Article: Donna Morris: Celebrate failures as much as your successes


Donna Morris: Celebrate failures as much as your successes

Donna Morris, Senior Vice President, Customer and Employee Experience, Adobe on Adobe's transitioning to the Cloud, the meaning of Great Work and building an innovation-driven workplace
Donna Morris: Celebrate failures as much as your successes

We recognize people who innovate and even those who constantly try to innovate


We want to create an environment where people are aware where they stand and they know what is expected of them


Adobe completely transformed its business model by moving to the Cloud. How did it impact the workforce and your people practices?

When we started the journey to transform the company in late 2011, we reoriented the structure of the company to enable our strategy. And at the same point of time, we went through a lot of changes to ensure that we had the right organization design and the right leaders in place. 

As a matter of fact, Adobe is accustomed to transformation and disrupting itself; we have done that multiple times now. And whenever we transform, we align our culture and strategy to our business. So when we moved to the Cloud, we transformed our talent management practices as well. A transformation to the Cloud entails upskilling and capability-building of people. Keeping that in mind, the People Resources as a whole went through a lot of changes and transformation. We rebranded to People Resources from Human Resources. We abolished performance review and brought about ‘Check-in’, a real-time Performance Management approach and introduced our employee resource center which supports our managers and leaders. Continuing to attract key talent that brings new capabilities focused on the Cloud has been essential and then also ensuring that we have the capability to retain that talent.

How do you source and acquire the right talent and then retain it? What are the attributes you look for in candidates?

We have a very strong talent acquisition team which proactively searches for passive candidates. Our perspective is that some of the best talent isn’t actually looking to go anywhere and really contributing to their organizations. So we keep a tab on such candidates. Other than passive candidates, new college hires are also critical for us. 

The talent acquisition team constantly works on building a pipeline of talent for all levels – be it freshers or executives. To share an anecdote, we didn’t find our CTO from an Executive Search Firm, we found him ourselves by leveraging our network. 

In terms of retention, I think ‘Check-in’ is helping in the process, because people feel that what they are doing is tied to the overall company objectives, responsibility and priority. This creates the feeling among people that their work and impact matters. In general, giving constant feedback, and recognizing and rewarding employees makes them stay with an employer.

What accounts for Great Work at Adobe? What do you encourage in your employees and how do you recognize them?

The foundation of Adobe is that we have innovative people. It is one of our four core values. We encourage people to innovate, and innovation defines Great Work at Adobe. We recognize people who innovate and even those who constantly try to innovate. We just celebrated the inventors here at Adobe India –individuals who are patent holders. The inventors include individuals who have filed patent applications or have allowed/issued patents under their name. We have one inventor who has filed 60 patent applications, and has 13 allowed/issued patents.  

You make a key-point of recognizing people who try to innovate. How essential is that in creating the culture of innovation? How do you create that culture of risk-taking and building an innovation-driven workplace?

You have to celebrate failures as much as you do successes. If you celebrate only when people do things right, then that is not necessarily conducive to new ideas. 

Managers play a big part in providing an environment where people feel they can take risks. To give you an example, taking on new responsibility is a way of taking risks. If I look at my own role, I was fortunate to be working with the People Resources team; but when I had the chance to take on a new assignment in real estate, which we call ‘Places’, I took that opportunity, regardless of the fact that I knew nothing about building buildings, particularly the complexity of real estate in India. 

This philosophy works at all levels of the company. If you give people a new assignment, typically what happens is that people step up to take that opportunity. And as an organization, the more we can provide opportunities to people to take risk outside the area they are educated in, the more they bring fresh ideas and perspectives. This concept applies to the 13,500 people who work for Adobe and that is something in our environment that we cultivate.

Innovation is also engrained in our people management practices. We have a very innovative program called ‘Kickbox’, and it is primarily focused on providing employees with a framework around how they think of the concepts of new ideas and innovation and they get rewarded for it. They literally get a box, which has money in it, which they can use to test their ideas and assumptions. Sometimes they use the money to build prototypes. The idea behind ‘Kickbox’ is to ensure employees think of disruptive practices and think differently, whether it is related to our business or not. It may not be breakthrough innovation, but I feel that incremental innovation is just as important as breakthrough innovation.

Also, innovation is not only limited to technology roles. Whether you are a technologist, or you are in People Resources, our view is that you have to innovate. So I like to think our People Resources organization and our Places organization is just as innovative as our technologists.

How have you disrupted and brought innovation in the People Resources function?

The biggest disruption was changing our Performance Management System. Adobe had a fairly disciplined approach to Performance Management. But when we moved to the Cloud, our environment required team work and collaboration; and the past approach didn’t work. Our new performance management approach, ‘Check-in’ is all about creating an environment where people are aware where they stand and they know what is expected of them.The objective is to create a rich dialogue and collaboration. These are conducive to our approach, because our approach is real-time feedback and real-time expectation setting. The role of People Resources becomes enabling to the manager and the employee success, as opposed to HR policing the Performance Management program. It is the core mechanism of how we are running the business.

What are your suggestions to leaders on building a risk-taking culture?

Leaders need to set the tone. You can’t expect your team to disrupt or innovate if you are not doing it yourself. A leader cannot question the people about innovation if they don’t innovate themselves. As a leader, I need to be comfortable disrupting practices that my team might love. It is more a question to leaders, “What have you done as a leader that is disruptive?” 

How much does India contribute to your workforce? What does the India talent market hold for you in the future?

30 percent of our workforce is here in India, in four key locations. Our business in the country is core to our future. Adobe India is contributing to every function of Adobe. Engineering teams here are contributing to all our products – Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Marketing Cloud. We view people as a global resource. India is a global talent market, and we have ensured our employees get career mobility. According to me, mobility is core to success.When we talk about the future, it brings me back to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit. He reflected on the opportunity that is there in the design space. It is very appealing for Adobe because we focus a lot on arts and creativity, other than science and engineering. So hearing that the mass Indian population will be interested in design, bears a lot of opportunity for Adobe. 

Read full story

Topics: C-Suite, Learning & Development, Leadership

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?