Learning Strategy & Journey at Cisco: A Transformation

Learning Strategy & Journey at Cisco

Learning Strategy & Journey at Cisco: A Transformation

By Kathy Bries, senior director and general manager, Cisco

  1. What was the goal of your talent initiative/learning journey/strategy?

It is estimated that in five short years, four out of 10 organizations will be displaced or cease to exist due to the exponential rate of digital disruption occurring in the global marketplace. To adapt and thrive in this new digital economy, industry thought leaders and futurists note that every country, every city, and every business will need to become digital, or they too will be disrupted.

For organizations that act now, digitalization is a huge business opportunity. To move ahead of the curve and prepare its workforce for the digital future, Cisco decided in 2013 to shift its Services organization to a consultative, solutions-selling model. To support this transformational play, Services would need to cross-train 14,000-plus employees on the company’s cloud, security, analytics, and data solutions business. In addition, employees would also need to be reskilled and upskilled to succeed in new positions supporting the evolved Services strategy.

By transitioning to the new consultative-style approach, leaders believed that Services employees could acquire the transformational capabilities and expertise needed to support customers transiting to digital. From a first-mover position, Cisco could gain a competitive advantage, from innovating new business models to creating additional value for new Internet of Everything solutions. Moreover, employees could use their new skills to redefine the customer experience.

  1. How was this implemented within your learning culture?

Unlike Cisco Collaborative Knowledge, Career Connection initially focused primarily on formal and informal learning: Career Universe, Learning Plan, Community, and the Training Catalog. Career Universe contained Career Playbooks, organized by job families, and skills-based capabilities. Learning Plan scheduled and tracked learning and development and progress toward career goals. Community connected peers, mentors, and experts so they could learn, encourage, and help one another on assignments and projects. The Training Catalog standardized learning and development across Services, providing every employee with new opportunities to learn and grow.

The dynamic nature of Career Connection meant that learning was enabled through a rich blend of formal and informal learning opportunities, including discussion threads, blogs, and even crowdsourcing. In addition to enabling Cisco Services to reskill 14,400 employees quickly and cost-effectively, Career Connection offered many tangible business benefits:

  • Engaged employees in Services’ business transformation
  • Increased collaboration and communication among peers, experts, and executives
  • Improved employee engagement, participation, and satisfaction
  • Standardized and democratized learning and development across the Services organization


To align around this initiative, Edzard Overbeek, who formerly served as senior vice president of Cisco’s Services division, convened a steering team of Human Resources Learning & Development, and Learning@Cisco leaders to define the transformation vision, strategy, and journey. To understand the challenges before them, the steering team commissioned an independent Human Resources assessment of the business unit. The resulting assessment identified a number of gaps and opportunities. It quickly became apparent to executive leaders that a whole new approach to learning and talent development would be necessary for Services to achieve its desired business outcomes. After months of meetings, surveys, interviews, user testing, employee participation, and executive input, the Career Connection internal proof-of-concept pilot went live in 2014.

The platform, which was purposefully designed to scale content, context, and community across the enterprise, offered employees a social, collaborative environment to learn and grow within.

To drive adoption, Career Connection was designed and developed so that Services employees were the beneficiaries of crucial tools and technology that empowered them to take charge of their own careers and learning and development. To cultivate collaboration and knowledge-sharing across functions, employees could connect with peers, experts, and mentors to learn and share information in real time. They could also acquire knowledge and specialized skills through interactive discussion forums, blogs, and online training. To support transformational capabilities development, employees, Services leaders, Human Resources, and Learning & Development teams worked together to create Career Playbooks. By providing prescriptive guidance on job skills and training, employees could better prepare for current and future job roles that aligned with their career and development goals.

  1. What were the results/expected results?

Once deployed, it quickly became apparent that Career Connection had the right blend of learning and collaboration for Cisco Services. Early field trial results demonstrated that employees not only liked the platform, they supported its mission:

  • Eight out of 10 employees agreed or strongly agreed they had a better sense of Services’ business transformation, and consequently were more engaged on Services’ business topics. They also felt empowered to share professional knowledge with peers as a result of Career Connection.
  • Nine out of 10 employees agreed or strongly agreed that learning about the organization’s strategic direction from leaders (directly via blogs and discussion threads) was important to engagement and career development.
  • Three out of four employees agreed or strongly agreed that being able to share information through discussion forums was important to their learning and development.
  • Eight out of 10 employees agreed or strongly agreed that being able to access job roles and requisites in Career Universe better enabled them to meet their aspirational career goals.
  • Eight out of 10 employees agreed or strongly agreed that the information in their Career Playbook enabled them to more effectively create their professional development plan.
  • Eight out of 10 employees agreed or strongly agreed that Career Connection was useful and informative in planning career goals.

With such positive feedback, Learning@Cisco executives began asking: Could Cisco customers benefit from a similar platform to transform their own companies? To determine if there was an unmet need in the marketplace, Learning@Cisco connected with over 150 customers to discuss their challenges. Armed with customer interest and a proof-of-concept pilot validated by 14,400 Cisco Services employees, Career Connection quickly evolved from an internal learning offering into a fully integrated, cloud-based knowledge and learning digital workplace solution called Cisco Collaborative Knowledge.


Designed to optimize knowledge-sharing and collaborative learning, Cisco Collaborative Knowledge can empower everyone within an organization with the digital tools and technology needed to access experts, learning, and knowledge in real time—anytime, anywhere. By combining the best of Career Connection with crucial technologies to streamline communication and business results, Cisco Collaborative Knowledge evolved into a digital workplace solution.


  1. What is Cisco Collaborative Knowledge?

Launched in April 2015, Cisco Collaborative Knowledge integrates best-in-class consumer and business applications—secure knowledge sharing, expert identification, collaboration, continuous learning, social networking, and analytics—into one complete and end-to-end knowledge-exchange solution.


Powered by five knowledge and learning modules—Mobile Knowledge, Expert Discovery, Knowledge Center, Social Communities, and the Learning Management System, Cisco Collaborative Knowledge can provide every employee with the tools and capabilities they need to reimagine the customer and employee experience. Following are highlights of the modules that constitute Cisco Collaborative Knowledge:

  • Mobile Knowledge: Makes knowledge portable and shareable. With it, everyone can capture, share, and manage content anytime, anywhere with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
  • Expert Discovery: Provides just-in-time access to expert resources using Cisco WebEx® and Jabber® technology. Workers can identify and locate resources and connect safely inside the firewall to share ideas, exchange knowledge, or solve business challenges in real time.
  • Knowledge Center: Centralizes and preserves institutional knowledge and best practices from across the organization in an enterprise-wide library.
  • Social Communities: Fosters real-time learning, problem solving, and innovation through social communities, discussion forums, blogs, and crowdsourcing.
  • Learning Management System: Supports formal, prescribed, and informal learning and development through a centralized learning management system. Students can track their progress and take assessments, and instructors can leverage the system to prescribe learning.

Incorporating industry-leading Cisco innovation, including Cisco WebEx and Jabber collaboration tools and Visual Knowledge Mapping and Analytics Technology, Cisco Collaborative Knowledge can help every organization build a smarter, more agile, and more productive digital workplace for today and tomorrow.


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