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Cisco’s organizational structure and its collaborative approach to decision making’

read the attached case study ‘Cisco’s organizational structure and its collaborative approach to decision making’ and answer ALL the following questions:
1. Provide an overview of the restructuring in Cisco’s strategic decision-making processes that took place from 2001 onward (10%)
2. Critically analyse the restructuring of Cisco’s strategic decision-making processes from
2001 onward by addressing both the advantages and disadvantages (criticisms) of this approach to decision-making. Consider factors such as: speed; priorities; participants; quality of decisions; possible cognitive biases. (30%)
3. Do you think the collaborative decision-making approach was conducive or detrimental to building leadership capability within Cisco? (10%)
4. Do you agree with CEO John T Chambers that the collaborative decision approach facilitates innovative decisions? Refer to good practices in strategic decision-making to support your answer. (30%)
Please also note the following mark allocation:
Writing and presentation: 10%
Referencing: It is expected that you will consult and cite at least 5 additional academic sources to support your answers. (10%)
General requirement
Avoid descriptive writing and make inferences
No plagiarism
Between 10 and 12 Academic references. (Some relevant references will be uploaded and you may do you own research as well)
No need to summarize the case study. You may write a short introduction and short conclusion. Please add a table of content as well.
3000 words maximum (Excluding the table of content)
12-point font (Times Roman) 1.5 space
Cisco’s Organizational Structure and its Collaborative
Approach to Decision Making
“This is business as usual at Cisco, given our collaborative structure of councils, boards and working groups to be able to effectively execute on multiple fronts. Time will tell if we are right but the tangible results indicate that the business models based on collaboration may be
the most effective way to drive a successful global business today. “1
John T. Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems Inc., on the company’s business performance, in November 2009.
“It [2009] was a pretty enlightening year … When you do four acquisitions in a quarter — two of them multibillion dollar – you really do have to have your teams moving in a couple of directions. And you have to coordinate them. That’s a perfect example of how they’ve been utilizing cross-functional teams. ”
Catharine Trebnick, Avian Securities, LLC’, on Cisco’s performance and organizational structure, in December 2009.
“What happens when decisions get made by committees? They don’t get made […} There are probably government agencies that have more streamlined bureaucracies. ”
Henry Blodget, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, The Business Insider, on Cisco’s organizational structure, in August 2009.
As a leader in switches, routers and other Internet technology, the US-based Cisco System, Inc. (Cisco) likened its business to that of a plumber, i.e., a plumber of the Internet. However, in the first decade of the new millennium, the industry Cisco operated in had changed drastically with the fast pace of technological change and consolidation in the industry. The challenge before Cisco was how to change its business processes so as to cater to the changing market.
According to John T. Chambers (Chambers), the Chairman and CEO of Cisco, “The future’s about, how do you add intelligence to that plumbing? And how do you do it architecturally from a technology point of view, going from any device to any content over any combination of networks and data, voice, video? Sounds simple; really complex with security and predictability. But how do you change the business process?”
The company wanted to make the transition from being just a seller of routers, switches, and other technology to being a company that was the most trusted business and technology adviser to its clients. For this, the company realized it would have to make a radical change in its organizational structure such that the company would be well-positioned to anticipate and capture market transitions. The company reorganized its organizational structure in 2001, fanning cross-functional teams to break free of the “silo culture” earlier prevalent in the company. Subsequently, it refined the model and came up with an organizational structure comprising of councils, boards and working groups. These committees (around 60 as of 2009) working at different levels were cross- functional in nature, and according to the company, lent Cisco the speed, scale, flexibility, and rapid replication that was required for a large company to remain innovative in a rapidly changing industry.
Cisco believed the traditional command-and-control model was losing its relevance, and the future lay in adopting a more collaborating model of decision making. The aim was to involve as many people in decision making as possible. The company had entered around 30 new market adjacencies between 2008 and the end of 2009, as part of its new growth strategy. For this, it had to move very fast and also acquire a number of companies. Chambers credited the successful implementation of its strategy to its innovative organizational structure that enabled effective and speedy decision making. He also claimed that this organizational structure played a key part in managing the company through the econom. ic downturn.
The management experiment at Cisco initiated a huge debate on the topic. While some industry observers felt that such a model would be effective, other felt that rather than promoting innovation, the structure would impede it. They wondered how a complex multilayered organizational model based on committees could speed up decision making. While some analysts felt that it was too early to judge Cisco’s organizational model, others felt that this model could well become a game-changing management innovation provided Cisco was able to identify and address some of the critical dimensions associated with the model.
Cisco was founded by a group of computer scientists, who had together designed a software system named IOS (Internet Operating System), which could send streams of data from one computer to another. This software was loaded into a box containing microprocessors specially designed for routing, and sold as a package to businesses. The company was incorporated on December 10, 1984 and headquartered at San Jose, California, US. Cisco was a pioneer in developing innovative forms of customer support using new technology. In 1985, the company started a customer support site from where customers could download software over FTP and also upgrade the downloaded software. On its site,
Cisco also provided a database that contained information about potential software problems to
help customers and developers. By 1991, Cisco’s support centre was receiving around 3,000 calls a month, which increased to 12,000 by 1992. To deal with the large volume of transactions, it built an online customer support system on its site.
In 1993, Cisco installed an Internet-based system for large multinational corporate customers. The system allowed customers to post queries related to their problems. Cisco also installed a trigger function called the ‘Bug Alert’ on its website. The ‘Bug Alert’ sent e-mails on software problems within 24 hours of their discovery. Encouraged by the success of its customer support site, in 1994, Cisco launched Cisco Information Online, a public website that offered not only company and product information but also technical and customer support to customers. In
1995, it introduced applications for selling products or services on its website. This was done
mainly to transfer paper, fax, and e-mails to the web to save time for employees, customers, and trading partners, besides broadening Cisco’s market reach.
In 1996, the company introduced a new Internet initiative, ‘Networked Strategy’ to leverage on its enterprise network to foster interactive relationshi ps with prospective customers, partners, suppliers, and employees. In all these initiatives, Cisco pioneered platforms that later became commonplace in all companies.
In the 1990s, Cisco was known as one of the “4 Horsemen of IT”. In 1997, Cisco was organized around three specific lines of business to address two major new market opportunities: the service provider migration to Internet Protocol (IP) services and the adoption of IP products by small and medium-sized businesses through channel distribution. These three specific lines of business were enterprise, service provider and commercial. However, in August 2001, the Cisco restructured the company to one core business with centralized engineering and marketing organizations in response to some major changes in the networking industry. The new
engineering organization focused on 11 new technology groups, while marketing focus on communicating Cisco’s technology differentiation (Refer to Exhibit I for Cisco’s 1 1 technology groups). ”At the heart of this change are our customer requirements and our clear market transition opportunity. Our line of business structure has served us very well in the past, when customer segments and product requirements were very distinct. Today, the differences have blurred between these customer segments and Cisco is i n a unique position to provide the industry’s broadest family of products united under a consistent architecture designed to help our customers improve productivity and profitability,” said Chambers, who had taken over as CEO in January 1995.
With the Internet becoming the driver of all information globally in the 1990s and the first decade of 2000s, trends evolved around it in the form of cloud computing, mobilization, social networking, virtualization, etc. Cisco was the leading company that offered networking gear
that ran the Internet. It was the market leader in ethernet switches and overall router
markets with market shares of nearly 70 percent and 50 percent respectively. It was the market share leader in all the segments in which it operated (Refer to Exhibit II for Cisco’s market share in different segments). Cisco’s market capitalization of US$ l 09 billion in July 2009 was, in multi ples of the combined market capitalization of its top 11 competitors (US$19 billion). Cisco grew at a rapid pace in terms of both sales and profits, which the company attributed to its ability to capture market transitions (Refer to Exhibit III for net sales and net income of Cisco from 2000 to 2009, and Exhibit IV for Cisco’s market transition). However, some analysts felt that to sustain its growth, the company would have to enter new markets that were outside of
its core business.
In addition to its business performance, Cisco had also made a name for itself for its HR practices, flat organizational structure and customer-focused culture. In 2009, it was ranked 6th on Fortune magazine’s list of ‘ 100 Best Companies to Work For’ (Refer to Exhibit V for the top 10 companies in 2009 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work). According to Brian Schipper, senior vice president, HR at Cisco since October 2006, the company’s organizational culture had a direct relationship to Cisco’s long-term success. Its flat and virtual organization helped Cisco expand into new market adjacencies both in terms of commercial and geographic markets.
Right from its initial years, Cisco had a flat organizational structure. Over the years, the company had brought about certain changes in its organizational structure focusing on cross functional teams. Internally the company called it a Networked Virtual Organization. Unlike a traditional hierarchical structure which looked like a tree, the organizational structure at Cisco could be best described as a circle (Refer to Figure I for Networked Virtual Organization: Cisco’s
Circular Model).
Figure I
Networked Virtual Organization: Cisco’s Circular Model
Source: Andrew Bossone, “Eye of Tiger “www.ict-business.com. February 6, 2008.
In Cisco, when a project was initiated, the company defined its short-term goals, formed a cross- functional team, and this team worked together until the task was complete. In this way, the company was not directed by the commands of the top management flowing down
the hierarchy, but by the goals of the organization that centered around and were driven by the customer. “[The structure is like] the internet …. It’s a random, self-generating group of cells that come together and dismantle after they need to. It’s not a hierarchy straight down; it’s a circle. It’s a sphere, where all components of this sphere are constantly communicating and
col laborating,” explained Mohsen Moazami, vice president of Internet Business Solutions Group,
As of 2009, Cisco made its key decisions through a number of committees (Refer to Figure II for the organizational structure of Cisco). Cisco used committees in place of the standard top- down structure. The employees at Cisco were grouped into small temporary groups (two to ten) that worked on individual projects. These working groups looked for opportunities in their respective areas and brought these to the boards.
Figure II Organizational Structure at Cisco
Chair man and CE O
*As of August 2009. Source: Cisco Systems
Each board had around 14 people on average and included a senior vice president or a vice president. While 43 boards reported to the councils, four boards reported to the operating committee. Each council comprising of around 14 people on average, two of which were senior vice presidents or vice presidents, reported to the operating committee. The operating committee comprised of 15 top executives of the company including Chambers.
The various initiatives of the company were managed by a number of committees that were
cross- functional, interdepartmental, or even international teams of executive. These executive
“volunteers” worked on boards and councils organizing themselves around major initiatives
or specific product lines. Commenting on how this new approach worked, Chambers said, “Cross- functional leadership is about doing a replicable process with a business model that can be enabled by technology, and each of the functional groups being able to implement that. So whoever serves on each of these councils and boards and working groups, from each functional group, has to be able to speak for the whole group. Not go back and ask permission, but has to
be able to speak for the group. Secondly, they’ve got to understand the implications of their
decisions across all the functions … And third, you select who goes on these councils and boards by the leaders of the group, which originally were my executive VPs and senior VPs.” Each of the top executives of Cisco, including Chambers, was involved in multiple councils and boards.
Speaking about the organization’s structure, Cham bers, said, “Our organization structure leverages the power of communities of interest which we call councils which we believe are
$10 billion opportunities, boards that we see as $1 billion opportunities and working groups. These organization structures allow us to more effectively prioritize resource across over two dozen cross functional opportunities as well as within each of our corporate functions.”
According to Chambers, such structures were required for a large company to continue innovating and delivering growth. According to Cisco’s vice president Ron Ricci (Ricci), who worked with Chambers to put into practice this new approach, he and Chambers were inspired in part by Gary Hamel ‘s ideas about the need to democratize strategy and distribute leadership in order to stimulate innovation. “One of the traditional ways you define power i n a big corporation is by the resources you control… It’s one of the evil characteristics of corporations. If you control resources for your unilateral use, you can move away from the greater whole, even if you make good decisions. Now we believe it’s about learning to bring resources together to the table with groups,” he explained.
Chambers contended that in these tougher times marked by economic downturn, an organization such as this could be very effective as this was ‘a distributed idea engine where leadership emerges organically, unfettered by a central command. Faced with an economic downturn, Cisco had prioritized its top five opportunities and, according to Chambers, the new organizational structure ensured that these were properly resourced (Refer to Exhibit VI for Cisco’s top five opportunities).
The company had drawn up an aggressive strategy of entering many new market adjacencies, and had entered 30 new businesses by the end of 2009. The company persisted with the strategy despite posting a 46 percent drop in quarterly profit for the quarter ending July 25,
2009. Chambers wanted to expand Cisco’s new businesses to 50 in the near term. “We believe this is a time to differentiate ourselves from our peers and be aggressive in ways that will position Cisco for the future profitable growth and stronger market share leadership. This is the area that I believe we can uniquely position Cisco with our process driven vision, differentiated strategy and execution combined with our organizational structure around councils and boards that will allow us to move with speed, skill, flexibility and with a replicable process as this upturn inevitably occurs, said Chambers.
According to analysts, the justification given by Cisco for this unique organization structure primarily revolved round decentralizing decision making and making the company more agile, especially related to the need to spur growth through acquisitions.
The idea for the new structure occurred during the economic down tum in 2001, when Cisco wrote off US$2.2 billion in losses. Realizing the Cisco’s hierarchical structure was preventing it from moving fast, Chambers started grouping executives into cross-functional teams. By placing executives in fields as disparate as engineering and marketing, he tried to break down traditional “silos” and promote speed in making decisions.
Chambers contended that before 2001, Cisco had a ”cow boy culture,” where strong personalities were rewarded for competing with each other to get the CEO’s approval. The decision to move to the new structure was not well-received by all the executives and the company had to encounter resistance. Chambers confessed that his move of reorganizing into boards and councils had at times made everyone including himself uncomfortable. This was because Cisco used to develop its people in silos and the new approach required each member of a committee to understand the implications of their decisions across all the functions.
Unlike its early days, executives at Cisco began to be compensated on the basis of collective businesses performance, not on the individual performance of their units. How well they worked
in teams also became an integral part of their performance reviews. Many of the executives were upset with the new compensation structure that was linked to teamwork. According to Chambers, around 20 percent of Cisco executives left their jobs. He said that it was very difficult to explain to the employees why Cisco needed to change its approach, and the executives
that left probably needed a “command-and-control environment.” “[l]t’s often the best leaders that are most resistant to change. And about 20 percent of my leaders didn’t make the transition. They were command-and-control, wonderful leaders but wanted to stay command and control and couldn’t transition over,” said Chambers. He likened these executives to basketball player who could score 30 points a game but were not ready to adapt themselves to suit a team strategy. In such a scenario, Chambers felt that it was better that this player was traded to a different team.
The new management approach adopted by Cisco was modified and refined in subsequent years. The company brought in more discipline to the process in 2003. “It took seven years, and the first three years were bumpy,” said Manny Rivelo, a senior vice president at Cisco. The emphasis on decision making through councils and boards got a greater emphasis in
2007. While participating in a group exercise at the 2007 World Economic Forum,
Chambers was very impressed with the quality of the answers the group came out with for their presentation on a vision for life in 2015. This result led him to conclude that the future of organizational structure was around councils and boards. In April 2007, he repeated the exercise with Cisco’s operating committee at a meeting and found that three different groups of employees came up with the same answer to a question about the company’s mobile strategy. According to Chambers, this showed that “you can take your top 40 or 50 [people] and then your top 300 and then your top 3,000” and still arrive at the same decisions.
Chambers contended that the top-down approach to decision making probably suited the company until 2001 as during that period, Cisco had one or two primary products; but in the new scenario, a network of councils and boards were needed who were empowered to launch new businesses. These executives spent around 30 percent of their time on various meetings – physically as well as virtually. Executives had access to an evolving set of Web
2.0 gadgets so that they could participate in a number of board and council meetings.
Chambers himself communicated with employees through blogs and encouraged employees to blog. According to Chambers. Cisco’s utilization of discussion forums was 16 times higher in 2009 compared to 2008. With executives tied up in a number of boards and councils, they also realized that they were unable to keep up and had to rely on their teams. “So they had to delegate, they had to empower, they had to train. And it took us a while to change compensation, reward systems. But now it’s a machine;’ said Chambers.
By the end of 2008, the company was taking 70 percent of its decisions collaboratively, compared to just 10 percent in 2007. With the onset of the economic downturn, the company decided to enter aggressively into new market adjacencies, and according to the company, the new organizational structure and management approach supported the strategy. “[H]aving learned from 2001 , we go into this one [economic downturn] with
$34 billion in cash. We go into this structure with an innovative management structure
that is more around empowering groups – with a very disciplined process behind it – and empowering groups in a way that allows them to move across into market adjacencies with a speed and efficiency and, hopefully, a much higher hit rate than we’ve ever been able to do.” explained Chambers.
According to Chambers, growth at large companies tended to slow down as these companies did not move out of their primary markets fast enough. Therefore, he focused on increasing the number of markets Cisco operated in. From just two in 2007, the number of new markets the company operated in increased to 26 by August 2009. It further increased to
30 by the end of 2009, and Cisco made thousands of products, including high-end teleconferencing systems and cable boxes. Eventually, Cisco expected each new business to reach US$1 billion and contribute to a significant pmi of Cisco’s revenue.
In late 2008, while Cisco’s stock was witnessing a decline, analysts said that the company was still in a strong financial position with US$26 billion in cash. “Not only do we have the $26 billion, we now have 26 new market adjacencies that are not relevant to our revenue today, but they will be three to four years from now,” said Chambers. Ricci claimed that in the fiscal year 2008, there was “a tenfold increase in new projects” and the company was also able to reduce operating expenses from about 38 percent at the height of the tech boom to between 35-36 percent. According to Chambers, this vindicated his decision to opt for the new organizational structure. While many companies were trying to survive the economic downturn, Cisco was preparing to grow aggressively and gain market share.
Chambers said that, contrary to popular perception, Cisco had made a number of mistakes over the years and was at times unable to move fast enough to take advantage of opportunities. He cited the instances of Cisco having to acquire other companies in order to keep up as it was too slow to respond to the opportunities on its own. However, he also cautioned that moving fast in itself was not enough – the company should have a process behind it that could scale. The organizational structure at Cisco allowed speed, scale, flexibility, and rapid replication. The executives who earlier jostled for resources and power were now working together with shared responsibility. They were now more focused on how to move more products into the market at a faster pace. ”The boards and councils have been able to innovate with tremendous speed. Fifteen minutes and one week to get a [business] plan that used to take six months!” said Chambers.
In January 2009, Chambers said that the company’s reorganization into councils and boards
had helped Cisco realign over US$500 million of resources to new business opportunities and
the company was readying to realign another US$500 million by October 2009. Cisco’s unique
approach had helped it identify opportunities, the resources required and the timeline. The
company expected these new opportunities to position it for long term growth. Between
February 2009 and May 2009, three more market adjacencies were added to bring up the
number to 29. ”Of perhaps equal importance, our largest customers understand how this
highly innovative management structure and these business models we have been talking
about can launch these many major products into market adjacencies with quality,” said
By the end of July 2009, the company had increased the number of market adjacencies to 30, and according to Chambers, these new market opportunities were also driving innovation in its core products. The companies also claimed that Cisco’s organization structure played a key part in managing through the economic downturn to help it effectively tap the market
transitions. ”We see all of these market transitions going on at the same time; so, instead of doing 1 or 2 a year, like we did during each of the economic slowdowns-the four that we’d seen before-we’re going to all at the same time. And it sounds impossible. But without the structure that we started on in 2001, and without the discipline we added to that structure in
2003, it would be impossible,” said Chambers.
He said although the company ‘s vision in differentiated strategy for each of these market adjacencies had been formulated in mid-2008, the company was able to implement the strategy successfully due to its new and unique organizational structure. He attributed this success to the
collaborative processes embedded in Cisco’s councils, boards, and working groups enabled by Web 2.0. technologies. (Refer to Exhibit VII for some instances of what the organizational structure helped enable Cisco to do).
To give an instance of how the company organizational structure led to speedy decision making, Chambers said, “Just to give you an idea of how our organizational structure translates into speed, scale, flexibility and replication, let me use the last month as an example. We announced intentions to acquire four companies, two of which were $3 billion transactions. A strategic partnership to drive the market transition around virtualization, launched a new product, the IGISRG2 that provides five times more performance, video ready capability, and the richest set of virtual services with the lowest cost of ownership in the industry, all while executing on a strong quarter.” He claimed that during this time the executive leadership team and Chambers himself performed all their regular duties. For instance, he claimed that in the month of September 2009, he personally met with over 100 customers.
Other executives at Cisco too said that while working in this new environment was challenging, it was also very effective. Keith Goodwin (Goodwin), a senior vice president at Cisco said, “Without sharing my age, I can say that I am definitely from the command-and-control school of management. That’s what I learned in Business School and that’s how I’ve operated throughout most of my career, but I can still wholeheartedly say that Cisco’s collaborative leadership model is worki ng, and worki ng successfully.” While the success of the new approach as difficult to quantify, the company gave numerous examples of how this had led to effective and speedy decision making. For instance, it said that the decision to acquire Web-conferencing company, WebEx Communications, Inc., in 2007 was made in just eight days. Cisco entered into a partnershi p with another company in a single council meeting. According to Cisco’s new chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior, this could have taken many meetings at other companies, but it “took the four of us on a phone call’.
According to another senior vice president Tony Bates, the new approach taken by the company helped make effective decisions regarding the various acquisitions Cisco made and later effectively integrate these businesses (Refer to Exhibit VIII for Cisco’s Acquisitions: 2007-
2009). According to him, without the reorganization “we’d still be thinking in a straight line, pure cowboy. It was an important shock to the system.” Executives also said that the company’s new approach helped them cut down on travel and cut costs in the process. For instance, in August 2009, Goodwin said that since taking over as co-leader in one of the councils in August
2008, his time spent on travel was cut by 50 percent. This was done not at the expense of
partner engagement, rather he spent more time with the partners through various Web 2.0 tools. (Refer to Exhibit IX for some specific instances where Cisco’s organizational structure enabled effective and speedy decision making)
Chambers, who was slated to retire in 2011 or 2013, was able to reduce his own personal impact on the business and that of any successor as CEO, analysts said. They felt that Cisco’s unique organizational structure could limit speculation over who would be the next CEO and any fallout such as that associated with the retirement of legendary leader of General Electric Company (GE), Jack Welch.
According to Chambers, ‘We now have a whole pool of talent who can lead these working groups, like mini CEOs and COOs. We’re growing ideas, but we’re growing people as well … where I might have had two potential successors, I now have 500.”
The company claimed that its innovative model had also attracted the attention of its partners, peers and rivals. Cisco’ s HR chief Schipper, who was credited with having played a key role in the company’s transformation, said, “I’m finding that colleagues in chief HR officer roles in other companies are intrigued by how deeply Cisco has embedded our collaborative leadership model into our formal promotion and hiring assessments. ”
Some industry observers and analysts felt that Cisco’s organizational structure and its collaborative approach to decision making was an effective one – potentially the organization of the future. “Now i nstead of a small group of executives telling everybody else what to do, people have authority to figure out for themselves what to do … People are motivated to coordinate and cooperate with each other by a financial incentive system that rewards them for their common successes instead of rewarding each manager for their individual successes,” noted Michael Hugos, CIO Magazine . Industry observers felt that such an organizational structure made sense for a company of Cisco’s size. With around 67,000
employees, decentralizing authority and improving communication had become a necessity as
it was practically impossible for the CEO to oversee every decision of the company. Having a structure such as this helped Cisco to be flexible and put the best employee available on a given project. Since the teams were cross-functional in nature, these employees collaborated without being bound to their department. Some felt that this could also strengthen
employee engagement as the employees were constantly challenged by their work.
According to Jay R. Galbraith, Galbraith Management Consultants, organization structures such as these worked in companies such as Cisco as collaborators were rewarded and the traditional command-and-controllers tended to leave. “These departures were positive changes, representing a victory of collaborators over the command and controllers. Management defines roles and responsibilities and holds people accountable. Managers rotate between units and prevent silos. Most important, the successful companies have strong leadership teams that resolve disputes and create a one-company culture,” he said.
According to Scott Anthony (Anthony), Managing Director of Innosight Ventures, the new organizational structure would help foster innovation as Cisco as it would also be capable of nurturing ideas that broke from the n or m or required coordination across disparate
parts of an organization. “Traditional organizational forms are good at creating businesses that adhere to the rules and norms of the core business. But creating new growth often requires breaking those rules and norms in small ways,” he said.
Some analysts noted that apart from its strong cash position, Cisco’s organizational structure had also helped Cisco execute some key acquisitions during the economic slowdown. They marveled at how Cisco was able to enter so many new market adjacencies by coming out with new products and also through strategic acquisitions. Some analysts were particularly impressed with its agility as demonstrated by its acquisition of four companies in one quarter (between October 2009 and end of Novem ber 2009). They saw this as proof that Cisco’s committees were working.
Some observers said that Cisco’s approach would also work in other companies. They argued that the days of micromanagement were over as a global marketplace and rapid proliferation of Web 2.0 tools required a workforce empowered to generate ideas, solve problems, and contribute to business performance. However, they also felt that, though it was a great way to run a company, it would require top management commitment for successful implementation.
However, some analysts and ex-employees of Cisco were not happy with the new organizational structure at Cisco. The structure led to chaos and slowed down decision making at times, they said. “Right now it’s chaos because there’s so much on everybody’s plate,” said Geoffrey Moore, a management consultant who has worked with Cisco. Some sources close to the company also claimed that Cisco’s new management structure had at times slowed its response to competitors’ moves. They pointed out that, in late 2007, Cisco was slow to react
to Hewlett-Packard Company’s (HP) move of starting a warranty for its switches that provided free upgrades and support. Critics argued that since Cisco’s response was delayed because decision making was slowed down as it worked through multiple committees. By the time Cisco finally matched HP’s promotion in April 2008, the company’s market share had fallen. Some organizational experts also felt that the departure of 20 percent of Cisco’s executives who could not reconcile themselves with the new organizational model was abnormally high.
The main criticism of Cisco’s organizational structure was the number of committees. Some critics argued that committees were not ideal for decision making. Commenting
on some downsides of Cisco’s organizational structure, Anthony said, “One concern about Cisco’s approach is the plethora of committees could decelerate decision making as it isn’t clear who really has the ”final call.” The larger the organization, the more managers spend time “working the hierarchy” instead of interacting with customers, suppliers, and key partners. This can cause companies to invest in the wrong ideas. When one of
Cisco’s executives describes how internal management challenges have led him to cut travel in half and replace customer meetings with phone calls, it will be a big warning sign.”
Critics felt that the new structure added layers of bureaucracy and stripped away accountability. Experts felt that this was an easy way of slowing down an organization. They argued that for leadership to be effective there needed to be clarity – in terms of short decision paths, a smaller number of committees, and clearly laid down responsibilities. They felt that Cisco’s approach was exactly the opposite of this. The Business Insider’s Henry Blodget was scathing in his criticism of Cisco’s organizational structure. He contended that conventional logic said that with committees, decision making takes a backseat. He criticized Chambers for creating a bureaucracy, making its senior executives waste around 30 percent of their time on committees. According to him, it was difficult for a company of Cisco’s size to grow in double digits and the company could explore some other alternative to grow the business. “Instead of moving Cisco into crazy new consumer business lines and forcing all of its senior managers to waste a third of their time sitting on committees, just break the company up,” he said.
Some analysts were also not prepared to accept that Cisco •s organizational structure was a success unless the company came out with a productivity metric. “Nothing will show success more than proof,” said Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala.
Some analysts believe that Chambers was vying for a place in the history books by promoting this management approach and his ego also played a role in the company’s strategy. Some people also saw an ulterior motive in Chamber’s push for this kind of
o rganizational structure. Two former executives of the company claimed that this
committee-based approach was well-suited for Chambers to further consolidate power and delaying the emergence of a successor. Some of them pointed out that executives considered as Cham ber’s successor seldom lasted for long in the company. BusinessWeek
quoted a former mid-level executive saying, “Being No. 2 at Cisco has not been a long-term assignment.
Chambers acknowledged that his critics could be right in their criticism of Cisco’s organizational structure and its approach to decision making. However, he said that the company had arrived at its organizational structure after giving a lot of thought to it, continuously refining it since it was introduced in 2001. For instance, in May 2009, he told executives that he did not want them to work on more than four or five committees after some executive complained that they were being overstretched. Chambers said that the new organization had served the company well and Cisco was in a position where it was able to make decisions with speed and efficiency. Moreover, Cisco had reached a position where instead of being led by 10 people heavily leaning on the CEO, it was being run by the top 500 people in the company.
However, Cisco rebuffed the critics charge that slow decision making by its committees had cost it market share. Reacting to criticism of its losing market share to HP, a spokesman of the company explained that changing the warranty was a complicated issue and that the new management structure allowed the company to get support from all parts of the company. Rebuffing criticism that Cisco’s management through a number of committees would lead to slower decision making, Goodwin said, ”The near-term decision-making benefits of the new structure are clear too. In my most recent Council meeting, we formulated our country strategy for the new year. The cross- functional nature of the Council enabled us to immediately determine the impact of engaging more deeply in certain countries on
functions such as sales, marketing and manufacturing, and we walked away from the table with a decision and a global strategy within a couple of hours. That doesn’t sound like slower decision making to me.”
Reacting to criticism of its executives spending around 30 percent of their time in meeting, Chambers said that the definition of meetings today had changed with the advent of Web
2.0 technologies. According to Chambers, Cisco’s management approach was the only way in which a company of its size could move fast. He also said that this structure based on boards and councils helped identify talent from across the company. A Cisco spokesperson also rubbished the suggestion that ego played a role in Cisco’s strategy.
In November 2009, speaking about Cisco’s future strategy, Chambers said, “The improving economic outlook combined with what appears to be a very solid execution on our growth strategy due to our organization structure and innovative business model enabled Cisco to move into 30 plus market adjacencies while reducing non-GAAP operating expenses by 10% year
over year and also reducing headcount. ” He said that Cisco would continue its strategy of entering new market adjacencies to spur growth. He said that the company was planning to increase its number of new businesses to 50. He was also planning to increase the number of people participating in the company’s various committees from 750 (in August 2009) to around
3000. Chambers said, “I realize that many of you think we’ve stretched too far, and you may very well be right … In many people’s opinion, [30 markets] is too many. In my opinion, it’s probably too few.”‘
Analysts viewed Chamber’s growth strategy of entering around 30 different new businesses as very ambitious. Some analysts noted that Cisco would not probably be successful in all these businesses but the process it had adopted increased the likelihood of success. They pointed out that while none of Cisco’s new markets had reached US$ l b illi o n in revenue (till mid-2009), some of them were growing fast. However, they also noted that the
strategy was risky as Cisco was making powerful enemies. While earlier its competitors used to be companies such as Juniper Networks, Inc. and Alcatel-Lucent, now it had to contend with competitors as diverse as 3Com, Microsoft Corporation, HP, Dell, Inc., and IBM had become its competitors now.
Coming back to its organizational structure and collaboration model, Chambers said that the ratio of distributed innovation to traditional decision making at Cisco was
70:30. However, the company cautioned that this was not a fixed ratio as the management valued flexibility. Having implemented this model at the company, Cisco looked forward to helping other companies adopt such a model. Chambers felt that this collaborative model was more replicable than the traditional command-and- control, top-down model and would be ideal for large organizations operating in a
continuously evolving industry. He said, “This is an organization structure that I think is built for the future and is much more built upon, “How do you gain the power of the human network to really move on decisions and directions?” Sounds like nice marketing, but most of our nice marketing usually has happened even though we might have been a little bit early or a little bit late. So I think, when we talk five years from now, this will be the future of business models.”
However, analysts were still divided on the effectiveness of Cisco’s organizational structure and
its approach to decision making. Analysts noted that Cisco’s approach was very different from
the approach usually adopted by companies of its size. These companies usually tried to
rationalize operations and focus more narrowly on priorities. “Cisco is trying to rewrite the
management books. We don’t know yet whether it will be successful or not,” said Tai Liani
of Merrill Lynch. Rosabeth Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor, added, ”Cisco is in the
middle of something that isn’t yet completed. Everything can look like a failure in the middle.”
Some analysts pointed out that the Cisco’s stock prices were showing an upward trend in 2009 and if this continued, many more companies might try to imitate its model. (Refer to Exhibit X for Cisco’s three-year stock chart) Overall, analysts felt that if Chambers was able to
prove the effectiveness of its new organization structure -both in terms of empowerment to the people and profits to the company – he would probably be considered as one of the most prominent management thinkers of the modern era. However, for that to happen, the company had to address some lacunae associated with its model. According to Anthony, “If the company learns how its approach is wrong and adjusts accordingly, it could turn the committee approach into a game-changing management innovation. If Cisco doesn’t learn
and adjust, history will judge Blodget’s ridicule as prescient.”
• Access
Exhibit I
Cisco’s 11 Technology Groups
• Aggregation
• Cisco IOS. Technologies Division (ITD)
• Internet Switching and Services
• Ethernet Access
• Network Management Services
• Core Routing
• Optical
• Storage
• Voice
• Wireless
Source: Cisco Systems Announces New Organizational Structure, ” www.cisco.com, August 23, 2001.
Exhibit II
Cisco’s Market Share in Different Segments
Segments Market share (%)
Storage: Area Networks 20
Web Conferencing 45
Routing: Edge/Core/ Access 57
Digital Video: IPTV 65
Wireless: LAN 60
Networked Home 44
Switching: Modular/Fixed 73
Security 38
Voice 28
*As o/ 2009
Source: www.cisco.com
Net Sales and Net Income of Cisco: 2000-2009
In US$ Million 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000
Sales 36,117 39,540 34,922 28,484 24,801 22,045 18,878 18,915 22,293 18,928
(Loss) 6,134 8,052 7,333 5,580 5,741 4,401 3,578 1,893 (1,014) 2,668
*Cisco’s financial ends on July.
Source: www.cisco.com
Exhibit IV
Cisco’s Market Transition
1997 All in One: Data/Voice/Video
2000 Network of Networks
2006 Network as Platfonn
2008 Collaboration/ Web 2.0
Source: ivivw.cisco.com
Exhibit V
Top 10 in 2009: Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work
Rank Company Job growth US employees
1 NetApp 12% 5,014
2 Edward Jones 9% 34,496
3 Boston Consulting Group 10% 1,680
4 Google 40% 12,580
5 Wegmans Food Markets 6% 37,195
6 Cisco Systems 7% 37,123
7 Genentech 5% 10,969
8 Methodist Hospital System 1% 10,535
9 Goldman Sachs 2% 14,088
10 Nugget Market 22% 1,536
Adapted from http://mo11ey.c1111.com
Exhibit VI
Cisco’s Top Five Opportunities
• Cisco 3.0: Next generation company and next generation customer relationships
• Collaboration/Web 2.0
• Video and visual networking
• Data center and virtualization
• Globalization
Adapted from “Cisco Systems, Inc. F2Q09 (Qtr End 01124109) Earnings Call
Transcript, ” http:l/seekingalpha.com, February 2009.
Exhibit VII
Some Instances of What the Organizational Structure Helped Enable Cisco To Do
• Virtualization: According to Chambers, virtualization – first in the data center and then going all the way to our homes – has become a reality. Cisco saw a significant market transition in the data center as networking, computing, storage and software technologies began to converge and then compete with each other in new ways. This had led to emergence of new business models enabled by technology architectures, such as cloud computing,
and the opportunity to finally address customers’ greatest needs in terms of reducing costs
and complexity, while increasing their business agility. According to Cisco, many of its customers felt a future data center would best be enabled by networking, placing Cisco in an ideal position to lead through this next market transition.
• Second phase of the Internet revolution: Chambers believed that the second phase of the Internet revolution was becoming viral. After moving fast to tap the opportunities presented by the first phase (e.g. orders being entered on-line, customer support provided over the Internet, etc.), Cisco was gearing up to tap the oppo1iunities presented by the second phase of the Internet revolution.
• New Business models for travel. Chambers said that Cisco employees and its partner’s travel costs could be drastically reduced through the use of new technology. Citing himself as an example, he said that in the first 90 days of 2009, he made 262 customer visits. Of these,
200 were virtual using TelePresence, and he had to physically travel around the world only
twice. He also said that many of these meetings were first time meetings, and some of them
also involved entire senior management team of a leading company or heads of state. As of May 2006, Cisco averaged 4,700 TelePresence sessions per week and had permanent cut its travel budget from US$750 million run rate per year to US$350 million run rate per year. According to Chambers, during the economic downturn TelePresence helped Cisco reduce
its travel budget to US$240 million, with average expenditure per employee around 65 percent lower than what it was at the start of the economic downturn.
• Video Architecture: Chambers said over the years, Cisco expanded first in the networked home with Linksys. Then it moved into home video entertainment with Scientific Atlanta, and followed this up with its announcement in 2009 of moving into areas such as Media hub systems (for unifying music from any device to any device). Cisco was aggressively
expanding its networked video strategy to the consumer throughout the home with its acquisition of Pure Digital (maker of the Flip handheld video recorder). The company aimed to have an end-to-end architecture in the home for video just like it was developing an end- to- end video architecture for enterprise business.
• Smart Grid: Cisco also saw a huge future business potential in Smart Grid and the entire green initiative. In less than six months, the company had brought important solutions to marketing in terms of category and architectural thought leadership in the world. This was highlighted by GE, Florida Power Light and Cisco’s ‘Energy Smart Miami announcement in April
• Smart, connected communities. Through a combination of public/private partnerships on a global basis, Cisco had developed solutions that cities of the future would use -networked architectures for enabling everything from smart grids, green initiatives, safety and security, transportation, intelligent buildings, e-government, healthcare and education. To give one example, Chambers highlighted the company’s April 2009 announcement of a connected architecture with top leaders in South Korea including Mayor Ahn in Incheon, and Gale International, the key developer of the new Incheon economic city outside of Seoul.
• Sports and Entertainment. The company also viewed sports and entertainment as a long term opportunity in terms of video entertainment for the home and Cisco’s service provider strategy, with its focus on changing the fan experience. Cisco intended to enter sports stadiums first and then gradually enter the home. Chambers said that in one of Cisco’s meetings in 2009, there were 42 professional sports teams with key representatives, many at the commissioner level from major league baseball, basketball, football and hockey.
Adapted from “Chairman and CEO John Chambers and CFO Frank Ca!deroni Discuss Cisco Q3 Fiscal Year 2009
Pe1:formance, ” http://newsroom.cisco.com, Afay 6, 2009.
Exhibit VIII
Cisco’s Acquisitions: 2007-2009
MonthNear Company Market Opportunity
November 2009 Set-Top Box Business of DVN (Holdings) Ltd. Cable
October 2009 ScanSafe, Inc. Security
Starent Networks, Corp. Mobility
Tandberg Collaboration
April 2009 Tidal Software, Inc. Data Center
March 2009 Pure Digital Technologies Inc. Consumer
January 2009 Richards-Zeta Building
Intelligence, Inc. Physical Security
September 2008 Jabber, Inc. Weh Services
August 2008 PostPath, Inc. Weh Services
July 2008 Pure Networks, Inc. Software
Market Opportunity
June 2008 DiviTech A/S Cable
April 2008 Nuova Systems, Inc. Data Center
November 2007 Securent, Inc. Voice, Security, Web Services,
October 23,
2007 Navini Networks, Inc. Broadband Access & Apps
September 2007 Latigent, LLC. Voice
Cognio, Inc. Wireless
May 2007 BroadWare Technologies, Inc. Physical Security
March 2007 SpansLogic, Inc. Silicon
WebEx Communications, Inc. Unified Communications
NeoPath Networks Storage
February 2007 Reactivity, Inc. Application Networking
Five Across, Inc. Consumer
January 2007 IronPort Systems, Inc. Security
Source: www.cisco.com
Exhibit IX
Some Specific Instances Where Cisco’s Organizational Structure Enabled Effective and
Speedy Decision Making
• In 2008, Ricci, convened a board of self-identified sports enthusiasts to brainstorm how Cisco might tap into the sports business. This was done without even asking for Chamber’s permission. He brought in 15 people from different departments. The team came up with a product called StadiumVision, which allowed venue owners to push video and digital content, including targeted advertising, to fans in the stadium. The board then collaborated with sales and marketing to win contracts with professional American football teams such as Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Yankees (a professional baseball team). In less than 120 days, a multimillion-dollar business was created.
• Goodwin claimed that Cisco recognized organizations with fewer than 100 employees as a US$10 billion opportunity in the spring of 2008. Within six months, a council was formed with US$100 million budget, and around 500 engineering, marketing, sales and service employees. In another six months Cisco’s small busi ness networking portfolio was
expanded to more than 100 products focusing on the new segment. This could not have been
possi ble in Cisco’s earlier siloed culture, according to Goodwin.
• In 2008, Cisco introduced a network platform designed to carry secure, high-quality video and other rich media on TVs, PCs, and mobile devices, in an analysts conference. This platform, named Medianet, was developed, in a very short time. Ninety days after the council’s first meeting in December 2007, it had a strategy and US$25 million in initial investment. In another four months, the company built the prototype and more money was allocated. Medianet finally hit the market in December 2008. According to Ricci, decisions on projects
such as this were being taken at the vice-president and director level.
Adapted from Ellen McGirl, “How Cisco ‘s CEO John Chambers is Turning the Tech Giant Socialist, ” wwwjastcompany.com, November 25, 2008; and, Keith Goodwin, “Change is Challenging – A Perspective on Cisco ‘s.Yew Management Structure, ” http: 1/blogs.cisco.com, August 14, 2009.
Exhibit X
Cisco’s Three year Stock Chart
CSCO Week Iy –
Volume –
t1 A M J J A S 0 N D 08 F M A M J J A S 0 M D 09 F M A M J J A S 0 N D 10
Source: http://bigcharts.marketwatch.com
1. Mike Cook, “”Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”, is Cisco Getting it Right?”
www.heartofengagement.com, January 12, 2010.
2. Jim Duffy, “Cisco Will be Ha rd Pressed to Match 2009,” www.itworldcanada.com, December
17, 2009.
3. Kris Dunn, “Are Committees in You r Com pa ny Ever a Good Idea?” www.hrcapitalist.com, December 9, 2009.
4. Mina Kimes, “Cisco Systems Layers it on: Can Adding More Management Teams Actually
Make the Tech Giant More Efficient?” http://money.cnn.com, December 3, 2009.
5. Peter Burrows, “Cisco’s Extreme Ambitions,” www.businessweek.com, November 19, 2009.
6. “Cisco Systems FI QIO (Qtr End 10/24/09) Ea rnings Call Tra nscript,” http://seekingalpha.com, November 5, 2009.
7. Keith Goodwin, “Change is Challenging – A Perspective on Cisco’s New Management
Structure,” http://blogs.cisco.com, August 14, 2009.
8. Brad Reese, “Exactly How New is Cisco’s Orga nizational Structu re?” www.networkworld.com, August 12, 2009.
9. Scott Anthony, “Are Cisco’s Committees a Better Way to Innovate?”
http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org, August 12, 2009.
10. Brad Reese, “Management Vision of Cisco CEO John Cham bers Under Fire,”
www.networkworld.com, August 7, 2009.
11. “Chambers Defends Cisco’s Ma nagement Structu re, Strategy,”
www.networkworld.com, Au

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