Interview: Matt Asman, Senior Innovation Manager At Cisco

We speak to Matt ahead of his Emerging Technologies for R&D webinar on Thursday


Matt Asman has been with San Jose tech company Cisco since 2010. As senior innovation officer, Matt is responsible for helping organizations align their innovation strategy, leadership, and culture. From designing and executing targeted challenges, to supporting end-to-end innovation and subsequently boosting productivity, Matt is experienced in creating a culture of innovation. 

Ahead of his Emerging Technologies for R&D webinar on Thursday, we spoke to Matt about Cisco's innovation culture and the challenges facing them in the near future. 

Innovation Enterprise: What do you see as the key challenge you’re addressing this year?

Matt Asman: Innovating at scale. For several years the work of the Services Innovation Excellence Center has focused on building the processes and methodologies to help its $12Bn global Services business innovate successfully. In achieving this, the innovation team has created a blueprint for innovation inclusive of an innovation architecture, an assessment process, an innovation training curriculum and a suite of tools to support end-to-end innovation. It has also maintained a crowdsourcing platform for managing ideas and has run dozens of challenges to support more targeted innovation. This has allowed the team to influence innovation culture within the 12,000 strong employee community, support leadership teams with building innovation capability and deliver millions of dollars worth of business value. But now the team has begun to more openly offer the same process, methodologies and best practices to the rest of the business and the appetite is substantial. The key challenge is how to scale what has been achieved within the Services organisation to the other 60,000 employees working globally for many of the company’s other functions.

How would you describe the culture at your company, and how is it changing?

For 30 years, Cisco has been changing the way the world works, lives, plays and learns. It’s a been a fast moving journey of change and continuous innovation. We are living in exponential times and the pace of change only seems to be increasing for most companies. One of the most important aspects of competitive advantage in this new world is our people and the amazing talents they bring to work everyday. That’s why Cisco launched its innovative new People Deal in December 2014 that puts employees right at the heart of everything we do. It’s a people strategy designed to build the kind of culture we need to positively impact the future of Cisco, the growth of our customers and the lives of people around the world in the new digital economy.

Our People Deal outlines what employees can expect of Cisco as a company and what is expected of them in return. It’s a two-way thing. It includes a manifesto that focuses on connect everything, innovate everywhere and benefit everyone. It reflects the fact that amazing things happen when we connect the unconnected. It places innovation at the very centre of everything we do and encourages employees to create fresh ideas and possibilities. It’s also about making a meaningful difference for our people, our customers and the world around us.

Cisco’s culture has always been about intensely focusing on customers, achieving results, making innovation happen and about developing our people. Under the leadership of our new CEO, Chuck Robbins and Chief People Officer, Fran Katsoudas the introduction of Our People Deal is really steering Cisco’s culture in the direction of being more open, agile and forward thinking around the employee experience. The benefits are multifaceted with many translating directly into how employees regularly make innovation happen.

What does ‘innovation’ look like specifically in your role?

Innovation specifically within my role and within my team is to empower the organisation to ‘Innovate Everywhere'. That’s deliberately aligned to Our People Deal for a very specific reason. You see, although Our People Deal specifically calls out Innovate Everywhere as a central pillar of the people strategy, there are so many ways for a big company like Cisco to innovate that what people are looking for is a way to live into the aspiration that the company is setting. How do they bring that aspiration to life? So for the SIEC, the job is about helping leaders, teams and individuals with the art of making innovation happen.

It’s about helping leaders and teams with building their innovation capability using our unique maturity model. That involves training numerous innovation teams across the business and establishing a maturation plan for their very unique programs. It’s about providing them with a comprehensive and constantly evolving set of tools to equip them to do the job properly. It’s also about providing the platforms and processes for managing a wide range of activities to support the front end of innovation. Equally, it’s about putting in place the best possible tools, processes and partnerships to support the back end of innovation in order to accelerate results. Last but not least, it’s about ensuring we have the best possible communication plan in place around innovation and that the right people are rewarded for their contribution to actually making innovation a reality. 

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