Alex is a marketer at Zavvy. On this blog, he mainly shares insights gained from discussions with selected experts and from helping our customers set up and improve their onboarding or learning programs.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork! Cisco Systems Inc. understands this better than anyone else.
With an employee headcount of 70,000+ employees, 40% outside their home country of the U.S.A, CISCO cultivates culture at a local level within each team. 💪
As of 2022, Ciscos ranked #1 in the list of "2022 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For" and #3 in the "World's Best Workplaces" list.
Conducted by workplace thought leaders, Great Place to Work Inc, these lists are grounded in holistic parameters to find companies that create a people-first culture.
So, obviously, Cisco has managed to transcend cultural, gender, and socio-economic barriers to create an inclusive culture that enhances employee experience inside and outside work.
Cisco's HR philosophy focuses on building great teams and nurturing team excellence.
"We now believe that teams will characterize the future of work and that the only way to build a great company is to pay attention to the collective." Ashley Goodall, former SVP of Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco.
Their objective is simple: Cisco wants all its teams to perform like their best-performing team!
Their focus on building dynamic teams is at the heart of their performance management system.
The performance management at Cisco promotes a high-performance culture. The team intelligence derived from its proprietary technology is instrumental for tracking, measuring, and enhancing performance.
So, how exactly do these tie back to performance reviews, feedback, and compensation?
Since the performance management system in any company contributes extensively to employee satisfaction, it might help to take a leaf or two from the Cisco playbook.
With its structured, data-backed, and forward-looking approach, Cisco has set industry-wide benchmarks for people management practices, especially for large-scale organizations.
As of fall 2016, under the leadership of Ashley Goodall, former SVP of Leadership and Team Intelligence, decided to do away with its older performance "ratings" process upon receiving negative feedback from employees:
"[...] our people told us that annual reviews were not working. This was because these were mandatory, infrequent and backward-looking conversations not at all relevant to what we’re currently working on."
The rationale was that employees would often ignore any other feedback and only care about their rating. This would be counter-productive at large and lead to short-term wins acted out of self-interest and not in the context of the entire team.
To implement this massive change, Goodall and his team spent two and half years building and rolling out their internal tool, "Team Space."
A digital transformation of this size had to be carried out in phases.
At first, Cisco tested the communications and assessment features as pilots.
Goodall and the team then deployed the technology in groups of 10,000 Cisco employees. Their focus was on quantifying its tangible impact on team leaders, employees, and overall performance. Only then would they move on to the next set of 10,000 employees.
“We continued to make the changes by quantifying the impacts of those who had fully embraced the new set of rituals and behaviors and those who were still on the sidelines.
We did this to demonstrate to organization leaders, team leaders, and employees that there were tangible differences and improvements to be had when they leaned in.” Ashley Goodall in an interview for "people matters"
Cisco rolled out Team Space company-wide in 2017.
The idea with the new internal tool was to focus on employees' strengths and aim to enhance them rather than categorize them.
Their new performance review system focuses on harnessing the performance of entire teams by:
"We learned that we needed to solve for something bigger than just a new system for performance management. We're actually solving for teams –and how to find and make more of the best teams. Finding the technology that would help us achieve those goals was a bigger priority than having something in place in the short term." Ashely Goodall
Goodall's processes and technology-focussed performance management system aim to answer some of People Ops' most pressing questions:
"If you want more teams like your best teams, you better have a precise idea of what “best” looks like. To identify the characteristics of the best teams, we completed a large study across Cisco contrasting the best teams with average teams.
We found that the number one characteristic of our best teams at Cisco is that team members feel like they get to do their best work highly frequently. That is, they get to play to their strengths every day.
We now have a very clear sense of team excellence and what it is we plan to amplify across the organization." Ashely Goodall
Cisco has officially acknowledged that its HR philosophy focuses entirely on building great teams and nurturing team excellence.
"As we look at where great outcomes for our customers occur, and where we create a great work experience for our people—both of these things happen predominantly on teams.
In order for Cisco to deliver complex technology solutions to customers, employees have to effectively team with one another.
Additionally, a fundamental piece of working at Cisco is being on a number of different teams. For us, the notion of teams is central to the overall performance of our organization and the experience of what it’s like to work at Cisco. As a result, we’ve made a significant investment in teams and we will continue to invest in teams." Ashely Goodall
To this end, Ashley Goodall and his team have carefully developed software at the intersection of human and digital technology. The result is a culture that enhances interaction, feedback, and engagement.
"Team Space" is designed to accurately assess performance and collect valuable data that inform the leadership of which skills, behaviors, and rituals make up the DNA of the best teams.
This is Cisco’s formula for how "Team Space" rituals lift performance:
A single framework + a conversation-led process + data driven decisions enabled by easy-to-use platforms = a better experience for everyone.
This new technology-backed performance management system at Cisco can:
1. Uncover its employees' innate abilities and predispositions. The goal is to enable employees to play to their strengths and not get demotivated by their weaknesses.
StandOut is the tool making this possible. It measures employees against nine roles and reveals their primary and secondary roles. While employees may have a little bit of each, their first two roles make up their unique advantage. The nine StandOut roles are:
This approach helps leaders maximize personal and team members' strengths.
2. Provide employees with a customizable platform to share their aspirations, learning areas, and expertise with documents like "How to best work with me" & "Come to me when." This feature is called My Snapshot.
3. Collect real-time feedback and generate insights on the current employees' engagement in the team so that managers can step in wherever needed. This feature is called Engagement Pulse, and as the name suggests, it informs team leaders on the overall engagement of each employee.
4. Allow team leaders to share timely feedback on employee performance so that it can improve over time. It covers specific questions with enough context to give employees an overview of areas they can improve. This feature is called the Performance Snapshot.
5. With the One-on-one Check-ins, leaders set expectations so that all employees can understand their work's full scope and impact. The goal is to clear up any gray zones.
Managers and employees discuss during their one-on-ones key questions such as:
- Are the goals relevant to the business?
- Are there too few or too many goals?
- Are the goals results-based and measurable?
- Is the goal truly a goal or a competency?
The success of Cisco's performance management system is based on Peter Drucker's dictum, "if you can't measure it, you cannot manage it."
Team Space measures everything and provides a proverbial landscape for employees and team leaders to navigate workplace KPIs, collaboration, and focus areas easily.
The idea is to inform team leaders how best to invest in individuals over time.
"We know that ratings are bad data, and we know that the process of manufacturing ratings wastes a lot of time that could be put to much better use at work.
The fundamental currency of a performance management system should be frequent attention to the humans in our teams.
We know that this is the most powerful thing to lift performance levels over time. And the point of performance management, of course, is not to categorize performance as much as it is to enhance and increase it over time." Ashley Goodall in an interview for "people matters"
So how does this internal tool help them conduct performance reviews, appraisals, and more?
Cisco's performance management is derived from the "performance control approach" and comprises a few key stages.
Employees discuss what projects they want to take up with their supervisors and vice versa.
A predetermined course of action is set for all to embark upon.
In this stage, employees and supervisors mutually decide the measurable targets of each project.
In this stage, team leaders evaluate the performance of their employees based on the predetermined course of action and the targets against it.
The team leaders frequently review the employees' performance using the "Performance Snapshot" feature within Team Space.
The aim is to record the real-time judgment of managers about the performance of each employee in their team.
"A single Snapshot does not attempt to sum up who an individual is in a single rating. Rather it helps inform performance trends over time. It is to be completed monthly to create reliable data that can inform future talent decisions like pay, promotion, and development." Cisco, Team Space Data Report.
Some questions asked are:
There is also a Private Note Feature, which allows the leader to add context to the responses.
It is worth noting how Cisco invites managers to self-reflection when answering these questions. One particular piece of advice relates to rater bias:
"Are your team members all receiving the same great (or not so great scores? What might this say about how you are evaluating your team?"
Managers are mandated to complete this monthly. It helps track trends and informs future decisions like pay, promotion, and career development.
Static and dynamic leaders can view the performance snapshot of each employee they work directly or indirectly with.
Static teams have a fixed structure, with all individuals reporting to one manager only.
On the other hand, dynamic teams work on specific goals and may belong to different static teams but have come together for a shared project.
Employees cannot access the performance snapshot themselves unless shared with them by their team leader.
Team members are instead encouraged to discuss their performance at any time with their direct reporting manager and gain insights on areas of improvement.
"Talk to people, lots, about the work, and help them bring their best every day. Have those conversations week in, week out with as many people as possible on your team, and watch us all be better together." Cisco, Team Space Whitepaper 2017.
The check-in meetings help employees review last week's performance and discuss it with their team leaders.
Employees answer critical reflection questions, such as:
During these meetings, Cisco encourages managers to express recognition: "Find a time to speak directly to your team members and thank them individually for something that stands out to you as an indication of excellence."
During the check-in meetings, managers can collect employee complaints and feedback on how things could be done differently.
Team Space sends a reminder to the employees every Friday to check in with the previous week's data.
The static team leaders (direct reporting managers) can access the Check-In Data for each team member.
Employees can also share parts of the Check-In Data with their dynamic team leaders, such as:
Employees benefit from several opportunities to discuss their growth, performance feedback, and future at Cisco.
Cisco understands that one of humans' biggest motivators is having a robust roadmap and plan for professional success.
In keeping with this, a Mid-year career discussion takes place wherein they discuss their development opportunities halfway through the year.
The objective is to lay out an actionable path for success for the rest of the year and not to deliberate overcompensation.
Managers and team leaders have to be able to pinpoint their people's top strengths and development needs.
These are some questions that managers should be able to answer during these conversations:
Managers are also encouraged to ask employees some of these questions:
The digital transformation that the internal tool brought meant easily collecting qualitative and quantitative data about each employee and manager.
The focus is not to categorize performance but to make managers and leaders think about how they would invest in enhancing and increasing employee contribution over time.
The "Performance Snapshot" helps employees get an overview of where they stand on a month-on-month basis. At the same time, the Check-In enables team leaders to help employees wherever possible weekly.
These frequent Check-Ins ensure that individuals and teams move in the right direction.
All qualitative and quantitative data tie to compensation and non-financial rewards.
Besides compensation and defining goals, HR managers at Cisco Systems also motivate their employees through means other than direct pay.
Cisco has a well-defined rewarding system called "Total Rewards."
"Total Rewards" refers to all the resources you can use to attract, motivate, and retain employees:
The goal is to create a transparent and competitive environment among all employees and business units.
This provides financial stability to your employees.
This helps your employees to rest and restore. For example, employees receive a day off on their birthday.
By leveraging Cisco's health connections program and comprehensive health coverage, employees are given financial aid during medical emergencies and encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle.
This program allows employees to feel heard and secure.
For example, new parents benefit from a "Support for parents" program.
Another example is the "Trusted second opinion" program. Its beneficiaries can get independent second opinions for a medical diagnosis or treatment options from world-class physicians for themselves and their families.
This framework helps employees grow professionally by accessing adequate resources and guidance.
The talent marketplace is linked to employee growth and career development, offering various opportunities for employees to connect with great teams.
-> Team assignments: Employees can collaborate with others to solve business challenges.
-> Time swaps: Employees can swap 20% of their job with someone. The goal is to learn something new while still meeting their responsibilities.
-> Job swaps: Employees can swap 100% of their job with someone temporarily or permanently.
-> Stretch assignments: Employees can enhance their skills and capabilities by working on projects across various business groups.
This policy drives employees to a sense of healthy freedom. In return, they are more loyal to their employer.
A positive environment is essential for keeping employees at peace and from toxicity.
In keeping with the human desire for belonging and appreciation, the HR function at Cisco intentionally integrates a recognition program to acknowledge employees' achievements and keep them motivated.
Cisco encourages a culture of mutual recognition where managers:
"Sometimes, the best recognition you can give is to simply listen. Listening tells a team member that you value their opinions and are willing to take the time to hear them out." Cisco
Cisco has managed to do the seemingly impossible: Create a holistic, team-focused, future-looking performance management and rewards structure at an IT giant!
Their tech-backed approach helps them measure all the data that matters regularly.
While features like "Performance Snapshot" and "Check-in" help inform discussions of performance and pay over time, others like "Engagement Pulse" and "Stand Out Report" help the company gauge critical factors such as employee satisfaction and the unique strengths and weaknesses of each individual.
Collecting this kind of data for a mammoth organization has, so far, only been a pipe dream.
Cisco's Team Space, and the resulting team intelligence, are making it a reality.
💪 Today, the entire Cisco HR leadership prides itself on developing a system focused on developing stellar teams. As a result, they have effectively built solid teams across verticals and regions.
Here are three reasons why Cisco Systems Inc.'s new performance review system works so well.
With the introduction of Team Space, Cisco can measure everything that matters: from performance indicators to engagement to upward feedback (check-in data).
This data creates a snapshot of exactly how each employee is unique.
The leadership team's time is precious and should target offering actionable feedback rather than an overdrawn, archaic, and myopic rating system.
Cisco's new performance system does not categorize people by defining them as "star players" or "poor performers."
Instead, the system harnesses each individual's unique strengths.
Employees and managers build unique career development plans that suit them by playing to employee strengths and innate energy patterns.
When all employees are thus encouraged to improve, you have a high-performance management model in your organization where each employee can thrive.
With backward-looking annual discussions, employees are often left in the dark about areas of improvement.
Often, they may receive the short end of the stick during appraisal.
Instead, Cisco's frequent and future-focussed discussions allow employees to get a holistic picture of their performance regularly.
This approach helps them understand the exact areas of improvement, giving them ample time and support to improve over time.
"The performance management system of the future will have some way of understanding which investments we decided to make in people—who did we decide to move, who did we decide to promote, who did we decide to give a stretch assignment to—and ask which of those decisions we followed through on, and then use those as a gauge of what our team leaders actually think about their team members." Ashley Goodall in an interview for "people matters"
Developing a fair, unbiased, and data-backed performance management system is essential for an IT giant with employees across continents.
More importantly, these efforts must tie back to investments made in employees' career development paths and rewards.
Cisco has been able to do all this with remarkable precision. And here is where lie the secret ingredients to its success:
The San Jose headquartered company has set very high standards in performance management.
If you are a people manager trying to establish exceptional people processes, you might benefit from adopting a few best practices from the Cisco playbook.
With Zavvy, you can repeat Cisco's performance review process without investing resources, time, and money in building an internal tool like Cisco's Team Space.
The process is simple. Here is a step-by-step breakdown.
You can use the Role Cards feature to replicate how Cisco sets predefined work and mutually agreed upon KPIs.
Role cards help you define each employee's competencies, skills, and expectations in the company.
E.g., Sales Team, Customer Success Team, etc.
Click "Add role card" to create cards for each role within each department in your organization.
When defining the competencies, let your managers take the lead.
After all, they are the ones who know the expectations for each level the most.
Involve the manager in reviewing role cards and assigning them to each team member.
To assign a role card, click the "Add people" icon on the respective role level you want to assign.
Once assigned, the assignee will receive a notification via email and can view their role card on their Zavvy home dashboard.
What the assignees will see:
Cisco promotes transparency at all levels by clearly defining expectations at all levels.
With the Role Cards feature on Zavvy, you can promote transparency and ensure employee alignment in line with business expectations.
At Cisco, frequent, forward-looking interactions encourage a holistic investment in individual performance over time.
Managers leave real-time feedback on their employees, giving them ample context and opportunities to improve throughout the year.
Here are the steps to replicate this with Zavvy.
You could call this "Performance Snapshot" if you want to replicate Cisco's approach fully.
You can choose between:
To replicate Cisco's Performance Snapshot process, you can select "Downward Feedback." To emulate the Check-In process, also select "Self Review."
You can create all questions yourself or choose some from the available templates.
Add questions similar to Cisco's Performance Snapshot assessment:
However, for specific questions, you can use the hidden question feature that only managers see, never the reviewees.
One such question is: "Would you promote this person today if you could?"
Who should see what feedback?
With Cisco's "Performance Snapshot," employees can see the feedback only if managers share it. Consider whether or not you want to enable the "Share anonymously" feature.
Set the deadlines for all the steps of the feedback cycle you configured.
Double-check all the details and activate the cycle.
Once you kick off the new Performance Review cycle, you simply wait for the feedback to roll in!
Cisco's future-focused process encourages team leaders to reflect upon each employee's strengths and unique skill sets and invest in their growth accordingly.
With Zavvy's "Growth Cycles" feature, you can model a similar career and competency development plan for your organization.
The performance feedback can generate insights and focus areas directly tied to employees' growth cycles.
For example, based on frequent manager assessments, employees can extract actionable insights from the "My Feedback" view and add them to their development plan.
You can also create a career development framework.
A role card will represent one of the levels of a career framework, for example, from junior sales manager to mid-level sales manager to senior sales manager.
This approach will give your employees a clear path for continuous learning and career growth.
Some more features that make Zavvy stand out in conducting industry-standard performance reviews:
By combining technology with research rooted in the best people management practices, Zavvy can improve performance outcomes across leading organizations worldwide.
Book a free 30-minute demo to see how to craft the best performance review system that enhances your organization's productivity