Lekha George is the Head of People & Communities, ASEAN and Korea at Cisco. Lekha is a senior HR professional with extensive multinational and multicultural experience spanning Asia, Middle East and Europe.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the HR and talent landscape in Asia Pacific? How are companies in the region redesigning their talent management strategies? Can you share a few examples?
The talent landscape is evolving rapidly across the globe, and we are witnessing this across the Asia-Pacific region as well.
Business shifts and disruptions across markets and industries as well as macro-economic uncertainties are impacting the region. While economies are at varying maturity points in APAC, great talent is critical to help make transitions and transformations happen.
Needs of business and nature of work is getting redefined with market disruptions and increased pace of change. There is a greater need than ever to align talent to value; identifying, developing and engaging key talent is especially critical as is the need to explore agile ways of working by incorporating technology, working in dynamic teams that cut across silos.
Talent evolution is happening on a few key fronts including the nature of the work we do, and the way do it.
The first trend is being led in large part by the ongoing adoption of technology by businesses, especially those powered by artificial intelligence (AI). These technologies are already delivering productivity gains for businesses. As these technologies continue to improve further, they will result in major benefits for businesses and prosperity for the region. However, their adoption also means that the nature of many existing jobs will change, some may even become redundant, and many new roles that don’t exist today will be created. In fact, we are already seeing this start across many sectors. As a result, there is a high need for talent agility and reskilling of talent for work of the future.
At the same time, the way we work is undergoing a profound shift. The concept of effectively carrying out your job by coming into the office during a specific time is getting redefined. An increasing number of companies, from start-ups to established names like Cisco, are allowing their employees to work from anywhere, at any time and using any device.
These trends are having an impact on talent management strategies. The technology-driven evolution means that skillsets required by employers in five years’ time are likely to be very different from those needed today. There is a growing global skill gap due to rapidly evolving and changing markets. Hence our current talent needs to continuously learn and adapt to meet the changing needs of the business. We also need to think about and plan for new roles that might be created in the near future and how we build might sustainable pipelines to address those.
I also firmly believe that we can no longer just think only about ourselves and the businesses that we operate in. We impact the communities that we belong to and are a part of and therefore need to play a role in shaping the communities and in giving back. It is also critical for industry and government to work together to address the challenge of reskilling our workers with the necessary skills to succeed today and in the future.
There is a growing global skill gap due to rapidly evolving and changing markets. Hence our current talent needs to continuously learn and adapt to meet the changing needs of the business
What does employee engagement mean in the digital world? Can you shed some light on the employee engagement and productivity measures that you take at Cisco?
While businesses go about embedding technologies and enabling working in multiple ways, there is also a responsibility to ensure that everyone feels valued and welcome.
As we empower and enable our employees to work from anywhere, employee engagement is critical. This translates to close alignment within teams, a shared sense of purpose and excellence, a feeling that teammates have each other’s backs and that they play to their strengths in a high performing culture. At Cisco this is achieved by an understanding of our strengths via a Stand Out assessment (a one-time survey that helps team members identify their top “StandOut Roles” – essentially, where they are at their best based on their natural reactions and behaviors) and also how best to leverage each others’ strengths.
Our online platform, Team Space, helps team leaders regularly connect with their teams through weekly Check-Ins by understanding their priorities, their ‘loves’ and ‘loathes’ and support needed by the team. Our team leaders use Performance Snapshots as a simple way to capture their experience of a Team Member’s performance, right there in that particular moment. By capturing a series of snapshots over time, they can see trends and patterns in the performance of a Team Member, which is more reliable than assigning a one-off rating in a single moment in time. As Cisco pivoted towards a team and strengths-based approach, we did away with annual performance reviews and pivoted towards quarterly conversations on performance, career aspirations, team’s behaviors with respect to Cisco’s Principles, impact to the teams we work in.
As we empower our employees to work from anywhere, employee engagement is critical. This translates to close alignment within teams, a shared sense of purpose and excellence, and a feeling that teammates have each other's backs
Conducted quarterly, Team Leaders use Engagement Pulse surveys to keep informed of how their team is feeling collectively about key elements of their work that impact engagement. This includes how they feel about: the company mission, team camaraderie, job fit, recognition, and growth. We know that leaders and teams who regularly focus on elevating these aspects of work will experience improved engagement, which translates to greater performance.
The biggest proof, to me, came with Cisco being recently named as the world’s #1 Best Workplace to Work For globally by the Great Place to Work (GPTW). According to surveys done by GPTW, 93 percent of employees worldwide said Cisco is a great place to work, outpacing the rest of the winners who registered an 89% score.
We are seeing a massive change in data, analytics and artificial intelligence and their impact on people and work. How do you leverage next-gen technologies to streamline your HR operations?
Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence (LTI) team researches how our teams across the world can work better. LTI constantly leverages data and analytics to understand how teams are performing and how we can make more teams like the best teams in the company.
The Team Space tools and rituals helps to achieve those goals by helping leverage each other’s’ strengths and helping teams have a shared sense of purpose.
To address the growing global skills gap due to the rapidly changing and evolving market, changes to traditional structures and approaches to work, we realize the need to capture new business opportunities that demand greater speed, agility, and skills and to create visibility into current and future skills needed to attract, retain and develop our employees’ talent.
With organizations shifting their culture to become more focused on building capabilities for innovation, and the ability to act like owners, do you think culture can actually be a competitive advantage?
It is often said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. I fully agree. At Cisco, we take a lot of pride in our culture being a true differentiator. Culture in Cisco is our way of life. That is why we have increasingly pivoted towards what we proudly call Conscious Culture.
The three key tenets of Cisco’s Conscious Culture are:
- The Environment we all work in – with dignity, respect, fairness and equity as the foundation
- Cisco’s unique characteristics that make the company stand-out and that are often reasons people choose to join or stay at the company. Some of our traits is our culture of kindness and of giving.
- And the specific experience we all have as individuals through our direct engagement with our manager, team, and the work we do every day.
There are discussions about how HR is going agile. Can HR leverage this model which is mostly used in the tech world?
Human Resources as a function has evolved over the years. In the 1910s it was all about personnel management, administration and dealing with trade unions. In the 1980s it evolved to ‘human resources’ considering people as ‘assets’ and finding ways to best utilize a company’s resource – its people.
While it mostly stayed as Human Resources, in the 1990s we saw more automation and a recognition of HR as part of the company’s strategy.
In the 2000’s we saw the emergence of HR Technology, influence of digitization and the growth of Shared Services.
At Cisco today, we recognize a few seismic shifts .. the need for transforming work and the absolute critical need for innovation, the criticality for addressing skill gaps, for continuous learning, digitizing HR and for defining Conscious Culture.
We realize the as our business changes, and as expectations of our people change, we need to be nimble and agile as well. People across the globe want to work for companies that have a positive impact on the communities that they operate in, both internal and external. At Cisco, this is a key focus area for us.
What are your talent acquisition and reskilling mantra? Any specific initiative that you have in mind and plan to implement in the coming times?
I believe that the best talent acquisition strategy is to become the company that everyone wants to work for. That way the best talent is pulled towards you, rather than you having to find it. We have made great strides on that front. Cisco has been named as the world’s #1 Best Workplace globally by the Great Place to Work (GPTW).
However, attracting talent is just the first step. It is equally important to then help employees experience Cisco as the best place to work. We make an ongoing commitment to our employees through our People Deal framework. Simply put, this is a commitment to our employees on what they can expect from Cisco. As a deal between two parties, it also clarifies what the company expects of them.
The People Deal commits to Connect Everything, Innovate Everywhere and Benefit Everyone.
We commit to connecting our employees with other people, information and opportunities needed to succeed, to setting the direction to meet our customers needs, with the speed required in today’s market, and change the world for the better. It also expects the employees to align their work to business goals and customers’ needs, and that they connect with their peers to deliver the best outcomes and results.
We continue to focus on reskilling of employees. Employees are given opportunities to continue to upskill themselves in their areas of specialization. At the same time, they are actively encouraged to pursue training and development in areas of their aspirations.
We pride ourselves in the motto of One Company, Many Careers. As an example, one of the colleagues from Talent Acquisition team, picked up skills in cybersecurity and is now part of our cybersecurity sales organization.
Our belief is that when we attract the best talent and empower them to succeed, they become our biggest advocates. They attract others to join, who experience the culture, see the growth, and then spread the word further. It is the kind of cycle companies can only dream of.
As our business changes, and as expectations of our people change, we need to be nimble and agile as well. People across the globe want to work for companies that have a positive impact on the communities that they operate in, both internal and external
What are the barriers in particular for women in APAC organizations to rise to key leadership positions? Are they more about cultural inhibitions that hold women back from achieving excellence and assuming leadership roles?
We recognize that adequate representation of women in leadership, especially in the technology sector, has been a challenge. I think there is a lot of work being done to address that by companies, and by the industry. We have come a long way, but we need to continue to address it.
I am proud to work for a company that is leading from the front on this. We have several women in senior leadership roles in the Asia Pacific region, including our President for the region. The success can be attributed to many factors. Firstly, our hiring policy ensures we have diverse interview panels and talent pools for all roles. In addition, there are opportunities for mentoring, sponsorship and development programs dedicated to supporting women employees, including an Employee Resource group called Women of Cisco. Our flexible work arrangements also play a big role in supporting women, especially young mothers, pursue successful careers.
As part of our efforts to support women in technology sector, we are committed towards inspiring, supporting and encouraging the next generation of diverse talent to join the industry. We actively promote STEM subjects in schools and encourage girls to consider technology careers through programs such as the Cisco Networking Academy and Women Rock-IT.
The Cisco Networking Academy provides a broad range of IT curriculum for students of all backgrounds, teaching them hands-on technical and business skills. With many industries experiencing a shortage of IT talent, Cisco Networking Academy seeks to give students the skills that are in demand and helps create a trained, diverse workforce to power the digital economy. Since its inception more than 20 years ago, the program has reached more than 2.5 million students in Asia Pacific, 27% of whom are female.
We pride ourselves in the motto of One Company, Many Careers. As an example, one of the colleagues from Talent Acquisition team, picked up skills in cybersecurity and is now part of our cybersecurity sales organization
What will be HR's biggest challenges in the year 2020?
The adoption of new and existing technologies over the coming years will trigger shifts in the workforce and create demand for new skills required for new and even current jobs. The challenge is for industry and government to come together to solve the issue of skills gaps by skilling and reskilling the workforce.
All these changes are also bound to induce uncertainty, anxiety and increased stress levels among employees, especially mid-career professionals, about their future. HR practitioners will have to increasingly address the holistic wellness of the employees in addition to professional growth. There will be an even greater need for integration of work and rest of life and hence the need for flexibility and a trust based approach. The needs of a full spectrum of employees in terms of work, experiences, skills and aspirations will need to be catered for and HR will need to rise to the challenge of addressing these in a thoughtful manner.
Finally, the momentum and pace of change will only go up. HR professionals will need to be continuous learners themselves. In many cases we will have to learn, unlearn and relearn within a short span of time and repeat this cycle multiple times during our careers. Our willingness and ability to do that will define our success, and that of our companies, in the years to come.