Leader to Leader (L2L) Series
Colm Heffernan: Sr. Director, Global Service Operations based in Dublin, Ireland.
This interview with Colm Heffernan was conducted and condensed by Melissa Daimler, Head of Global Learning.
Highlights from the interview:
• Hire the smartest people you can. Then give a clear sense of purpose in terms of the results that you’re looking for.
• The most important thing in development isn’t training… its experience. So how do you create opportunities for people to get new experiences?
• Look for the employees to take a lot of ownership in terms of where they want to go, what they want to achieve, and how to get there.
Melissa: Hi Colm. We’re being recorded now.
Colm: Are you sure this thing can interpret an Irish accent?
Melissa: How long have you been at Adobe now?
Colm: Ten years. I joined Adobe as part of the Accelio acquisition, which was actually 2002.
Melissa: You’ve been managing all throughout your career at Adobe, right?
Colm: I joined Accelio managing the EMEA Professional Services team and over the intervening years have managed some or all of the services functions in EMEA. Recently I’ve moved into this new role where I’m running global service operations. My role is really to manage operations for the combined global services organization through a shared services model.
Melissa: How many people are on your team, total?
Colm: Globally, it’s 180 with some employees in NA, EMEA and then 130 people in India that report to me but operate very much as a shared service with matrix reporting into our Enterprise and Desktop Support businesses.
Melissa: And what are some of your best practices on managing remotely?
Colm: I’ve always been managing remote teams. On the one hand, it’s about making that extra effort to make one-to-one direct contact, and find ways to get with people and let them get to know you, and you get to know them.
But it’s especially about being very specific about putting in place the process – the communications process, be it one-on-ones, team meetings, and really being very prescriptive about making sure that you have a structured way of communicating.
Melissa: That explains you being on the road a lot. So what is one word that describes your leadership style?
Colm: I’d say it’s collaborative.
Melissa: Can you say more about that?
Colm: I thought you just wanted one word. [Laughter].
Melissa: Now share why it’s that one word. [Laughter].
Colm: Hire the smartest people you can. Then give a clear sense of purpose in terms of the results that you’re looking for people to deliver, and what they’re accountable for, and then just get out of the way and let people get on with it.
Melissa: I love that. So you’re collaborative with the team, but you also encourage collaboration across the team?
Colm: Yes. First and foremost I expect leaders to engage with, and participate in discussions around the complete business and not just their own area of responsibility. They must be committed to the success of the entire team, not just their “silo”. Also, a behavior I always will discourage is if I have some member of the team coming to me with an issue about somebody else. It’s like you have to go and solve – I’m not your parent, you know, you have to go and be mature and solve that between yourselves. And for sure, there’s some obstacles in the way that I need to help to overcome that’s outside the ability, the scope, of the two people to solve, for sure, that’s my role to get that out of the way, but it’s really about making sure that people understand that I expect collaboration.
Melissa: So how does that show up in terms of development?
Colm: The most important thing is development, isn’t training, some think it’s training, but it’s not training, it’s experience. So its how do you create opportunities for people to get new experiences?
So for sure, the collaboration thing does help with that because you help people to broaden their perspective to understand what the other people in the team, you know, what their objectives are, what their challenges are, what it is that they’re trying to achieve.
I think the best way to develop people is to give them exposure to different parts of the business, or to different stakeholders that they normally haven’t gotten exposure to.
Melissa: So can you talk about one of those examples? I love what you said about the experiential piece because I agree, that’s what we’re trying to help managers get across that it’s not about “the list” of trainings. It’s about how do you develop your skill even within your current job.
Colm: We’ve had examples of individuals moving from consulting into technical sales. One particular example is an employee who particularly enjoyed the opportunity to evangelize to customers, and they were a perfect fit into technical sales. And so we facilitated that person into technical sales, where they’ve had a huge impact. We’ve also recently had employees move from Support into Consulting. And finally we are always looking for opportunities to give employees opportunities to get involved in initiatives that bring them outside of their normal experiences – be that collaborating with the BUs, defining new business models, or whatever.
Melissa: What would you say to managers who say they don’t have time to develop employees like this or they don’t want to put one more thing on their employees’ list of deliverables?
Colm: Well, it’s always difficult to balance it, right, it’s not as if that isn’t an issue, it is an issue. But I think first and foremost we have to plan for this kind of development, it’s not something that can be done as a short term fix. We have to be thinking about this as part of the annual planning process and creating a link between what business objectives we need to achieve and the employee development panning that we do, particularly for our high impact employees. And we have to realize that if we don’t do these things, then we lose our employees.
Melissa: What are some of the elements of those development discussions that you focus on, specifically, with your employees?
Colm: In general I see the annual review as being just one part of the process. My role is to ensure that I’m having those discussions, providing clear feedback, and then to give a certain amount and guidance in terms of how to address whatever it is we highlight in the feedback. And then I look for the employees to take a lot of ownership in terms of where it is they want to go, what it is that they want to achieve, and then understanding how to get there.
Melissa: What is the best development advice that you’ve ever gotten or opportunity?
Colm: Challenge me to get out of the comfort zone, and take some risks. And then I was provided with a coaching opportunity around that, which really, over a six months period, made a huge difference to me.
Melissa: That’s great. So how would you describe an effective manager at Adobe?
Colm: I think there are probably three major components for me. 1) An effective manager has to be somebody who can provide total leadership. You do need to be credible to your team with a strong understanding of the business so that you are able to provide the vision and strategy that people can rally around; 2) You need to have a very clear operational focus, so that you can define specific goal and create clear accountability for people, helping them to understand what the expectation of them are, and then just get out of the way and let them perform; 3) Team development—focusing on how you hire and retain talent and develop employees in a very thoughtful and consistent manner.
Melissa: Okay, so what other advice would you give to newer managers here?
Colm: Understand that they have to make that transition from being this high-performing individual contributor to the person who’s now manager. They have to get themselves out of the way of being the bottleneck, stand to the side and coach others to be effective, and that’s a really hard thing to do.
Also, identify as least one or two peers that you can bounce ideas off. I think it’s great to have somebody who could be a mentor who’s more a seasoned manager, but, actually, often times, somebody who is at the same level as you, can be much more useful.
Melissa: So, you’re talking about peer coaching. What are the resources you used, or tools, throughout your career to develop yourself and, specifically, as a manager?
Colm: First and foremost I think I’ve learned from experience and making mistakes along the way. I’ve also always tried to learn from observing what good managers around me do. And then I have definitely found things like the ABL and ALE programs to be extremely helpful – great practical learning and great opportunities to meet peers from across the company. And I guess finally I have found some very specific skills training such as some presentations skills courses to be helpful.
But I think more than anything else, it’s the opportunities I’ve had to take on different assignments, so the experiential thing.
Melissa: What else can we do just from a learning standpoint to continue to build management capability?
Colm: I think we got something really interesting going on now in CSO. Liz Quinn has led for us over the last year on this career pathing project. We have made a specific investment around defining all of the roles in CSO and then mapped potential career paths across the different roles. This is then made available to employees through an online tool. Employees are then empowered to map themselves to their current role and then leverage the tool to identify what career options are available to them, what skills gaps they may need to address in order to be ready for the next step and then to take this into their development discussions with their managers. This is live now in CSO and is also going to be extended to include other parts of Adobe such as Client Services.
Melissa: What would you say to employees who say, “Why should I fill out this profile if I don’t really have an idea of how it’s going to be used and if our recruiters are even leveraging it?” What would you say to that?
Colm: You know, for me, it comes back to the fact that it’s not used by me; it’s used by our employees. We had 100 percent completion of the talent profiles in TSO last year. Do we have 100 percent adoption and usage of the information that was captured? No. It’s not something that happens overnight. It has to be about the manager and the employee learning how to have a better development conversation. But ultimately it has to be about the employee taking ownership, first. The employee’s talent profile, it’s their development plan that comes out it, and it’s all about what they do with it.
Melissa: Okay, we’re good. We can call that a wrap.