Q&A with Phoebe Leet, Head of Our People Deal, Cisco

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Pheobe Leet, Head of Our People Deal, Cisco


Some of the workplace issues that will be of concern to us all this year are profoundly obvious – boosting the UK’s labour productivity is likely to remain a top priority.

What is often exciting about working to improve working lives and business performance is the way that new initiatives in HR and good practice develop so quickly. One example of this is employee voice. Our understanding of how we make our views heard, and how we listen, have been revolutionised by technology in recent years.

Another being flexibility and work/life balance which has become cornerstones of working life for many of us, but what will these concepts mean for managers and employees in the evolving workplace?

Unique Best People Practice

Cisco overcomes the challenge of a large, geographically disparate workforce by making its own Cisco networking and collaboration technology available to all employees and enabling a culture that encourages different ways of using it. Through the widespread, daily use of WebEx, Spark, Jive and TelePresence, the company’s immersive video conferencing tool, employees connect with anyone in the global workforce and work in teams or cross functional communities. These tools allow employees to stay in touch with company’s leadership team and to plug-in to work anytime and from any place. More importantly, technology helps Cisco enable innovation through its people – it’s key differentiator.

Phoebe Leet helps the company deliver a positive and effective employee experience through the use of such tools and programmes. She is passionate about enabling Cisco to increase employee engagement, enabling employees to have a voice and to create a culture in which all talent can thrive.

Currently ranked #9 in the World’s Best Multinationals Great Place to Work list and ranked as one of the UK’s best workplaces, we delve deeper into how Cisco is innovating to stay ahead and tackling the UK workplace challenges head-on.

QLike many tech companies, Cisco has admitted there is a gender diversity issue, with only 23% of employees being female. Cisco management are addressing the talent drain right at the top with the new CEO, Chuck Robbins announcing a 50/50 male / female leadership team. The UK has fewer female engineers than anywhere else in Europe, so how are you solving the problem of getting young women who enter the workforce interested in Cisco and applying for the job?

Chuck Robbins’ leadership appointments are a testament to Cisco’s commitment to addressing the gender issue. It is role-modeling like this, together with investing in opportunities to encourage young female talent to consider a career in Engineering and technical roles as well as creating the environment for them to pursue it successfully that will help increase the numbers of females in technology.

We’re seeing that offering the opportunity to make a connection with female leaders in technology such as our Alison Vincent, our CTO in the UK, is a powerful way to inspire other women to embrace this career. We participate in initiatives as #ILookLikeAnEngineer on Twitter, where female engineers post their stories.

We also support organisations like Greenlight for Girls (g4g), dedicated to inspire girls of all ages and backgrounds to pursue STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – by introducing them early on to the world of science in fun and exciting ways!

Sharing our culture, work environment and benefits comes even before we advertise our job roles. We do it via channels that are agile and informal such as Connected Women Wednesdays (#CiscoCWW), where we promote careers in engineering to young females who are deciding which degree they will pursue. Our flexible working environment makes a difference to our candidates and allows us to engage female talent from a broad geographical space because location is no longer a requirement to be present.

We also invest a lot in attracting early in career female talent and promote Cisco opportunities through our internships. Today 40% of our university hires in the UK are female hires, which means a 25% increase from last year. The internship and graduate opportunities provide the chance to discover Cisco’s wide range of career paths, create a female network and get mentoring. They also get access to training to become successful engineers and take their first steps to becoming Cisco’s next generation of Women leaders in the industry.

We’ve also looked at making small changes such as ensuring we have a diverse panel of speakers when promoting the Cisco brand on campus so female talent can relate to them.

Women in Tech societies, Women Who Codes groups, channels such as GraceHopper and social media platforms are proving to be the right partners to connect us with female talent. Creating an inclusive culture for us starts when female candidates enter the hiring process, with female interviewers in panels and assessors that, like everyone else in the company, are asked to work on their own biases as a core development offering.

QThe British are increasingly aware of the issue of work-life balance. The dynamic nature of the economy and fast-paced business environment forces many employees to work quite long hours. Can you tell us a bit more about how tools like WebEx, IEW (Integrated Workforce Experience) and TelePresence are encouraging Cisco employees to have a better work/life balance and stay engaged and connected?

Our technology & the trust based culture we have at Cisco enables our employees to get their jobs done from any where at any time. Working remotely is a normal practice and flexibility is encouraged so that family and home life is integrated in to the working day. Cisco asks its employees to be flexible as to when they work due to timezone differences and in return Cisco understands that time with family may be spent in more traditional working hours.

Performance management is an integral part of enabling work life balance through technology and Cisco recently removed its rating system to focus more on regular, high quality conversations on goals and achievements between manager and employee.

QCisco has a strong inspirational story of how you’re transforming the company inside out through non-traditional employee engagement. Can you share a bit of the background to this story, particularly around the vision of how you want your experience to be and how you’ve been applying that to your brand and business goals and policy and processes and why empowering people from the bottom up is vital?

Cisco set out to understand from its employees across the globe what are the unique elements of its culture that make working at Cisco great. A manifesto and framework were created based on these that clearly articulate what people can expect from Cisco and what Cisco asks of its people. This is now known as Our People Deal.
Cisco is using this to change the employee experience at Cisco, starting with over 20 of its global organisational experiences such as performance management, acquisitions, recruitment etc and a set of Leadership commitments that are now embedded in how we view our people Managers that align to the behaviours that Our People Deal sets out.
By listening to our people we now understand what is unique in our culture and we are using this knowledge to embed these elements more and more across the employee experience to make Cisco the best place to work for talent.

QOver the next ten years the number of digital technology companies in London is expected to rise to 45,000 and create more than £12 billion of economic activity, according to research by Oxford Economics. With Cisco having been ranked as one of the world’s best multinational workplaces and the UK’s best workplace in 2015 by Great Place to Work Institute, are Cisco taking lessons from the start-ups in order to maintain their competitive advantage?

British Innovation Gateway is a UK-wide series of initiatives and partnerships enabling tech entrepreneurs and startups to grow faster with mentoring, financial support and much more. Cisco launched ‘BIG’ to connect with UK innovation and support the growing start-up community in creating disruptive approaches with the potential to impact citizens and businesses. Through this programme and specifically our innovation centre, IDEALondon, we’ve created the ability to connect this community into our own sales organisation and Business Units.

We have also been able to tap into the innovative cultures and practices of these start-ups, ensuring the support and learning between Cisco and start-ups is a two-way process. Many of our employees have the opportunity to mentor these start-ups and these relationships are very much a two-way dialogue providing insights and learnings for both parties. Team meetings are regularly held at IDEALondon, ensuring employees from across the business have the opportunity to interact with our start-up community, opening their eyes to “the art of the possible” outside of a typical corporate framework and helping to develop an innovative, agile mindset.

QWhat does it mean for Cisco to be the Host Enterprise Organisation at HR Vision London?

Connecting everything, within and outside Cisco is at the heart of what we do. HRVision is the ideal platform to discuss and share our experiences with other HR leaders. From trying new ways of doing things, learning from our mistakes (quickly!), and moving with agility and speed in an ever changing market – these are all areas we have been experimenting with and we will bring what we have learnt so far to this event, with the hope that we will also learn from others too. The opportunity to host HR Vision in the UK, where Cisco’s innovation is sparkling, immediately excited us: the UK HR team is known in Cisco for being positively disruptive. This is also where our vision for the experience we want our employees to have across the globe has originated. Ultimately, we believe in the power of connections. We’ll want to make as many connections as possible during the event, and keep growing them: you will see us using social media to make connections and socialising and tweeting the event highlights to our network. We hope you will join us and do the same!

Phoebe joins Phil Smith, Chief Executive, UK & Ireland, Cisco on stage at the opening keynote of HR Vision London 2015; an inspirational keynote revisiting the dichotomy between CEOs and HR.

HR Vision is the elite, boutique style event, where HR leaders gather to discuss core business strategy. Learn more and download the brochure here.

HR Vision London, 18-19 November 2015

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