Growing Fast and Going Global at Cisco

By Edie Goldberg

Nov. 13, 2007

Cisco Systems knew it needed to build stronger managers, but there never seemed to be enough time to work on it.

    “We knew our management capability was stretched, given the growth trajectory of the company,” says Annemarie Neal, vice president of talent management and diversity. “There just was not time to build management capability in the past, but we need to do it now.” Neal says that the company’s internal employee pulse survey and exit interview data indicated that managers were a major factor in employee turnover.

   “Although employees were very committed to the organization, they were not committed to their managers,” she says. In a high-growth company like Cisco, employee retention is essential.

Cisco East: at the forefront of innovation
   Cisco has set up “Cisco East” in Bangalore, India, and expects to have a significant population of employees working from there. They will not be doing back-office work, but rather completing innovative development work. In the near future, most employees will be spread out across the world, and managers will be working with a geographically dispersed set of workers from several different cultures. Cisco is currently looking at how it can gear up managers for this new challenge.

   “Nearly 50 percent of the employees in our development group are from non-Western backgrounds,” Neal reports. She says the company is focused on identifying new ways for them to accomplish their work using collaborative technologies and work practices.

A common platform tied to business strategy
   Cisco understood that to build management capability for the future, it first needed to understand the business strategy and the implications Cisco’s strategy had on leading and managing people. With this foundation, the organization created a leadership competency model and an interlocking management competency model. HR and line development specialists have worked with management to build a common definition of the critical components of a manager’s job: translating strategy into action; managing the financial and risk components of the role; operational excellence; and people and culture. This definition played a key role in the creation of the management competency model, Neal says.

    The manager role definition and the competency model provide the foundation for a management development portal that is currently being developed and tested. The portal provides access to assessment and development tools. It also provides an arena for collaboration and an opportunity to create communities of practice. It also sets up a venue for group learning. Managers are held accountable for delivering on the key elements of their role through their performance management process.

    The Cisco leadership team has shown its support for this important initiative through participation in the development of many of the foundational elements, continued funding of initiatives to build management capability, and day-to-day discussions on the importance of management capability.

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