We recently interviewed Stefania Capelli, Cisco Italy’s HR Leader, about what she believes makes for a ‘great’ workplace.

Mrs Capelli has a unique perspective on this question: Last month, Cisco Italy was ranked #1 in the 150-499 employees category by the ‘Great Place To Work’ organisation for an astonishing fifth consecutive year – a record for Cisco.

The EMEAR team asked Mrs Capelli what lessons other businesses might be able to draw from Cisco’s focus on workplace culture:


Five times? That’s pretty impressive. What do you think the factors are that keep Cisco Italy in the number one slot?

I think our approach is distinctive within Italy. We put people first, and focus on transparency and trust with our employees. As an extension of this we are able to implement flexible working, as well as flexible and customized benefits.

What’s more we don’t keep things as they are: we try to improve year on year, listening to our people’s feedback. People are people, not “coworkers”: they have passions, live in a community, and see the problems, needs and opportunities around them… Our strong sense of Corporate Social Responsibility and responsible citizenship also gives us all a sense of purpose. We encourage our staff to use their skills to support communities, help them dedicate time to volunteering, and match their efforts. This creates a sense of community.

But why should a company care about being a Great Place To Work? I mean, it’s just a nice badge isn’t it?

It’s much more than that. It’s great for retention of talent, of course. By maintaining a positive workplace, you get to hire, and keep, the best people. But it’s not just about this. There’s a bottom-line business benefit beyond recruitment. If people feel happy in the place where they work, and free to express their authentic selves, they tend to be more productive, more creative, and more engaged – they’re willing to go that extra mile for the company and its customers – and to feel pride in their work. It’s a virtuous circle…

But these things are easy for Cisco, surely? Are these things that can be achieved by smaller companies?

What we are doing can be done also by smaller companies. The real difference comes from the company and managers’ culture, and from the investments made in people and innovation.

Smaller businesses can be a little afraid of change and admittedly they have fewer resources. But the ROI on investing in people and innovation, and establishing a culture of trust and purpose becomes apparent fairly quickly. When people are happy in their workplace you see all kinds of additional benefits, from better productivity, to better talent attraction and general improvements in company reputation.

Can you suggest any ‘quick wins’ for companies looking to improve their company culture and workplace satisfaction?

It takes many years of continuous improvement to develop a great workplace. However, in terms of quick wins, I would say that any company can deliver an immediate impact by offering greater flexibility in how people work, allowing for a better work-life balance. They can also quickly improve their openness and willingness to listen to their employees. You never know who will have the next big idea, so it is a good idea to help people have a voice.

Another thing that is fundamental is helping people grow. Investing time, money if needed in upskilling, training, with an open approach, offering this opportunity to all employees. –

If you could give three pieces of advice to other companies looking to improve their workplace satisfaction, what would it be?

Firstly, appreciate your company’s “uniqueness”. Every company is different, just as every person is different. I would say that the most important thing is understanding what is unique to the company and leveraging the values, skills, talents that makes it what it is.

Another keyword is “trust”: if you trust your people, they’ll do the same for you. They will also be more responsible if they feel empowered. Our employees recognize the value of being able to decide how and when to work, having time to help others, for family needs, and for themselves. As a result they really do give their best to Cisco in return. This is something that companies can offer to their employees if they are ready to leave behind more ‘traditional’ ways of working.

The third keyword is “purpose”. If people share with the company a vision, a purpose that is positive for them, their community and the company, it’s easier to have a great place to work.

Finally, (because the teams probably deserve it), do you want to give any particular ‘shout outs’ to any Cisco teams for this win?

We’re one company, so in effect the ‘shout out’ for this win goes to all employees in Cisco Italy. Their talents and their hard work can be seen every day and anything we do to be a “great place to work” is only enabled by their efforts and their passion. Many of the ideas come from them. And so, ultimately, that would be my final observation: If you want a great place to work, treat your staff as a source of inspiration. I know I do.