Your Career Destiny Is Hard Work (and a Little Luck)
I’ve never told this story before. I was set to join Cisco in July 2000. However, I had scheduled a vacation the week prior to joining the company. On the very first day of my vacation – actually, the first hour – I answered the phone in my hotel room, and the Chief Counsel of Cisco informed me that my to-be manager had just resigned from the company. The voice on the phone asked if I wanted to stay at Cisco.
In a moment that lasted just a few seconds, but has led to 18 years at this amazing company, I simply said, “of course.” I trusted my instinct in the moment that I had made a decision to work for a company, not a person.
Over the next seven days, I wondered if trusting my gut was a good idea, because I never bothered to ask who my manager would be, what I would be doing, or what I should be excited about.
Little did I know how I was about to be given an opportunity to build an entirely new career. It’s a well-known management mantra that individuals are ultimately responsible for their own careers; but companies have to do their part, too. Organizations need to create space for individuals to express their strengths and mold those unique attributes into meaningful roles within a company.
I’ve come to the conclusion that careers are managed by individuals, but powered by companies.
When I got to work on Monday after my vacation, I had one meeting on my calendar: a 1:1 with then-CEO John Chambers. In his back office, John offered me a job. He told me how obsessed he was with getting the company to execute faster. He was convinced a new model was coming, likely from China. He also told me that the only things keeping us from going faster were people and organizational structures. He was convinced that communications could be a process for change management to drive greater transparency, speed, and responsiveness in the company, and he thought my communications background would make me the ideal person to lead this effort for him.
Here is how the conversation went:
Ron: What will I do?
John: You’ll have to figure it out.
Ron: How will you measure my success?
John: My direct reports will tell me you’re doing a good job.
I left his office agreeing to do the job.
Over the next decade, I worked with John to identify blind spots in how he worked with his team, and see if communications techniques could close those seams. I’d like to think my team helped Cisco work a little bit better together. 😀
The artifacts of this work are still found inside Cisco today: the obsession with common vocabulary; the executive communications function; the use of two-way virtual leadership meetings – like what we see with The Cisco Beat (our virtual all employee monthly meeting).
What I loved about my time in this role is that I got to express my own point of view about what to do. We invented and failed a lot. Cisco gives its employees the “space” to express their strengths, and fail forward.
John also told me, “Luck comes to those who are prepared.” So I got lucky when our then-president Gary Moore asked me if I’d like to join the sales organization. This is one of the benefits of working in a large, F100 company. Suddenly I went from working with our CEO to working with the account managers and systems engineers of the field.
Moving into sales has probably been the most important “moment that matters” for me at Cisco – because I’m now leading a team that is operations-oriented, and I genuinely believe it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve learned things here I didn’t even realize I needed to know – like the day our now-CEO Chuck Robbins explained to me the difference between a fixed asset and a flexible asset.
I’ve met with half the Global 500 in this role over the past five years. I know more now about Cisco’s portfolio than I ever thought I would. I’ve learned how to lead a team of engineers. Best of all, I’ve had this opportunity without having to change who I am. My strengths are my strengths – and I’ve applied those same unique attributes of mine in my sales role as I did in my role with John.
When John Chambers announced he was retiring from Cisco, I smiled inside for him – and I smiled for every Cisco employee. John always said Cisco’s culture should “treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself.” I know first-hand that a giant company can indeed care about every single employee’s health and any special needs for their families because I’ve seen that here at Cisco.
I don’t know if this is my last job at Cisco. What I do know is this: as long as I can remain authentic and my company gives me space to express myself (goals every single Cisco employee should have), I’m confident that the gut I trusted 18 years ago about this company will remain true for me and for all of us who work here.
This is why I #LoveWhereYouWork!
Follow Ron on Twitter: @RonRicciCisco
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