Anupam Trehan, Cisco's Vice President, People & Communities for Asia Pacific, Japan and Greater China

"To retain our people, we need to make sure that we give them the chance to be heard, show them that leadership is listening, and take to heart what’s most important to them."

Meet Anupam Trehan, Cisco's Vice President, People & Communities for Asia Pacific, Japan and Greater China, who has been with the IT & networking firm for more than a decade across different roles. 

In her current role, she partners with business leaders to build integrated talent and people strategies that accelerate Cisco’s growth. Together with her team across the region, she is focused on enabling teams to thrive in a workplace that is inclusive, diverse, equitable, and fun.

At HRO's Accelerate HR 2023 conference, taking place next year, you can look forward to hearing Anupam speak on the topic 'Keeping hybrid teams engaged: Exploring the next frontier of employee engagement'.

Ahead of the conference, HRO's Lara Samson catches up with her to learn more about how she and her team to build an agile and resilient workforce that is driven by purpose, while focusing on making real connections, and ensuring employees feel heard.

Interview excerpts below: 

Q What, in your view, are the top challenges and opportunities of leading HR in your sector and remit?

The pace at which technology is evolving is driving a cyclical need for skilling, reskilling, and upskilling along with new ways of doing business and new ways of working.

This fundamentally means that we need to approach our people and talent solutions differently from a retention, engagement, and attraction perspective. The key opportunity for us is to build an agile and resilient workforce that is driven by purpose.

Learning: When we look at learning against this backdrop of building agility and fungibility in talent, the way we invest in learning from an education, experience, and exposure perspective needs to shift. Technology will play a key role in defining “one size fits one” learning experiences, tailored to each individual’s needs. Industry partnerships will evolve as continuous learning take place. Learn-unlearn-relearn will be the new mantra.

The way we engage the workforce: We need to design the work experience around, and for, the employee, wherever they are. This starts with placing them, their experience, engagement, and wellbeing – at the center, supported by an inclusive culture, trust, and empathetic leadership, and with technology as an enabler.

The way work is anchored in purpose needs to evolve: At Cisco, our Purpose is to “power an inclusive future for all” and this anchors us in everything we do. We believe that any successful shift in the company’s culture must be built on a strong foundation, and this begins with the highest level of leadership. Leaders play a key role in embedding empathy, listening, flexibility, continuous learning, and creating an environment where everyone is empowered to speak up.

Q With most organisations looking to recover and rebound, where are you finding the headcount your team needs, and how are you coping with the talent shortage?

We have been on a journey over the past few years with some learnings.

First – work is now hybrid. This is a hugely discussed and debated topic with differing opinions. When you think about it, we all learn, play, connect and do more in a hybrid manner today. The need to get 'hybrid' right is so important today. At Cisco, we were a hybrid workplace long before the pandemic hit but we know that the future of work will look different. We continue to listen, learn and experiment with our people on how they best work.

Second – real connections happen when people feel heard. We found that employees who are never invited to share their perspectives or concerns are 21 times more likely to leave the company.

To retain our people, we need to make sure that we give them the chance to be heard, show them that leadership is listening, and take to heart what’s most important to them. We do this through our quarterly engagement pulses —check-ins with our people about top-of-mind issues, concerns, and more.

Last but not the least, people want growth – they want development and new experiences. Our skills-to-job programme Cisco Networking Academy aims to empower people with career possibilities in the tech industry. The academy has supported a total of 17.5mn students over the past 25 years globally and 1.3mn students in ASEAN since its inception. We have invested in our Apprenticeship programme, which provides both theoretical learning and practical experience to enable participants to receive the training they need for a career in technology.

We also strive to nurture leaders through our award-winning Cisco Sales Associate programme, a global, year-long graduate programme for students who share our values and are passionate about technology and innovation.

We believe that internal movement is pivotal. Our "One Cisco, Many Careers" approach offers opportunities for our people to explore various roles and responsibilities and expand their experience and contributions beyond a fixed role.

Q Brain drain is a real concern in Asia at the moment. In this time of manpower shortage, how are you and the team preparing to manage these talent-related challenges?

People are the most valuable asset in any organisation, and we believe that public-private partnerships can play a key role in helping to address the widening digital and talent gap in Asia.

This is why we continue to partner with public and private organisations, educational institutions, and non-profit organisations to provide more opportunities for digital reskilling and upskilling and empower the next generation of talents to address the headwinds and opportunities of a digital-first world.

One way we’re doing this is through our Talent Bridge programme, which connects Cisco and partner employers to Networking Academy talents. The programme offers valuable free resources for both employers and students—helping employers find technology-savvy talent and supporting students as they emerge from academic learning to begin their careers.

As part of our focus on emerging and rising talent, we created a specialised Emerging Talent Recruiting Team to identify, attract, and recruit the best early career talent. This team actively devises strategies to create new talent pipelines and expand on the existing ones with close partnerships with universities.

This includes recruiting students already getting training in Cisco Technology under our Cisco Networking Academy programme or Cisco Ideathon, our flagship talent search and university hiring programme where we award internship opportunities and full-time placements to students that exhibit inventive thinking and novel perspective.

Q Looking towards 2023, what's the biggest change that you believe needs to take place in HR?

If there’s anything we know for sure, it’s that the future is unpredictable. We are still not completely out of the woods with the pandemic, and external factors such as heightened geopolitical tensions and talk of a recession are creating uncertainties.

While these externalities are beyond our control, they highlight the need for us to stay committed to our people and our customers. A solution-oriented mindset with a focus on simplicity, scale, and relevance for People and Talent actions is key.

For us, that is cultivating an employee-centered culture that prioritises understanding the needs of employees as they manage external challenges in a changing world. That is leading by action and taking steps to support the paradigm shift that’s needed in a hybrid work world anchored in our commitment to power an inclusive future for all.


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