Javed Khan is SVP and GM at Cisco Collaboration, a multi-billion dollar division inside of Cisco, a worldwide leader in IT, networking, and cybersecurity solutions. Prior to his current role, Javed ran Cisco’s Cloud Calling business as the VP and General Manager and before that he led the Webex Meetings business unit.
Just like many organizations around the world, when Covid first started becoming a global issue Cisco had to take action in order to keep business going while also enabling employees to work from home. Because of the products they build, they had some advantages over other companies as they already had communication and collaboration tools everyone was familiar with.
But one challenge they had to overcome was an overnight need for their products from existing and new customers. The demand for their products was suddenly three times bigger in a very short period of time. So as a company they had to hurry to scale very quickly in a time when they also needed to move their workforce out of the offices. It required the team to come together, work a lot of long hours, and support their customers.
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How to create and foster casual interaction with a remote team
Javed and other leaders at Cisco also understood that they needed to support employees in a new way. This new way of working made collaboration and casual interactions with coworkers very different, but leaders at Cisco knew they had to find a way to keep both collaboration and social interaction going, because they are so important. Especially in the times we are facing now when people are anxious, worried, scared, etc…
At Cisco, they have done a few things to keep employees informed, involved, and engaged. First of all the leadership team leads frequent check in calls, this is different from their quarterly all hands meetings where they talk business and give updates. These check in calls are where people can casually hangout, sometimes they talk about social topics relevant at the time, sometimes they have entertainment, and sometimes they bring in external speakers.
They also have small groups that will get together to talk, without an agenda, about anything they want. These are usually on Friday evenings and employees are allowed to include their family in the calls if they want, but they are just casual conversations to allow small groups of employees to catch up and have fun.
The future of the office
With our current events there has been a lot of debate around whether or not employees will go back to working in offices once this is all over. Will everything go back to the way it was, or will office buildings disappear?
Javed believes we will see a hybrid setup post Covid. There will be an increasing acceptance of people working from home and we will have more technological advances that make it possible. But there will still be roles and situations that require working from an office. Some people will be able to work from home 100% of the time, some will have to be in the office 100% of the time, but a lot of people will probably do some kind of hybrid of working from home and occasionally going into the office.
Also, while we have technology to connect with each other and it will only get better, there is no substitute for in-person, face to face interaction.
Digital transformation during Covid
One thing Covid has done for businesses is it has made leaders realize the need for digital transformation. And it has forced companies to go through this transformation very quickly. Where leaders in the past have asked will this technology make us more productive, will it make our lives easier, will it improve our bottom line, etc..Now when thinking about digital transformation they are thinking about it in terms of, will this help me to stay in business.
As Javed shares, “People immediately went into a survive mode, where suddenly these technologies got deployed and tested overnight, and there were some learning pains. But I feel like companies fell into two categories. There were companies who had already started on this journey of enabling remote work. And they had a baseline of the stack already enabled. for them. It was a matter of, Oh, I have 10,000 employees. You know, I have 100 employees who had worked effectively using this, how do we scale it out to the entire corporation, but I already have this baseline technology in place. And there were others who had not started on this journey. And in those cases it took a little bit more work, you know, retraining your employees. But once you got through that initial phase–raise technology and develop product and some of the devices we have, once you go through that initial learning, we were able to get most of the companies up and running pretty quickly. But nothing forced that digitization more than the last few months. We’ve been trying to get people to use video for a long, long time and I think now, video you know, if your video is not on you get reminded–I can’t see you on video.”
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How to evaluate how employees are doing without an annual review
One thing that Cisco is known for is their unique culture and getting rid of their annual performance reviews. So how do leaders know if employees are engaged and being productive if they don’t have an annual review?
As Javed shares, it is about having ongoing, honest conversations with employees. It is important to check in regularly and let employees know about the good things they are doing, and the things they need to improve on throughout the year, not just on one specific date.
Keeping conversations to once a year makes issues a surprise to employees, and it is hard to remember something that you did 5-6 months ago. Meeting one time a year is not effective and it can damage the manager/employee relationship.
Cisco also understands that keeping company culture consistent is key. Whatever culture you are trying to create, make sure you stick with it through good times and bad. If employees see a change in culture during bad times like we are going through now, they will see right through it and know they can’t trust their leaders.
Advice for people early in their careers
Javed is the leader of a multi-billion dollar division inside Cisco, but he has learned a lot on his way to the top and he has a lot of experience and advice to share with others. When asked his advice for people early on in their career who want to advance, Javed says, be curious and be willing to learn.
He says, “I did not set out to be a manager as an example, I started my career as an engineer and thought I was just going to be coding for most of my life. But as I got in, you know, got into trying out, leading a small team, or learning to lead. I think just being curious and trying those things out has helped me out a lot. The other thing is just learning from other people who do that better. Right. So a big part of me transitioning from an engineer to becoming a leader was watching other leaders motivate and speak and inspire. And while I might have thought that that might be something that I wouldn’t be doing, I think watching them learning from them, then being curious about the techniques and how leaders lead, I think has been a big part of my success. So be thirsty.”
Advice for leaders today
Javed also shared his advice for leaders who want to adapt, stay relevant, and better themselves. And he says his biggest piece of advice is to stay connected with your employees personally. Especially in the difficult times we are in, it is important to know how they are doing, what are they excited about, what are they scared about, how do they feel about work, what do they care about…etc…
“Because the rest of it, I think we’ve got a system and processes in place. You’re able to measure, you’re able to be effective, But in today’s world, I think spending more time with your employees making sure you’re understanding what else is going on, and what else they need beyond just the tools that work, I think is a big part of leadership today. And the biggest learning I’ve had in the last few months, you’d be surprised at how much else is going on in typical person’s lives and how it might be impacting their ability to be productive.”
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