Throughout the past year, Ubisoft has implemented a wide variety of internal structural and personnel changes. Those changes include implementing more flexible ways to work, appointing Bio Jade Adam Granger and Fawzi Mesmar to the Editorial team, hiring Raashi Sikka as VP of Diversity and Inclusion, and bringing on Anika Grant as Ubisoft’s Chief People Officer.
Grant joined Ubisoft in April of 2021 and has since worked to ensure that each and every Ubisoft employee can have their voice heard as the company continues to enact changes that foster a safe, inclusive, and respectful workplace. As her first calendar year at Ubisoft comes to an end, we spoke with Grant to learn more about what’s been done so far, and where Ubisoft is headed.
What brought you to this role? Why did you want to come to Ubisoft during this time?
Anika Grant: I've spent the last 20-plus years working in HR across different technology companies. I've been focused on transformation and change, particularly change that's focused on people. When Ubisoft first reached out, I was really excited by the industry and by the role, but I joined based on the conversations that I had with Yves and the management team. What I felt in those conversations was a strong, people-centric culture, a real willingness to understand what happened, what went wrong, and how we could ensure that it would never happen again.
I had a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion as part of the process, and Yves really wanted to bring in new perspectives. That’s why he hired people like me and Raashi, who came from different industries, who had experiences and perspectives from other countries and other organizations. But I also realized that for Yves and Ubisoft D&I wasn't just about how we could make our organization more diverse, it is also about how we could we make it the most appealing place for the best and most diverse talent in this industry, and how we could drive that into our games. I love the fact that Raashi's role is as much about our people as it is about the content of our games.
It’s been six months since Ubisoft gave an update on the changes happening at the company. Why have you decided to provide an update now?
AG: I think an enormous amount of work has happened in the last six months, in addition to the significant changes that were made and started before I joined the company. I joined in April of this year, and I spent a lot of time when I first started really just wanting to listen, to meet with different people and to understand the concerns and needs of the teams in our studios. I've been lucky, as travel started to open up a bit, that I've been able to get out and see more people in person. I visited many of our large studios across France, managed to go to Canada to meet our teams in Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto, went to the UK a couple of weeks ago, and visited Massive last week.
Now is a good time to reflect on everything that I've heard and to share a little bit more about what we've done.
What have you and your team accomplished since April, and what do you hope to accomplish within the next year?
AG: First, I spent time listening and learning, by meeting with teams, but also by analyzing what had already been done and what was already in place. I spent time reading through all of the results from previous surveys, reading through some of the feedback that we had from the audit that was carried out for HR last year, meeting with individual managing directors and leaders, and different employee groups. Coming out of that, I've worked with the team to build a strategic roadmap of change for HR that's anchored around six pillars. It's quite an ambitious program and it'll be a journey. I think it'll be 18 to 24 months for us to fully roll out these different changes.
The first pillar is the priority, and that's ensuring that we have a safe, inclusive, and respectful workplace, so that everyone can be their best, authentic selves at work – able to make mistakes, take risks, and ultimately grow and do their best at Ubisoft.
The second one is around the HR team. My focus is on creating an HR community at Ubisoft and bringing that community together. That means figuring out how we can build capability through training, and also by bringing in new leaders from the outside. It includes ensuring that we have the right structure and operating model in place, too.
The third piece is looking at the employee lifecycle -- all of our HR programs, from hiring to performance management to compensation -- and reviewing it to understand where we need to strip out the bias so that we have fair, equitable, and transparent career opportunities for everyone. This is the piece that will probably take us the longest, but we’re starting by making changes in performance management, as an example, early next year.
The fourth area is about managers. These are the people who have the biggest impact on an employee's day-to-day experience, so we need to make sure that they have the right tools and the training, and that they're able to provide the best possible experience for their teams day in and day out.
After managers come our leaders. We’ve been working on executive-level programs that will coach leaders and ultimately make them stronger and more well-rounded. We’re also working to improve leadership alignment across the organization.
The final pillar is one that focuses on the future. For example, we’re concentrating on the future of work, which we see as a being more flexible, and leveraging more hybrid approaches, and using technology in different ways. We need to be keep preparing for what's coming tomorrow, so that we can continue to operate successfully within these new ways of working and can continue to attract and retain the talent that we need.
How are you evaluating the changes that have been made? How are employees able to make their voices heard?
AG: First, it’s very important to make sure that we have a way to listen to people. One of the things that I noticed when I joined was that, although we had some great surveys that have been in place for a long time, we needed to take that to the next level. We had some great homegrown tools, but given the size and complexity of our organization, we had outgrown them. Just last week, we launched a key pillar of our new listening strategy, Ubisoft XP. We partnered with an external company and an expert in this space to help us make sure that we have a great survey, but more importantly, that we have great tools that we can use to analyze the feedback, and to understand and dig into what people are saying. The new approach will also enable us to get that information quickly into the hands of our managers, our leaders, and our HR practitioners, so that we can derive insights from that feedback, and from those insights develop real actions that respond to what we're hearing from people.
Raashi Sikka – who joined a little bit before I did as our global VP of Diversity and Inclusion – has built up her team, and has spent a lot of time putting some structure around our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). We now have seven ERGs globally, with multiple local chapters across different locations. And that's an important forum in particular for hearing from some of our underrepresented groups.
Just in the last month, I met with our ERG leaders. Yves [Guillemot] has also met with them separately, and we're committed to making those meetings a regular occurrence and to establishing a dialogue between them and us, so we can learn, so we can listen, and so they can help us determine what we need to be doing differently.
Ubisoft’s Code of Conduct was updated this year. Why did it need updating, and what sort of changes were made to it?
AG: The Code of Conduct for an organization is an important pillar, and a way to be very clear with people in articulating our expectations. It's how we need to operate every day. It's an embodiment of who we are as an organization: our values are, our working principles, how we treat people, how we can ensure that we can do our best every day. The previous Code of Conduct was out of date, and it wasn't relevant or complete anymore. Given the incredible growth that we'd had over the past few years, we had outgrown it.
We looked externally to create a benchmark based on other companies’ best practices, and to make sure that we could take that and make it relevant for our business, our culture, our people. We need it to be relatable to people’s experience of Ubisoft, and we had to have very clear examples and guidance around what is acceptable and what isn’t.
After we launched it in July this year, we had 98% of our employees read and sign it within two weeks, which is a great result. This will be an annual program, where each year we encourage people to review the Code of Conduct and sign on as a signal of our collective commitment to being exemplary in our conduct.
The are some employees and players who have expressed doubt about Ubisoft’s commitment or ability to improve. What does Ubisoft need to do to regain the trust of those employees and players?
AG: I think trust comes first and foremost from really listening, right? We have lots of ways that people are able to provide feedback, but feedback is only good if it's something that we actually take on board. So, making sure that we're actively listening and engaging in a dialogue with people, and that people understand how their input informs our strategy and our programs.
The second piece of trust is being transparent, being open. Sometimes that means being open about things that we haven't done so well. It means being open about areas where we may have made mistakes in the past, acknowledging them, and then sharing how we’re moving forward. We also have an opportunity to be more transparent with people about where we are making progress on some of the things that we have in our plan. As I said, some of these things are multi-year journeys, so being open about that and sharing more on the pace and evolution in these areas is key. If I take our gender-diversity targets as an example, are we where we would like to be today? No. But have we made progress? Absolutely. We had set ourselves a target of ensuring women comprise at least 24% of our teams by 2023. We surpassed that target in August of this year, and since the beginning of the fiscal year (this past April), almost a third of the people that we've hired have been women.
So no, we are not yet where we would like to be in terms of representation, but every day, we are making progress in terms of increasing the gender diversity of our population.
And then the last piece we need to foster trust is accountability. I believe in and fully support people holding their leaders accountable. And to do that, we need to be clear about where we're going and the targets that we are setting, so that they can hold us accountable for delivering on those.
When you see those gender-diversity numbers improving, what sort of changes can you look back to as a result? What changed?
AG: It’s because it's something we focused on, concretely and measurably. You get what you measure, and at the end of the day, increasing diversity – particularly in an industry like ours that, as we know, is quite male-dominated – won’t happen by simply wanting it to happen or being supportive of it happening. That’s not going to move the dial.
Being very deliberate is necessary. Using data is the best place to start to help understand where exactly in the system there are adjustments that can be made. Take recruitment as example: we can look at the data and ask, “Where are woman falling out (of the overall process)? Is it that they're not applying to Ubisoft in the first place, so perhaps we have a brand issue? Is it because they're going through an interview process and then dropping out, so maybe it's the candidate experience? Or is it because they're not being selected for the role, so there’s potentially an issue in the way we assess and select candidates?” It's only by analyzing the data and understanding possible root causes that we can then focus our actions on driving outcomes.
What is Ubisoft doing to not only attract new talent, but retain the talent that is here?
AG: That’s a great question, and I spend a lot of time thinking about our employee value proposition, meaning what are the reasons people choose to come to Ubisoft and the reasons they stay. That needs to be unique and needs to be differentiating, especially in this incredibly competitive market in which we’re operating. I believe we have a very unique value proposition, and I believe it starts with the people.
In every studio I’ve visited, every conversation where I've asked people, “What makes Ubisoft special?” the answer is always about the people. It’s about the people that they work with, their incredible talent and passion.
Then there are our games. We have some amazing AAA brands and franchises, some of the best and most well-known across the industry. People are really passionate about having the opportunity to contribute to making what can become beloved and successful games.
I also believe that at Ubisoft, creativity, innovation, and cutting-edge technology are part of our DNA. For example, we have the courage and the will to invest in creating new IPs organically, knowing it’s really hard but also incredibly rewarding, not only for our people, but also our players.
Another aspect of that value proposition is our geographical footprint. There are a wealth of opportunities for our teams all over the world. Learning from different cultures, working in a co-dev environment, and being able to have internal mobility.
And finally – and this is paramount in today’s world – we have a vision anchored in our meaningful mission to enrich the lives of millions. Giving people a purpose that’s compelling and resonates is a big part of what sets our value proposition apart.
How has the pandemic changed the way Ubisoft treats its employees and their work-life balance?
AG: This massive work-from-home experiment that COVID forced on the world has caused us to really rethink the whole model of how we work. At the beginning of the year, we realized this is not a temporary thing. This is really a paradigm shift and something we need to embrace.
First, we were able to move to 100% remote incredibly quickly because of the efforts and the resilience of our teams. They have been fantastic throughout this exceptionally challenging time. Also, in hindsight, Ubisoft already had a big advantage in this area thanks to our co-development model, where work is shared between different studios around the world. That model means that in some ways we've been operating virtually and remotely for years, successfully distributing development on huge, complex games.
Now we’re thinking about the future. What do we want our future-of-work proposition to be? We are very clear that the future of work is hybrid. There may be some roles that need to come into an office because they are part of the infrastructure, and others that can be done 100% remotely. But for most of our teams, they will be working within a hybrid model.
That is our guiding principle, but we are mindful that we need to also maintain flexibility. We won’t have a one size fits all approach, given the large number of studios we have, of countries in which we operate, and of different projects and different games we have underway. We've really empowered our local leaders to take the framework we’ve created and figure out what makes the most sense for them in the particular context of their market, of their studio, of their game.
Finally, I think one of the big learnings is a better understanding of the importance of work-life balance. That’s something we do need to be really mindful of as we move forward. We want to make sure we can provide the flexibility to help ensure that people are able to do their best, but also live their best lives.
For more on Ubisoft’s changes and future, be sure to check out our Inside Ubisoft news hub.