Unlike some HR chiefs who go by the traditional title Chief Human Resources Officer, Cisco’s Francine Katsoudas is “Chief People Officer.”
It’s all about the people for Katsoudas, who is also SVP at the tech networking giant. She explains that when employees are in the right jobs and teams are well organized, it’s electric – and the organic, energized work that results is a boon to everyone at the company.
Does the average person understand that HR is deeply entrenched in organizational strategy, in addition to personnel concerns and complaints? “Oh, gosh, not at all,” Katsoudas says. “I don’t think I knew what HR truly was before I joined the industry. HR started from a point of compliance and risk, and today we’re an organization focused on people and culture and experience and how companies hire to grow.”
Glassdoor spoke to Katsoudas about how she’s dedicated her career in HR to leading organizational strategy as the key to operational effectiveness—and why she thinks job titles are soon to become passé.
HR handles a lot more than harassment cases
“Strategic planning and teams are what makes all the difference. When the org structure is effective, you find that how you work together is incredibly natural. It’s organic. There’s a clear understanding of roles and abilities, and clarity about how you’re going to be measured. There’s a natural cadence to the work and an understanding of how the work supports the broader purpose.
When organizational design isn’t at its best, you get fragmentation. There’s disconnect around who owns what and how we’re getting there. People don’t feel like their voices are being heard, and they see missed opportunities. This is important on both a day-to-day and broader level. If we [in HR] can partner with leaders across the organization, we can create a structure that’s highly effective.”
How HR leaders assess who fits where
“In truth, I don’t look at this role as having a different set of qualities versus other leadership roles. The thinking should be, How do we have the biggest business impact? What’s happening outside of my four walls? That’s your starting point for any leader: Understand what’s happening inside and outside. And as you understand the type of impact these forces have on the company, you need to assess whether you have the leaders and the followers to get where you want to go.
For HR especially, that requires tapping into people’s skills and processes. I honestly start just by asking. What experience have you had where everything clicked? What do you like and what don’t you like? Those answers help me start to understand how they work. At Cisco we use some tools to assess our players, and earlier this year we added a new process where we ask employees on a weekly basis: What did you love or loathe this week? I can see what brings out their best, and what drains them.
When you get the right person in the right role, it’s so rewarding. A few years ago someone moved to my team who had a good, not great, reputation. My purpose as a leader is to understand what makes our people unique – what their skills and styles are – and I discovered this person’s strengths were around operational capability. She was a great communicator, and she did well if you dropped her into a fire. She came onto my team and began to outperform expectations. Eight months later my boss said to me, ‘Oh wow, she’s showing up like she hasn’t ever done before.’ That meant a lot. We were able to have her play to her strengths, and that benefits everyone.”
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On the HR of the future:
“It’s an exciting time for HR professionals, because we’re challenging a lot of what we’ve done before. I see a lot of change coming.
First, analytics will shape and differentiate HR organization. In the next three to four years you’re going to be able to use data to help leaders make decisions. We’ll know how to predict staffing considerations and show the business where their people are at. HR organizations will have data scientists who are a big part of our team. We’re at a stage where people want to feel their jobs are more customized. And analytics will play a role in that.
The bigger thing: I think in a pretty short period we won’t have job titles. It’ll be more of a reputation and skills index. Job titles can be limiting, and I think we’ll gate more savvy about what success looks like. Roles will be more fluid and evolve. We have employees who say today, ‘I love my job. Can I have another? What makes individual people unique will be the driver.”
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On the one question I ask all interviewees:
“Typically when I talk to interviewees, they’re at the end of the process. So I ask: ‘Who have you talked to and what have you learned?’ I can distill what they’ve taken away from the conversations and what’s important to them, but it also gives me a bit of feedback on how we’re doing with our own internal hiring process.”
On the mistake most companies make when managing acquisitions:
“It’s so easy for companies to view acquisitions like a transaction. Change management is tough. You just want the deal to close fast and move on. But when you approach it like a transaction, you lose sight of the people who are joining you and the implications to them.
Cisco acquires a lot of companies, and early on I realized integration management is about a shared vision, trust, and open communication. You don’t get to that point by rushing it. You have to sit down with people and figure out what they were running toward from a company perspective — and how can we run together now? That’s key to HR’s role. You need to see the individual while looking at the big picture.”