BT, My Next Stop
Attrition is not uncommon at times such as now when the job market is buoyant and opportunities abound across the board, across all industries. But you do not expect that to happen at Cisco Systems, a company that is ranked among the best places to work for.
This, nonetheless, is a reality that is beginning to bite Cisco. The real danger lies in losing hard-to-hire people. There is no question I loved working for Cisco. In fact, my first three years were fantastic and I received multiple forms of recognition and awards. Even a few months ago, I won the Golden Globe award.
To sound even more arrogant, I can say rather assertively that I leave behind an imprint arising from the impact I made on sales teams across the Asia-Pacific region on bids that resulted in several strategic wins for Cisco during the five years I held bid management reins.
It is natural for us to experience an emotional upsurge when it is time for farewell. I was not and am not immune to it. But when we know we are not headed in the right direction, it will be inane to keep treading down the same path.
Was it Intelligence or Complacence?: When an employee at Cisco resigns to take up a job with a competitor, he is let go the same day. That did not happen to me as I was not joining competition, rather a partner (BT – British Telecom). But I had reason to be puzzled as when I handed in my resignation, I was not asked where I was headed to. So, I had to serve out the full month’s notice and this, to me, meant Cisco already knew I was not joining competition.
If so, the intelligence mechanism they are employing must be powerful as only on my last working day at Cisco did I tell some that I was joining BT. Scanning my laptop and bugging my calls may have been some of the tactics they adopted.
If this is not the case, it can be an indication that Cisco has stopped worrying about where its resigning employees are going to. I guess this can be alarming as this kind of complacence can spell trouble for the company.
There are many factors that led to my resignation, but it was not an impulsive one. I mulled over it for two years before deciding to throw in the towel. Here are some reasons:
· Professional satisfaction was on the wane: Strategies were beginning to get discounted and tactical plays were in focus. I was simply not content with dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s”.
· A corporate unwillingness to accept flaws in the decision-making process: In other words, dissent was not just discouraged but also retaliated against. That said, I must add that I did win the Golden Globe award and a CAP (Cisco Achievement Program) award during FY 2009. Good enough recognition but some issues I raised were not addressed.
· Excessive lip service: Company not practising what it was preaching – work-life balance, for instance (I was consistently working 18 hours a day, only to be told that better time management will help fix that! The right approach will have been adopting a stringent qualification process or strengthening the team)
– People Management: No leader is needed to manage just a few people, particularly if they have no other task to fulfill. Companies need doers, not mere people managers, particularly when there is a huge pile of work to be executed. Bad managers will only contribute to attrition.
Rigid Hiring Process: Cisco has a rigid hiring process to enable the hiring of only the very best in the industry. I had to go through 11 interviews (followed by a background check that was outsourced to an external agency) over six months before I could come on board.
That is not to say that all hiring is fair. I am told there was internal resentment sometime ago when the company hired a senior executive from Avaya – someone who had reportedly been fired by a couple of companies earlier. This, I hear, led to seven people quitting Cisco to join competition. That’s a serious loss of talent, particularly when they can create havoc for the company from a rival camp.
Individual whimsicality leading to foul hiring may be common at other companies, but when that happens at Cisco it cannot be expected to resonate well among the staff. It should, therefore, be no surprise that Cisco is already falling behind in the list of best places to work for.
The good thing is that Cisco is beginning to take the attrition rates and the underlying reasons seriously. When I sent an email to CEO John Chambers and the global head of HR (SVP), listing the reasons I was leaving for, it elicited immediate responses from them, promising a thorough investigation. The SVP even called me from San Jose to convey his assurance.
I had made up my mind by then and was in no mood to retract. I am now all set to join BT and am already excited about my role there – driving bid management in South-East Asia and, where possible, NE Asia. These regions have no bid manager yet, so I will be the first. My preliminary interactions with them have been very positive. They have a bid management centre of excellence in London and the team is growing. That is a recognition of the value bid management teams lend to their business.
I will miss the friends I made at Cisco though there is no reason why we cannot be in touch. It is, after all, a connected world, enabled by the Ciscoic view of “the network as a platform” for everything in life.
BT, here I come!
— G Joslin Vethakumar