How Cisco Fosters A ‘Conscious Culture’ Within The Company

By Patrick Moorhead - March 19, 2019
How Cisco approaches its "Conscious Culture"

Cisco Systems is a company that I follow very closely. While the company is well-known (and rightfully so) as a networking, security and software powerhouse, one of the things I appreciate about this company is its focus on the human element—whether we’re talking about its Networking Academy, which trains approximately 1 million people per year in IT skills, its TacOps disaster response team, or any of the other initiatives in its wide-reaching CSR program

Today I wanted to talk about another great example of the human element, which is the company’s desire to create a “Conscious Culture.” I recently got the opportunity to meet with Cisco’s EVP and Chief People Officer, Fran Katsoudas, where we discussed the company’s desire to build its Conscious Culture. After writing about the company’s “People Deal” and Leader Day, I thought diving into its Conscious Culture was the next natural step. This is more than admiring what Cisco is doing; I think every large company should take note as it is best in class because in an increasingly difficult world of attracting, developing and retaining employees, culture can be everything. 

“Conscious Culture”

Cisco refers to its company culture strategy as a “Conscious Culture,” emphasis on the conscious. To Cisco, this means making sure both management and employees practice self-awareness of the environment they’re a part of, and that everyone feels accountable, empowered, and expected to act in a way that is in accordance with the culture Cisco seeks to foster. In short, Cisco wants to envision itself as “the best place to work,” and I believe it is committed to making that reality. This is a challenge in tech for so many reasons- five generations working together the first time in history, high demands from employees and important factors like diversity and inclusion.

Cisco breaks down its “Conscious Culture” into three different areas. First, the “environment”: Cisco encourages an atmosphere of dignity, respect, fairness, and equity, with an eye towards diversity and inclusivity. Cisco says this is the foundation its culture is built upon. The second aspect is the company’s “characteristics”—how the culture is shaped by Cisco’s behaviors, beliefs, and principles. These guiding principles have been developed and honed over the company’s 34 years, and are signaled downwards from CEO Chuck Robbins to the leadership team, to the company at large.  I worked in high-tech companies for over 20 years, was an executive for over 10, and can tell the fakes from genuine, and Cisco is genuine.

One key characteristic that Cisco employees often cite is the company’s culture of kindness and giving back—perfectly exemplified by the company’s far-reaching CSR efforts, mentioned earlier. The last of the three prongs is “experience.” Tied in closely with the previous two tenants, the experience is all about the direct experiences employees have with their company, through management, their team, and the everyday work they perform.

If you follow Cisco, you might remember the company’s “People Deal” which it created a few years ago (see my coverage here). The People Deal is essentially the promise Cisco makes to its employees and what it asks from them in return. It has three goals: innovate everywhere, connect everything, and benefit everyone. Cisco has long been focused on Full Spectrum Diversity, which is at the foundation of its “Conscious Culture” directive. Cisco says its goal is to be a mirror of the markets it serves. Full Spectrum Diversity means the company is committed to being inclusive of “gender, age, race, ethnicity, orientation, ability, nationality, religion, veteran status, background, culture, experience, strengths, and perspectives,” across all functions, regions, and job levels, with the acknowledgement that this umbrella will continue to expand. Cisco’s People Deal, Our Principles and Full Spectrum Diversity & Inclusion are the foundation upon which Conscious Culture is built, and they point to Cisco’s commitment to people—first and foremost.   

On the “experience” side of things, an important factor is leadership and teambuilding. Cisco is committed to making sure its employees clearly understand expectations, are recognized for good work, are challenged to grow, and perhaps most importantly, are encouraged to use their specific strengths in everyday operations. Cisco wants its teams to have a feeling of collective purpose with the company mission, a shared understanding of excellence, confidence in the future of the company, and a sense of safety and trust in one another. The company understands that fostering a healthy, happy, safe team environment will pay dividends in terms of performance. 

Wrapping up

I’ve said it before, but all this emphasis on humanity and respect within the organization is a major differentiator for Cisco. It’s why the company has a great employee retention rate, and doubtlessly a major factor in the company’s overall market success. As a tech analyst, I obviously love getting to review all the latest technological advances the industry has to offer. However, I also really relish these chances to peek under the hood at the inner workings of the major industry players related to talent and culture. The more I see, particularly in tech, the more I realize how crucial a healthy and strong company culture is to overall success. Keep up the good work, Cisco. 

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.  

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.