The New Cisco and the Renewed Focus on Social Responsibility

Rob Enderle
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CIOs: How to Get Your Teams to the Next Level

Social responsibility is an interesting topic for a corporation. On one hand, it speaks to making the world a better place. You’d think these efforts would be easily justified, but because financial analysts rarely see much value in something they can’t measure, they are often more focused on creating an image than in actually driving change. These programs seem to be far more sustainable when both the business initiatives of the firm and the social efforts show synergy. I reviewed Cisco’s Social Responsibility report this week and it is an impressive piece of work.

That appears to be core to the Cisco effort: looking at ways to improve the world that also improve Cisco’s importance in it. This contributes a financial foundation to the effort, making it more sustainable. It’s clear that Cisco’s new CEO Chuck Robbins wants to showcase how well this combination is working for Cisco under his leadership.

Let’s talk about some of the unique aspects of Cisco’s program.

Corporate Affairs

The term “Corporate Affairs” has to do with ensuring the firm is a good actor in the community. The role is pretty rare these days but, if done correctly, it reduces the firm’s exposure to adverse regulation from a variety of government entities and improves the overall image of the firm with a particular focus on investors.

Goals for Tae Yoo, Cisco’s SVP Corporate Affairs, range from fuzzy, like “holding advance positive change through technology-based solutions,” to more specific, like Cisco addressing the growing global skills gap, particularly with regard to innovators and entrepreneurs. But the theme of dovetailing economic and social benefit to both the world and Cisco individually is evident throughout the report.

Compliance and Ethics

Sometimes it seems like the phrase “Ethical Corporation” is an oxymoron. But the fact is that ethics pay dividends because they increase trust and lower regulatory costs dramatically. Ethics also provide significant protection to executives and employees by helping them avoid unnecessary civil and embarrassing criminal actions. The challenge is to make compliance visible enough to stop bad behavior but not so visible that it eliminates all risk taking. For instance, compliance kept Microsoft from aggressively challenging Apple on MP3 players and smartphones, but it didn’t prevent Apple from putting Microsoft in an unfavorable light with the PC vs. Mac campaign.


Cisco maintains this balance by making sure employees regularly review the related rules that surround the firm as well as focusing much of the corporate effort on ensuring fair and common product standards. This also involves ensuring that governments don’t overreact with policies that both damage Cisco’s market and hurt people’s privacy and other critical rights. Mark Chandler, Cisco SVP, General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer, drives this part of the effort and ensures a balance between taking risks and doing what needs to be done.

Wrapping Up: Results

In 2015, Cisco reported solid results from its efforts. This is the eighth year Cisco has made the list of most ethical companies; 25K employees have completed the course in Human Rights in the Digital Age; there were 584 instances where employees either expressed concerns or achieved directed guidance with regard to ethics questions; and Cisco was active with Microsoft in an effort to reduce U.S. Government access without warrant to personal information.

In the end, all of this doesn’t matter if the employees aren’t behind it. The fact that Cisco is ranked as the best place to work in many countries and is on the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For list implies that the employees are indeed behind Cisco’s balanced and nuanced change-the-world-for-the-better effort.

My personal view is that there isn’t much point in being alive unless you make the world a better place as a result of your being in it. Cisco’s executive leadership would appear to agree.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

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