Mr. Chambers: I just want to say one word to you – just one word.The December/January issue of Fast Company has an interesting article on Cisco and its CEO John Chambers. Here are some lengthy excerpts (emphasis added by me).
Me: Yes sir.
Mr. Chambers: Are you listening?
Me: Yes I am.
Mr. Chambers: Collaboration.
Me: How do you mean?
Mr. Chambers: There’s a great future in collaboration. Blog about it. Will you blog about it?
Me: Yes I will.
Mr. Chambers: Shh! Enough said. That’s a deal.
He has been taking Cisco through a massive, radical, often bumpy reorganization. The goal is to spread the company’s leadership and decision making far wider than any big company has attempted before, to working groups that currently involve 500 executives. This move, Chambers says, reflects a new philosophy about how business can best work in a networked world. “In 2001, we were like most high-tech companies, with one or two primary products that were really important to us,” he explains. “All decisions came to the top 10 people in the company, and we drove things back down from there.” Today, a network of councils and boards empowered to launch new businesses, plus an evolving set of Web 2.0 gizmos – not to mention a new financial incentive system – encourage executives to work together like never before. Pull back the tent flaps and Cisco citizens are blogging, vlogging, and vitualizing, using social-networking tools that they’ve made themselves and that, in many cases, far exceed the capabilities of the commercially available wikis, YouTubes, and Facebooks created by the kids up the road in Palo Alto.Cisco is moving from “me” to “we.” What about your district? Your school? Your classroom?
The bumpy part – and the eye-opener – is that the leaders of business units formerly competing for power and resources now share responsibility for one another’s success. What used to be “me” is now “we.”
An avowed Republican (and a cochair of John McCain’s presidential campaign), Chambers politely ignored my observation that Cisco’s new regimen feels a bit like a socialist revolution. But Chambers did kick off the analyst conference with a slide that read, COLLABORATION: “CO-LABOR”; WORKING TOWARD A COMMON GOAL. In language and spirit, Chamber’s transformation is a mashup of radical isms and collectivist catchphrases. Of course, with analysts suggesting that the “collaboration marketplace” could be a $34 billion opportunity, it’s radicalism of a reassuringly capitalist bent.Cisco is emphasizing working toward a common goal and developing the collaboration marketplace. In your last staff meeting did you discuss a collaboration learning-place, or did you discuss moving borderline students up to the next cut score?
Trust and openness are words you hear a lot in the endlessly optimistic world of Web 2.0, but at Cisco, it seems to be more than a PowerPoint mantra, even to my jaundiced eye. As Mitchell and I settle down to our conversation in an open space not 25 feet from Chamber’s office, I can hear the CEO chatting on the phone with customers. Mitchell, who is charged with encouraging the company’s rank and file to adopt new technology, is undistracted. “We want a culture where it is unacceptable not to share what you know,” he says.Cisco wants its employees to share. And share some more. It’s unacceptable not to. How much opportunity do you give your staff to share? Your students? Is it an expectation that they share? Or are they punished if they share?
So he promotes all kinds of social networking at Cisco: You can write a blog, upload a video, and tag your myriad strengths in the Facebook-style internal directory. “Everybody is an author now,” he laughs. Blog posts are voted up based on their helpfulness. There are blogs about blogging and classes about holding classes – all gauged to make it easy for less-engaged employees to get with the program.Cisco provides resources and training opportunities so that less-engaged employees can “get with the program.” What is your school – or district – providing?
So that Facebook-style directory at Cisco serves not just as a way to make lunch plans or find a second baseman for a softball game. It is a real-world, real-time sorting apparatus, designed to help anyone inside the company easily find the answer to a question, a product demo, or precisely the right warm body to speak to a waiting customer or present at a conference – in any language, anywhere around the globe.Sounds a lot like what GE is doing, as I blogged about previously. So GE and Cisco are embracing social networking, is your school? Are you?
Most of the videos are short product reports, sales ideas, and engineering updates, all created deskside and published directly to the network with the click of a mouse. No filter, no lawyers. It is a petri dish for ideas and exchange.Cisco is open, no filters, no lawyers, in order to foster the creation and exchange of ideas. Compare that to your school. How open is your school? Your classroom?
“Collaboration this way helps a world community solve big problems,” says vice president Jim Grubb, Chamber’s longtime product-demo sidekick. “If we can accelerate the productivity of scientists who are working on the next solar technology because we’re hooking them together, we’re doing a great thing for the world.”Cisco believes that seamlessly connecting people to others fosters innovation, problem solving, and productivity. What have you done to foster seamless connectivity for your teachers? Your students?
Executives are now compensated on how well the collective businesses perform, not their own individual product units. (Playing well with others is also an increasingly important part of rank-and-file employees’ performance reviews.) . . . Without buy-in or even permission from Chambers, they brought in 15 people with relevant skills – turning down an invitation to collaborate is not an option – and built a product called StadiumVision . . . A multimillion-dollar business came together in less than 120 days.Cisco believes in empowering their employees and measuring their performance at least partially based on their collaborative abilities, and refusing to collaborate is not an option. What portion of your assessment program evaluates collaborative abilities?
So, if you’re an administrator, what are you doing to foster collaboration among your staff, and especially your teachers? And I’m talking more than just PLC’s, although that’s not a bad start. What are you really doing to fundamentally change the structure of your school(s) from one of isolation (close the door and teach), to one of sharing and collaboration (knock down the walls)? Is it unacceptable to share in your institution?
If you’re a teacher, what are you doing to foster collaboration among your students? And I’m talking more than putting them into groups of four and having the students create a PowerPoint presentation together. What are you really doing to fundamentally change the structure of your classroom from one of isolation (do your own work), to one of collaboration (work with others)? What are you doing to build their skills to succeed in a corporate environment that requires them to collaborate on a global scale?
If you're a student, what are you doing to improve your own collaboration skills - and those of your peers? What are you demanding of your schools, your teachers, your administrators to help prepare you for the collaborative marketplace that is your future?
Mr. Chambers: Are you listening?