, procedures and processes. We have those guiding frameworks, of course, but we focus on the way we apply them to the individuals and how we think creatively when problem-solving. For me, the work-from-home situation that we’re finding ourselves in now presented creative challenges, as we had to figure out how to continue supporting employee development without being able to provide training or access to conferences, for example. I’ve really loved the way NM has embraced the ideas that I put forward. There has never been a situation where I was told, “no, you can’t do that.” It’s always been a collaboration to find the best approach to overcoming the obstacles. For example, the Personal Development Allowance that we launched early on in lockdown allowed people to focus on a development activity that was personal to them. It didn’t necessarily mean that they had to do personal training connected to their role, it could be a creative task such as taking up a new hobby. It’s aim was to give them that essential break from the job and through isolation by allowing them to connect with other people. So, thinking outside the box to come up with a variety of creative solutions is one of the biggest things I’ve learned.
What kind of things help you find the balance between working and resting?
For me, I’ve learned that I’m quite a creative person. During the initial stages of lockdown, my husband and I bought a new flat in December last year, and it was a fantastic opportunity for us to start creating DIY materials, such as cushions, and focus our efforts on creating a good environment for us to live and work in. As part of the Personal Development Allowance, I really wanted to learn how to sew with a sewing machine. It’s something that my mum has done throughout her life, so I used the allowance to buy a sewing course and the machine. For me it was great to have that creative outlet and distraction from working on projects and joining in Zoom calls.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into the industry?
That depends on what area of gaming they’re interested in. As an outsider looking in, you might think it’s all about making games and not necessarily appreciating the wider teams around the game teams that enable them to do their best work, such as People Ops and Marketing. For anybody that’s interested in joining the industry, it’s important to understand that there’s such a broad variety of roles, so don’t be put off and think that you can only be an engineer, artist or a designer to become part of the industry. They may be some of our key roles, but you can come in with a financial, data or even customer service background and you will be bound to find something that fits you. We invest so much into people’s training and development, so don’t be intimidated by the talent that we have in the organisation. Coming in, I was surrounded by so many creative and talented people who are experts in their own fields, so it’s important that we all have our own superpowers and expert skills to recognise the value and contribution you can bring to the company without being intimidated by others.
As an HR veteran, please tell us how you chose this career path for yourself.
Looking back at my career, I have always worked in customer facing or people-focused roles, starting very early on in retail. I’ve always enjoyed helping and working with people. There was one company early on in my career, where I had the opportunity to join as an HR Assistant without any prior experience or qualifications, but with lots of transferable skills. So for me, it was being able to identify those transferable skills and demonstrate my hunger to learn and develop that helped me progress. Everything is always changing, from people’s values to the cultures that surround us to our external environments, so in HR, you have to constantly adapt, as you’re always faced with new challenges, opportunities and moments that really get you thinking.
What would you advise to someone wanting to get into HR?
Really think about what aspects of HR you would like to get into, because it’s so broad. I started in a very generalist role, helping out the HR team from an admin perspective, but then I realised there were opportunities for me in Recruitment, Learning and Development, Employee Relations or Employment Law. Get the relevant skills for the part of HR that you are considering to join. That could be through work experience or volunteering for a company that you would like to become part of at some point. What helped me during the beginning stages was helping the Recruitment team with hiring people, which in turn provided me with experience and exposure to one aspect of HR. For somebody that’s looking to grow their career in HR, I would really encourage them to get involved in any aspect that they can, whether within HR itself or the business. It’s important to understand the business to be able to come up with creative solutions that support others as opposed to coming up with things that don’t add much value to the company’s people.