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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

July 28, 2020
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Q&A – Jeff True, EVP & General Counsel, Palo Alto Networks

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Jeff True is the EVP & General Counsel of Palo Alto Networks, a publicly-traded leader in global cybersecurity. Jeff has served as the top legal executive since 2011 and during his tenure has built and scaled a top-notch legal department. He successfully guided the company through its well-debuted IPO in 2012 and since then has been a leading public company executive. Jeff’s corporate in house experience is robust, having spent his legal career at well-regarded organizations such as Con-Way Transportation, Informatica and 2Wire. He’s a General Counsel who truly partners with the business to facilitate its success, while balancing the risk to protect it. Jeff is a dedicated professional and a super nice guy to boot. He was kind enough to provide his wealth of knowledge on a variety of today’s most important topics.

Thank you Jeff!

What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

I always thought I was most productive working in our HQ office having daily face-to-face interaction with peers and colleagues, and I assumed that everyone else must be more productive when physically in the office as well.  However, my team, and my entire company for that matter, proved that they can be just as productive and efficient working from home during this pandemic.  Like everyone else, I’ve had to adjust to Zoom interactions and be much more diligent about scheduling opportunities with my colleagues to check-in and chat informally (which I enjoy and didn’t realize how much I would miss). I also learned that I actually enjoy the flexibility of working from home and I will incorporate more working from home when things get back to “normal.”  I’ve also learned that I don’t miss commuting up to two hours per day!

From an executive’s perspective, how can an employee increase his/her value to the organization during these challenging times?

Be present. Be visible. Over communicate.  If you have the bandwidth, step up to take on projects or join working groups that may not fall within your traditional responsibilities.  But also be honest and transparent.  Many people are feeling incredible amounts of stress and anxiety from the prolonged disruption to their lives and with the social injustice issues being brought to the forefront in the US.  It is incredibly difficult for many employees to “bring their whole self to work” in this environment.  Employees should not be afraid to tell their managers that they need a break or that they simply don’t have the bandwidth to do their normal work, which will allow the manager to temporarily reallocate the work to other team members or to a third party.  This type of open and honest communication helps both the employee’s needs and the business’ needs.

What is your advice to other GC/CLOs and managers on how to keep their teams mentally healthy, motivated and positive?

  • Be transparent and communicate early and often.  Ensure company updates are communicated quickly. Hold regular team all-hands meetings, sub-team meetings, one-on-ones, and encourage your managers to do the same.  Employees are likely feeling anxious and isolated from their colleagues, and their work-life boundaries are blurred.  Keeping them up to date on all the company news and communications helps ease some of those feelings.  Even when you don’t have all the answers to things your employees want to know (which is especially the case with COVID-19), tell them what factors will influence the decisions and the timeline for making decisions or providing updates.
  • Remain focused on the long term.  Although most people are focused on the short-term tactical issues during this time, remind your team of the bigger/broader picture: We will come out of this situation at some point, and we will be prepared for the “new normal.”
  • Be human.  Sometimes your team just needs a break.  For example, as the recent social injustice issues were on the forefront of everyone’s mind, I scrapped my business-as-usual updates at our bi-weekly Legal All-Hands meeting and simply took the time to acknowledge that employees were full of anxiety and let them know the company’s leadership is listening and will be implementing programs and forums for employees to have a safe place to discuss the issues and suggest ways we can improve.  It was well-received by the team.

                         Jeff True

In times of crisis, some companies emerge as clear winners.  What do you see as “winning” qualities in this crisis?

For starters, the winners will be the companies that embrace flexible work and figure out how to optimize it to their advantage.  Putting aside the economic factors as to which businesses will thrive and which will suffer, the winners will be companies that went into this situation with a strong company culture as well as efficient systems and processes.  When you have a strong foundation of employees committed to the company because they love the culture, people and mission, you are much more likely to weather the storm.  Your employees feel confident that the company has their backs and will do the right things to adjust and react to the uncertainties we’re facing. Plus, efficient systems and processes allow employees to do their jobs remotely with less stress so that they can focus on the important things.  Companies that lack these things will certainly face significant challenges and may ultimately fail.

Top 3 ways the professional world will change after Covid-19?

I’m hopeful that people will continue to be as empathetic to their staff and colleagues as I’ve noticed in the last few months.  I have been so impressed by my colleagues and leadership team spending more time than ever checking in on their teams, asking how they are doing, and showing genuine concern for their well-being.  It’s disappointing that it took a global health crisis to draw this type of behavior out of some people, but I hope we’ve all learned how valuable it is and continue to exhibit that behavior.

Working for a cybersecurity company, we are continually thinking about ways to improve security and awareness.  As people connect to their corporate networks from home more often, and from different types of devices, the need for remote security, and the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own security, will only increase.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to envision a day when my entire team is back in the office.  One of my often-employed management styles is “management by walking around.”  Randomly checking in on team members at all levels, and colleagues from other departments, has been a great way for me to stay on top of issues and priorities, engage and motivate the team, and build bonds and connections.  Those of us who employ this management style will have to adjust to the “new-normal.”

What are you doing to stay mentally and physically healthy while you are quarantined?

I substituted my two hours of commute time with a little more sleep and a lot more exercise.  I started doing Yoga by watching YouTube videos in my living room, which proved to be a great way to keep limber while working under less than perfect ergonomic situations. If I have a gap between meetings I’ll sometimes take a midday walk, or basketball or tennis with my kids, for fresh air and a change of scenery – this provides a great refresher on those days when I’ll need to work late into the night.  Oh, and a glass of wine at the end of the day helps as well.

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