Patrick Naud: Five lessons the pandemic taught me about leadership

Square Enix Montréal's Patrick Naud discusses how the global situation altered his work life

Patrick Naud: Five lessons the pandemic taught me about leadership

Guest post written by Patrick Naud, head of studio at Square Enix Montréal.

It was inevitable.

For weeks, I had been watching the COVID-19 pandemic make its way through Asia and Europe. Now, it had landed on our shores. It was time to pack up our workstations and send everyone home.

Faced with the potential impact on our people, products, milestones and forecasts, having to close our downtown Montreal mobile games development studio could have been crushing.

But it wasn’t.

I knew that our team would pull through and see us through.

People before products

When one of your core beliefs is “People Before Products”, you don’t think twice before making a call for the health and safety of your employees and their families.

I chose to see the situation as just one more challenge to overcome. And what is the role of a manager if not to take a deep breath, keep calm, and find solutions when faced with the unexpected?

I never envisioned delaying action or postponing launches; we would adapt to uncertainty and learn to be even more flexible and agile than we already were.

By day four, 96 per cent of the workforce was set up to work from home. By week three, our productivity was back to pre-work from home level.

I might not have toasted the New Year with such enthusiasm last December had I known what lay ahead, but 2020 has been a humbling and learning experience.

Here are the leadership tactics that have seen me through 2020.


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Lesson 1: Let it go

    2020 confirmed the leadership strategy that has served me in my 20+ years in the video game industry: micromanaging every aspect of a business or project is a sure way of not getting anything done.

    Fight the instinct to try to be everywhere and solve every problem. You can’t and you won’t. There is no point in trying to control the uncontrollable. As a manager, focus on where you can bring value and empower others to make decisions.

    On day one of working remote, I assembled a task force of managers who still meet twice a week for the sole purpose of evaluating what resources and support our employees require.

    Amongst others, this task force has deployed a WFH allowance program, an internet fee reimbursement policy, and a series of virtual Lunch & Learn conferences.

  • 2 Lesson 2: Trust your baseline

    If you expect your team to follow your lead in time of crisis, be honest and transparent about where you’re going.

    Every Friday I address the team during a virtual all-hands-on-deck meeting where I share updates on public health and safety guidelines and communicate the decisions I’ve taken and what I anticipate the next weeks or months to look like.

    My philosophy has always been to hire people, not resumes.

    Surround yourself with the right people and you will reap the benefits in times of adversity. In my experience, if you communicate with humility and clarity, and give your team the time and space to shine, they’ll feel motivated to make a meaningful contribution.

  • 3 Lesson 3: Lead with empathy

    Prioritising diversity as we do also implies understanding that we all react differently in times of crisis. Not everyone experiences anxiety and stress the way you do.

    Be empathetic to the personal and professional challenges your employees might be going through. Put yourself in their shoes and lead with empathy. If an employee is suddenly less
    productive, perhaps distractions at home are leading to a loss in concentration.

    At Square Enix Montréal, our management mindset has always been to listen first and speak later...and now we must be even more mindful of the feelings and sensibilities of the person behind the Zoom screen.

    Do not be afraid to put your guard down and really connect on a personal level. If I have learned anything this year is that when people feel supported and heard, their stress levels drop.

    If you notice that a team member is feeling fatigued or overwhelmed, guide them to appropriate resources for support. At Square Enix Montréal, we provide access to free 24/7 telemedicine service and an Employee and their Families Support Program.

  • 4 Lesson 4: Formalise the informal

    Not being under the same roof means that impromptu coffee breaks and hallway conversations are a thing of the past (at least for now). Reduced personal contact can erode human relationships, potentially leading to every conference call being about tasks and deadlines.

    No matter how long your to-do list, always make time for small talk and to ask people how they are doing (and really listen to their answer). Never underestimate the power of kindness and compassion to help employees reach their full potential.

    By encouraging a sense of togetherness, you will keep your company culture alive.

  • 5 Lesson 5: Protect yourself

    I would never claim that the past 8 months have been easy. The responsibility of overseeing the wellbeing of an entire studio while maintaining productivity would weigh on anyone.

    The biggest leadership lesson 2020 has taught me is that I need to protect my resilience and safeguard time for myself and my loved ones. Boundaries between personal and professional lives blur when your office is never more than a few steps away. It took a few months, but I no longer turn on my computer on weekends (and I encourage everyone to do the same.)

    Putting yourself first doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of others.

    Looking Forward

    I end the year grateful for being part of a team that has stuck together, supported each other, and brought out the best in each other. I am grateful to work in an industry that has not felt the drastic impacts of the pandemic as others have.

    What lies ahead for 2021? Rethinking our workforce and management strategies as we adapt to a post-COVID workplace:

    • How will we redefine company culture?
    • What will it mean to be a team?
    • How will we redesign the office as a collaborative and creative space?
    • How will we onboard new team members who have no attachment to the studio as a physical space?
    • How will we live our values?
    • How will we keep employees motivated and engaged?

    Bring on 2021!


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