Adobe’s CHRO On The Power Of A Multigenerational Workplace

“Diversity and inclusion are key to building the modern enterprise,” according to Donna Morris, chief human resources officer and executive vice president, employee experience at Adobe.

Part of that diversity is represented by the many generations all working under the same proverbial roof—which makes for a great “earn and return” employee experience, where employees that span different generations can learn from one another, she added.

In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Morris reveals just how powerful a multigenerational workplace can be and why she believes in a generation-agnostic workforce.

CMO by Adobe: Can you tell us about yourself and your role at Adobe?
Morris: I’ve been at Adobe for 17 years and joined from the acquisition of a Canadian software company. Adobe had approximately 3,200 employees and $1.2 billion in revenue, and I have been fortunate to participate in significant growth and change in the organization. I am responsible for leading and working with an incredible team focused on the experience of our employees—from who works for us to where they physically work. We are the amplifiers of talent and the drivers of change. Our focus is on the growth of the business through our people; from organizational design to ensure we can attract, engage, reward, and develop the best people.

CMO by Adobe: What are your top strategic priorities this year and next?
Morris: 
I have four main priorities. First is helping the company grow and focusing on the organization and talent strategy requirements—the structure of the company and the people who will be required to fuel this growth. Second is continuing to advance our talent acquisition practices and ensure we’re highly effective in that process, as well as creating enough opportunities for people to grow within the company.

Next is what I call “people-operating mechanisms,” or looking at the data and insights around our workforce to predict where the workforce will grow and to identify any gaps that we’ll have in the organization. Last is building global workforce strategies and determining where emerging growth opportunities lie.

CMO by Adobe: Speaking of talent strategy, does Adobe look at talent and hiring differently as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce?
Morris:
 I’m not a big proponent of categorizing people based on demographic norms. I believe having a workforce as diverse as possible is one of Adobe’s most important initiatives. The danger in generational categorization is that it often brings about stereotypes that can get misattributed to individuals from that group.

The workforce is changing, and the new generation is going to experience those changes. However, because Adobe’s been in existence for 36 years—today, we have employees in 35-plus countries—it’s not just the new generation of the workforce that’s going to experience those changes. All generations are going to experience those changes. What the new grads are bringing to Adobe and the workforce, in general, is that they’ve lived in a wholly digital world.

CMO by Adobe: What are the most exciting factors in the workplace right now?
Morris:
 The workplace is becoming extremely multigenerational. As we approach 2020, you’d have thought the majority of the Baby Boomers would be retiring. But that’s not the case. They’re living longer and wanting to have more purpose. We see a spread from those who don’t have a lot of career experience with people who’ve got a lot of career experience and a lot of life experience. It’s a fascinating time having [so many] generations all working together, and that enables you to have incredible diversity.

There’s a whole notion of reimagining your ability to make contributions and be ageless in your attitude and learn from each other, regardless of generation. I use the phrase “earn and return.” I think people who are very clearly experienced can return their wisdom to those early on. Similarly, some of the return [younger workers can] provide is about common cultural aspects that are important for us to know. Like, what’s the latest music? What’s the newest interest in terms of film and entertainment? Even, frankly, common buzzwords or being the living urban dictionary. It’s essential to staying relevant.

When you have great diversity of experiences, there’s a great opportunity for an earn and return exchange between more tenured employees and newer employees that happens organically throughout the workforce.

CMO by Adobe: What are some other workforce trends that you see shaping the experience of all these generations?
Morris:
 The workplace is far more agile than it’s ever been, and as the rate of change continues to accelerate, there is a desire for flexibility across the board. The need for ongoing learning, or intellectual curiosity, also is heightened. In an ever-changing environment and one that’s requiring agility, individuals have to keep abreast of how the workplace is changing, what that means for them and their roles, and how the overall organization evolves.

CMO by Adobe: That evolution includes the addition of Gen Z to the employee roster. What sets them apart from previous generations in the workforce?
Morris:
 The wonderful thing about this new generation that’s entering the workforce now is that they are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. They also think beyond diversity and are very focused on inclusion. Many of the modern workforce entrants have grown up in very diverse settings, so they don’t think as much about the differences. They think about what they share in common, and what they share in common, often, is their purpose. They’re looking for areas where they can be included, and they’re gravitating to networks that allow them to build community.

At Adobe, because of these communities and networks, this new generation is finding people who have something in common with them and saying, “You know what? It’s less about my age demographic and more about my commonality and sometimes my purpose.”

CMO by Adobe: How does Adobe support that?
Morris:
 We continue to reimagine what the experience for our employees needs to look like so we can attract and retain the very best. The skills and capabilities required five or 10 years from now are going to be different. Creating a culture that is focused on learning is essential. Supporting our employees in learning through doing and augmenting is critical.

Through Adobe’s Learning Fund, we offer an education reimbursement for employees up to $10,000 per year for tuition and books for courses, graduate programs, and specific certifications that meet the reimbursement benefit’s eligibility criteria. Additionally, we offer our employees a professional development reimbursement benefit, which includes up to $1,000 per the calendar year for short-term learning opportunities, such as conferences, webinars, and online courses.

I’m also incredibly excited about our new graduate education reimbursement benefit, which provides a one-time financial reimbursement up to $10,000 USD to new employees who completed their undergraduate, graduate degree, or university program through accredited institutions within 12 months prior to their hire date to assist with the high cost of education and the burden of student loans.

Our approach is multifaceted: reimagining our organizations, continued learning, and a relentless focus on being an inclusive workplace and providing the environment for everybody to do their very best work.

CMO by Adobe: What questions do you ask yourself?
Morris:
 So, so many! How do we think of global scale? How do we think of customer empathy? We’re a for-profit business, so how do we drive innovation? How do we drive customer success on a level that allows us to really retain the customers we have and continue to attract new customers? Most often, I ask, what else can we do to ensure Adobe remains at the forefront of strategic disruption and exceptional employee experiences.

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