Values-Driven HR

Juniper Networks is turning words on the wall into behaviors in action.

By Bill Roberts Mar 1, 2012
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March CoverFolks at Juniper Networks Inc. have lofty goals. Last year, one goal embraced by company leaders was to help end worldwide slavery. As Juniper employees see it, this goal aligns with the company's values, talent, technology and another lofty goal to change the world—in part, by designing and developing hardware and software for high-performance networks.

Led by its chief executive officer and HR executive, the 15-year-old Sunnyvale, Calif., enterprise is in the process of re-energizing company values among its more than 9,100 employees in 46 countries. As corporate leaders seek more effective ways to put values into action, they want to align corporate giving with those values.

Hence, the Juniper Foundation supports Not for Sale, a nonprofit in Half Moon Bay, Calif., whose mission is to abolish slavery, indentured servitude and other human trafficking and to use social and other technologies in that effort. Some high-tech companies have begun to target these issues because perpetrators can be found within their sprawling supply chains. Juniper contributes money, technology and expertise. "We want to do more than write checks," explains Steven Rice, executive vice president of HR.

Rice says supporting Not for Sale is just one example of how Juniper's leaders strive to create a culture where the company that customers see on the outside matches the one on the inside. The notion of narrowing the gap between values as words on the wall and values as behaviors is starting to permeate HR processes from recruiting to talent management. In pursuit of this quest, Juniper's HR professionals draw on recent research and emerging practices regarding corporate values, cultural transformation and the neuroscience of leadership.

Finding the Way

Juniper's approach represents the future of corporate leadership, says Chris Ernst, co-author of Boundary Spanning Leadership (McGraw-Hill, 2010) and a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. He calls Juniper a bellwether for "creating more connected, collaborative, cross-boundary ways of working. The pieces are in place, but there is hard work ahead for Juniper."

Rice similarly believes that the journey has just begun. The values, known as The Juniper Way, are as follows: We are authentic, we are about trust, we deliver excellence, we pursue bold aspirations, we make a meaningful difference.

"One definition of our values is to be confident but not arrogant," says Rice, an effervescent proponent of the cause. Rice spent 25 years in HR at Hewlett-Packard Co. in Palo Alto, Calif., before joining Juniper in 2006, where he leads a global HR team of 108. The team includes an HR leader assigned to each business unit, centers of excellence in various disciplines, and a shared services group that relies heavily on employee and manager self-service for HR transactions.

A Page from Juniper's values Blueprint

value

We are about trust.

Definition

We inspire confidence in colleagues, customers and partners by always acting with integrity, fairness, respect and reliability.

Behaviors

  • Acts with the highest level of honesty and integrity.
  • Shares agendas and objectives, encouraging feedback and discussing things in an open, collaborative and respectful manner.
  • Takes responsibility and delivers on commitment.
  • Acts confidently but never arrogantly.
  • Respects decisions and supports them with enthusiasm and follow-through.
  • Assumes positive intentions, viewing conflict as an opportunity to find constructive solutions that help all succeed.

Tone at the Top

After its launch in 1996, Juniper became one of the most watched Internet startups. Its mission was simple and bold: "Connect everything. Empower everyone." Facing formidable rivals, Juniper emerged as one of the leading providers of switches, routers, software and other networking equipment for global networks such as the New York Stock Exchange. In 2011, annual revenue topped more than $4 billion, up 9 percent from 2010 and a record for the company. The company was less affected by the recession than many other businesses, growing its workforce every year since 2009.

Juniper has always attracted some of the best and brightest talent—veterans and new grads with master's and doctoral degrees in science, math, engineering and computer science—to work on hardware systems, computer chip designs, network architecture and software. More than 4,200 employees conduct research and development. The company has a reputation as an innovative, collaborative, high-performance meritocracy. So why focus on values and culture?

Enter Kevin Johnson, a longtime Microsoft executive who became chief executive officer in September 2008, replacing Scott Kriens, who remains chairman of the board.

"Juniper was founded with a thought leadership agenda: to be a disruptive innovator in new ways to power the networks that power the world today," Johnson says. At the core: "When people around the world are connected, it is transformative for business, society, education, social causes, for the good and advancement of people."

Johnson spent his first year clarifying strategy with his leadership team, including Rice. Thus was born The New Network, a theme that encapsulates Juniper's dedication to fast, flexible hardware and software for networks capable of handling ubiquitous voice, data, video and other traffic, wired or wireless, at ever-increasing volume and speed.

With that strategy in place, Johnson turned to culture. "There was an opportunity to shape the cultural values and environment that will allow great people to do their best work," he says. "We had to embrace the concept of the importance of talent and culture in achieving goals. It is not HR's responsibility, but the business leaders' responsibility. And that is where the CEO has a role to play."

Rice agrees: "I am the caretaker of the culture; the executive team owns the culture."

As caretakers, Rice and his HR team face the challenge of making sure the company hires, develops, retains, and properly compensates and recognizes workers that have the requisite science, engineering and business skills, plus the personal traits of collaboration and high energy. While offering competitive salaries and benefits, Juniper needs people who are willing to collaborate across business units, driven to innovate, and passionate about their work and how it will change the world, according to Rice.

Ernst, who studied Juniper in his research, says as many as three-fourths of organizational change efforts fail because the focus is misplaced on management systems, structure and process, rather than on leadership. "Real change requires a change in leadership," he says. "And leadership is about culture, beliefs and values." Ernst is conducting workshops with Juniper's executive team "so they can role-model collaborative behavior for the entire organization. This is one way Juniper is trying to beat the odds," he says.

values-Centric Cultures

Rice and Greg Pryor, HR vice president for leadership and organization effectiveness, retained Ann Rhoades, head of People Ink Corp. in Albuquerque, N.M., to help build what she calls a values-centric culture. She uses Juniper as an example in her book Built on values (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Rhoades says some Juniper executives were initially confused by the new approach. They said, "We have great values, why change them?" But Rhoades says those values "were not defined. They did not have behaviors behind them." To infuse values into the culture, they must be spelled out as behaviors that are sought, developed and prized. In her patent-pending process, a group of employees examines existing values and explores new ones, defines them, and identifies behaviors associated with them. The result is a values blueprint.

Juniper chose more than 200 employees from around the world—including new hires, senior engineers, managers and the CEO—to participate in creating the blueprint. "I had a chance to listen and understand the perspectives of others," Johnson says. To identify behaviors associated with desired values, the group used the Organizational Cultural Inventory from Human Synergistics Inc. and produced a draft blueprint in two days.

The 35-member executive team reviewed the blueprint and then held discussions among 120 top leaders. "The executive staff decided on its own, without any coaching, to share this in small sessions with employee groups of no more than 100," Pryor says.

Thus was born the Trio Tour: Groups of three senior executives, often including Johnson, conducted 75 meetings with groups of employees, mostly in person but some virtual, to promote the strategy, the values and the company's promise to customers: a workforce dedicated to innovation, collaboration, authenticity, trust, high performance and leadership in its field. "We framed this incredibly powerful culture work as a renewal of our culture and values, like a long-married couple would renew their wedding vows," Pryor says.

Rhoades applauds the executives' rare commitment to the values rollout.

Hiring to Build the Brand

Rice's HR team began to look for ways to infuse the values throughout talent management processes. The goal was to hire, retain and develop people who have the right skills and knowledge and who share the company's values, too. "If the customer sees you as team-oriented and such and the customer service guy is different, you have a problem," Rice says. "You have to hire against the brand."

In Rice's view, a strong culture has these three components:

  • Employees who agree with the mission.
  • The ability to identify, keep and develop those types of employees.
  • Willingness on the part of corporate leaders to let values drive decisions—from talent management processes to corporate giving.

Juniper's HR team began to identify key attributes, based on the values, that should be sought in any employee and to create about 300 job descriptions (called "architectures") that include the skills, knowledge, behaviors and values associated with each role in the company. The central values of collaboration, authenticity and trust define employees the company calls its J Players. "Our aspiration is 100 percent J players," Rice says.

In conversations and through other communications, business-unit leaders and others asked employees where The Juniper Way fell short in practice. Trust came up, with the annual performance review seen as a culprit. "We got feedback that our existing performance management process was not consistent with the values," Pryor says, so HR professionals revamped the process.

About this time, Pryor discovered David Rock, founder and CEO of Results Coaching Systems LLC, with headquarters in New York City and Sydney, Australia. Rock coined the term "neuroleadership" and founded the NeuroLeadership Institute to promote leadership training.

He uses a model for influencing behavior called SCARF—which stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. The model gave Pryor and Rice hard evidence to show engineers and scientists, who were initially skeptical of some of the changes included in the new performance management process.

Performance Management Redux

When asked which Juniper value was least apparent in practice, employees said trust. They cited the annual performance review as an example of lack of trust. 

Employees expressed concern about the lack of positive feedback, the forced labeling from a ranking system, and even the use of words like "review" and "appraisal."

"We fundamentally rethought our performance management process," says Greg Pryor, HR vice president for leadership and organization development. "It was inspired by the managers who brought this to our attention."

The old performance review was a typical backward-looking process to identify where the employee needed to improve and involved rating each employee. A distribution curve was imposed on the ratings of the entire population.

The process was replaced with a semiannual "conversation day." On these days, employees and managers discuss areas for improvement and areas for new growth, set stretch goals, and align the goals with employees' career aspirations. There is no rating given or a specific measure of improvement expected.

Internal surveys indicated that 93 percent of employees participated in the first conversation day and 66 percent of participants found it "helpful" to "extremely helpful," Pryor says. Conversation days would not be possible without other practices introduced by HR. For example:

  • Goal alignment became a separate activity. Employees and managers set goals aligned with the business unit's and the company's overall strategy. More employees are included in this activity than were included in the past.
  • Compensation planning now involves a statement of guidance that gives local managers more leeway in distributing merit pay, rather than rigid guidelines for doing so.
  • Instead of imposing a distribution curve on employees' ratings, there is now relative laddering within each occupational and geographical group. There are 300 such ladders.
  • Detailed talent scenarios for each group now give managers and employees guidance for steps to take based on the scenario in which each employee best fits.

—Bill Roberts

Culture Shift

Juniper executives point out that the changes are rooted in the need to achieve authenticity with customers. "We are dealing with the most richly informed buyers in history," says Lauren Flaherty, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, who adds that when companies don't act genuinely, they "do so at their own peril."

Flaherty and Rice work together on overseeing the brand and values rollout internally and externally. "You always hope that what you present to the marketplace externally has an authentic origin from within. But you often hope more than it is reality," Flaherty says.

Juniper is different from most companies, she admits. "It has a very open, collaborative culture. It is not burdened by turf. Synergies are seen as a good thing. That's why you can get a marketing team and HR team to work together to change the external face and internal face of the company."

Juniper's efforts are unusual, even for Silicon Valley standards, but other HR executives are taking note. "There is a cultural shift happening more generally, and a lot of HR organizations are waking up to it," says Paul Whitney, vice president of HR and site services for Infinera Corp., an optical networking company based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Whitney is familiar with Juniper's leaders' efforts.

Ernst acknowledges that Juniper might appear to be so different that it does not offer any direct analogy to traditional industries. But he cautions that more corporate leaders are experiencing or soon will experience similar demands for creativity, flexibility and collaboration.

"Even in government, education and family-owned business, all organizations are dealing with challenges they have not seen before and need to learn to work in new ways," Ernst says.

The author is technology contributing editor for

HR Magazine and is based in Silicon Valley.

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