Cisco’s John Chambers: Moving Too Slow Was My Biggest CEO Mistake

May 24, 2017

As chief executive of Cisco, John Chambers made 180 acquisitions in the span of about 20 years.

His successor, Chuck Robbins, has already made 14.

How do you maneuver and do all of those deals at a company that has more than 70,000 employees and almost $50 billion in annual revenue?

"This will shock you in this room," said Chambers, now the networking company's executive chairman. "We are criticized for moving too fast. You know almost every mistake I've made? Moving too slow. Or equally as bad, I used to consider process a dirty word. It's bureaucracy. Any fast-moving startup will tell you, 'Ugh, process, what are you thinking, that's going to slow us down.' You can't have speed without a replicable process. And at that replicable process, which we think of as playbooks, it is your replicable process for how you develop your vision and strategy; your replicable process for how you develop, retain, recruit, and change your leadership team; your replicable process for communications; and your replicable process for culture. Without that, with the speed we're now moving, things come apart."

Chambers, speaking to Fortune's Alan Murray at this year's Great Place to Work conference in Chicago, continued.

"Decisions will be made much further down in the organization at a fast pace and yet the leader has to be able to keep their finger on the pulse at the top," he said. "Without those playbooks in place, without that culture in place, without that, unfortunately process—it doesn't work."

For more, watch the video above.

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