Loving Change: Tips For Embracing And Adapting To Transitions
In today’s day and age, especially in Silicon Valley, it’s not uncommon to see in-house counsel switch jobs every few years. Donna Kolnes, Adobe’s Associate General Counsel, has been with the company for twenty years. However, while the name of her employer has been consistent, very little else has stayed the same. “People ask me how I can stay in the same company for over twenty years? They ask, don’t I get bored? Of course not,” Kolnes says. “I have witnessed Adobe transform many times. We are not the same company we were in 1995.”
In many ways, Kolnes experience has been more akin to going from startup to startup, “They just all happened to be called Adobe,” Kolnes says. Throughout her career at Adobe, Kolnes has learned to love change, and shares great tips for successfully navigating and adapting to transitions both on the personal and professional front.
Adapting to your changing life
Kolnes’ life changed dramatically from the time she started at Adobe. While she jumped head first into her initial role at Adobe soon after law school, she has stayed with the company as she became the mother of twins. While she navigated the transitions in her personal life, Kolnes received numerous promotions, many challenging assignments, and an increasing level of responsibility at Adobe. So how did she do it?
Kolnes faced the common dilemma of not wanting to have a full-time caregiver for her children and, yet, wanting to continue growing in her career. Many women find this juncture in their careers to be quite difficult, and often pick to focus more on one or the other because it’s just too hard to try and balance it all. Kolnes, however, took a proactive approach and worked with Adobe to create a part-time role for her. “I decided to work part time, and ended up doing it for twelve years. Working three days per week allowed me to feel fulfilled as an attorney and a mother,” she explains. As her children grew up she worked more hours, until she eventually returned to full time work when they were teenagers.
Adobe recognized Kolnes’ talents and worked with her to meet her needs. This type of collaborative and determined spirit allowed Kolnes to adapt to the changes in her personal life resulting in greater contributions to her professional ones as well. “I feel so fortunate that Adobe was flexible in allowing me to balance work with motherhood. However, I was also quite structured in how I presented my part-time plan to my managers, regularly checked in to make sure it was working for everyone and strategically ensured I stayed involved and on top of key projects,” Kolnes explains. Undoubtedly, these are the exact skills that have contributed to Kolnes’ continued growth and success at Adobe and ones any in-house counsel can use when trying to align their professional goals with shifts in their personal life.
Ensuring success in revised role
One of the keys to managing this shift was making sure hardly anyone noticed that Kolnes was working part time. “None of my internal Adobe clients knew that I was working part time. Clients could always get ahold of me if needed,” she explains. Kolnes made sure to strategically optimize her days to maximize the impact of her time spent working. “I knew that I had an incredible opportunity, so I was very creative in ensuring a seamless transition, and that no time was wasted when I was on Adobe time.” Kolnes says.
As the adage goes, you can often get more done when you’re busy, and Kolnes ability to adapt to her schedule while reassuring her business clients that the excellent service they were used to receiving would continue ensured that Kolnes didn’t receive less respect or fewer assignments. As Kolnes explains, “The key is retaining consistency while maintaining visibility. I accomplished this by, first and foremost, staying accountable. When clients know you can be counted on, everything else tends to fall into place.”
Kolnes joined Adobe right around the time it had developed Adobe PostScript, its flagship product. “This is how I became a part of the Digital Revolution!” she says with a smile. “It was thrilling, exciting, and on the cutting edge. And that is how I learned a lot about OEM software, desktop software and fonts,” Kolnes adds. Kolnes also joined just a bit after Adobe introduced a piece of software in-house counsel can’t live without: Adobe Acrobat (PDF). Kolnes was, again, able to use this to learn an entirely new business and adapt to her shifting role.
“I embraced this new product and an entirely different business model. I was on the forefront of a then-revolutionary software product that both individuals and businesses purchased. And at the time I was learning how to draft and negotiate a broad range of inbound, outbound and collaborative licensing agreements as well as advise on standards participation and risk management of core and shared technologies,” she says. With the launch of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Kolnes started working for a SaaS company. As Kolnes explains, “Creative Cloud is how I graduated from supporting the boxed software products, to supporting subscription services.”
Kolnes believes the key to her adaptive nature was that constant change has been a daily part of her career. “As they say, practice makes perfect, and because Adobe is constantly on the cutting edge of technology, business, and legal issues, for the last twenty years, I have been learning on steroids!” she says with pride. Many in-house counsel stay closed to new opportunities and fear embracing new areas of law. For Kolnes, navigating new legal territory became the unifying part of her various roles at Adobe.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t imagine a scenario that would scare me off because I’ve been diving into the unknown for so many years. I’ve learned to appreciate the growth that change brings with it. Sure, it’s scary at times — especially when we’re tackling new industries, but what else could provide me with so many learning opportunities?” Kolnes explains. Kolnes’ attitude is both inspiring and contagious. She has managed to completely shift the way many in-house counsel view changes by embracing them in a way few can. Indeed, a great lesson: whether you’re switching companies or continuously reinventing yourself and your role within the same one – it turns out, those details are less important than choosing to embrace the adventures and opportunities that come your way.
This article was originally published by Above the Law.