Most of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts I’ve seen are underfunded, understaffed, and are focused on creating the impression that the firm is helping without actually making a difference. One of the exceptions to this unfortunate rule is Cisco, where they take CSR seriously, and one of their most aggressive and effective efforts is with veterans. I think this serious corporate responsibility effort goes to who they are and also reflects on why the firm is ranked number 1 in the World’s Best Workplaces.
I had a chance to talk with Gena Pirtle last week on their incredible Cisco Veteran Cyber Security Scholarship Program, and a number of their other Veteran-focused programs, and was struck by how incredibly powerful their efforts are in this area. This program isn’t the only amazing thing they are doing to make the world a better place; they are promoting the use of technology to protect endangered species and to protect against school shootings as well.
Let’s talk about what makes Cisco unique in the tech segment regarding CSR this week.
Superpower the Employees
Employees want to be able to make a difference, and often the jobs they get are buried so far down in the organization that they can’t determine if they are making a positive change or not. So, often, employees on their own time and nickel will volunteer to help outside of work to feel like they are contributing to a better world.
At no time during my life has this trend seemed more pronounced, and I think that is because so many governments have lost their way and aren’t driving the positive change that their constituents want and need. But the firms these employees work for also have CSR and philanthropic programs which likely aren’t having much impact because they are more about creating an image than making change.
If you could combine the passion of the employees with the power of the corporation they work for, you get a force multiplier, and a much higher probability that the money spent will drive positive change in the world rather than just consuming funds for a marginal impact on the firm’s image.
Cisco’s Corporate Responsibility Difference
This combination of passion and corporate backing is what makes Cisco different. Rather than ignoring the passion of their employees they enable and supplement it. For instance, Gena Pirtle—who, herself, is married to a veteran—recognized that Cisco had a labor shortage and that veterans could be a powerful untapped labor pool for the firm. Veterans do pose potentially unique problems, but they are generally loyal, dedicated, hardworking, and not entitled (they appreciate the job rather than feel it is their right). These are attributes that often define the best employees in any company—though, sadly, not the most powerful nor the ones that advance the farthest.
Sadly, gaming the system is often far more successful than the more beneficial to the firm, focus on doing the job timely and well. Cisco looked at what Gena wanted to do, realized her passion was an asset, not a distraction (as other firms might have concluded) and made her head of a very successful program to acquire, train, and deploy veterans not only in Cisco but to fill spots that needed filling with Cisco’s partners.
The program, as implemented, effectively pays for itself because it makes the firm more productive than it otherwise would be, and this benefit undoubtedly both flows to the bottom line and contributes to the firm’s top rating in best places to work.
Wrapping Up: Doing Well By Doing Good
As I watched the Democratic Debate this week, I was struck by Elizabeth Warren’s desire to break up big tech firms. I see this as an obvious outcome to the perception that most do more harm than good and are abusing their power in some extreme ways. Cisco stands as an exception. Not only was it not on Warren’s list of firms to address; they are having a huge positive impact on the world, providing the strongest counterpoint to programs that may cripple some of their peers.
My personal view is that if more tech firms focused more on making the world and their country a better place and less on income inequality they’d show up on the asset and not liability side of this country’s balance sheet far more often. Cisco remains an example that you can do well by doing good. I wish more firms followed this example of corporate responsibility.