Cisco designs and sells broad lines of products, provides services, and delivers integrated solutions to develop and connect networks around the world.
Cisco is committed to creating the best experience of work for their people. One way they are doing this is through their coaching service that helps their employees learn, articulate, and work in their areas of strength—that is to do more of the things they are great at, that also give them energy.
In 2016, they conducted an internal study and found that the number one characteristic of the best teams at Cisco is that team members use their strengths at work every day. The Leadership and Team Intelligence (LTI) team set out to work with the business to create opportunities for all employees to do the same—to increase the performance of the company by helping to make more teams like their best teams.
The LTI team partnered with an external partner to offer a strengths-based assessment to all employees. This assessment produces a strengths report that gives employees a view into how they show up to others when working in their areas of strength, and the results are stored in a company database allowing employees to view the strengths of others. They also offer assessment debriefs. This is a coaching service in which leaders work with a coach to help them get a deeper understanding of their strengths report and codevelop a strategy for how they can do more of the work that they love. They have already begun to see a trickledown effect as leaders go back to their teams equipped to hold strengths-based conversations with their people.
Many studies show that increased employee engagement leads to increased performance (their internal study cites Harter et al., 2002; Saks, 2006; Rich, LePine & Crawford, 2010). For Cisco, increased performance means lower attrition, stronger customer relationships due to more innovative product and service offerings, and better overall financial performance for their stakeholders.
As they help more and more of their people use their strengths every day, they’re seeing an increase in team engagement. In addition to the above listed benefits, this positive practice means a shift in conversations between leaders and their teams. With this work they’re doing in LTI, they’re shifting from a focus on improving weaknesses or filling skill gaps, to one where they spend the most time working in and developing strengths. For example, at a recent functional offsite, the leader opened the first day by having each team member share a strength with the team, how they discovered the strength, and why that strength was energizing for the team member. Throughout the working sessions that followed, team members were able to use what they learned about one another in the strengths sharing exercise to ensure that tasks and strengths were always a match, and thus the teams were able to successfully achieve their goals by the end of the three days.
“While it seems like incorporating strengths would be an easy thing to do in an organization, the strengths-based philosophy is opposite everything we learn starting in elementary school. Your people will only commit to this new way of thinking when they understand the “why”. For Cisco, the data from our internal study answered the “why”. What will it be for your org? Work with a diverse group of your employees to help understand the why and be able to tell that story to others both internally and externally.”