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Cisco's Off Switch

Cisco is shutting its doors to any employees who aren't "business critical" for four days, starting Dec. 29. It's supposed save money, but I think it'll cost its brand.
Cisco is shutting its doors to any employees who aren't "business critical" for four days, starting Dec. 29. It's supposed save money, but I think it'll cost its brand.For starters, it's not a good idea to dare customers to imagine life without your company. Cisco is making a bet that nobody will notice that a majority of its employees are nowhere to be found. I wonder how it knows that the customer service folks lashed to the tiller won't need the help of someone who'd otherwise be lurking below decks, but is off enjoying shore leave.

Further, its use of the term "business critical" prompts more questions than it answers, as the definition seems mostly dependent on your time scale. Product designers are critical to Cisco's success. So are its bill collectors, or the employees who package gizmos and get them out the door. What it's saying to the market is that the only critically important function at the entire company during four days is putting a reactive staff in place to handle incoming queries.

Everything else can be switched off.

Will its 2009 plans suffer? Might it have to change its strategies or commitments, based on the work that its employees won't accomplish while they're all on forced holiday? Four days of doing nothing has no impact on its performance?

Well, of course not. Shutting down for a few days is a mostly symbolic gesture anyway; people are still getting paid, so the real savings are likely minimal, and will come from forcing employees to expend vacation time (thus moving salary commitments off the books), and in saving energy that would have been expended on lights and heating. And nobody is terribly productive between Christmas and New Year's.

So the announcement is branding theater, and it's saying something (however inadvertently) about Cisco's employees and its brand: the hours people spend at work on its behalf are fungible.

Imagine if instead it had announced some brilliantly extensive, virtually linked system to enable its employees to over-serve its customers, thereby obviating the need to have them physically at company HQ for a few days? Announcing that it was doing something proactive...anything...would have been far smarter than telling the world what it would stop doing.

Tech brands aren't supposed to have off switches, are they?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.