CIO Lessons From Zynga: Don’t Manage Like They Do!

by drjim on May 2, 2012

Image Credit Sure they are successful, but for how long?

Sure they are successful, but for how long?

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year and don’t know who Zynga is, they’re the online game company that has ridden Facebook’s coattails to success. They’ve created very, very popular games such as Farmville and Cityville and generated a great deal of money. However, it’s starting to become clear that Zynga is not very well run internally and this holds many lessons for CIOs…

What’s Wrong With Zynga

How would you like your staff to be describing your IT department in the following ways:

  • “Poor leadership and communication. Awful work-life balance.”
  • “Being told by my manager that if i am not at home sleeping, then i am here working. That is how i was welcomed to the team.”
  • “Long hours even when there is no real deadline.
    Insane micromanagement all the way from CEO down”

These are actual quotes from (supposedly) Zynga employees that have been posted at the workplace rating site glassdoor.com. Ouch! What’s wrong with Zynga?

It’s pretty clear that Zynga is experiencing a massive surge of growth and they’re not exactly sure how deal with it. As the company grows and grows, the folks who are running the show are desperately trying deal with all of the business issues and appear to be forgetting what makes a company succeed over the long haul: its people.

We’ve all see this happen in many IT departments. When the department was small, there were a few people working in it who developed a close working relationship. Everything could be handled by someone in the department and there was an understanding that everyone would do whatever it took in order to get things done.

Where things start to go off the track is when the department grows. It doesn’t matter if the growth is organic (the business grows so the IT department grows) or through acquisitions. When the rules and understanding that were in place for that small group of people is extended to cover a larger group, this starts to cause problems.

It’s pretty clear that the folks running Zynga’s IT shop haven’t taken the time to craft a new set of policies that meet the needs of their growing team. This could quickly come back and bite them in the future.

How A Good CIO Could Fix What’s Wrong At Zynga

It’s easy to throw rocks at any organization and especially easy when it’s growing as fast as Zynga is. Instead of doing that, how about if we step back for a moment and see if we can come up with a way that Zynga could fix the mess that they’ve made.

The first step would be to notify the staff that you’ve made a mistake. Letting everyone know that you’ve heard how unhappy they are and that you admit that you’ve screwed up is a huge thing to admit. By making this simple but hard to do gesture all of a sudden you’ll have everyone’s attention – normally nobody ever admits that they are wrong!

Next you’ve got to lay out some very clear goals for the Zynga teams to focus on. What’s most important? Right now it’s pretty clear that nobody quite knows. Is it being profitable? Is it having the most creative games? Is it reliability in the face of unheard of usage? There’s no wrong answer here, you just need to pick one.

Finally, you’ve got to work with the front line managers and come up with a standard set of rules for how the IT workers are going to be evaluated. What’s really important? Is it the quality of the products that folks are producing? Is it time spent in the office? Is it the quantity of the products that are being produced?

So much of Zynga’s problems seem to stem from poor communications from the top on down. This probably wasn’t necessary when the team was smaller. However, now that they’ve grown both how and what they communicate and good communication has become critically important.

What All Of This Means For You

What does this mess at Zynga mean for you? Although you probably don’t currently work at Zynga, you can learn from what’s going on there.

It’s pretty clear that the Zynga IT workers are experiencing some serious growing pains. The reasons for these pains are well understood: the use of outdated processes coupled with poor internal communication has resulted in the situation that Zynga now finds itself in.

Just realizing that there is a problem is not enough. Instead, you need to understand how a situation like this could be fixed. Taking three steps that included apologizing, creating goals, and setting performance measurements would move the organization in the right direction.

With a little luck the Zynga CIO will get the message. Hopefully, they’ll be able to make the changes that the company needs before it’s “game over” for Zynga.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How could Zynga create a system to get feedback from it’s IT employees to find out if things are changing?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, who are you going to call? Probably FedEx, the package shipping company. What you might not know is that FedEx has an enormous IT infrastructure that they use to move all of those packages around. Why would they be thinking about messing with success and moving this mission critical support system into the cloud?

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