Connecting People: How Cisco Used Social Recognition to Transform Its Culture

November 11, 2015 Sarah Payne


Connected Recognition is inspired by Cisco's values.

Connected Recognition is inspired by Cisco’s values.

While at HR Tech in October, Claire Gray, senior director of global compensation at Cisco Systems (a Globoforce customer), presented a session titled, “How Cisco Fuels a Culture of Innovation for Employees.”

Claire opened her talk by introducing Cisco’s People Deal, which is an ambition for the kind of experience Cisco hopes to create for its employees. A key part of this total employee experience is Connected Recognition, Cisco’s social recognition and reward platform.

Claire sat down with me after the session and answered a few questions about the results of the program (which currently has an 85% participation rate), its impact on culture, and how employees are using their rewards.

Tell me about your role and responsibilities at Cisco.

I lead the compensation team, which is responsible for all of our compensation, bonus, stock, and recognition programs globally. There are about 25 people on the team and we do a variety of analytics, program design, consulting with the business, and program management. I lead enterprise programs, so there’s a lot of marketing, budgeting, and system administration involved.

How does the People Deal play into Cisco’s culture?

The People Deal is an embodiment of our culture. It’s our aspiration of how we want to be and how we want our employees to feel. It’s a vision of how we want to operate as a team.

It came up as an idea from one of my colleagues in the U.K., who thought, ‘we need to freshen this up; we want to be a company that people want to work for.’ And if we described the old culture, it was a little stodgy. The People Deal became this inspirational manifesto to ask, ‘what company do we want to work for? And what would it feel like?” It was a journey of a lot of inputs from a lot of employees and leaders to determine which words really resonate and really reflect our true culture.

Cisco is a 30-year-old company and we have a really strong culture, but it needed to be refreshed. This was a way to paint that vision of what we wanted it to be.

What did recognition at Cisco look like before you partnered with Globoforce?

It was a very traditional, manager-driven spot bonus program for people who completed big projects—more reward than actual recognition. And there was not a lot of publicity around it. Usually just the people on the team would know if somebody got a reward. It was a much smaller scale and there was nothing social about it. It was very private and hidden. Managers had all the control to make those decisions.

Why did you choose to partner with Globoforce?

Globoforce is a really powerful innovator. The company has a great global presence. It also has the social presence we were looking for. So those were the attractive aspects of Globoforce. And then what we came to really appreciate and partner on is the innovation and co-design. We partner really well with the Globoforce team in that regard. Globoforce also brought a lot of other ideas as part of our partnership. The video, the mobile capability—those were things that Globoforce brought to us.

Tell me about Connected Recognition. What were your goals for the program?

The goals were to have people really participate and feel connected. And I think that’s one we’re hitting pretty well, although I think we can still do better. I’m pretty ambitious with what my goals are. We wanted to increase our employee satisfaction and employee engagement, and our program has greatly contributed to that. We wanted to have more camaraderie and a better employee experience and we’ve gotten really good scores from employees on that. And we also wanted to increase team productivity.

Can you explain what you mean by team productivity?

We’re going to start doing some work at Cisco about what are the best teams and what are the typical characteristics of the best teams. Research describes it as, ‘People have your back. You’re playing to your strengths.’ You know it when you have that good mojo and energy. And you would think the Connected Recognition participation rates would be higher on those teams. We want to test that because we have pockets of participation that are high, pockets that are low, and pockets that are average. I want to look at the highs and lows to see if there’s any data that we can triangulate to see what else might be going on. How are their leader scores? How are their organizational health scores? And is there any other correlation there? How are their business results?

What are the results of the program so far?

So far we’ve had great numbers. We have 73% participation—up from 39% before we implemented Connected Recognition. When you combine who gave or received, it’s 85%. So 85% of people did something in the tool. Getting 85% of a 70,000-person company to do anything that they don’t have to is pretty impressive. This is all optional. Now, 43% of peers, or what we’d call the ‘non-managers’, gave recognition. That’s great—almost half of individuals are giving.

Are there any employee stories you can share?

We have had people write that they were able to take their family to Disney Land. One of my co-workers always redeems his for his Friday-night date night with his wife. He loves it. Even for me, when I brought my friends out and I used one of my gift cards, I said, ‘This is on me because I got this award.’ And it was a way for me to share my success at work with my friends. It made me feel proud all over again. Those kinds of anecdotes abound with the program.

Have you seen an impact on culture in general as a result of the program?

All the people who are participating and all the new employees really love it. They think it’s really cool. They feel really proud of it. Now, I think people couldn’t imagine a world without it. We’ve overcome a lot of the skeptics that were out there.

For me as a manager, I’m always proud when my team takes care of each other without me there. And you can see that happening. I want to empower that more—get the managers out of the way. The teams will be able to do even more when they’ve got each other’s backs. That is one of the key aspects of great teams. For example, you’re proud when your kids make you breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day without you there telling them what to do. It’s the same thing in the workplace. They’re taking responsibility. The program makes it a more fun place to work. Saying ‘thank you’ goes a long way.

How do you see the program evolving?

We’ve got some really good ideas to evolve the program over time. First, I want to get participation even higher. And we need to expand the social, the mobile, and the video. I think the video is going to be key. We need to get a lot more executive sponsorship and we want to exploit more of the internal social channels to reinforce the program. We also have some new ideas around trying to promote team-to-team recognition so we build the power of teams as well.

How @Cisco used social recognition to transform its culture
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