When employees find their voice

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on September 26, 2019 Published on September 26, 2019

At ‘Adobe for All’ you get a glimpse of the magic that happens when everyone speaks up

It was a day of storytelling like no other. Over 500 Adobe employees from India, Japan, and APAC region gathered at one large hall in New Delhi, sharing their life experiences during a day devoted to diversity and inclusion.

The stories were moving. An employee from Bengaluru spoke about his journey of coming out, battling rebellion and mental health issues and finally finding acceptance as a gay man. It was a counsellor’s suggestion to start penning his thoughts down that led to the big change. “Cut off the noise, and listen to your own voice” was his lesson to all.

A young girl spoke about always conforming to norms, driven by a “what will people think” attitude until finally finding the freedom to lose her inhibitions and break out into a random dance in public. The mind shift happened, thanks to a mentor at work.

From devoting a day to women, as in the past when it held Adobe for Women, the tech company has now moved the needle on inclusion beyond gender, transforming the event into Adobe for All. So there were men and women of all ages, caste, creed, religions, sexual orientation, and ability, coming forward to share their stories.

Interspersed with the employee stories were engrossing anecdotes from well-known people who had broken barriers – there was Kargil War veteran Major DP Singh, who lost a leg in the battle but decided to overcome his disability by running marathons with a prosthetic limb.

“Only actions can change perceptions,” he said, describing how when he had both his legs, he never even thought of running — forget racing long distance. “The focus should be on what one can do, and not what one cannot do,” he said, asking the auditorium how many could cook rajma chawal. Only half the hands went up — at which point he said the same way lack of ability is accepted, disability should be.

The larger idea behind the event, themed around empowering employee voices to enable change, is to transform talent. As Abdul Jaleel, Vice-President, Employee Experiences-Adobe India, explained later, from the days when Adobe was a software company to now when it is a digital transformation solutions partner operating in the cloud, its talent needs have changed radically. To be an agile company, it realised it needs to hire utility players — you could call them all-rounders — who are confident, mobile people and can straddle different job roles or functions or levels depending on need. That set in motion a completely different people strategy at the company, transforming its hiring to learning and development and career progression to employee engagement practices.

Over the last few years, the company has unveiled a series of initiatives ranging from gender pay parity, Check-in (replacing annual reviews with ongoing dialogues), a learning fund, rotation of its leaders, networks and communities and so on. All these different pieces are connected — the larger goal being to create an organisation with a dynamic set of people with the mobility to shift from, say, a customer-facing role in Asia Pacific to a functional role in the US and create a strong pipeline of leaders. “When we hire somebody today, we don’t hire for a particular job fit, we are hiring for an overall Adobe fit as the person could soon move to another job or level within the company,” says Jaleel.

Opportunity parity

In early 2018, Adobe India achieved pay parity, closing the wage gap between its male and female employees. Now, the next wall to break, says Jaleel, is opportunity parity, the goal for 2020. This is defined as fairness of internal movement or advancement across demographic groups. This year, over half of the job openings within Adobe were filled by its own employees, as these were thrown open internally first. However, explains Jaleel, the worry in the company is: are all people in the organisation getting equal access to these openings.

Currently these are broadcast on internal job posting platforms and through career fairs but a framework is being developed so every single employee across geographies can access the announcement at the same time. While filling job roles from an internal pool is great for career growth, wouldn’t that cause disruption in well -functioning teams? Jaleel says they want to discourage that kind of thinking. A conversation we have with our managers is “are you hoarding your talent?” In any case, a person has to be in a role for at least 12 months, and have the consent of his/her manager before applying for another role within the company.

Learning fund

To encourage internal job mobility, Adobe created a Learning Fund for its employees last year. An annual fund of $1,000 per employee is set aside for their professional development that they can avail of for whatever course they want to take.

This, says Jaleel, is in line with the theme of Empowering Employee Voice — the company does not force a skill upon the worker, instead they have to go figure out what they aspire for and grab it. “The ownership of learning has thus shifted to the employee.”

How many have availed this fund? Jaleel says every manager is proactively getting reportees to use the fund and skill up. It also links up with the company’s programme of sponsoring ideas that come from employees with a loaded credit card in order to fuel innovations.

Diversity in hiring

But true transformation can only come if the way they hire is changed. Jaleel says that a conscious attempt has been made to broadbase hiring so that they get a more diverse pool. He points how Adobe has been spreading out its recruitment to more and more institutions, pushing into smaller cities, organising initiatives like SheSpark (a Returnee programme for women who have taken a break) and CodHers (a hackathons to get women techies into the system) and so on.

Also interlinked to this talent transformation strategy is its network and communities initiative. Employees are encouraged to join networks that work on causes related to accessibility, veterans, Pride and Women. “It cultivates a sense of belonging,” points out Jaleel, and this increases engagement with the organisation. As he sums up, the talent strategy at Adobe hinges on not viewing career progression as a ladder, but as a lattice, a bouquet of experiences it can provide to its people.

Published on September 26, 2019
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