A strategic CIO on culture and talent

A strategic CIO on culture and talent

“CIOs are being asked to step up our game,” says Cisco CIO Guillermo Diaz Jr., “to be business liaisons, the bridge between the technology and business outcomes.” However, to do that demands sweeping culture change in IT – which Diaz calls the hardest part of digital transformation.

A true strategic CIO, Diaz has been a driving force in Cisco’s transformation from a hardware to a software and solutions company – by embracing and supporting emerging technologies and new business models. Equally important, he’s maintained a laser focus on culture, talent, and expanding the skill sets of his teams, as they’ve forged a much closer alignment between IT and Cisco’s business. And he’s accomplished all of that while being a passionate advocate for diversity, inclusion, and social responsibility.

Recently, Diaz shared his enthusiasm for culture change – and deep knowledge of IT – before a packed hall at Gartner Symposium ITXPO in Orlando. Then, he met with Connected Futures executive editor Kevin Delaney for a free-ranging one-on-one discussion – on the culture and talent issues that challenge all CIOs.

In this podcast, Connected Futures executive editor Kevin Delaney speaks with Cisco CIO Guillermo Diaz Junior. Listen here and read the full transcript below.

Kevin Delaney [00:00:29] Guillermo Diaz Junior calls culture change the hardest part of digital transformation. But that hasn’t stopped him from winning accolades as Cisco CIO. A true strategic CIO, Diaz has been a driving force in Cisco’s transformation from a hardware to a software and solutions company. By embracing and supporting emerging technologies and new business models. Equally important he’s maintained a laser focus on culture, talent and expanding the skill sets of his teams as they forged a much closer alignment between I.T. and Cisco’s business. And he’s accomplished all of that while being a passionate advocate for diversity inclusion and social responsibility. This is Kevin Delaney for Connected Futures. Recently Diaz shared his enthusiasm for culture change and deep knowledge of I.T. before a packed hall at Gartner Symposium I.T. expo in Orlando. A few hours later I met with G as he’s known, for a free-ranging one-on-one discussion on the culture and talent issues that challenge all CIOs. I hope you enjoy the podcast.

Kevin Delaney [00:01:41] G it’s a pleasure. It was a very inspiring talk today here at I.T. expo in that you included the personal tales of some Cisco folks on your team. What struck me was that their journeys haven’t always been easy in the sense of following the path of least resistance the way many people do in their careers but they have been immensely satisfying as growth opportunities. Each one of them stressed that. How do you cultivate that as an I.T. leader? You know challenging your teams to do things they didn’t even think they were capable of but hopefully not giving them ulcers along the way! It’s a delicate balance isn’t it?

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:02:18] You know I think it starts from even my own background and some of the things that I’ve gone through as I look back at some of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced in my career and my life and then you go whoa that was kind of a funny situation. You can look back and you go well when you’re in the moment you’re thinking “how am I ever going to solve this problem?”. And the reality is there’s-, most of those problems you look back on and you go “wow, I learned a lot from that.” And so with the team, I like to throw vast problems, like we’re dealing with some complex issues that we were know Cisco is a 50 Billion Dollar business and we happened to be the technology team inside of a technology company. So we kind of have to wear two hats which is accelerating and enabling and also consuming our own products and being ‘customer zero’ if you will. So being able to take that and look at the team and say where are the toughest problems we have to go solve? And who, you know, who can actually or who’s willing to kind of lean forward and put themselves in these roles and sometimes you’ve got to give people a push.  I had to get pushed in a few cases. I was an infrastructure person. I’m a network guy at my core. And I got pushed into the application side. It’s like I didn’t want to do that! It’s like why would I do that? I mean I can see everything from the network.  It’s like until I went to the other side is when I got that perspective. Now I could see the bridge from both sides and I think taking that example and using that with the team and I think you heard from some of them today is a, you know, where they come from different backgrounds some come right out of university – they’re not-, they don’t understand yet what that, what it means to, you know, to build a software platform or a network platform until you kind of put them in there and can really push them to the limits that they never thought they could do.

Kevin Delaney [00:04:31] Right. And it reflects the wider picture for CIOs and I.T. as a whole doesn’t it about it’s a real journey that I.T. is taking in recent years?

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:04:42] Well I think I.T. is every company seems to be becoming digital and to become digital, technology’s foundational. So who’s the technology team in the organization? It’s I.T. So I think we’re being asked more and more to you know kind of help us accelerate our business, you know, understand the bridge between the technology and the business outcomes that we’re trying to achieve and then help us accelerate those. So I think we’re being asked to step up our game to be business liaisons, business leaders in the company and that’s in any company -, and Amazon’s a technology company happens to do retail and Chevron is a technology company that does energy. So you see a lot more of us in I.T. being asked to do more in the company to drive business growth and productivity.

Kevin Delaney [00:05:45] You had some good-natured fun today poking some fun at some of the analysts who were here four years ago talking about the CIO role shrinking it’s doing anything but, isn’t it.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:05:56] Well I think it was interesting because I think this CIO role-, you know there’s this the advent of this of a Chief Digital Officer, there’s a Chief Marketing Officer and some of these things we’re starting to get a little bit blurry. And so what’s the future of the CIO role? And now we fast forward is actually a lot of those have actually started to converge into the CIO role which is now, you know, was that we hosted a CIO exchange and Cisco that I host and the message there is the CIO is becoming more and more important, more relevant to the business. And so so yeah, it’s different tune than it was three or four years ago.

Kevin Delaney [00:06:48] And that speaks to that expanding role speaks to some very new skill sets for I.T. and CIOs, doesn’t it? And it’s a culture change isn’t it and as you said today the hardest part in many aspects of digital transformation is culture.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:07:02] Yeah. And interestingly enough, you know, again two years ago I got a chance to speak on large events. Cisco Live where we have our large customer events and every opportunity I get I ask the question, “What is your-, the biggest barrier to driving the digital transformation?” And the main word that always comes out in the word cloud is culture. And the next biggest word is people or talent. And then security. Now security is now becoming much more of an important factor there. But culture is by far the-, The how do you transform the organization? If you’re moving there, if we’re, if I.T. is becoming more a part of the business how do you bring people along that journey? Some people may not be able to go on it. And that’s a delicate balance. But, we are, you know, we are at the forefront there in the cultural shift that you have to make, the skills that you have to bring to the table. Yes, Cyber. Yes. Cloud. Yes. Data science, analytics. Yes, Security and yes Agile. But the key thing that I think we need to also bring is business acumen. How do we help really solve the toughest business problems? How do we understand them and how do we bridge the translation between how do we accelerate technology to solve those problems? And that’s I think something that we in I.T. we as CIOs, we need to keep building that muscle.

Kevin Delaney [00:08:47] So how do you go about doing that at Cisco. Ravel, I believe it was on your team this morning was talking about how she has interacted a lot more with the business in her software development – she has a much clearer idea of the end user experience. That’s one example of cross-pollination between IT and the business. But if there’s any others you can speak to as well.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:09:08] Let’s take that example is, you know, we’re very-, tied very closely with the chief People Officer which is Fran Katsoudas which is-, she runs the H.R. organization and the company, and yeah we’re partnering very closely with her and her team. Ravel is as much of Fran’s team as she is on my team.  So she’s embedded with her leadership and working side by side in these dynamic sort of these dynamic teams where you and I might be in different organizations but we’re trying to solve a business outcome. You may have a set of skills that are needed at that point in time, and we bring our dynamic teams together – we deliver and we solve and iterate on the problem and then we move to the next thing. We might be-, we might go back to something else but for that period of time you know, we’re working together now Ravel and somebody maybe in the sales organization. So Ravel with HR, somebody in sales they’re tied very closely to the business teams really understanding and helping solve what is the process flow of the new digital world. How does the technology solve that problem? And are we really driving the business outcome? So really tying them more closely with the business is I think more and more of a key factor that we’re pushing inside of Cisco.

Kevin Delaney [00:10:47] There was a cliche of I.T. you know the guys in the basement with the data centre at all which I got keep in the backlog is keeping the lights on and.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:10:56] Yeah, Throw pizza underneath the-, underneath the door!

Kevin Delaney [00:10:58] Exactly and I don’t even mean to make fun of it because it’s a super important role that they have done and continue to do. But this is a whole new realm they’re stepping into. And in our research on the thought leadership team those perfectly blended I.T. workers who know business, they’re up on emerging technologies, they have all these new skills, they’re very hard to find. So more and more companies are upskilling. They might in some ways want to hire some of those perfect people, but the reality is they’re going to upscale their existing employees.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:11:35] Well I think, you know, and again it’s-, it’s really going back to looking for, you know, what are the skills, you have the workforce model plan and the organization. And again you know we don’t, I won’t say it’s a perfect job but we try, we really try to look at the whole organization – what are the needs? And we’ve gone back to, what are the outcomes that we’re trying to drive? If we think about our charter being to accelerate our digital business – what needs to change? What skills do we need? Where do we need them? You know they might be needed in different parts of the world. There might be a region that we need more resources than not. So really looking at that holistically but also providing an environment where regardless, even regardless of that location, that we can collaborate and the good news is, in our world, we have the technology to do it. We can, you know, I have my staff meetings every, you know, every week, every couple of weeks, every quarter. We just actually finished what we call Leader Day at Cisco. This is nine thousand leaders across the company that over a period of twelve to 18 hours we were going through “what are required of leaders in the organization?” Now, the way we’ve done that is through our technology. We start with the base of the collaboration platforms and through whether it’s telepresence or a, you know, some sort of WebEx, or even all our devices our phones and our tablets. We can connect from wherever we’re at in the world and get the same information, be able to go through the same exercises all at the same time. And so being able to have those options and give people the capabilities to connect regardless of where they’re at, but this thing about upskilling and you know it’s a balance. We want to bring the organization up. We’ve talked about culture. You know, you’ve got to bring the organization up. Now, at the same time, we need to continually refresh the organization. Right. So there’s some percentage, you know 10/15 per cent that we’re constantly looking at – how do we make sure, our main pipeline as you heard from David and Ravell this morning is that one of the main pipelines for hiring is the university pipeline.

Kevin Delaney [00:14:26] I was going to ask you about that. Yeah right.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:14:28] That has been the main. Yeah. So. So why have we done that is they-, they’re digital natives right. They come in thinking about how are you guys doing this? Why are you doing it that way? And they push us, they push dinosaurs like me to think about it differently and they’re like sponges – you see, you know, their journey maps and they go through their journey very quickly. So we need to keep you know bringing in talent like that to the organization so that we don’t stay. So that we don’t get stale. Right. So that we’re constantly refreshing our base as well.

Kevin Delaney [00:15:08] And part of that question is once you develop that talent you want to keep it.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:15:12] That’s the hard part too. Yeah. I mean it’s hard right. You know, today we talked about a model that’s-, you’re really starting with the workforce plan and then the elements of attract, retain and transform. The attract piece, you know, we can, we know you have to do a good job at branding and you know the good news is as we become more digital as a company, as we become more software-defined where our brand is actually starting to increase the brand awareness of Cisco, because you know, we’ve been a B2B we’re, you know, well is that the plumbing company? Right. Is it you guys do the network plumbing?! I think folks are really starting to understand the impact that we connect everything – everything that’s connected is usually their Cisco associated with that. And so, really being able to to to bring the team along, bring the brand awareness and attract the right-, attract the talent – make sure that they understand. But then it’s retain that. Once you get in there and you give them the skills and give them the experiences. How do you make sure that they can-, they’re engaged and fulfilled. And then ongoing. How did they-, how do we give them opportunities to transform themselves as you’ve heard from Carol Goh. Right. Right.

Kevin Delaney [00:16:40] Yeah. And so much of it is about continuing to give them the kind of challenges where they feel like they’re creatively fulfilled and they’re growing their skills.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:16:49] Well they’re getting exposed to new things like even today, you know, we did this presentation and I thought about it – I can stand up there and I can explain this to all the folks in the audience. So why don’t I give the context of the problem and the challenge that we face and what we’ve done inside of Cisco. But let’s think about it differently. So that’s why I brought the team in to talk about. Well, let’s hear from the experts. So, you know, David is, you know, he’s three and a half four years into Cisco and he talked about his journey and how he’s accelerated, then you hear from Ravel who’s been there five, six years, hear from Carol Gho who’s been there closer to 18 years and how each of them have gone through the journey and along the way you know we just threw the hardest problem in the company or in I.T. at Carol. She’s responsible for the network team at the network company! That’s a pretty tough challenge.

Kevin Delaney [00:17:55] And she described it as it ‘came at her fast and furious’!

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:17:58] Yeah. And she-, you can see she’s transforming your team.

Kevin Delaney [00:18:03] We’re talking a lot about culture but culture and technology are so intertwined today and in I.T. Cisco’s pioneering new kinds of automation like intent based networking. And how are those kinds of technologies changing the culture of I.T. I mean for starters they’re freeing up I.T. for some more creative tasks.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:18:27] Sure. I think it is intertwined because if you think about ‘intent based’ that concept didn’t exist even a couple of years ago. Right. So what does intent based, what do you mean by that? And now you think about is it wait, you start to think about the foundation that we build our all of our businesses on which hopefully starts with a solid infrastructure which is a network. And if that network is secure and I know it’s secure because now I’ve added this thing called policy. So before it was like well everything’s sort of disjointed – I didn’t think about this even the term policy I thought about well I’m going to go and I’m going to, I got my routers, I got my switches, I got my firewalls and I’m going to connect them all and you know maybe hard wire them and create ACLs or access control lists, and they’re all over the place. So now I’m thinking about well how do I automate all of that? How do I take-, in one case we actually implemented one of our platforms that had two thousand access control lists which are all these point to point connections and we reduced that down through policy through an intent-based approach? And we created 9 policy groups which then tick the number of person-hours down significantly by thousands of hours. And now I can now take those people and either use them in other roles, I’ve, you know, they’re now you know some of them are now creating the software platforms to drive the, you know, the next generation cloud environments, you know, multi-cloud platforms – they’re doing other things that they weren’t doing before or didn’t think about. So the culture of “Wait that’s my router I’m going to hug my router until it’s you know don’t don’t mess with my stuff” to oh wait, there’s other skills now.

 [00:20:52] And this is happening – A.I. is doing-, is disrupting, you know, at least the thought is well A.I. is going to take away a bunch of jobs or if you just take that example and you apply it there and you go wait, if you can take what you were doing before, automate it, and you can drive more value to the business – maybe your role has changed and you can help the business grow more by using AI or automated techniques – that would be very useful for the company. But I think the culture and the mindsets need to shift accordingly. Some people won’t make that adjustment. Sure. Right.

Kevin Delaney [00:21:34] Yes. You were talking about A.I. a second ago and what it’s getting rid of are a lot of the routine jobs and that’s not going to be easy for a lot of people – it’s a big transition. I’m not discounting it, but as you say it’s getting rid of some of the things that weren’t particularly satisfying anyway and it’s opening up a new world that in some ways is more dynamic and more exciting and more dare we say it fun.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:21:58] Yeah, well we had, we have this joke actually the back to kind of putting it all together. We have a capability that we call, that is basically doing searches before and we call it CAM. We implemented in this new sort of MI / ML machine learning sort of reference architecture. What CAM stands for is Cisco Answers Machine. This is just an example. And what was happening at the time was the service engineers or the sales engineers in the field, well there, the joke was they the SE that wasn’t Sales Engineer it was Search Engineer because every time they typed in well, “I want to go find a Cisco ninety-three hundred switch” it would come up with all of these links and they’d have to go search for all the different material. And now what CAM does with either MI or ML is I will either through voice or through text or through whatever, I ask a question and it gives me the answer – it doesn’t give me a bunch of links. And if you want it in Spanish it gives it to you in Spanish. So that just that simple example took the SEs, the sales engineers and I.T. came together to develop this solution so dynamic teaming again a cultural shift that didn’t happen before to solve a problem which is pay. We need to drive productivity for the sales engineers in the field. So instead of me looking up 20 different links, give me the answer when I’m asking a question. Give me the answer. And then over time that continues to build and learn and grow so that the Machine Learning along the way really helps improve and the sales engineers are now much more productive because they can ask a question and get an answer versus having to look up a bunch of stuff.

Kevin Delaney [00:24:13] And interesting you know we were talking a minute ago about the relationship between technology and culture and a lot of what I.T. is doing is enabling diversity and inclusion through collaboration tools, through kind of freeing people up to work in new kinds of ways. You touched on the question of diversity and inclusion this morning in your talk. Anything you want to add to that.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:24:40] I think it’s I think it is extremely important. In fact if you remember the panel that we had this morning we had myself with the leader if you exclude me you had Carol Goh who was the leader of the networking team, a woman, Asian, you had Ravel who was you know the key senior arc senior developer there and with the the H.R. team. And again a woman, a woman in coding and she helps teach others coding you know.  And one of her inspirations is to help young girls learn how to code. So again gender diversity, and then you have David who is you know who actually is an international intern. And in that international program we bring both gender diversity as well as you know people from different countries. So have people from Spain and he’s obviously from England. But what many different countries, Asia we bring all those people together and we put them into a team. You’re part of this cohort and they work together, they’re friends for life. And, you know but what really driving that sense of diversity – we actually call you know in the different companies you hear about inclusion and diversity. And it’s a big, it’s a big push for Cisco. We have the same concept but it’s called Inclusion and Collaboration. So we have a Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer called Sheri Slate. Sherry is all about hey we have to, you know, drive inclusion and as part of that diversity, as part of the collaboration will come that diversity, if we’re collaborative and we use our-, by the way, if we use our own technology we can collaborate anywhere and to anyone regardless of race, gender you know, it’s colour or what have you. And so that inclusion and collaboration is a big push for us.

Kevin Delaney [00:27:09] And of course it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do because your customer base whatever industry you’re in, is increasingly diverse, extremely diverse and global. Most of the times. I mean there’s countless studies including our own on the thought leadership team that show all the advantages of a more diverse company culture in terms of productivity and job satisfaction and creativity.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:27:35] Yeah well what you get I think you get is diversity of thought. Right. And you get. Yeah. If I had everybody that thought like me, you wouldn’t get anything done. So that’s why I try to surround myself-, I know my, I know my strengths and where I’m not great at and you know but having people that can be sort of you know Carol showed the yin and yang right. Sort of sign, who is the yin and who is the yang. Sure. I think that’s a-, that’s a key factor.

Kevin Delaney [00:28:12] The more diverse the more people who disagree with you you’ll probably come up with a better decision won’t you.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:28:17] Right absolutely.

Kevin Delaney [00:28:19] Another thing that we see in our research around the Future of Work is that the mission statement of a company, its commitment to something beyond pure profits, looms large. And it’s especially important in I.T. isn’t it? How do you instil that feeling of being part of something bigger at Cisco.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:28:36] Yeah I think you know this is one of the-. This is one of the things and I think as I’ve gotten more and let’s just say more mature in my thinking, in my career, I’ve also understood and this is something that Cisco has really always pushed. I understood the sense of purpose. Why am I here? Yeah. I have a platform, I have a role inside of Cisco which is the CIO, but that’s not necessarily my purpose. And at Cisco one of the things that we’re really pushing is this. Yes, we are driving our business. We want to have growth and we want to drive productivity and so forth. But we also have this thing called the Cycle of Goodness. And then the notion there is if we are doing good in our business, then we should be doing good in the community. If we’re doing good in the community then that gives us even more of a push in our business, it gives us more credibility and it gives us more engagement with the broader community and it’s a cycle and it keeps-, and hopefully that cycle keeps going up and up, up until the right. And it helps both our business and it helps the community. So the cycle of goodness and I’ll give you example. I think I may have mentioned it on the stage today which is you know as part of talent one of the things that we-, one of the things that I’m very passionate about, and back to the purpose, is we have a program that we drive inside of I.T. and as another pair of mine and supply chain that we use that same concept. And it’s sort of a work-study program and it’s a high school program. So we actually bring high school students in and one day a week they work at Cisco, now they stagger, because we have about 16 of these students in I.T. and then more in the other groups but we stagger them and then they get to go to school for four days a week and one day a week they work at Cisco and then the good news is that these kids come from under-served communities. They haven’t had that exposure to you know-, they don’t know what a CIO is when they’re in middle school, they don’t know what Cornell or Harvard or Stanford even that’s not even in the horizon. And they come through this and you know we’ve actually gone through several classes now, one which has gone through its full cycle from freshmen and graduating seniors – a hundred per cent graduation and those students are now in Cornell, Santa Clara and Humboldt State in different. Different. It’s so-, when you see that it inspires you to actually fulfil your platform, which is your job. And when you do good at your job then it inspires you to do better in the community. And it’s a Cycle of Goodness. And I think that’s one example. But you know the-, I know our CEO Chuck Robbins is really pushing to reduce homelessness and we’re pushing that agenda. We’re pushing-, you know we’re also looking at how we bring more veterans into the community. How do we bring more, you know, underrepresented minorities in the organization? So this is the time when you see things like that, it inspires you not just in my day job, but as a person. It is-, you know it’s connect your brain and your heart. And when that happens I think magic happens.

Kevin Delaney [00:32:45] It’s great. And it reflects some of your own story as well you know. You joined the Navy at 18.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:32:50] I did.

Kevin Delaney [00:32:50] That’s where you got some of your first network training right.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:32:53] That’s right. Yeah. We couldn’t afford to go to university. So I went there I was going to get that degree one way or the other. And I decided the Navy was-, well my mom decided the Navy, I wanted to go to the Air Force. I think you know I always tell the students is make sure you listen to your mom, right. And so that’s where I learned about networking and electronics and telecommunications. So fast forward that, you know, end up at the networking company. So it’s it’s been a great journey and a great ride.

Kevin Delaney [00:33:29] That’s great. Well, it’s been a real pleasure, G. Anything you’d like to add? You were particularly talking this morning about how much you like interacting with your peers as a CIO. And you say you learn a whole lot from them. But what is some of the most important things that you share with them, they all have headaches around security. They’re trying to make some of the same cultural changes that you’ve been through.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:33:54] Yeah well I think it’s I think again we’re going through a lot of the same challenges. So I think you know a lot of advice I give is around the building out the, you know, the foundation if you’re trying to build a castle. You know, on a soggy foundation it’s just not gonna work, it’s gonna fall. So making sure that you have that foundation and the techniques. How do you, how do you build a scalable secure platform that can scale to a 50 billion dollar business. But also in return is like you know they’re going through some challenges or they may have fixed some problems that I am going through challenges with. And so being able to kind of balance that, and share you know, here’s my headache here’s your headache. We put that together. Hopefully, we can resolve both of our headaches.

Kevin Delaney [00:34:56] The headache club!

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:35:01] The headache club, yeah! So that’s you know that’s about it.

 Kevin Delaney [00:35:02] Well thanks so much to you G, it’s been a real pleasure. All the best to you, and you’re three and a half years into your stint as CIO now am I correct?

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:35:12] Yeah I’ve been at Cisco almost 19.

Kevin Delaney [00:35:13] OK. Yeah it’s been a heck of a ride right.

Guillermo Diaz Junior [00:35:15] It’s been a heck of a ride.

Kevin Delaney [00:35:19] This is Kevin Delaney for Connected Futures. My special thanks to Cisco CIO Guillermo Diaz Junior for a great discussion. And here’s hoping that your organization’s business, culture and talent transformations are smooth.

For more insights analysis and the voice of thought leaders, go to the Connected Futures online magazine

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