Reinventing Yourself: How to Stay Relevant—and Keep Your Job

Kodak. Blackberry. AOL. Blockbuster. The list of companies that were once pioneers in their markets, lauded for their prescience and innovative excellence and are now either lagging the pack or gone completely, is a long one.

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“They failed to reinvent themselves and they quickly lost their edge,” says Cassandra Frangos, VP, Global Executive Talent and Organizational Design at Cisco Systems.

That very same fate awaits CEOs who fail to continually reinvent themselves and who lack the vision to see the skills they will need to be leaders in the new digitized world, says Frangos. Comfort with online collaboration tools, for example, is fast becoming a necessity as companies begin to adopt cloud-based communication platforms, using them in place of email and voicemail. Cisco, for example, uses a solution called Spark, which enables real-time conversation, messaging and file-sharing from any device, along with screen-sharing and video conferencing. It’s the preferred communication tool for Cisco’s chief digital officer, Kevin Bandy. “People who know him know it’s a faux pas to send him an email or, God forbid, leave a voicemail,” says Frangos.

To avoid career stagnation, CEOs have to let go of their fears of new communication tools and figure out how to use them to their advantage. “I worked with an executive who said he was scared of social media,” says Frangos. “I said, ‘You can’t be. That’s how you’re going to get your brand out there.’”

“Maintain a healthy curiosity about new technologies and take the time to experiment with them. That alone can take you really far.”

Instead, she advises CEOs to maintain a healthy curiosity about new technologies and take the time to experiment with them. “That alone can take you really far,” she says. Need a bit more remedial help? “Get a Millennial mentor,” she suggests, noting that, increasingly, leaders who did not grow up with technology as a native language are employing reverse mentoring to learn the digital ropes from younger, tech-savvy employees, who, in turn, are eager for help with their career paths.

Although gloomy tales abound of companies and leaders fading into obsolescence, Frangos points out the reverse can and does happen often, with companies thought to be legacies figuring out how to think like a startup and then leapfrogging the competition with market-changing innovation. “The same is true for talent,” she says, pointing to Chuck Robbins, who last year was tapped to be Cisco’s new CEO, even though there were other executives in line who were further up the ladder.

For sitting CEOs, she adds, the key is to continue to expand your knowledge base so that nobody leapfrogs over you. As Cisco’s chairman John Chambers famously put it: Disrupt yourself—or be disrupted.

Cassandra Frangos will join executives from Sodexo, Procter & Gamble, and JobsOhio to address this question further through a panel titled “How Digital Is Changing the Talent Equation” at the CEO Talent Summit in Cincinnati on October 13. For more information and to register, visit

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