Cisco corporate social responsibility COVID-19

Cisco and Turning Working from Home into a Competitive Advantage

Cisco stands out as one of the top companies in terms of executing a corporate social responsibility program. However, it is equally impressive that they are also part of a growing number of companies reporting increased productivity, increased employee job satisfaction, increased Net Promoter scores, and better access to a more diverse group of employees.

What appears to be a common thread across all the firms that seem to be experiencing these benefits is turning HR into less of a compliance organization and more of a strategic resource. Also, aggressive use of technology before and after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and a general sense that the firm can’t hide from current issues with racial injustice, but instead moves to address it aggressively in and around the company.

Let’s talk about how the pandemic is making some companies stronger this week.


One thing is initially clear; companies, governments, and schools that weren’t already actively pursuing digital transformation haven’t done well. What helped the more aggressive firms is that they already had embraced the cloud. They’d already been providing work from home options successfully, and they were already highly automated.

This focus allowed those firms closer to the cutting edge of collaborative technology to pivot more quickly to the new work from home normal. They didn’t have to buy a considerable amount of new hardware because they’d already deployed it, and that allowed the rank and file to quickly shift to work from home without the massive delays and problems experienced by less well-prepared companies.

Cisco’s massive deployment of its WebEx technology to its employees made it comparatively easy to shift to work from home themselves and do the same for their customers who equally benefited.

HR as a Strategic Asset

I’ve been particularly tickled about this success aspect because I started after college and then again after graduate school to run HR. But the change that occurred after the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) forced HR into more of a compliance role, and I changed paths shortly after one of my predecessors got on the wrong side of an angry husband. He decided he wanted to shoot the head of HR as a result of his wife’s abuse. A job that was both no longer fun and might result in my getting shot no longer appealed to me.

But at companies like Cisco, HR has become strategic again. Francine Katsoudas, head of HR for Cisco, and Chuck Robbins work as a team to ensure Cisco is a great place to work. For instance, when the recent tragic deaths of black people pushed BLM (Black Lives Matter) back into the news with massive demonstrations, they acted. They pulled their black employees together into a massive forum and heard their complaints, concerns, and fears. They didn’t just give these folks lip service either—they worked to understand and address, where they could, the problems they were facing inside the company. And, unlike a number of their peers who saw an internal employee backlash, Cisco’s minorities stood with the company.

Some of the things Cisco has implemented are tools that give managers real-time actionable information on their diversity progress, that identify qualified diverse employees, and assure a diverse panel of interviewers that help assure minorities that they will at least be given equal, if not preferential, treatment.

Based on Cisco’s success (which smartly started their diversity effort at the top, not the bottom), Cisco is one of the technology segment’s leaders in assuring diversity in their company.

Cisco believes that when employees hurt, the entire company hurts and that employees who are afraid, bullied, or otherwise abused damage the firm’s productivity and image. Frankly, abuse in any form should be unacceptable but also hurts performance.

By aggressively addressing the problem, Cisco, and others, have found that, especially during this pandemic, they can increase productivity and engagement if they both understand and address abuse problems in a timely manner.

Wrapping Up

I think many of us thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a massive adverse impact on productivity. And it did for firms that were slow with digital transformation and who treat employees poorly. For firms like Cisco, who have been aggressive with digital transformation and stand out as positive examples in areas like diversity, social justice, and inclusion, the transition has been far more positive. So much so, many of these firms are not planning to go back to the same level of on-premise employment as they had before the pandemic.

I keep saying firms are finding out that they can do well by doing good, and Cisco and its management team continues to prove me right. I appreciate that, as I believe so do Cisco’s employees and customers. There should be a reward for doing the right thing, and Cisco’s stakeholders are rewarding Cisco handsomely for precisely that.

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