Adobe: Putting Talent On the Front Lines of Growth

Adobe’s mission to produce the world’s content and maximize its impact has come a long way since 1982 when computer scientists John Warnock and Charles Geschke established the company. Their goal was to translate digital text and images accurately from the screen to the printed page. Today the software provider offers customers the ability to make, manage, measure and monetize content and applications across many devices, and it credits its growing success to its ever-emergent workforce.

“Our foundation is the employees that come to work every day, go home every night,” said Donna Morris, senior vice president of global human resources at Adobe. “It’s important that we work with the entire business to make sure employees understand not only high-level where we’re going, but what that means for them. We need to identify the skills and capability gaps we have and ensure we’re either able to attract or develop talent to meet business needs.”

Morris said she and her team want to make sure people have the opportunity to grow and make an impact, but doing that in a complex, changing business environment can be challenging.

“We have to carefully continue to balance because we are not only in the business of creating software and services, we’re in a business where the only assets we have are the individuals who work for us. We have to be completely focused on our ability to retain the people we have and attract the type of individuals we need for the future.”

Since joining Adobe nine years ago, Morris has been driving organizational development strategies that support the company’s global growth, talent management and total rewards for thousands of employees worldwide. When she joined, Adobe had 3,200 employees and revenue was $1.2 billion. At the end of 2011, it had more than 9,700 employees with revenue of more than $4 billion. Even before joining Adobe, when she was vice president of human resources and learning at Accelio, which the company acquired, Morris said she was fascinated with people and business. She has spent her entire career in HR, what she believes is the heart of business.

“HR is the enabler to a company being successful,” she said. “There are a lot of tangible assets necessary for a company to execute its strategy. One of the most complex assets brought to bear is people. Unlike a commodity, let’s say a manufacturing component, where you can finally get to the point where you have your system in place or have your practices in place, people have a lot of different complexities that they bring to the business. HR is a combination between business complexities and human complexities and making sure you’re aligning and developing your people, your core asset, to drive the overall success of the company.”

As Adobe has expanded, so has its need for programs to develop exceptional leaders in its offices across multiple continents. Morris said developing great leaders creates a competitive advantage and is critical to the company’s continuing success, and she works with her team of 200 HR personnel to streamline all recruitment and staffing efforts and to hire and develop a broader bench of leaders ready to take on increased opportunities globally. These opportunities depend on an individual’s role and level in the organization. Developmental offerings for a university graduate look different from those for a manager trying to build his or her capabilities to be more effective at managing a team.

For example, the company’s Management Essentials curriculum includes a suite of offerings for people managers — roughly 20 percent of the organization. It’s composed of full-day courses teaching Adobe’s philosophy around talent management. Courses range from managing results, developing successful employees and building strong teams to driving innovation and strategy, but it starts with hiring essentials.

“We go through this framework to ensure we get into the core of a candidate to make sure that when we add on a person, one person at a time, they complement the culture,” said Jeff Vijungco, Adobe’s vice president of worldwide talent acquisition. “We believe that if we get hiring done right, because it leads [to] traction in HR, that we can continue to improve and transform the business. We’re also aware that if we don’t get it right, the converse is true. We could stagnate and maybe even corrode the business.

“[We should go] well beyond who you are, do I like you, what you know, which is academic, and when you’re available to more around how would you go about it: How did you go about it in the past, how would you go about this problem in the future, can you help me solve this problem, and why would you want this opportunity? We’re looking for a balance of, ‘Are you qualified but also are you motivated?’ Passion is something we heavily weigh.”

Since its earliest days, Adobe has been committed to a set of four values that were embodied by its founders and remain the foundation of the company’s corporate philosophy. These values shape all business segments, but are especially important when hiring.

“When we look to bring people on board, we vet them by examining how they embrace the values,” Morris said. “When we promote people, we discuss how they’re living by the values. When we reward people, we look at their performance not just based on what they do, but how they do it by following the values. Even with mergers and acquisitions; when we do diligence around a company, we’ll look at not only their company culture, but their values. A culture will change; ours does with every little change, but the values remain the same.”

The company’s values are to be genuine — sincere, trustworthy and reliable; exceptional — committed to creating exceptional experiences that delight employees and customers; innovative — creative and striving to connect new ideas with business realities; and involved — inclusive, open and actively engaged with customers, partners and employees.

When hiring, Morris said it’s important that a candidate inherently demonstrate his or her behavior is in alignment with the overall values. Where her team focuses more on developing the values is after an acquisition. Before, during and after an acquisition, Morris said she is responsible for assuring cultural issues do not derail integration. This is no small task. Since its inception, Adobe has acquired 25 companies, purchased stakes in five and divested six companies. In November, the company announced its plan to acquire Efficient Frontier, a multi-channel ad buying and optimization organization.

This will add multi-channel ad campaign forecasting, execution and optimization capabilities to Adobe’s existing digital marketing suite. It also will bring a social marketing engagement platform to the company’s offerings, giving customers tools and services to help clients build, manage, monitor and measure their brand presence across the social web.

“In a three-month period we announced three acquisitions that we’ve completed, one acquisition that we’ve announced and we’re under way, and we did a significant company-wide restructuring,” Morris said. “The biggest challenge on my plate right now is helping the company transform to execute upon the market opportunities that we have in front of us. Doing that all at the same time as making sure our employees understand where the company is going, that they feel they’ve made the right decision by coming to Adobe, that they feel they have the opportunity to make an impact, and that they want to grow their careers here and that we can reward them so they feel like they’ve got the best opportunity versus going to other organizations to work and make an impact.”

Morris doesn’t take on this challenge alone. She’s a business partner to the CEO, Shantanu Narayen, and ensures he’s aware of the overall sentiments across the workforce and alert to new developments, whether it be new talent the company has acquired or individuals who might be suitable for greater responsibility, and she works with him on the company’s overall compensation framework. She also represents management on the company’s executive compensation committee — one of the board committees — reviewing and approving all compensation for the chief executive officer and senior management. Compensation includes salary, long-term incentives, bonuses, performance-based cash incentive plans, equity incentives, severance arrangements, retirement benefits and other related benefit plans.

Similarly, each of the businesses and functions within Adobe has an HR business partner. That partner is responsible for understanding that particular strategy and working on the overall HR plan specifically for that business. That plan includes everything from workforce planning requirements for the year to talent development and succession requirements, and how to address attrition and focus on talent acquisition.

“The business partner is sort of the broker to that business, and then respectively, we have functional groups,” Morris said. “For instance, we have a team whose entire focus is acquiring talent. They make sure we’re attracting the right individuals or we’re internally moving the right individuals into open positions in a specific business. Similarly, we have a total rewards team that works on the collective corporate strategy around compensation, and also on the business units or divisional strategy around total rewards. We have an organizational development and learning team, which address both the corporate needs for learning and growth of individuals but also at the business unit and functional level around strategies to assist and support growth and development and talent within any of those groups.”

Morris said the company’s ability to fill positions internally is a barometer for her team’s ability to develop the workforce. Currently, 30 percent of positions at the director level and above are filled this way; her goal is for that to be 50 percent. Overall, 20 percent of open positions are filled internally before the company opens the door to external candidates.

By doing this, Morris said she is leading a heavy orientation toward talent and looking at how HR can enable and accelerate Adobe’s future business needs. When hiring, Morris said she urges her staff to look at what market they’re filling, how big that market is and how they can get as much market share as possible.

“One of the questions every single recruiter should be asking a hiring manager when they first meet to discuss the vacancy is, ‘Who’s next in line for the job? Why is he/she not getting it? What’s the gap, and is the gap coachable?’ Then you work off that,” Vijungco said. “We’re able and willing to invest and take chances in the people already working for us, and we’re open to going externally as well. That’s the beauty of being part of such a growing company. If you’re going at the speed in which we are, the need to bring on new people is constant. But to make sure we make the right decisions, we ask the right questions.”

Vijungco and Morris both said they believe as the technology industry goes through its current transformation, Adobe will be at the epicenter of new trends, and while the market remains competitive for talent, it will be equally important to retain the best people.

“Technology is changing how we communicate, how we attract talent, what talent is looking for and how we measure talent’s success,” Morris said. “Technology is a disrupter to HR, but it’s one that can be embraced. Adobe has an appetite to continue to leverage what it’s done well; it has incredible heritage in design and creative software and is taking that enthusiasm toward the next evolution of content creation. Its appetite to grow both organically and through M&A activity is definitely top, and the backbone of all of this is talent management.”