By Princewill Ekwujuru
Executive Vice President /Chief Peoples Officer at Cisco, Francine Katsoudas, sheds light on a unique viewpoint of creating a work environment that is accountable, empowering and provides equity, referred to as ‘Conscious Culture’.
This is described as a culture that is focused on a full spectrum of diversity and inclusion where employees feel connected to the company and believe that this has evidently impacted their operational efficiency especially with the company’s commitment to Africa. Excerpt.
YOU have been with Cisco for over two decades; tell us about the Cisco you joined and what changes have taken place in terms of the culture?
Yes, I have been with the company for 23 years and when I started, my badge number was close to 4,000; we now have 75,000 employees around the globe. And so I have seen the company grow to a very established global scale. When I started as a phone cal receptionist, I worked in a contact center answering customer questions. I started at the entry level and for 23 years, I just continued to move and the interesting thing was when I stepped into this role I realized just how lucky I was to have gone this far and the responsibility to help other people have a career journey which is also pretty amazing.
The company has an interesting perspective on ‘Conscious Culture’, what exactly is ‘Conscious Culture’ and what is driving this initiative?
Today, all companies are trying to innovate, drive change and get to the best people possible. And what that means is that companies then have to create an environment where people can be at their best, where they can be innovative and can come forward with the next big idea; for us, the conscious culture is a way to do that.
What we do from a conscious culture perspective is to focus on the environment, the behaviors and characteristics and the experience for our employees. However, the most important thing about conscious culture is that, in a conscious culture every single employee has a voice and has accountability on how he or she really shapes the culture so regardless of your role, every single person at Cisco owns the culture.
And what is so important is that, in a company that is changing quickly, you want your people to be able to share their ideas or share with you the things that are not working because that is what make you better as a company.
Talking about the ‘Conscious Culture’, tell us how the culture adopted by your company helps to build high performance?
Basically, one of the things that the company really believes in, is team. We know that every breakthrough we make happens on team. And so we have invested a lot to understand how the best performing team work. We then apply this learning across the company and what we realized is that in a ‘Conscious Culture’ it’s the role of the leader to really take care of their people, it’s the role of the leader to make sure that they understand what is special and unique about every person on the team.
Another part of ‘Conscious Culture’ is transparency in leadership, how do you get people not to only be interested but also stay committed to transparency in leadership?
I think you have to lead by example. I think that when the leadership team is transparent, it makes a huge difference and I will share with you maybe a few examples in transparency. Back in the spring, there was a meeting that we had with all of the leaders of the company, so about 10,000 leaders and they were hoping to have a conversation about something very important to them and the agenda for the meeting was very different and after the meeting we realized we were not talking about what was most important to them. So what we did was, we sent out an email saying we made a mistake, we didn’t talk about the right things at the meeting, let’s do the meeting again! And so two days later, we had the meeting for the second time and I think just admitting sometimes that we didn’t so something right, acknowledging the fact that we’re growing and learning as leaders is one way that you demonstrate that transparency is what you want from your people. During our monthly meetings, as a second example, we have something called Cisco Beat, it’s our company meeting where we really encourage people to share their thoughts, their questions, even their challenges and again we feel like when a company creates that environment it also means that when something is wrong, when your employee sees perhaps a customer needing something different, they are going to be able to raise that issue which is the best for the company.
Still on conscious culture, do you believe the ‘Conscious Culture’ improves employee experience, and how would you encourage other organizations to adopt this initiative?
In a Conscious Culture, we focus on the environment, so what this means is that when there are elements of the environment that needs to be improved, we address those areas. We also focus on experience which means we ensure that leaders are focused on their people but also that the teams have a great culture and a great environment. So our belief is, Yes! When you have a conscious culture, it truly improves the experience of the employee and we’ve been working really hard on creating some leadership standards and expectations so that every employee has a similar experience in that way.
What is Cisco doing for women in technology?
Cisco has made a commitment to train a million students in Africa over the next five years, we have made commitments to the networking academy that we have as an example here in Nigeria, we have 40,000 students that go through the networking academy every year and 40percent of those are girls and that’s really amazing as well to see so many girls stepping into technology. Cisco’s strategy is to start digital inclusion early through its Annual Girls-in-ICT Day. Girls-in-ICT Day is aimed at improving the understanding of careers in ICT among girls. Cisco has supported Girls in ICT since its inception in 2011. Students are of all ages, with diverse backgrounds and originating circumstances, ranging from those trying to work their way out of informal settlements to seeking IT skills to prepare themselves for the workforce, all looking for Cisco to be the bridge.