Jason Phillips, Cisco Vice President of Digital HR and Chief of Staff, agreed to sit down recently for a Q & A with U.S. Veterans Magazine. This man who spent over 11 years in the Marine Corps didn’t hold back.
An advocate for veterans, Phillips shared his passions and insights on a number of issues facing vets, including their professional lives after they leave the military. He discussed Cisco’s Veterans Enablement and Troops Support (VETS) group, which helps vets transition to civilian life.
One issue he returned to often was teamwork (referred to at Cisco as the “power of teams”). In the corporate world, Phillips has worked hard and smart to facilitate teamwork, and the results have been positive. He sees parallels between his time as a Marine and his tenure as a corporate executive. He emphasizes that the issue of teamwork, when it comes to helping our vets and supporting our military in general, is incredibly important.
At Cisco, Phillips plays a major role in the company’s human resources performance, leading HR digital strategies, promoting operational efficiency, and managing team performance through effective governance and financial stewardship. Prior to Cisco, Phillips worked as the Vice President of HR Shared Services for Kaiser Permanente. Phillips, who completed his doctoral studies in adult learning and human resources development, started his professional journey as an officer in the Marine Corps.
Following is the Q & A, which gives readers an unfettered look into Phillips’ efforts to help vets and illustrates the way he draws parallels between the power of teams in the military and at Cisco.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to Cisco and what your position there entails?
A. I spent over 11 years in the United States Marine Corps in roles both at home and abroad. I had 5 different roles in those 11 years, and like most military leaders, I quickly learned the missions at hand and became comfortable with new challenges in various settings. After leaving the Marine Corps, I started a career journey in HR consulting where I learned how critical a well-run human resource function is to any effective organization. After six years in consulting, I took a full-time position with Kaiser Permanente where I served in multiple human resources leadership roles. My transition to Cisco this year was fortuitous because it allowed me to serve in a role that continues my personal learning and do it with a group of colleagues that are innovating at a pace unlike anything I have seen before within the field of human resources.
Q. What does digital HR mean to a major technology company like Cisco?
A. Digital HR is what we refer to as the “connection between technology and the human touch.” At a company like Cisco it really changes everything related to talent. Clearly, it has an impact on employee skills, but more importantly it impacts the capabilities required to meet our complex business demands. HR must offer up a different set of capabilities that more closely meet the ever-increasing pace of our business environment. At Cisco, HR is moving away from the model of “one size fits all” to “one size fits one.”
Q. What does “The power of teams” mean to you, when it comes to employees at Cisco?
A. As an HR organization, it is up to us to support the increase in the performance of our people – and because performance lives in teams, we set out to understand team excellence. As a result of this work, it became clear that there were repeatable factors that differentiated our high performing teams. Cisco set out to educate and scale the critical components of high performing teams. From a technology perspective we have implemented Team Space, which is designed to help teams be better together giving our leaders the data and insights they need to create the best experience for their team. It’s quick and easy to use, and it helps people share the best of themselves with those around them, understand and reveal how they do their best work, and get the right support from their leaders.
Q. How has teamwork helped encourage veteran retention?
A. Teamwork is one of the most important elements that impacts retention not only at Cisco, but in most organizations. From day one in the military, regardless of service or role, it is ingrained into all of us that effective teamwork is what will create success. It is also why such a significant investment is made within the military to develop “small unit leaders” so that a team, at its smallest focal point, can be successful. It is within these teams that loyalty and esprit de corps is built. It is within these teams that lifelong relationships are built, and it is within these teams that performance is enhanced. And to me, it is within this teaming environment that you find the “secret sauce” that motivates military personnel to want to stay and serve. Rarely is it about the pay and rarely is it about any senior leader. In my experience, it is usually about the people to the left and to the right of you – your team – that make you sacrifice daily and also motivate you to stay and serve. I feel that the same principle applies outside of the military as well, and it is an important element within Cisco’s culture that is attractive to all veterans that choose a career at Cisco.
Q. What programs is Cisco implementing to not only retain veteran employees, but to offer employee engagement and overall work life balance?
A. We have many initiatives across Cisco, but I feel that our Veterans Enablement and Troop Support group (VETS), which is one of our Employee Resource Organizations, is unique. Simply put, this group, which has regional chapters, sponsors events year round in support of our military veterans, and helps them effectively transition to civilian life. There are multiple mentoring forums and career guidance activities that truly can benefit any military professional as they transition to their next career. You can learn more about our VETS ERO offerings on our Cisco site, cisco.com.
Q. What advice would you offer a new transitioning veteran who wants to join the Cisco team but is unsure of where they would fit in?
A. Reach out and take advantage of the various entry points Cisco offers. There are multiple ways to engage and learn about areas of opportunity. Whether it is completing your profile and going through the careers site or attending a career event—such as the VETS ERO annual Veteran Career Technology Day—or reaching out to a leader like myself, this company will take the time to engage with you.
Q. As a veteran yourself, is there any advice you want to share with our veteran readers that is mission critical to a successful career transition at Cisco or any company?
A. I have always considered these three items when assessing career options: the organizational brand, an industry that excites me, and the team I will be working with. Regarding the brand, I feel it is important to align yourself with companies that can and have stood the test of time. We all tend to know who these players are across every industry. There are reasons they have been successful, and my experience is that veterans assimilate well within these organizations. Secondly, knowing which industry excites you from both a personal and professional point of view. Lastly, make sure you interview your team as much as the company is interviewing you. When the days get long and the work gets hard, it is the team around you that will provide the motivation to carry on.
Q. What is your advice to companies who are looking to hire and retain veterans?
A. There is no real risk to taking the plunge. Veterans bring a wealth of leadership experiences that are truly unique in the marketplace. The bottom line is, if you want an employee that is goal and mission oriented, comfortable with ambiguity, excels at working at a fast pace and embodies leadership traits and principles that are timeless across all industries – look no further than your veteran community.