As a leader in cybersecurity and networking, Cisco has a clear mandate. “We have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to leverage the power of technology in this new reality, to continue to drive transformation and to solve some of the world’s biggest problems,” CEO Chuck Robbins stated in the company’s 2022 annual report.
The San Jose, California-based company in recent years has benefitted from massive networking growth, and rising demand for cybersecurity and digitalization. At the same time, evolving systems architecture, the proliferation of data and growing infrastructure complexity have pushed the company to innovate more quickly and deliver the kinds of products and solutions its customers expect.
Solving the world’s biggest problems, of course, requires diverse teams of the brightest, most skilled people. During the past two years, the company has had to fill unprecedented numbers of job requisitions leading to record net income, earnings and recurring revenues. Adding key talent has also been pivotal to Cisco’s transformation to becoming a software and subscription-driven business.
For Zohra Yafai, vice president of Global Talent Acquisition, the hiring flurry has been a test of her team’s ability to pivot with the needs of the business, whether it’s for cloud services, full stack observability or sales leaders. Being agile is a critical success factor for Cisco’s talent acquisition efforts, and the company has been able to engage the right people to meet business needs.
“We did a record number of fills last year, on the back of a record number of fills the year before, so scaling and volume, for anybody in talent acquisition, absolutely has been a characteristic of the work for the last two years,” she emphasizes.
the talent brand as an accelerator
But as the tech sector cools off from the highs of 2022, Cisco is rebalancing its workforce and shifting resources to growing segments. Even as hiring in some legacy businesses has slowed, it continues to add headcount in growth areas such as cloud and security. The pace of external hiring, however, has certainly normalized from the peak of the past two years.
Yafai sees this as an opportunity to channel some of her team’s attention and resources to build on initiatives that will have long-term payoffs. Among her priorities is enhancing the company’s talent brand, which she sees as a lever for not only talent attraction but also retention. She explained that a compelling employee value proposition (EVP) helps with engagement and excites employees about their next chapter in the Cisco journey. It’s part of the company’s expanded effort to nurture a highly positive total talent life cycle.
“The strategic function of talent acquisition is now going to be to hire people into Cisco and then support them in their second and third moves within the company,” she says. “So we have to, from a talent brand perspective, be clear about who we are and why they should be excited about this company, so that we can attract people that want that journey with us.
“Yes, we want them to come and do the job that they've applied to do and the one that we've advertised for, but then they can move on to the next job and the next job and the job after that because, fundamentally, they believe in the vision and the values of Cisco.”
She points out her own journey as one she hopes all Cisco employees can experience. Even though she heads up talent acquisition today, she began at the company 15 years ago in a different position. Yafai says she has held eight different roles across two continents during her tenure — a talent experience she sees as ideal.
“This is exactly the kind of journey we would love to provide for anybody coming to Cisco,” she says.
optimize through redeployment
One way of doing this is to provide robust internal career paths. Cisco last summer piloted a program aimed at encouraging employees to redeploy to growth areas of the company. Yafai says it was developed as a cooperative effort with employees, and the company created roles specifically to incentivize workers to consider new opportunities.
It is currently rolling out an enterprise-wide coaching program that enables all employees to receive high-touch coaching services, whether it’s to review resumes or to identify skills development. Yafai notes that some internal candidates explicitly called out these services as helpful in allowing them to move into new roles in a recent pilot. These services were also part of the outplacement services offered to those who were affected by the company’s reductions.
focus on the enterprise talent life cycle
While Cisco has always prioritized its people as part of its business strategy — it’s perennially on Fortune’s World’s Best Workplace list — the company is now more focused on enhancing the candidate and employee movement experience. This became challenging to maintain when requisition volumes and pace of hiring were high. Now, however, Cisco aims to assess and improve various touch points that candidates have with the company, so they can experience the high customer service Cisco is known for.
There’s no question that the talent experience will remain a centerpiece of the company’s talent strategy near and long term. Creating an indelible talent experience remains high on the priority list of many C-suite and human capital leaders, Randstad Enterprise Talent Trends research shows; 81% of those surveyed say their organization is more focused on talent experience than ever.
As Yafai points out, even as Cisco rebalances its workforce, the company is constantly reinforcing its touch points with job seekers and employees. This effort will not only help the business acquire external talent but also support its people to develop new skills and grow.
“I think it's important employers offer those pathways because our business leaders know how the type of work they do will transform and what skills will be valued within the company,” Yafai tells us. “I think it's imperative because people are going to be in the workforce longer than ever, so how do we support them to do that in a way that, at the same time, signals that these are the things that we need as well.”
Most importantly, she adds, the strategy is built on collaborative efforts with business leaders, talent and her team. Without input from all parties, the company would miss out on critical input. “At Cisco, we say talent acquisition is a team sport,” she adds.
As a company that has long excelled in delivering an EVP that is valued by its candidates and employees, Cisco has entered the next phase of its enterprise talent strategy. Focused on the complete talent life cycle — candidate attraction through career transition — the company is making sure all touch points along the way are designed to nurture engagement, development and mobility so its workforce is agile, adaptive and innovative.
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