What’s the purpose of a chief purpose officer?

Cisco's EVP and chief people, policy & purpose officer shares how the company is creating a more conscious and hybrid work culture.

Francine Katsoudas

In March 2021, Francine Katsoudas' role was expanded to chief people, policy & purpose officer at Cisco.

Photo: Francine Katsoudas

Like many large organizations, the leaders at Cisco spent much of the past year working to ensure their employees had an inclusive and flexible workplace while everyone worked from home during the pandemic. In doing so, they brought a new role into the mix. In March 2021 Francine Katsoudas transitioned from EVP and chief people officer to chief people, policy & purpose Officer.

For many, the role of a purpose officer is new. Purpose officers hold their companies accountable to their mission and the people who work for them. In a conversation with Protocol, Katsoudas shared how she is thinking about the expanded role and the future of hybrid work at Cisco.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

I'd love to start by just asking: What does that new part of your title entail, and what does purpose officer mean?

So the first thing that I would say is, from a Cisco perspective, we have been focused on purpose, I think, since our inception, and it's something that brings our employees together. I think it's something that we're incredibly proud of. The purpose that we launched last year in the spring was to power an inclusive future for all. And the interesting thing was that we created that purpose before we understood what the pandemic was going to do and what it was. And that purpose guided us and still guides us since that time, and we continue to look at what an inclusive future looks like.

I think the amazing thing is when you have [purpose] in your title, when you have someone who has the responsibility for purpose, it means that as a company you were thinking about how you build the systems and the accountability to ensure your impact on this bigger purpose. And I think for our employees, they didn't need the title as much, because I think as a company, we're there. I think the biggest impact is externally, because it definitely tells the story that Cisco is going to focus on purpose and the impact that we have beyond our business.

You said you could see there being more purpose officers in the future. Why do you think there will be more?

Because I do think the pandemic deepened many companies' commitment to doing better by all people. I think early in the pandemic, even before the social justice issues really were front and center over the summer, we could see the disparity in health equity and equality from a support perspective.

I think the most important thing is that, in the past, I think companies looked at, "What donations do I need to make to be a corporate citizen?" It's a totally different conversation now. Now the question is, "In my day-to-day business dealings, how can I show up for the community? How can I ensure that I play a role in reducing the digital divide?" And it has to be real and tied to who you are, and what you do. As that shift is happening, a purpose officer can bring the company together to be clear around plans, how they communicate and how we hold ourselves accountable to progress.

Shifting gears to Cisco's hybrid remote work policy: Something that the company is known for is its conscious culture, which you all have touted. I'd love to hear a little bit about how you bring conscious culture to work when everyone's working from home or in different places?

For us, it's as simple as: We are not going to tell our people where they need to be and how they need to work. I think in a conscious culture you set up your leaders to facilitate that dialogue with their team. So the approach that we're taking is that each team leader will facilitate a dialogue that basically says, "OK team, what do we need to get done this quarter? What's working for us?" Questions like, "Who's a morning person, who's an evening person?"

And so what we're hearing from some teams is that they're going to come together on the same days of the week in the office. What we've heard from other teams is they're not going to come in on a weekly basis, but then they'll meet up every other month for three days. So in a conscious culture I think you understand where your people are at, you understand where the work is at and then you make the best decisions. The other thing that we believe strongly in is that just make those decisions for a quarter and then just see how it works for you. And then if you want to make some changes, you can. But I think there's respect and understanding baked into that approach and that's what conscious culture is all about.

You all are going completely into more of a hybrid workplace so employees can work wherever. Is there also an ability to work whenever?

I think it depends on the work and the team … What I find for a lot of our roles is it is up to you as far as when you get your work done. And so I guess what we would say is that the when you work, the where you work and the how you work is something that we want teams to decide together.

In a past podcast interview you said you don't think there's a separation between work and life. And I think a lot of employees are seeing this as they work from home. How are you all modeling that as leaders, and how are you encouraging that hybrid moving forward?

I think hybrid, once and for all, is really busting this myth around work-life balance. And I honestly think that whole concept isn't fair to people, because I think those lines are artificial. And it's a lot of work to drive well-being in the environment that we have today. I don't think we have it there yet, but it's something that we're working on.

We have a subset of our employees that work four days a week. I think this is a moment where more employees are going to be interested in that, so that's something that I want to look at again. My sense is that if people have three down days, that will also help them manage some of the stress and all of the things that we have to do. So we really want to be the world's best hybrid workplace, and I think we just have a lot of learning to do. But the biggest thing is, let's just start first by acknowledging there isn't your work life and your home life. There's just life and we have to now create benefits and experiences that allow you to be your best.

OK, of course as a workplace reporter I got excited when you said four-day workweek. So who is that subset, and how do you get to work four days a week?

So, this idea came from one of our peers. And I had to laugh, because I think two years ago no one would have suggested this. So one of my peers said, "I want us to do a four-day workweek, and I will be your test case to prove that we can do it." And we do have close to 1,000 people, I believe, that work four days a week. They requested it about a year ago, At the time, we looked at it as a pilot. There's a member of my staff that does it and he loves it, it's been a really good experience.

And so what we plan to do, just like with hybrid work, is there's a question first around, "OK, can this work with the work that we do?" And if it can, we'll just get really clear with the deliverables with a four-day workweek. The expectation is that you achieve everything you would in a five-day workweek, in four days. And so that's something that we're going to play with, but at this particular moment I think it would be really helpful for people and help them just continue to take care of themselves and their families as we navigate.

You have new tools for meetings that help with translations and meeting transcriptions. Are employees using it, and what's the feedback been so far?

Yeah, it's really cool. I used it in South Korea, I think, like a month ago and it's amazing, because there's nothing more important than being able to connect. And for some people, seeing their local language also drives more confidence in the communication, and more comfort, and I think that's beautiful. So yes, we have over 100 languages instantly translatable. We use it in a lot of our meetings as well. The other thing that's really just basic is that when you capture all of the meeting minutes, you can capture action items, so there's no more note-taking, which is such a little thing, but a really nice thing.

There's this element right now I think around giving our people the tools to be their best and just understanding what they're doing. There's a ton more on the technology side, but those are some of the favorites that I have.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

In any case, businesses aren’t waiting for the official pronouncement. They’re already bracing for impact as U.S. inflation and interest rates soar. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 — the highest increase since November 1981 — and the Federal Reserve is targeting an interest rate of 3% by the end of this year.

Keep Reading Show less
Nancy Sansom

Nancy Sansom is the Chief Marketing Officer for Versapay, the leader in Collaborative AR. In this role, she leads marketing, demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, events, brand, content marketing and communications. She has more than 20 years of experience running successful product and marketing organizations in high-growth software companies focused on HCM and financial technology. Prior to joining Versapay, Nancy served on the senior leadership teams at PlanSource, Benefitfocus and PeopleMatter.


SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.


These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

But while it was one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, blockchain also has been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.


Kraken's CEO got tired of being in finance

Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories