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adapting talent strategies during COVID-19: 6 lessons from Cisco.


| 4 min read |

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect our everyday lives, businesses have no choice but to adapt. Despite many challenges, however, there are also opportunities to implement positive changes that will last long after the pandemic.

Kelly Jones CiscoCisco is one example of a company driving positive talent transformation. Kelly Jones, global leader and senior talent acquisition director with Cisco, recently shared how her organization is adapting its workforce strategies to stay ahead during the pandemic and ensure ongoing success.

1. Keep your focus on business agility.

Cisco was well prepared for the sudden switch to mostly remote work since, according to Jones, many employees were equipped to work from home. This allowed a more agile response, as the company already empowered its employees with collaborative tools like Webex and had existing protocols on how to use technology.

Another crucial aspect of adapting is determining the best ways to find talent. Given the switch to remote work, Cisco leaders are more open to hiring outside their immediate locations.

As Jones says, “For both vendors and full-time employees, there has been more of an open mind around getting the best talent, versus getting the best talent in a zip code. This has unlocked the ability to make better hiring decisions.”

2. Let data guide talent strategy.

Although 81% of companies say talent analytics play a critical role in sourcing, attracting, engaging and retaining talent, the pandemic has only increased the importance of data in understanding the current talent landscape.

According to Jones, leveraging data such as skills mapping, talent market availability, competitors, demand intelligence, and internal and external skill analysis are crucial to understanding where you’re positioned well and where the company may need to adjust.

With a great deal of uncertainty about the long-term impact of the pandemic, companies must identify future skills that will be needed and determine whether those can be developed internally or need to be acquired.


3. Maintain workplace culture in a new reality.

The sudden shift to remote work had the potential to upend a company’s culture, but Cisco implemented several initiatives to build and strengthen connections. These include weekly check-ins from leadership across the entire ecosystem – full time employees and contractors alike – to keep the teams informed and educated. Leaders are encouraged to lead with empathy, understanding the challenges the current situation has had on everyone mentally, physically and emotionally.

Jones says, “We really tried to focus our culture on care. Care for our employees – our entire ecosystem of both employees and vendors – and care for our customers. We made a big pivot to making sure everyone is OK.”

With work and life more intertwined than ever, leaders should make workers feel comfortable and humanize the experience. That may mean meeting your employees with support and understanding when their kids barge into the room during a meeting, or providing the flexibility that someone needs to care for at-risk family members.

4. HR tech is critical — for business continuity and the talent experience.

To further enhance culture during what can be an isolating time, it’s critical to ensure workers still feel the human touch – and HR technology can help. For instance, Cisco has expanded its internal use of Webex: leveraging the tool for more than before. The company has conducted baby showers and happy hours, for example, to provide a chance for colleagues to connect beyond the regular work meetings.

In terms of business continuity, technology is essential. According to Jones, Cisco’s recruiting events are now conducted virtually, which actually enables them to connect with more candidates than a live, in-person event.

And while many companies have canceled their summer internship programs, Cisco has still welcomed about 1,500 student interns. They’re working 100% remotely, but they’re learning valuable experiences and technology that will help them in their future careers.

5. Reassess upskilling priorities.

Equipping current employees and contractors with in-demand skills can help navigate an uncertain future. Cisco does this through both top-down and bottom-up approaches. The former is done by exposing employees to opportunities that allow them to gain experience and learn through work. The latter focuses on supporting employees in their journey to learn what they believe will help them.

In both instances, weekly check-ins with managers are critical. During these meetings, employees are asked if they are using their strengths, and if they feel they are contributing value to the organization. These questions are a great indicator of their engagement and help identify when an employee can benefit from new learning.

6. Manage employer brand during a pandemic.

Despite the challenging times, it’s important to maintain a strong employer brand to help attract needed candidates. Cisco addresses this by focusing on how the employee experience has changed. They are highlighting Webex celebrations, showcasing how an employee uses an ironing board as a standing desk, and featuring blogs about employees’ kids and pets, who are now their co-workers.

At the same time, Cisco is also highlighting its goals to advance social justice and the steps it is taking to build a more inclusive culture for all.

Preparing for a new normal at work.

Although much uncertainty remains, one thing is clear: when the virus is eradicated, work may never go back to “normal.” Instead, there will be a new normal encompassing the traditional aspects of work alongside the lessons and new strategies learned throughout the pandemic.

Organizations like Cisco that are successful in rapidly adapting, leveraging data, and maintaining a strong brand and talent experience will be better positioned for whatever the future has in store.

Want to learn more about how you can lead your company's COVID-19 response and drive new ways of working? Get your Talent Trends report.