Lorelei is Zavvy's Content Marketing Manager. She is always on the hunt for the latest HR trends, fresh statistics, and academic and real-life best practices to spread the word about creating better employee experiences.
"The world of work is changing, and the workforce needed to power our economy is evolving at an unprecedented pace," says Laura Quintana, VP of Corporate Affairs at Cisco Systems Inc.
Cisco has responded to this shift by developing an industry-leading learning and development (L&D) approach that promotes growth, engagement, well-being, and alignment between personal and organizational goals in an evolving business environment.
"At Cisco ... employees are provided with various opportunities to develop new skills to support their growth and careers—what we think of as multiple career possibilities within the same company", explains Quintana.
This proactive stance ensures that Cisco remains at the forefront of people development in the tech industry.
In this article, we'll look at Cisco's L&D framework:
Recognizing this trend, Cisco has refined its employee development methods and has cultivated an innovative and effective L&D framework incorporating the key elements:
Cisco provides their people with clear pathways for career development and progression, outlining the skills, competencies, and experiences needed for advancement. This clarity helps Cisco's people understand their growth trajectories and set meaningful goals.
Cisco emphasizes skills in defining job roles.
"We embarked on a journey to map skills to jobs to prepare our employees for the future", say Joshua Clark and Kevin Serveau, L&D leaders at Cisco.
"Our team is really focused on developing the skills that employees need across the enterprise so that we can give them an opportunity to have a meaningful career at Cisco," explains Clark.
Cisco's skills mapping facilitates their people's career progression through targeted training and development plans for the specific skills required for each role.
Cisco's approach to L&D capitalizes on its skills-based career frameworks, offering specific training programs tailored to the organization's various roles and competencies.
Cisco leverages technology to give employees access to relevant e-learning opportunities, ensuring they acquire cutting-edge knowledge and skills.
"Rather than telling employees what skills they must develop, we encourage them to be curious and choose their own paths. We call this 'learning at the edge'." Employee Experience, Cisco.
Additionally, the program uses machine learning to provide personalized content recommendations to Cisco employees, allowing them to select from Cisco-endorsed curricula or create their development plans.
With this focus on technology and digital learning platforms, Cisco's learning approach is flexible and scalable, allowing people to learn at their own pace and on their terms.
While many organizations encourage vertical progression, Cisco promotes career mobility through lateral movement, allowing employees to explore diverse organizational roles. This approach broadens the skillsets of Cisco's people and fosters a culture of adaptability and cross-functional collaboration.
Lateral movement in Cisco takes the form of rotational programs, job role exchanges, and opportunities for internal postings, helping Cisco's people shape their career paths. Cisco prioritizes internal promotions based on a merit-based selection process.
"We encourage people to explore job roles and functions outside of their daily work, creating limitless opportunities for employees to align skills with strengths and reinvent their careers within Cisco." Employee Experience, Cisco.
Cisco adopts a 70:20:10 framework for developing their people's skills following a "three E" model:
Using this model, Cisco prioritizes experiential learning through on-the-job experiences and peer interactions over formal education.
This real-world approach to skills acquisition promotes practical learning and adaptability in an ever-evolving tech industry.
➡️ Discover how leading organizations such as Spotify and BCG use technology to promote peer learning and autonomy to develop their people.
Most companies put a magnifying glass on individuals: it's all about personal milestones, individual KPIs, and one-on-one performance reviews.
But Cisco brings an interesting twist to the narrative. The fantastic, over-the-fence kind of wins? They're not usually the work of a lone wolf. It's groups working together, pooling their talents, covering each other's blind spots, and driving towards a shared goal.
"One of the big misses in HR has been our nearly exclusive focus on individual development and performance. At Cisco, we noted great accomplishments are delivered through teams, not just through individuals working alone. This led to our insight that an individual employee's experience is really their team experience and this is different for everyone." Ashley Goodall, former Senior Vice President at Cisco, quoted in HuffPost.
The same principle is true also for learning and initiatives. With individual upskilling initiatives, employees gain knowledge in a vacuum, separate from the very place they're expected to apply it: their team.
"One problem is that to teach employees to be better team members, organizations typically send them to a class on, say, empathy, active listening, or project management — alone. They are taught these skills in a context completely separate from the teams where they will actually employ them. "Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, The Power of Hidden Teams.
Taking this realization in, Cisco developed the Power of Teams workshops.
"Power of Teams is a guided, discussion-based team learning experience for teams who are ready to take their performance to the next level. Consisting of facilitator-led learning sessions, this learning experience challenges teams to build better engagement." Employee experience, Cisco.
What is interesting about these sessions is that team members get to know their current teammates through the lens of their strengths —this isn't just 'know your colleague.' It's 'know what makes your colleague a powerhouse' and 'recognize how that fuels your team's success.'
"From those ingredients, the team builds new habits and rituals to accelerate its members' growth together through their work together, on this particular team at this particular moment in time." Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, The Power of Hidden Teams.
In the fiscal 2022 alone, Cisco held 194 Power of Teams workshops globally.
Cisco has abandoned its infrequent and backward-looking performance reviews in favor of frequent and forward-looking conversations.
Cisco developed a proprietary platform—Team Space—to gather regular, real-time feedback from people.
Team Space gives Cisco comprehensive measurement and tracking of employee performance through features such as:
"The fundamental currency of a performance management system should be frequent attention to the humans in our teams," explains Ashley Goodall, former Senior Vice President at Cisco, "We know that this is the most powerful thing to actually lift levels of performance over time."
➡️ Learn how Cisco conducts performance reviews that provide transparent, timely, and data-driven insights to drive its high-performance culture.
Cisco places a high value on their people's opinions and conducts regular feedback surveys to gauge their satisfaction, understand their concerns, and gather insights on areas for improvement. This feedback-driven approach helps Cisco align its development initiatives with the needs of its workforce to support their aspirations and promote morale and job satisfaction.
"The most powerful thing we do is listen to our people. And if you think about some of the big things we have done over the last few years, it has all come from our employees", says Kelly Jones, Cisco's Chief People Officer.
🔬 We discuss Cisco's employee engagement survey and other examples from large companies and academia in our engagement survey examples analysis.
Cisco's commitment to diversity and inclusion translates to a culture where all people feel valued and empowered, contributing their skills and perspectives no matter their background. It is one of the reasons why Cisco topped the 2023 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list.
"We are dedicated to fostering a culture of inclusion and an environment that encourages employees to develop and maximize their contributions to the business. Cisco's Employee Resource Groups (ERG) provide a framework to help employees identify ways to better leverage the talent and connections within their organizations. We then challenge them to use those connections to drive innovation and business opportunities." Jacqueline Munson, Senior Manager of Inclusion and Diversity at Cisco, quoted in ERG Success Story.
"Cisco continues to work toward improving workforce diversity ... Since 2000, the company has achieved a 60% increase in African American and Black employees in entry-level through manager roles, and a 94% increase in representation at the director level", explains Fortune Senior Reporter Megan Leonhardt.
By fostering Employee Resource Groups (ERG) and tailoring development programs to cater to diverse demographics, Cisco ensures that their people's voices are heard and all employees have equal growth opportunities.
"We strive to unlock the valuable expertise and perspectives of our employees and help them develop the skills and connections they need to excel professionally." ERG Success Story, Cisco.
Cisco prioritizes the well-being of their people to help them feel valued and supported through:
"Cisco and other companies can be differentiated in how they treat their people, how they see their people, and how they help their people to have really good experiences," says Francine Katsoudas, Cisco's Chief People Officer, in a Forbes interview, "We know that if we take care of our people, they're going to take care of the business."
Cisco cultivates programs to recognize and reward their workforce, focusing on aligning recognition and reward experiences.
It partnered with Workhuman to develop Connected Recognition, a peer-to-peer recognition and reward program that promotes employee appreciation and engagement. This encourages team spirit and morale.
Connected Recognition leverages technology to foster a culture of appreciation at Cisco and promote awareness and connectivity. They encourage a sense of camaraderie and teamwork by highlighting each person's efforts—whatever their background or job title—toward achieving collective goals.
➡️ Looking for meaningful ways to recognize your people? Check out these 42 employee recognition ideas to motivate them and boost their engagement
Cisco's L&D leaders, Joshua Clark and Kevin Serveau, cite the following challenges with Cisco's legacy L&D system:
These challenges were holding back Cisco from developing their workforce effectively.
"The demand for constant reskilling in the workplace means that outdated L&D approaches of the past may not effectively take us into the future," reflect Clark and Serveau.
Given these limitations, Cisco needed to evolve its L&D strategy. Clark and Serveau describe the following rationale for Cisco's updated L&D framework.
Cisco needed to update its legacy LMS user experience towards a more modern and functional platform. But rather than redeveloping a large, internalized, and potentially cumbersome architecture, Cisco pivoted to creating a best-of-breed, collective platform using external providers such as Udemy and Degreed.
This allows Cisco to curate fresh content easily and provide cutting-edge usability options for all users. With the latest mobile-friendly interfaces, external providers allow Cisco's people to learn anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
Cisco's collective platform's quality, variety, and flexibility support the self-guided learning culture they have cultivated over many years.
While historically focusing on creating L&D content on an as-needed basis, with the launch of its new L&D framework, Cisco shifted from content creation to content curation. Using the resources of Cisco learning partners, new content is delivered more quickly and efficiently than before.
To help work through the large number and variety of courses on offer, Cisco appointed internal subject matter experts (SMEs) to find, vet, and curate content and form learning pathways.
Despite this shift to sourcing external content, Cisco creates in-house content in areas where external content may not be readily available, e.g., Cisco-specific knowledge topics. It also focuses on immersive, in-person learning experiences for its in-house content.
Cisco's updated content approach gives its L&D teams more time and bandwidth to add value, develop deeper programs, allow more time for consultation and participation, and better align content to support the development conversations between Cisco's leaders and their teams.
Cisco's updated L&D framework called for redefining its key L&D roles, including:
Given Cisco's recognition of the vital role that skills play in preparing their people for the future, it embarked on the following process of skills mapping:
Cisco's innovative strategies, people-centric initiatives, and data-driven insights help make it an employer of choice in the tech industry.
The following are core elements of Cisco's successful and, in some ways, unique approach to L&D:
Wondering how can you emulate Cisco to enhance the people development process at your organization?
Here are a few ways Zavvy's tools, knowledge base, and innovative frameworks can help.
One of Cisco's strengths is its clear career frameworks, ensuring that its people understand and are proactive about their growth trajectories. Using Zavvy, you can better define the career paths in your organization and promote role clarity by doing the following:
Improving role clarity will motivate your people towards more tangible goals and align their personal growth with organizational priorities.
Cisco prioritizes skills development to boost its people's capabilities. They tailor their training programs to enhance specific skills and competencies.
Zavvy can help you develop the competencies of your people using an 8-step process:
Cisco's people deal connects its employees with the information, resources, and opportunities they need for success.
Zavvy's employee development software facilitates this by connecting the dots between skills, development plans, and training measures to create a continuous development cycle for your people.
The software's AI-driven insights further personalize the learning experience by suggesting concrete growth activities and training courses for each employee.
Internal mobility is a hallmark of Cisco's L&D strategy. Using Zavvy's career pathing software, you can create transparent and meaningful career frameworks for your people.
The software helps to provide clear pathways for progression by communicating expectations for each role and ensuring that employees understand their growth trajectory and the steps needed to achieve their career goals.
Insights from your people's 360 feedback can further help them understand their progress against career milestones and identify areas for improvement.
Cisco creates detailed skills maps for each of its roles and uses these to identify the most relevant courses and training programs for its people.
You can, similarly, get a clear understanding of the skills within your organization using Zavvy's skills matrix software to help you target the best training and development for your people. The software provides a detailed picture of the strengths, talent density, and opportunities for improvement in your organization's skillsets.
While Cisco's L&D success results from years of innovation and commitment, the tools and frameworks offered by Zavvy can facilitate and accelerate a similar journey for your organization.
📅 Book a free 30-minute demo to see how you can bring out the full potential of your L&D strategy by emulating market-leading organizations like Cisco.