Entrepreneur to Employee: Hiring and Engaging for Success

This is one article in a series on how the most important work skills are evolving due to collaboration and remote work, mobile-first designs and streamlined workflows. What do forward-thinking employers and employees need for maximum productivity and engagement? For ideas on the most important skills for 21st-century work, read Three Skills Every Successful Employee Needs.

In the race to find and hire top talent and engaged workers, large corporations are turning to entrepreneurs to bring the speed and nimbleness required for today’s organizations to remain competitive. In fact, 27 million Americans—a record high—are starting or running new businesses. Companies that don’t tap into the entrepreneur talent pool are most likely missing their next great employee.

But how well do entrepreneurs fit into the corporate setting? And what impact can they really have on the culture? We turned to Jeff Vijungco, Adobe Vice President of Global Talent Selection and Development, to get his perspective on how to recruit and onboard the best talent for the workplace of the future.

Entrepreneurs are known to bring innovation and creativity into their daily work. Is bringing entrepreneurs into a corporate environment a good way to shift business mindset?

Jeff: The startup environment is different from the corporate world in many ways. But I think the biggest difference is this: large enterprises have multiple areas of business and prioritization; startups have a unilateral focus in a specific area. I believe entrepreneurs can bring ridiculous focus and scope to a corporation. By scope, I mean that they are willing to do everything in order to survive, whether or not it’s their area of expertise. On the other hand, a corporation knows how to scale, or how to make something bigger. And you really need both to complement each other. So, yes, I think entrepreneurs can definitely help balance the mindset of a large organization.

Tell us more about how entrepreneurs and corporate employees can work together to create that balanced mindset.

Jeff: Often, when I observe a team, I’ll ask myself whether they feel like a stack or a puzzle. A stack team is very agreeable, which can be good. But the stack team is also fairly homogenous and may lack diverse thinking. Quite frankly, it gets boring after a while. A puzzle team, on the other hand, has friction. They debate and challenge ideas and issues—but not each other—as they discover how all the pieces fit together. Bringing fresh eyes to a team is one way to create diversity, and that diversity helps balance and lift the mindset of any team.

What challenges do you think entrepreneurs face when they are transitioning into the corporate world?

Jeff: I think there are two main things that can be difficult. First, more often than not in an entrepreneurial environment, everyone in the company is co-located and decisions can be made on the spot with all the right people. If that startup company gets acquired, suddenly employees are not just spread across two or three floors, but they’re also in multiple locations across 10 time zones. They start to perceive a loss of speed, and that can be difficult in terms of adjusting to new timelines.

Second, if you’re an entrepreneur you can be strong and wrong. You can test things pretty quickly with your small group. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, just reset it. However, in a larger setting, there are typically more people involved in the outcome. You have to think more about who to include, who should know what you’re doing, and whose buy-in you need. It can feel cumbersome.

But the good news is that all this is a by-product of growth. Your business is bigger! There are more customers and more demand, and that’s a good thing.

Those seem like big adjustments. How do you identify people who can make the transition?

Jeff: We have found success in having Adobe employees with a startup background interview the entrepreneurs. This often helps us identify the candidates who will thrive in the corporate environment and are interested in being with us for the long term. It also shows the candidate that Adobe values entrepreneurial skills, and it gives the interviewee a chance to ask questions about transitioning to a corporate setting that only a former entrepreneur can truly answer.

The interview process is also a great place to really understand how an employee’s experience translates into a win/loss record. I’m skeptical when I see someone with a 5-0 record—a resume full of jobs at big corporations where the perception is that the person won all the time. I’m also very skeptical of the 0-5 record, where the person is a serial entrepreneur and every single company has flopped. If a resume doesn’t have scars, I don’t believe it; if it’s all scars, I’m worried.

Our best talent is often what we call a “hybrid employee,” although I like the term “educated street fighter” better. These are employees with a record that is more like 3-2, and usually they have worked with a large company at some point, as well as with startups. They know how to navigate corporate organizations, work a matrix, and build relationships. These 3-2 individuals bring us the best of both worlds.

Many people with an entrepreneurial background are at Adobe because their companies were acquired. What are best practices for onboarding whole groups of entrepreneurs and helping them through some of the adjustments?

Jeff: The first best practice would be to give them space. It’s normal to want to give them the Adobe bear hug, or the acquiring company bear hug, and send the message that we love them. However, later, we realize the intention was good, but it was just overwhelming. You don’t have to change the logo in the lobby immediately, metaphorically speaking. Get to know each other and appreciate each other, see what works and what things you can share and mutually benefit from. The whole point of acquiring a company is that they offered something unique that you didn’t have. So, part of the integration is to embrace the differences. Let them be themselves.

Another practice is to not come at the transition with a laissez-faire attitude, either. You still need to move toward integration. But do it in a meaningful manner. If you come in as the big mothership company and start using words like policy, process, and workflow, you’re going to kill the exact thing that you love about them—that they are agile and thought provoking and provocative. Instead, simply show that you’re disciplined as an organization and, at the same time, keep them excited about spreading their wings.

Finally, recognize the little things—because they can be big signals. I’ll give you an example. We were acquiring a smaller company and one of the employees asked, “Hey, what type of swag do you guys offer?” One of my colleagues was a bit put off, but I thought it was a great question. He wasn’t asking for a coffee mug or a t-shirt. He was asking for a jersey—the team jersey. He and his colleagues were excited to play. It was a buy-in question.

As a parting note, let me just share a reminder that all corporations started as a startup. We tend to forget that. But every $10 billion company was once a $0 company. If we can keep that in mind, we will be able to naturally open ourselves to the infusion of new ideas and enthusiasm that comes with employees who have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Learn more about preparing, recruiting, and integrating diverse workers in Why Diversity Matters: A Conversation with Kimberly Bryant.