Employee retention is on the minds of every leader from the C-Suite down. But what if the conversation about #employeeretention is focused on the wrong things? Learn from Fran Katsoudas, Chief People Officer at Cisco Systems as she shares the importance of being more proactive and designing programs that bring out the best in your employees thus making them want to stay and become high performers.
Francine Katsoudas is Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Cisco. As the leader of Cisco’s People Strategy and Human Resources Organization, Katsoudas is helping to accelerate Cisco’s transformation through leadership, attracting and retaining the best talent and building a culture of innovation. A major priority for Katsoudas is focusing on how Cisco wins in the talent marketplace while creating a compelling employee experience.
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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
The Transcript - Building High Performing Teams
Welcome to the next generation rock stars podcast. If you are trying to figure out how do you recruit and retain this next generation of rock star talent or you are in the right place.
Hi and welcome to this week's episode of the Next Generation Rock Stars podcast. I am your host, Amanda Hammett and I am thrilled to have you today. Today's episode is a really special one because I am sharing this episode. It is a joint interview between myself and my husband, Gene Hammett, who is the host of the popular business podcast "Leaders in the Trenches". And together we had the opportunity to sit down in person and interview Fran Katsoudas who is the Chief People Officer at Cisco Systems. Now, one of the most interesting things that came out of this interview and trust me, there were multiple, but just the focus on developing leaders in the way in which Cisco is doing it and trust me, they are doing it in some really innovative and different ways. There were a few stories that Fran shared during this interview that both Gene and I were really taken aback and just awed at how they're approaching developing their leaders. So I think that this is something that each and every leader should think about and take notes from because Fran is, she's a leader, she is a pioneer. She is looking at developing teams. She is looking at developing individuals for 75,000 employees around the globe. And she is doing a fantastic job. So I hope you take lots of notes. And here is Fran Katsoudas with Cisco Systems.
Gene Hammett: 01:43
Hi, this is Gene with leaders in the trenches. And also we have Amanda.
Amanda Hammett: 01:48
Hi, this is Amanda Hammett and this is with the next generation of rock stars.
Gene Hammett: 01:51
If you don't know Amanda's my wife. So, she's been on the podcast before and episode 100 but we have a very special guest today. We have a friend cut us with Cisco. She, I will let her introduce herself because the title is not that hard. It's the chief people officer, which is much easier to say the chief human resources officer. Fran, tell us a little bit about you and who you serve.
Fran Katsoudas: 02:16
Okay. Yeah. Thank you so much. So that my title changed about four years ago and I think that's part of the shift to really focusing on people and experience. And so, I think the people that I serve are all of our employees at Cisco and I take that incredibly seriously. I think it's one of the most amazing jobs. And in my role, I'm helping to hopefully create amazing careers for 75,000 employees.
Gene Hammett: 02:42
I think it's a much better title.
Amanda Hammett: 02:44
I do too. I think that it really reflects the culture that you guys have built at Cisco.
Gene Hammett: 02:51
I, you know, I'm going to let the audience know a little bit more about my research and you too, Fran. The key thing is I study growth companies and I over 300 leaders about what's the most important thing to grow. Is it a customer first or employee first? And 94% of smaller companies will say it's employee first. So I probably know where you are on this, but where do you, where do you rank in that?
Fran Katsoudas: 03:13
Okay. Yeah, you know, this, um, these things go hand in hand. And I, and I think if you asked the question, uh, five or seven years ago, the 94% could be customer first. It could have been, right. I think now all of us realize that when you take care of your people, they take care of the customer and they do the right thing, not only for the customers but for the community as well. And I think that's a little bit of the shift even for large companies like Cisco.
Gene Hammett: 03:38
Well, we're talking to you because you made the list and how many years in a row have you made the great places to work list?
Fran Katsoudas: 03:45
So we've been on the list for 22 years.
Gene Hammett: 03:49
Okay, that's, they put people first.
Amanda Hammett: 03:52
Apparently yes, very much so. I mean, 22 years. That's amazing. And I, has anybody else ever reached that pinnacle?
Fran Katsoudas: 04:00
I do think that there are a few other companies that have. But you know, I'll tell you because I feel it's important to say in 22 years, we've had some really phenomenal years. I think the highest that we've been is number three. And then we had years that were more challenged. And we talked about this the other night. We were at number 90 at one point. And so it's been fascinating for us to be at those numbers and with each year and every level of recognition. I think there was a question around what do we need to do? And sometimes that's been harder and sometimes a little east.
Gene Hammett: 04:36
Well, I want to direct our conversation into a topic that a lot of companies are struggling with it. This is big companies, medium-sized companies, small companies, and that's retaining key employees. So this is, you know, other words retention. Why is retention so important for business today?
Fran Katsoudas: 04:53
Yeah. Cause we know there's nothing better than having amazing people in teams. And so I think we all talk about retention because we don't want to lose that. And especially when you have something that's working, it's just so critical. The other thing that we recognize, there are really unique skills that are out there and from a technology space, skills are changing. Like the life of skill at this moment is becoming shorter and shorter. And so I think that's an element of why we talk about retention.
Amanda Hammett: 05:22
So Fran, in your journey of all of these 22 years on the great places to work list, I would imagine that over the years you guys have put on some key projects to really help you retain that talent and not only retain it, but also rescale it as those skills change.
Fran Katsoudas: 05:40
Yeah. It's interesting because I hesitate a little bit when I think about retention because there's something about that that if you're not careful, you can be on your heels a bit. And so rather than putting in retention programs, what I want to put our amazing programs that allow people to be at their best. And for every employee, they have some very unique things going on at work and at home and there are different paths that we have. And so I feel like our job is to architect these potential paths for people. There was a point probably about seven or eight years ago where I was spending so much time talking about retention and I don't think it was the right dialogue. What I needed to be talking about is how do we help people be at their absolute best? How do we help them work on teams where they feel like their work is having a tremendous impact. So that's a little bit of the shift that we've been through.
Gene Hammett: 06:37
It seems like that's more of a shift from retention is like kind of a reactive to what's going on, whereas you're getting more proactive.
Fran Katsoudas: 06:44
That's what I should have said. Yes,
Amanda Hammett: 06:46
You did. You did. You said that.
Gene Hammett: 06:49
A key question, you just came off the stage great, conversation kind of panel of what Cisco is doing, um, to move forward in the next 22 years. But you mentioned a project and I don't know what it's called, but you ask employees about what do they love and what do they loathe. So how often do you do that and why do you do that?
Fran Katsoudas: 07:10
Yeah, so there's a technology that we put in place. I think it's almost three years ago that Marcus Buckingham created, um, ADP recently acquired this company. And so every week, um, we go on our phones, there's an app that we have and we share our priorities for the week. We share what we loved and what we load from the previous week, and then how we feel about whether or not we're really. Really working in a way that demonstrates our strengths and then the level of value or impact that we think we're having. And it's something that candidly will take me about five minutes. Um, I do it weekly and Chuck Robbins, our CEO reviews my check-in and then he'll provide feedback. And so if you think about it, at its core, what it's doing is it's allowing us to quickly connect on the work. And then there's something a lot more powerful as it's giving chuck insights through what I love around what really fuels me as an employee.
Fran Katsoudas: 08:07
And then what I load, which was those things that drain. And I think as our role as leaders is to really do more of the love and help our employees on the load side of the house.
Amanda Hammett: 08:16
And I will say that I, you know, I've worked with some of your leaders and they have all had that exact same response to, to that APP and to that feedback on a weekly basis and that they really have enjoyed being able to see, okay, where am I missing ball, where can I help my people more? And I think that that's a major cultural just benefit that everybody's enjoyed.
Fran Katsoudas: 08:37
That's so funny Amanda, because um, everyone's different. Right? And so, as a leader, you start to understand your people in different ways. Like there are some members of my team where they rarely put anything in load. So when something is there, I need to get to them. I need a call them, I need to meet him cause I know there's something really heavy for them. So it's kind of fun because as leaders I think you get to know your people and I would never expect that they use at the same way. I think that's wonderful. But we learn a lot.
Gene Hammett: 09:07
It was good. How often do you do it?
Fran Katsoudas: 09:09
I probably do it three out of four weeks, so I will sometimes, if I'm traveling I'll miss a week or if I'm with chuck, but we ask people to do it at least. We try for weekly, at least every other week. And it's just a powerful way for us to connect.
Gene Hammett: 09:26
I want to be clear about this cause for, and you talked about you filling out this and you report to the CEO. Um, but how many thousand people are actually doing this program?
Fran Katsoudas: 09:35
Yes. So we've rolled it out to all employees around the globe. Now I'll tell you the number I, I really, really care about. Um, when we first rolled it out, we were seeing employees enter their information and we could see that in some cases a manager wouldn't read it. And that's pretty heartbreaking. Like, think about it. You go through this, this exercise of putting in your priorities you love and loathe and you're probably like sitting there going, I'm not going to say like, what are they going to say to that? And we worked with our leaders and now that rate is 92%. So 92% of the checkins are red. And we know that for the 8%. Sometimes they're red after the week. but that's really important. I call that the attention rate. And it's a question around our leaders paying attention to our people.
Amanda Hammett: 10:20
Absolutely. And that's one of the biggest things in my work that I see with next generation talent is that they want to have their voices heard. And this is a wonderful, beautiful, almost immediate way to do that.
Gene Hammett: 10:32
I'm going to switch the conversation a little bit. Back to my research. I study fast growing companies and one of the core factors of that has been, um, transparency and the word I actually use because a lot of these fast growing companies or adamant about it and as they use radical transparencies, and that's what you guys said on stage. So what is radical called transparency in terms of leadership?
Fran Katsoudas: 10:55
I think it's sharing what's not working. I think it's sharing those places where you perhaps did something wrong. I think it's just driving an honest discussion sometimes. I think it's actually more about the listening part for us from a senior leadership perspective in January of this year. And it was important to us. We wanted to kick off the year again with, with a signal of what was important to us. We actually shared with all of our employees at a company meeting, we do the monthly, all of the employee relations cases that we've had for the first half of our fiscal year. And we shared with them, you know, cases like cases around bullying and harassment, cases where perhaps I'm, someone felt like they were not being heard. And then we shared with our employees what we had done as a result of those cases. And the response to that, I think will drive more transparency from our employees in their own stories. And it's funny, I've had situations where I'll get out of the elevator and employee will say, Hey, that story that was real. Like I've had that happen to me. And so that's a little bit of what we're really pushing towards. Cause I think when we have that will be better as a company in every way.
Gene Hammett: 12:09
Follow up question. That is a lot of people are interested in transparency and some people are committed. What would you say to those people that are just merely interested?
Fran Katsoudas: 12:17
Well, I get it. I get it because it's hard. It's really hard. And um, we were just on stage with Mark Chandler who is our general counsel at Cisco and he's an amazing partner in that because I think what you have to be willing to do is understand that in some cases, transparency will lead to more conversation and work to be done. But the issues are there. Um, and so I would say that the faster that you can address the issues, the more that you're gonna be able to move on. And so I think we have to move to committed in this regard.
Amanda Hammett: 12:55
So I'd like to switch gears a little bit. Um, something that came up on during that panel was brought up by Amy Chang. Um, but it's something that I've actually seen also in heard from the leadership that I've worked with is the caring, the culture of caring that you have cultivated. But Amy's specifically said it comes from you directly and your team and it trickles down. And I love that. And so I, I'd like to, I'd like to know a little bit more about what benefit do you feel that that's given not only to you and your team, but also overall to your 75,000 employees?
Fran Katsoudas: 13:28
Well, she was very kind. I mean, it really does start with our CEO, Chuck Robbins. I think he's someone that in every engagement you see his passion and caring. Um, and it comes from our employees. And I'm a big believer in this magic of when things happen at the top and then throughout the organization, a lot of times I refer to it as the sandwich. Um, when we were doing work in August, identifying our principles as a company, we went around to, all of our employees around the globe are to focus groups and, um, what came out is they feel that we're a caring company. And so one of our principles is all around how we give of ourselves. I think, you know, my team sets a tone, which I absolutely love and I, and that's something I'm incredibly proud of and I think they do an amazing job. What we work really hard at is how do we connect the business strategy, um, to everything related to culture and people in organization and at the same time be there for one another.
Gene Hammett: 14:36
How do you transform leaders to really think about an increased to caring?
Fran Katsoudas: 14:43
I think leaders need to see it in action. I you know it's really hard. I mean, I think we've all been in situations where perhaps you see someone saying something on the stage and you think, hmm, I don't think that's really how it is. Right? And there's nothing, there's nothing worse than that. Um, and sometimes I feel really fortunate. I, um, I started at Cisco in the contact center. Um, I came in early in career and I answered phones. I remember talking to like 80 customers a day about their technical issues. And I think sometimes when you start at a company at a very entry level, you see so many different types of leaders, um, and you see some really good examples. So the first thing I would say is that leaders have to see it role model at, at every level in the company.
Fran Katsoudas: 15:32
And there can't be an exception and you have to call it when there is, which is incredibly hard. And you have to teach something that we've done recently. It sounds really funny. We've brought actors in to a leadership class and we've had the actors hand an employee a card that says your employee is talking over everyone in a team meeting. Go. And basically you have to have a conversation where you're helping your employee understand that that's going on. And so these are real life experiences. And so we're trying to coach and help and talk through as much as we can and make it real.
Amanda Hammett: 16:08
Gene Hammett: 16:08
That's pretty interesting. I've never heard of...
Amanda Hammett: 16:10
I have literally never heard of that.
Gene Hammett: 16:12
That's bringing actors.
Gene Hammett: 16:24
So let me take this one friend you talked on stage about some work you've done on forming of teams and what makes good teams. I've read some studies from Google as well. I'm sure you've probably read these as well. What can you tell us about best teams?
Fran Katsoudas: 16:44
Yeah, so for us it was really fascinating. We went out to the business about three years ago and we said, identify your best teams. And they identified about 97 teams across the company and we studied the 97 teams and then we studied a control group of 200 teams. And sure enough, we could see a difference. And, and honestly we didn't know if that was going to be the case or not. And so the delta that we saw was in three key areas on the best teams. We could see that employees were playing to their strengths and when employees play to their strengths, there are a lot more creative, there are a lot more productive. So it's pretty amazing for us. The second thing that we saw, and I think this was in the Google study as well, is that on teams where teammates feel like, hey mate, my teammates have my back.
Fran Katsoudas: 17:30
There's a big difference from a safety and trust perspective, that's incredibly important for growth and innovation as well. And then the last thing that we saw is on our best teams teams were aligned on how they were gonna win together. They, they had some shared values as it relates to where they were going. And so those were the three differentiators between the best teams in the control group. And then that became really the philosophy for a lot of what we do from a teams and leaders.
Amanda Hammett: 17:59
I think that, I think that that's really important, especially from my perspective with the young talent, is that finding those good leaders, because that is one of the things that I coach university students to think about is really look for that good first leader. That person that can really help you play to your strengths are figure out what your strengths are. Because coming out of college you may not know exactly what you're good at or you may develop new skills. And being with a leader who can help you do that and can guide you is beautiful. It's wonderful.
Gene Hammett: 18:27
So, Fran, we've been guiding most of these do questions is, is there something that we haven't asked you about that you feel like really would improve the employee experience?
Fran Katsoudas: 18:38
You know, there's something I'll share with you that we're focused on at the moment. And it's something where we're learning a lot and we're developing and there's this, um, there's this belief that we have in something called conscious culture. And the belief set is that when you have a conscious culture, every single employee is a leader within the company. And every single employee's conscious of their role in shaping the company and shaping our culture. There there's three things that we're focused on within this. The first is the environment. This is why, by the way we shared the employee relations cases because we want to have a really honest dialogue around the environment. The second pillar is all about the characteristics and the behaviors. And this is where our principals live. And then the last piece is really around what's your day to day experience. Cause I think if you have amazing principals, but again, your day to day experience is different. That's a big problem. And so for us, that's going to be our focus, but we're doing a lot of experimentation and pilots and we're learning. And it's something that we'll be happy to talk about in the future as well.
Amanda Hammett: 19:47
That's really fantastic.
Gene Hammett: 19:49
Well, we're gonna wrap this up. I one final question. I've heard a lot today, something that I don't hear much in a corporate setting, which is a mindset. I have heard this from my beginnings of becoming a coach. It was like, I guess nine years ago, and I didn't know what it was before that because I was sort of an engineer and I, you know, just get the work done and that's the kind of leader I was. But when I, when I went through this, I realized that the way I was thinking had a huge impact on what I saw and what I did and how I engaged. So what do you do to talk about mindsets and how do you work with your leaders on that?
Fran Katsoudas: 20:30
Yeah, I do think it's incredibly important. You know, one of the things that we do is we talk a lot about servant leadership and I think that's how you start to shift the mindset because basically what you're saying is that as a leader you are in service to the people around you. And that is such a different Lens than get the work done. One of my peers, she did this first and I loved it. Maria Martinez, she showed an org chart and she was at the very bottom of the org chart. And that's a great example of how you start to shift mindset by just signaling no, no, no. Okay. All of the people that I support, they are the important folks in this. And so there are things like that that I think are incredibly important. And then again, yeah, I think just being willing to have conversations that make us think to ask questions that'll make us really pause. I think those are all elements of how you change a mindset.
Gene Hammett: 21:22
So this wraps up a special episode of leaders in the trenches and the next generation rockstars.
Gene Hammett: 21:28
Thank you Fran for being here.
Fran Katsoudas: 21:29
Amanda Hammett: 21:30
Thanks so much for joining us for this episode of the next generation Rockstars, where we have discussed all recruiting and retaining that next generation of talent. So I'm guessing that you probably learned a tremendous amount from this week's rock star leader. And if that is the case, don't keep me a secret, share this episode with the world, but really share it with your friends, with your colleagues, because they also need to learn how to recruit and retain this next generation of talent because these skills are crucial to business success moving forward. Now of course, I want you to keep up to date every single week as we are dropping each and every episode. So be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform of your choice, and you will see the next generation rock stars show up just for you.