Friday, December 19, 2008

“Power to the People — and Profits to the Company”

Nigel Parry)

Cisco CEO, John Chambers (photo courtesty: Nigel Parry)

Nearly every Sunday night, you can find me on a Jetblue flight heading from my home just outside of Boston, MA to my soon to be new home, Austin, TX. During these nearly four hour flights, I’m able to catch up on a lot of reading including. This includes a large number of blogs I try and keep up with but a couple of times a month, it also includes FastCompany, the magazine.

Last night happened to be one of those nights where I read FastCompany. I was feeling particularly “Sponge-like” as I had just had a beverage with my friend, Peter Kim, in JFK airport (the stopover for the evening flight from Boston to Austin). I was particulartly interested in the title article that focused on Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers and how he’w in the process of “socializing” one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.

What got me excited about this post was the fact that Cisco has gone to great lengths recently to turn themselves into a socially minded organization  not social in the “let’s do good” sense of the word but rather as in social media/social networking. To that end, Chambers truly practices what he preaches and keeps an internal blog (currently ranked no. 2 out of the thousands of other internal blogs at Cisco). He also regularly encourages people to contribute their ideas to the corporate wiki and if so moved, upload videos to Cisco’s version of Youtube called “C-Vision.”

While I applaud Chambers focus on getting his company to adopt social tools, the thing that really resonated with me was Chamber’s rationale behind  these tools i.e. getting his company to think “collaboration.” And not just with each other but with their customers and their partners.

I also liked the fact that Chambers gets the fact that the day of “command and control” leadership within an organization is dying. New leaders must change or face being phased out of the company. To make his point un-missable, Chambers has tied the compensation of all his executives (their are nearly 500) to one another’s success. One fails and they all fail.

This new approach has netted Cisco some pretty big successes like his $4 billion+ financing business . It’s also netted Cisco $26 billion in cash which gives the company an almost unheard of advantage in today’s crappy economy. It’s also earned Cisco a ton of positive press in addition to the Fastcompany article including Time Magazine’s top 100 execs of 2008 among many others.

How do we know this isn’t just a bunch of corporate b.s. that many companies spout off? For one, my former CEO and CMO at Mzinga worked for Cisco and they regularly raved about Chambers innovation and passion for collaboration. I also know because while I was at Mzinga, we ran a community for one of Cisco’s eventual acquisitions, WebEx. As a result of that relationship, I know that Cisco has launched at least five other community initiatives (probably more at this point).

What can you do to be more like Cisco? For starters, get your internal house in order and get your employees collaborating. By collaborating, I don’t mean just updating a corporate wiki with HR documentation. I mean real collaboration via microblogging tools like Yammer (see the guest post I co-penned with Joe Cascio on Enterprise microblogging). You should also encourage as many of your employees as possible to blog — maybe not all externally — but at least internally. You should also rally around a public facing social network like FacebookLinkedIn or Plaxo. If you are really ready to see results, you may even think about creating a branded online community.

Is your company collaborating with it’s employees, customers and partners? Let’s hear how or why not in the comments  below.


NOTE: The title of this post comes from an excerpt in the Fastcompany article written by Ellen McGirt

Cross-posted from


  1. Good post, Aaron. Cisco's approach makes me think of what S. Covey has written about highly effective people: as you mature, you move from dependence to independence to INTERdependence.

    In the corporate sphere, we call this "collaboration" or "teamwork"; it's the way that the outcome of a group's efforts are worth more than the sum of the parts.

    I'd also note how Cisco's practices reflect those of all the best performers, whether we're talking about individuals like Tiger Woods or organizations like Toyota: you never sit still or assume that your current status (and Cisco has dominated its industry for years) will be adequate for tomorrow.

    So you keep sharpening the enterprise. It's not enough to do what you did yesterday, or even to do more and better of what you did yesterday: you have to do at least some things that are *different* and better than what you did yesterday. Cisco and Chambers have been doing that for a long time.

  2. Tim - great advice. And given your hard core focus on business, I'll take your comments with a wee more than a grain of salt.