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Four Takeaways From Cisco's L&D Strategy

Published Wed Oct 09 2019


Due to automation, we’re expecting to start seeing job-loss at a nearly unprecedented rate. In fact, we expect to see 1.4 million workers lose their jobs by 2026. But in the midst of this evolution, there will also be job creation.

This is where a good learning and skilling strategy comes into play. Right now, leaders have limited visibility into their teams’ skills. With more data on their employees’ capabilities, they will be able to provide more directly applicable upskilling options to close identified gaps more efficiently.

With this knowledge, Cisco developed a new L&D strategy around skills, which involved rethinking their approach to learning and a major overhaul of their L&D platforms.

Cisco’s new L&D strategy consists of three main factors: technology, content curation, and an emphasis on skills. They also had to develop a new way to measure its success after implementation.


Previously, employees had 15-20 different platforms to track, log into, and explore—Cisco wanted to simplify by making them all centralized.

By implementing a new integrated platform, they were able to gain visibility into which platforms were being utilized, where people were developing skills, and other data sets to help them make better strategic decisions.

Content Curation

Cisco doesn’t create content anymore. They leverage third parties, fremiums, and curate a lot of content instead. In this way, Cisco saves time and is able to provide the best content from experts in every field.

To simplify the transition, Cisco created curator roles to build pathways — such as leadership or professional skills — to help enable the ecosystem. This required transitioning over roles that had traditionally focused on content creation, which can be challenging. But it has been an undeniable benefit to the company and visibly increased efficiency.

Skills Strategy

Cisco had once relied on a competency model, which the organization found difficult to explain, maintain, and measure. They’ve since shifted to a skills-centered strategy to provide visibility and direction in career mobility.

They were able to start defining roles by skills rather than competencies. In this process, Cisco was able to map 4,000 job titles to around 200 roles, creating a much simpler system that proved easier to maintain.

Measuring Success

“It’s common to want to ask about ROI, but tying that directly to an L&D strategy is extremely difficult. I prefer to examine engagement,” says Josh Clark, senior manager of L&D at Cisco.

Engagement is simple to track, and is directly tied to a lot of meaningful outcomes, such as employee retention, performance, and more. If teams are engaged in their work, actively building skills, and see a clear path in their company for internal mobility, they will most likely stay longer and improve their performance.

Four L&D Takeaways From Cisco:

  1. Solidify your strategy and revisit early and often. Does it continue to align with business goals?

  2. With a rapid transformation of the workforce, this is a time for examination, analysis, and trial and error. What’s working for your teams-- and more importantly, what isn’t?

  3. Shift to a skills strategy. Cisco shifted away from its competency model because there was nothing measurable built into that structure. Shifting over to skills does just that: it’s the new, updated, and useful way of discussing abilities and roles.

  4. Engagement is more important than ROI. While there are a number of ways to tie an L&D strategy to ROI, these can vary greatly. Set your parameters around how you’re going to measure engagement and track those metrics closely.

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