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Lucie Mitchell

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Interview: Gabrielle Toledano, executive vice president of HR, Electronic Arts


We recently caught up with Gabrielle Toledano, executive vice president of HR and facilities at Electronic Arts Inc, and member of the Visier board of directors, to discuss the importance of developing internal talent for leadership roles, why using data is crucial in HR decision-making, and why working in HR in Latin America was a career high-point.

1. What's your approach to reward strategies at EA?

Gabrielle Toledano

Executive Vice President and Chief Talent Officer, EA

At Electronic Arts, Gabrielle has overall responsibility for global staffing and resourcing, benefits and compensation, organization and leadership capability development, rewards and recognition, facilities and Corporate Social Responsibility.

She has previously worked as CHRO at Siebel Systems and in HR positions at Microsoft and Oracle, along with stints in HR in Latin America.

Gabrielle received her bachelor and master degrees from Stanford University, followed by a Rotary Scholarship assignment in Santiago, Chile.

At EA, we believe in differentiating rewards based on performance and potential. Everyone has specific quarterly or annual goals, which can be updated any time during the quarter or year. The goals help determine the bonus rewards. The timing of goals and bonus rewards depends on one’s function or role. We also provide equity on hire and then during the annual focal process for the highest long- term potential employees/highest consistent performers for most job functions. We also provide spot stock rewards with annual vesting to recognise specific actions in real-time.

There is an annual base salary increase review cycle, wherein base salaries are adjusted based on the market cost of labour data for each job and location, relative to where someone is in their range and his/her performance.  At EA we strongly believe in our company values and, on a semi-annual basis, recognise employees who have demonstrated our company values, as nominated by their peers.

2. The games industry is exciting and attracts passionate people. How do you ensure you recruit people with the right attitude and mindset that fit in with EA's vision and culture?

We look for people who are not only creative and have the right set of skills and experience, but who demonstrate strong emotional intelligence. In short, we want people who work well with others and can consider another person’s point of view. We added “Be Human First” to our company’s values a few years back and it has had an enormous impact on our business.  The talent that EA attracts, and then engages and retains, is central to who we are as a company.  The skills that help people harmonise are extremely important across all industries, but are particularly critical with our line of work: game development projects require highly collaborative, innovative teams.

3. You worked for a while in Latin America in a variety of HR assignments. What were the subtleties of HR in this region? How did it differ to HR in America, aside from the local compliance and legislative issues?

I loved living in Chile and then later working across Latin America.  The cultures across South and Central America are all very different and fascinating.  Working in HR in Latin America still remains one of the most exciting periods of my career.  The key was listening, learning, and understanding, always with an open ear.  There were some legal issues that I had to help resolve that were unusual compared to what I had experienced in the US, related to how business is done there.  What I enjoyed most was the people and really embracing diverse thinking and translating their needs and differences back to the US headquarters.

4. How do you ensure that CSR policies are bought into by employees and what have been your most successful CSR policies to date?

Employee engagement is a key priority for any work we do in our local or global communities. We listen very closely to our employees to make sure that our CSR activities align with the local office and employee interests and accurately reflect who we are globally as a company. From our support of LGBT causes to educational initiatives and beyond – these are the issues that matter most to our employee base, so getting their “buy-in” comes naturally.

We also encourage our employees to volunteer and support important causes. GlassLab, for example, is a non-profit organisation of which we were a founding partner and is housed on EA’s campus.  GlassLab develops educational games that meet Common Core State Standards, a set of national academic standards in the US. GlassLab worked with our Maxis Studio to create SimCityEDU to be used in the classroom and teach real-world problem solving through video games. 

We also champion non-profit organisations our employees are passionate about around the globe. We offer a global “Dollars for Doers” program that recognises employees who volunteer their time to non-profits and earn money to donate to those organisations. We also offer opportunities for employees to donate products to non-profit organisations and use our facilities for charity events.

5. What tips would you give other global HR leaders when it comes to identifying the leaders of tomorrow?

Don’t depend only on filling leadership roles with external hires. Analyse your internal resources before you shop around for new candidates. According to academic research, external hires score lower on performance evaluations than do internal workers who are promoted to similar jobs. Start by identifying critical roles for long-term success, and identify your talent pipeline of highest potential employees and their experience or skill gaps.  Invest in developing talent internally, mostly through on-the-job learning through new projects or roles, so that you are not left relying on external hiring as the only solution to talent gaps.

When presenting your leadership development strategy to your executive team, use data to make your case. Data – such as a skill inventory of your talent, talent gaps for specific high potential employees, employee aspirations, engagement levels of specific employees and more – should be trended and analysed to tell a story.  Not only can you determine what is happening today – the data will allow for predicting talent movement in the future.

According to a recent report conducted by the Harvard Business Review for Visier, recruiting high-performing talent for succession and leadership positions is the top workforce concern of companies today. But more than half of these companies use data only on an ad hoc basis or use no data in workforce decision-making. If you have data to back up your arguments, you can more confidently step up and deliver a point of view that could make a real difference in your business.

6. Do you have to treat Generation Y differently in the workplace?

Yes – Millennials, according to much research, are very different from Baby Boomers and Gen X employees.  They want to work in communities/teams versus individually, they want to ensure there is social meaning in their work, while also constantly learning, growing and balancing career with personal interests. Mixing Millennial hires with predominantly Gen X management requires companies to, more than ever before, understand their workforce, be nimble, and look beyond the “standard” methods of attraction, engagement and retention. For example, given the Millennial generation is typically motivated by performing meaningful work, instead of common rewards to all employees for positive company financial performance, find ways to recognise Millennials for their positive impact on their team, the customers or the larger organisation’s culture or brand. 

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Lucie Mitchell

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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