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.


Niantic is building an AR map of the world

The company’s Visual Positioning System will help developers build location-based AR games and experiences; a new social app aims to help with AR content discovery.

VPS will allow developers to build location-based AR experiences for tens of thousands of public spaces.

Image: Niantic

Pokémon Go maker Niantic has quietly been building a 3D AR map of the world. Now, the company is getting ready to share the fruits of its labor with third-party developers: Niantic announced the launch of its Lightship Visual Positioning System at its developer summit in San Francisco on Tuesday. VPS will allow developers to build location-based AR experiences for tens of thousands of public spaces, Niantic said.

Niantic also announced a new service called Campfire that adds a social discovery layer to AR, starting with Niantic’s own games. Both announcements show that Niantic wants to be much more than a game developer with just one or two hit apps (and a couple of flops). Instead, it aims to play a key role in the future of AR — and it’s relying on millions of Ingress and Pokémon Go players to help build that future.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.


Why it's time to give all your employees executive coaching

In an effort to boost retention and engagement, companies are rolling out access to executive coaching to all of their employees.

Coaching is among personalized and exclusive benefits employers chose to offer their workforce during the pandemic.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Executive coaching has long been a quiet force behind leaders in the tech industry, but that premium benefit, often only offered to the top executives, is changing. A new wave of executive coaching services are hitting the market aimed at workers who would have traditionally been excluded from access.

Tech companies know that in order to stay competitive in today’s still-hot job market, it pays to offer more personalized and exclusive benefits. Chief People Officer Annette Reavis says Envoy, a workplace tech company, offers all employees access to a broad range of opportunities. “We offer everyone an L&D credit that they can spend on outside learning, whether it's executive coaching or learning a new coding language. We do this so that people can have access to and learn skills specific to their job.”

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.


Microsoft thinks Windows developers are ready for virtual workstations

The new Microsoft Dev Box service, coupled with Azure Deployment Environments, lets developers go from code to the cloud faster than ever.

Microsoft hopes a new cloud service will address one of developers' biggest challenges.

Photo: Grant Hindsley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Microsoft hopes a new cloud service will address one of the biggest challenges that developers have raised with the technology giant over the last several years: managing developer workstations.

Microsoft Dev Box, now in private preview, creates virtual developer workstations running its Windows operating system in the cloud, allowing development teams to standardize how those fundamental tools are initialized, set up and managed.

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.


Okta CEO: 'We should have done a better job' with the Lapsus$ breach

In an interview with Protocol, Okta CEO Todd McKinnon said the cybersecurity firm could’ve done a lot of things better after the Lapsus$ breach of a third-party support provider earlier this year.

From talking to hundreds of customers, “I've had a good sense of the sentiment and the frustrations,” McKinnon said.

Photo: David Paul Morris via Getty Images

Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon agrees with you: Disclosing a breach that impacts customer data should not take months.

“If that happens in January, customers can't be finding out about it in March,” McKinnon said in an interview with Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at

Latest Stories