Technological disruption in the workplace

Cisco Executive VP and Chief People Officer Francine Katsoudas.

The workplace is changing rapidly. Technology has disrupted the traditional skills needed to hold on to a job. And the skills that companies will require employees to have in the future and their preparation to gain such skills remain key to organisations.

Financial Standard caught up with a top executive from the Silicon Valley firm who was in the country to visit Wawira Njiru, the founder of Food for Education and winner of the Global Citizen Youth Leadership Prize 2018 presented by Cisco. Below are the excerpts.

What are some of the emerging trends relating to technology and the future of workplace have you observed during your visit?

A big observation has been how social impact and technology can come together to be a force for good. Another trend that we’re seeing globally is the focus on skills. Work is changing, especially with the emergence of analytics and insights.

For all companies, including Cisco, we have this challenge of ensuring all our employees are getting all the education, training, experience that they need to continue to move forward. Many companies are going to have many workers to solve problems - who may not be their employees - so talent agility is important.

In the Silicon Valley, we’ve seen tremendous competition for talent. This means that people are choosing the type of company they want to work for; companies have to evolve their culture.

Cisco survived the dot com revolution that sunk many technology firms. What can companies learn from Cisco’s experience and build resilience?

 When a company is tested, those are the moments where leaders within it learn the most. The power of resilience in business is critical.

We believe strongly on trying things, you have to experiment, fail at things and do them differently.

The message to companies is to experiment and to learn from lessons, talk about the challenges and create an environment where employees can speak up on the issues.

They can have ideas on how you navigate change in tough times.

You talked about skills, but digital disruption has seen jobs change so fast. What are those skills needed for the future?

I could define skills for you today and looking back a few years from now, could say those are not the skills. For us, motion and constant development are very important.

At this moment, we see areas like data science, analytics, user experience and communications as important. We are looking for employees who can problem-solve, and team up with each other.

A recent report on Kenyan companies shows that millennials are a ‘flight risk’ to employers. Is that a trend being observed in Silicon Valley?

About three years ago in the valley, the same conversation was happening; that Millennials would only stay in a company for 12-18 months and continually move either for promotion or the next opportunity.

That’s not so much the case now. When talent feels like they are respected, growing and get different opportunities in the company, they stay longer.

At Cisco, the demographics show there’s no significant difference between Millennials and the older age group in the retention of that talent

How have you bridged the gender pay-gap at Cisco?

The more transparency you can bring these issues the better. We started to have a movement in the valley on sharing pay parity data about three years ago.

It allows a candidate to say I can work for this company that shows their data and has better pay parity.

At Cisco, we looked at pay parity for men as well, and found that quickly as tech is changing - both men and women could fall behind. You want all employees to feel as if they’ re being looked after.

What is hindering the boom of Kenya’s ‘Silicon Savannah?’

For all companies, the challenge is scale. You need to have the leadership capabilities and experiences that’s something we invest a lot of effort. The other gap is acquiring the best talent.

Sometimes, the best talent isn’t necessarily ready for the role and you need to help them up to their skills through training.