“See that IP Phone affixed on the wall there?” The classroom filled with MBA students turned their heads to look at the solid black phone in the back of the classroom. “That’s a Cisco product,” said Don Proctor, Senior Vice President at Cisco. Proctor was a guest speaker in Professor Roger Chen’s Strategic Management in Global Environment course on Thursday, February 27th, and spoke to the MBA students about Cisco’s innovative collaboration strategies and continuous management restructuring.
Proctor encouraged the students to think about collaboration as instrumental. “Think of collaboration as a business process that is being driven by the need for companies to be much more agile in a changing marketplace. Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration at all. Complexity is exacerbated by pursuing too many ideas, at the expense that core managers have to trade off benefits of collaboration with the risks of complexity.”
Cisco is an American multinational corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells networking equipment. Proctor has been with Cisco since 1995 and is currently the leader of Cisco’s Cybersecurity Task Force. He works with customers and partners, alongside worldwide government leaders in defense, civilian agencies, and the intelligence community to advance the safety, privacy, and integrity of their critical network infrastructure. Proctor said, “One of the really fun and exciting things about working for this company is the fact that we don’t get stuck with an idea, or a concept, when it stops working.” He explained that on the back of workers’ badges there is a list of cultural attributes that have been augmented over time. Some are intuitive, like innovation and diversity, but there is one that everyone always asks about: “no technology religion.” Proctor explained, “It’s a different way of saying don’t get stuck behind a business process or technology that stops working for you.”
Proctor’s encouragement aligned with USF’s mission to highlight students’ exploration of diverse and enriching perspectives and to guide them to understand the value of inclusivity and open-mindedness. The idea of “no technology religion” is advantageous to Cisco, but Proctor’s story evidenced the judicious nature of collaboration and how it should be thoughtfully incorporated within any successful profession. He concluded his lecture with a reminder that people must always be mindful of the growth that comes with change.
Proctor focused much of his lecture on Cisco’s continually evolving story; from its genesis as a conception of a compatible computer networking system protocol to its fruition as a worldwide leader in networking, Cisco has transformed how people connect, communicate, and collaborate.
In Cisco’s early stages, the company’s internal economy was market-based and had a very entrepreneurial culture that was characterized by strong personalities and individualistic attitudes with very little collaboration. Cisco went through numerous phases which paralleled the growth and accessibility of the Internet. In the early 2000s, there was a major shift from a “demand and control” business science to a more collaborative business process due to the burst of the “.com bubble”. It was through this change that Cisco began to create products that enabled collaboration and first used these devices internally, tools such as TelePresence and IP Phones. “When customers ask us what we’re doing, we show them the tools that enable us to collaborate, and we sell them the same product,” Proctor said. Pressured to reinvent Cisco’s management process, John Chambers, CEO, chose to redistribute the wealth. Executives are now compensated based on how well the collective of the business performs, not their own individual product unit, thus creating a cultural shift within the company. Chambers believed that the resulting collaborative management process was the best model for their company because leaders could grow organically, enabling autonomous decision making.
Though Cisco has found success through management restructuring, Proctor also gave examples of critical studies that have examined the disadvantages of collaboration where working jointly together can be used in a very dysfunctional way. “Over-collaboration can be a gigantic problem because people can waste time and lose focus because collaborative efforts and energy are sometimes put into projects with trivial value. Many people think collaboration is a good thing, they continuously do it, but are not asking critical questions.”
“The story isn’t over yet,” Proctor said. “This is a journey that we’re on and our tools have grown up along the way.”