In these challenging times, Francine Katsoudas, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of CISCO, is making a herculean effort to build on the advantages of a values-driven corporate culture. In a conversation with The HR Digest, she explains why a conscious culture plays a dominant role in motivating employees at the world’s leading information technology and networking company.
CISCO’s Francine Katsoudas
The HR Digest: How do you develop talent and prepare your business for the future when your organization spans over 100+ countries and more than 70,000 people?
Francine Katsoudas: At the company level, we connect our people to where the business is going. We’ve honed our ability to predict and plan for technology shifts and are now working to adapt employee skills and capabilities in response to these shifts.
At the individual level, we help every employee understand their strengths and the environment in which they thrive. We see a direct dependency between individual performance and how that individual feels about the company’s mission, if they feel seen by their leader, and if they are challenged to grow.
We invest deeply in development, building on foundational skills with on the job learning such as dynamic projects, stretch assignments, and next generation learning experiences.
Value of a Conscious Culture
At the executive level, many of us have a really special opportunity to serve as a country sponsor. This connects us to the needs of our customers and our people around the globe. Getting proximate to our teams and leaders, their needs and strengths makes us better as a leadership team.
We believe that magic happens when our business strategy intersects with our people strategy against the backdrop of our purpose; to power an inclusive future for all.
How are you going to shake things up next?
We shake things up by asking good questions. We have a team called the “Department of Good Questions” whose mission is to seek out and understand the bright and dark spots at Cisco.
We asked, “How can we proactively identify problems – and fix them – before they become formal complaints?” The answer made us realize that we needed to reimagine Employee Relations, moving traditional case management and investigations into a deep, proactive view of our organizations so we can pinpoint cracks in the system before they break our people.
We asked, “Are we operating in a way that serves our people and our business?” Quickly we knew that it was time to create new communities to serve groups based on common needs, build solutions that deliver higher value to our business and people alike, and revitalize our people experience throughout the enterprise. This meant moving many people into new roles, including my entire senior leadership team who stretched into new areas and are delivering incredible results.
We asked, “Does the name Human Resources reflect what we do and who we serve?”. The answer was emphatically, “No!” so we changed our name to People & Communities which reflects who we are; We are a workforce of courageous ambassadors to the company, our people and society.
We are facing one of the most harrowing and far-reaching crises of our lifetimes. Amid this coronavirus crisis, what should be the priorities of HR leaders?
As I talk to my peers, across the industry, we are all working hard to support our teams. This is an important time for us to focus on our people, drive transparency, lead with courage and build resiliency. Our priority is always our people, not just as individuals but as a community. When we come together, we respond to crises in ways that were unimaginable before and create a chain reaction of positive impact.
As HR leaders, we must build an environment of safety and trust where all voices are heard, and all people matter. Equally important is empowering our leaders to act with empathy and transparency, connecting people and information. Our people want to hear from us, and they are expecting candid answers to their questions, aligned to the greater good of the company and the world.
Compared to other industry leaders, what are the qualities that make Cisco special and unique?
Something that stood out to me 24 years ago, when I joined the company was our commitment to our customers. Our success with them is based on a common vision and trust in one another. As a company we build trust by delivering on our commitments. Similarly, as individuals within the company, we create trust one moment at a time.
We are serious about our platform to serve the community and empower our people to do good in the world. The ways we innovate and solve challenges to support customers and come together to help our community make Cisco special, and a company I’m proud to work at today.
How would you describe your personal approach to leadership?
If you asked me this question a year ago my answer would be different because I believe leadership evolves. Early on, it was sometimes hard to share insights or areas of opportunity, but today I know this makes our people better and our teams stronger.
I’ve learned that you can’t be a one-size-fits-all leader. My accountability is to help each member of my team be their best. I understand each person’s strengths, challenges, and values so I can help them grow. I love to bring teams together based on their passions. This is when I see true innovation and breakthroughs happen.
I work hard to listen to different perspectives, and I look for the people who will not tell me what I want to hear. Sometimes I will ask, “tell me the one thing that no one is telling me that I should know.”
I don’t strive for perfection and I expect that in real change, we will make mistakes. This view gives my team the ability to push harder. We are in this together and we will continue to improve.
Francine Katsoudas Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, CISCO
Francine Katsoudas is Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Cisco. She plays a major role in the company’s overall performance, leading organizational strategy, promoting operational effectiveness, and elevating team performance through innovative leadership.
A version of this interview appeared in the October 2020 issue (p. 54) of The HR Digest.