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At Cisco, Many Top Recruits Are Already on the Payroll

by Dec 20, 2010, 3:29 pm ET

Cisco Systems has been quietly doubling up on its recruiting efforts, but with a twist: the target market is made up of the company’s own employees. In particular, it has been making it easier for employees to get promoted into different departments, rather than first moving laterally from one division to another and then getting promoted.

This all began in November of 2008 when people like then-staffing-chief and now Chief Learning Officer Don McLaughlin, the HR SVP Brian Schipper, and others realized it really needed to keep the talent it had as the company grew in areas like virtual healthcare and smart grids. In January 2009, Heather YurkoAmy Buck, and a 30-person team of others in Cisco — from the compensation, staffing, operations, and other departments — ran a prototype test. If all went well, the program, called TalentConnection, would expand.

It went well, and it did.

Over and Up

Essentially what traditionally went on at Cisco was that to get a Cisco promotion, you had to move horizontally first, from one department to another. With the new plan, you could move two steps at once — to a different division, and up. Cisco had to change its way of thinking to make this happen, Yurko says, taking into account skills and experience more than knowledge of a given area.

She gives the example of Cisco’s technology group, which was where this 2009 pilot was done. If a program manager job was open in the technology department, instead of seeing which program managers were available, what Cisco would do under this pilot program is analyze what skills it would take to do the job well: working with multiple clients, for example, as well as balancing priorities, and having a passion for great customer service. Perhaps an account manager in a different division has these skills, and could move into the technology group, and up into this manager role, all in one fell swoop.

The initial pilot worked. From March through May 2009, nearly 80 percent of positions were filled by internal candidates, and the time to fill a position dropped by an average of 22 days. Satisfaction in the program ran high.

Yurko, who works out of the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, acted as a program manager, and Buck, working remotely from the Sierras in California, the executive sponsor. The 30-person team dissolved, and born later was what I’d call an “HR R&D group.” Cisco calls it a Staffing Innovation Organization; Buck is the senior director. Formed in July of 2009, it got the green light from HR leaders to move full speed ahead with expanded testing of the recruit-and-retain employees program.

Going Global

Turnover at Cisco runs somewhere around 5%. But the company has been watching various studies (from Deloitte, for example) showing that large numbers of employees will start looking for new jobs as the economy picks up steam. It also learned in a 2009 internal survey that 36% of employees did not know of additional opportunities within the company. It wanted to change the mindset at Cisco into one that Yurko calls an “open marketplace of opportunity.”

So this year Cisco ran a new and bigger pilot, from January to August of this year, using employees in the operations and finance departments globally, as well as some of the European sales staff. A lot had to be done, and tinkered with along the way, according to Yurko. Compensation had to rewrite policies. Employee engagement folks needed to alter their mindset and their messages — basically, the employee value proposition. Relocation policies needed to change also.

Cisco’s back-end system that manages employee resume-type information, from ADP, had to be modified (such as adding fields and new metrics to use in evaluating the program). Employees use the system to complete profiles and opt-in to receiving inquiries about internal jobs.

A big part of what has been happening, however, at Cisco, has been softer. It’s less about policies, and more about change. “A lot of active, ongoing, change management, organizational adoption training,” Yurko says.

Recruiters were and are encouraged to actively source Cisco’s employees. The Staffing Innovation Organization and others in recruiting and staffing and human resources have been talking to recruiters and managers about why this is important, why it’s in the long-term interests of the company. Yurko says the message is: “You may need someone to do a job, but you’re hiring someone for Cisco, not just your team.” She says that “moving from the concept of ‘my talent’ to ‘Cisco talent’ — we know this will be ongoing, for years.”

Anyhow, this 2010 pilot was deemed another success, like the one in 2009. But this summer HR leaders suggested that rolling it out to all employees needed to wait a few months, as a ton seemed to be happening at once at Cisco, from performance management to management training initiatives.

The program was launched worldwide this September, to all 70,000 employees (the exception being that if you’ve been on the job less than a year, you’re not yet eligible). The Staffing Innovation Organization now has 11 members, three added over the last couple of months. The TalentConnection program was mentioned briefly in the company’s corporate responsibility report. And after two months of this September’s launch, 33% of all internal positions were being filled by recruiters actively sourcing employees, as opposed to people applying directly to the role. Employee satisfaction with the recruiting process is on the rise.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.