Cisco is not only ranked #62 on the Fortune 500 List, they’re also ranked #48 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2018. After listening to Joshua Clark, Senior Manager, Leadership & Team Intelligence at Cisco, discuss how they do things differently during Degreed’s LENS Conference, I’m not at all surprised.

Doing things differently at Cisco isn’t just a strategic initiative written down on a piece of paper once and then forgotten. It is a strategy used daily within their teams, in the way they approach funding, and in the way they push their partners to evolve (the last one comes from personal experience).

How many L&D Leaders do you know who are engineers by trade? Likely, not many. The most obvious difference in the learning team at Cisco is their team leader. Clark has been with Cisco for 19 years. He is an engineer by trade, yet has carved a journey into L&D, building and designing learning. He understands that “no one wakes up and logs into the LMS with a cup of java.” The Degreed project is the result of the vision that Cisco needs a learning platform to develop and keep employees relevant to driving the business forward.

Rather than focusing purely on the need for continual learning when building the case for project funding (which, in and of itself, doesn’t resonate with the executive team when it comes to ROI), Clark’s approach to obtaining funding for learning involved understanding the challenges that were critical to their business, including:

  • The limited shelf life for certain skill sets
  • Critical talent pools and skill areas needing development in the organization
  • Upskilling and re-skilling needs resulting from the previous two challenges

Tying learning challenges to those business challenges resonated with the executive team, and the project was funded.

Moving forward, Cisco also approached the project itself differently:

  • Strategy: The new marketing strategy wasn’t a “one email and done” approach. It included multiple channels (like digital signage, posters, and imagery), new design themes that they were willing to throw away if they didn’t resonate with their focus groups, and the idea that they would need to continually reinforce the message.
  • Team DNA: In addition to Clark’s background in engineering, they introduced new L&D roles like UX designer, curator, marketing manager, and software developer. This brought new thinking to the project to assist with a successful launch.
  • Technology: Having a software developer on their team enabled Cisco to “leverage and tinker” with that expertise when faced with security challenges that were unique, like having a number of learning systems behind their firewall rather than in the cloud that would be easy to connect.

As a result of Cisco’s experience, Clark recommends that we “embrace technology as L&D professionals,” and reminds us through Einstein’s words, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

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