Why a “Conscious Culture” Matters


August 20, 2019 - 6 Comments

The first time I heard Cisco’s Chief People Officer (CPO) Fran Katsoudas talk about a “conscious culture” I have to admit I already thought I was conscious of the culture around me.

In retrospect, I think it’s easy to confuse a “conscious” culture with a “conscientious” culture.  I learned from former Cisco CEO John Chambers that managers and leaders should strive to treat people the way they’d like to be treated themselves.  I’ve always tried to be conscientious and courteous, doing my best to respect both the people and the work they’re doing.  I’ve focused on “moments that matter” – opportunities to recognize good people doing good work while doing my best to recognize differences in people.

I had a recent first-hand experience where I learned there’s a big difference between a “conscientious” culture and a “conscious” culture – and how I need to grow as a manager and leader as a result.  My experience started by joining a virtual meeting (like I do every day), and I immediately recognized something different in the video lineup:  I found myself in a A screenshot of Ron on a Webex meeting with 5 of his female colleagues. meeting with five female Cisco colleagues.  Just as the meeting was starting, I felt compelled to say something courteous about the group dynamics, in an effort to acknowledge and recognize the female leaders with me, “Cisco’s come a long way; five women and one man.”

At which point, multiple women said both simultaneously and enthusiastically, “So now you know what it’s been like to be me all these years!”

Frankly, for a split second, I had a lonely feeling.  It never occurred to me that someone could feel lonely in a meeting with other people.  I’ve been in plenty of meetings where I felt I wasn’t being “heard.”  But feeling a little lonely was an entirely different emotion; it left a mark on me.

It took this kind of personal experience for me to understand what Cisco’s CPO meant by a conscious culture:  it is not enough to be at work in a conscientious and courteous way; it’s equally important to consciously seek out, understand, learn and appreciate the differences in the people around me.

As a manager of people, I know it’s not enough to try to learn things if you don’t try to put what you learn into practice.  I recently received an inspiring note in a box wrapped up like a present.  The wrapped box came from Mimi McCaffrey on my team, who thought it was a clever way to communicate something important to me.  It was, and I kept the box because I found it so interesting.

Several weeks later I found myself looking for a way to communicate something very important to Gerri Elliot, Cisco’s head of sales.  As I sat at my desk and looked at the wrapped box from Mimi, it occurred to me that she might have a better way to communicate to Gerri than I could devise on my Cisco head of sales Gerri Elliott and a colleague smiling with Ron's very important message and the colorful box it came in!own – and soon my very important message was wrapped in a colorful box that I personally hand-delivered to Gerri (and led to the conversation I hoped to have).

There is no way I would have thought of wrapping an important message in a colorful box if it weren’t for Mimi, and if I hadn’t been open and conscious to the different ways we all have in communicating.

I think operating in a conscious culture requires us to add a new dimension of self-awareness to our daily work lives.  It’s difficult to slow down in today’s fast-paced world, but I’ve started to mute myself when I’m in a Webex meeting to give myself a reason to hear and see what’s going on around me.  It’s an easy mnemonic and a good first step toward being more conscious of the incredible people I work with at Cisco.

I hope others are trying new ideas and I look forward to hearing them so we can all be a little more conscious of our culture and the great people around us.  #WeAreCisco #LoveWhereYouWork

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6 Comments

  1. Very well said and it exactly mimics "what it means to feel lonely in a meeting".
    I wish people mute themselves even when they are not in WebEx-only meeting.

  2. well said!

    " But I’ve started to mute myself when I’m in a Webex meeting to give myself a reason to hear and see what’s going on around me"

    I hope more people will do that since this is the key to communicate and be more conscious of others!

  3. Thanks for the article Ron!

  4. Thanks Ron for sharing–excellent example of how we can learn (and grow) from others.

  5. #LoveWhereYouWork Great read!

  6. Great article.