Cisco, a global leader
in IT, networking, and cybersecurity solutions, is one such organization that
in the context of a tight labor market and the competition for top talent in
critical roles, has redesigned its strategic workforce planning approach to lead
with intelligence. Leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP) and predictive
modeling, they looked at internal and external data on critical and growth
skills, talent movement, and role adjacencies to inform investments in their
In 2019, Cisco also introduced a new performance framework focused
on leader and employee conversations—supported by a simple framework, process,
and platform. Cisco’s goal is to move from an assessment to an investment-based
approach in which leaders drive discussions around growth and movement of
“At Cisco we talk about our culture as being ‘one company,
many careers,’” says Yvonne French, Director of Cisco’s Talent & Workforce
Planning. “We want to create an environment where our people have visibility in
to career opportunities that align to their strengths and aspirations. Our
strategic workforce planning approach is very targeted within each business
function. We evaluate the specific roles and/or skills that are required to
drive that business strategy and leverage that data to identify and recommend
the most effective investment strategy for each business—build, buy or borrow.”
First, the team works with the Chief Strategy Office to
ensure alignment with Cisco’s strategic direction, including competitive
landscapes and the current and future growth skills required to drive Cisco’s long-term
Then, Cisco leverages market intelligence from multiple
sources, such as Burning Glass
Technologies (a provider of real-time jobs
data) or other companies’ job postings, to identify job skills and roles for
hiring companies. This information, along with existing internal data and
leader interviews, is combined to create a common taxonomy of roles, job
families, job titles, and functions, which is validated by leadership. This
taxonomy provides a consistent role/skill foundation across the organization
and enables the identification of the skills that are most critical to Cisco’s
Next, the roles and skills are considered against business priorities to determine if Cisco has a gap or an opportunity for
growth in each area. This gives the company’s leaders a better map of their
talent landscape. From there, similar skills and roles, learning and
development approaches, and critical talent can be identified and planned.
Additionally, roles and skills are assessed to determine if they
are transferable. Figure 1 details how Cisco determined transferability for user
experience (UX) and user interface (UI) skills:
- Are UX/UI skills critical to the business?
Based on multiple internal data sources, including Cisco’s hiring data,
training data, strategic priorities, Burning Glass forecasts, consultants, and third-party
research, the answer was clearly yes.
- Are UX/UI skills a gap at Cisco? Quite
possibly. Cisco had a lower ratio of UX/UI roles to developers and engineers
when compared with existing and emerging competitors. “This also involves a
check-in with relevant leaders to make sure they are in agreement that the gap that
exists is an area where they want to focus and invest,” says French.
- What are the growth skills within UX/UI?
These were found to be such skills as lean UI, conversation design, voice
interaction, data visualization, search interfaces, and more.
- What are adjacent skills and eligible “feeder”
roles? Industry data was used to determine such roles, which included front-end
developers, full-stack developers, graphic designers, and product managers. An
internal talent approach is not only better from a cost perspective and when
facing a shallow external talent pool, but French says that this drives internal
mobility, career movement, learning, and employee retention.
- Which Cisco employees are potential talent
for this area? This involves matching internal talent currently in the
identified roles, those who have the adjacent or critical skills. “This is very
much a conversation, about the specific people involved—their propensity to
learn, their strengths, their capabilities to bridge the gap, and so on,” noted
For those employees identified as critical talent, learning
and development then becomes a focus.
“The recommendations that come out of this process indicate
where we think we should upskill or reskill, and where we should have the largest
investments from a company perspective and at the individual and department
level,” says French.
To support this, Cisco is using Degreed as an enterprise learning experience
platform (LXP). It offers a user-friendly gateway to curate learning content in
which employees can toggle skills on or off to see the related content and
training opportunities available. Relevant content is pushed to employees based
on skills, learning history, group membership, and followers.
This new process significantly helps talent acquisition at
Cisco. Consider the case of artificial intelligence, which has a very shallow
and hard-to-find talent pool. Reskilling existing employees to be data
scientists is a challenge, given the credentials required.
So being able to define relevant skills and feeder roles greatly expands the
pool of potential external talent on which talent acquisition (TA) can focus.
French says, “Looking at different growth skills helps TA open
their aperture more widely, to find other areas where relevant talent might
come from. They aren’t as reliant on hiring managers, as they have a broader
list of relevant skills to search for.”
What’s next at Cisco?
The team is applying a diversity overlay to ensure the revised
strategic workforce planning approach aligns with the company’s diversity and
inclusion goals. They are also focusing further on talent mobility, including internal
expos where employees can talk about the future of their specific areas and
provide visibility into upcoming opportunities. The emphasis is on making Cisco
an agile and flexible employer, and this starts by using data and analytics to
better understand the company’s current talent, the skills they need, and then prioritizing
talent mobility and development to reach business goals.
- Step 1: Strategy analysis
- Step 2: Talent segmentation
- Step 3: Risk analysis
- Step 4: Supply and demand analysis
- Step 5: Environmental scanning
- Step 6: Gap analysis
- Step 7: Talent management strategy