Twitch chief people officer: ‘Don’t ever call me boss’

How do you facilitate a culture of non-hierarchical HR?

Twitch chief people officer: ‘Don’t ever call me boss’

What makes a good culture? Is it communication? Is it inclusivity? The truth is there’s no secret ingredient to the ideal workplace ambience – it all comes down to what works for your employees and your strategy.

One of the biggest tests for a strong culture comes during a period of hypergrowth. A small start-up suddenly booming into a global brand is both exciting and somewhat daunting. For HR, how can they keep up with the rapid expansion whilst also staying true to the company’s original values?

In that vein, HRD spoke to Lenke Taylor, chief people officer at Twitch – the Amazon-owned live gaming platform – on how they hired over 500 people remotely and their culture of non-hierarchical HR.

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“For us, this year was a period of tremendous growth,” Taylor told HRD. “However, we also had the added pressure of being in a pandemic and dealing with that shift to remote work. That was certainly very disruptive to our people. It's hard to discern what specific differentiator was impacting what – because, as we all know, the pandemic had such a significant impact on all areas of our lives. For us at Twitch, it really was about continually listening to our employees, understanding the challenges that they were having, and identifying ways that we could best support them to do their best work in a period of very uncertain and unusual working conditions.”

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Twitch is one of those rare companies that actually managed to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a chaotic time for businesses of all types, Twitch experienced unprecedented growth, going from 17.5 million average daily visitors to 30 million – and solidifying its reputation as the go-to online destination for live content. Twitch now boasts of seven million unique creators who stream every month, counting 1,800 corporate employees around the world. And with such rapid expansion came rapid recruitment. Taylor revealed that Twitch hired over 500 people last year – all of which were onboarded remotely.

“This really forced my team to think differently about both our interviewing process as well as our onboarding,” she continued. “We needed to create programs that worked well virtually – as well as go the extra mile to ensure these new hires understood, and were accepted into, our culture."

In that respect, Twitch adopted a buddy system. Taylor explained this helped people make real connections across different departments, mingle, and learn from colleagues other than their teammates.

“We also have a weekly company all-hands where we introduce the new starters through a fun, quirky, Twitch-style video. We’ve continued to conduct surveys throughout the pandemic - our engagement survey, our work from home checking survey, and our 90-day survey which calls upon input from new hires.”

One of the most unique aspects of Twitch’s culture is the non-hierarchical approach to their HR structure. Taylor revealed that this allows for better collaboration, fosters mutual respect, and really drives innovation in her team.

“A big segment of my job is to advocate for employees across the business. Part of that is also examining how I can support my own team. How can I enable them to do their best work? How do I remove roadblocks and give them direction to achieve the things we need to deliver? I often tell people - I'm your colleague, please don’t ever call me your boss. At the end of the day, I’m there to support them.

“When I think about what that means from the employee perspective, it relies on me being able to understand the employee experience first-hand. I need to fully get to grips individual experiences. One of the ways I do that is by holding employee roundtables on a monthly basis. These basically consist of meeting up with employees, listening to them, letting them tell me about their experience in the company, giving firsthand feedback on what's working really well, or what are some opportunities where we can do better - and then using that both to inform and reinforce the way we work.”

Moving into 2021, there’s a clear consensus that diversity, equality, and compassion will be the new world order for HR. The past few months only served to highlight the importance of leading with empathy, of having authentic wellbeing strategies, and brining social justice into the workplace.

“One of the areas we really thrived in was inclusivity, which was due in part to the significant work of our employee resource groups, which at Twitch we call Guilds,” added Taylor. “We’ve gone through some difficult times in the past year, especially in the US with the Black Lives Matter and political protests. As such, our Guilds found they were able to provide a sense of community and connection for employees.

“We know we don't have the power to change external society, but we do have the power to make changes within Twitch. We're looking at some of the things we can do to change our internal systems in order to make them more equitable and inclusive. That includes our performance management process, which we're actually doing an analysis of right now. It also led to us launching a coaching program for our black employees to understand how that kind of intervention can help elevate their experience. Twitch also offers an apprenticeship programme where people who have some tech skills but don’t necessarily come from a background from which we’d traditionally recruit.”

And the results are already speaking for themselves, as Taylor told HRD they’re already learning a lot from these new initiatives.

“We're already seeing signals there around what we can learn on interviewing differently and understanding how people might work in the future in our environment, rather than solely assessing on their past experiences.”

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