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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

July 15, 2020
Question

Q&A – Scott Giesler: SVP, General Counsel and Secretary, eHealth

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Scott Giesler is the SVP, General Counsel and Secretary for eHealth, a publicly-traded online marketplace for health insurance. Scott has served as eHealth’s top legal executive for 15 years and during that time has helped navigate the company through growth and change. After graduating at the top of his law school class, Scott headed for Big Law. He began his legal career as a litigator and then transitioned to a corporate securities practice with Wilson Sonsini. After six years with the firm, Scott was ready for a change. The transition to eHealth was a natural move and Scott has never looked back.

Scott was kind enough to provide his fantastic insights and advice on the current pandemic and the professional landscape. (Note: my interview with Scott pre-dated the death of George Floyd and does not include the important topics stemming from the event).

You’ve been through other economic downturns, what is unique about this one?

The human health aspects of this economic downturn are what make it unique.  That’s obvious.  But it is the aspect of this downturn that will have lasting impacts.  Our current economic circumstances did not originate from a financial problem in the economy like the subprime mortgage crisis in 2007/08.  Instead, it is the result of a virus, and social isolation is the main response as of now to combat it.  With other economic downturns, the access to family, friends, and social outlets was available to help people deal with the stress the downturn brought to their personal financial situations.  While we have some level of social interaction, it’s just not the same, and those social interactions actually bring some level of anxiety to some people if they involve physical interaction.  As a result of these factors, the current situation is not only having an economic impact, but is also impacting the psychology of many people.  I think that is an important distinction to recognize and account for in our plans to move forward and get back on track.

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

Challenging times offer an opportunity for employees at all levels to rise to the occasion and demonstrate leadership.  In my view, the way to do that is no different today than at any other time.   Here are some ways to do so that are particularly important now:

  • Be level-headed and stay positive and optimistic. There are negative things going on around us.  Try to be as level-headed about them as you can be and take a reasoned approach to the things you are working on without letting the emotion of our current circumstances cloud your judgment.  In addition, a positive attitude and optimistic outlook will do a lot for how you are viewed within your team and in your organization (especially now).  That doesn’t mean you don’t need to think about the consequences of current circumstances and advise your organization accordingly.  It is more about the way you do that and the attitude you project.
  • Make sure you are communicating well. As many of us are working from home and don’t have the office to help ensure we are interacting with each other on a regular basis, be proactive in your communication and make sure you are checking in with others, building trust and relationships. Realize that communication in person is much more effective and try to compensate for the absence of that under current circumstances.
  • Be diligent. Do as much as you can to make sure you are maintaining productivity.  If you are having difficulties in your new work circumstances, make sure you communicate your challenges and also participate in the solution.  If the solution is less than ideal, do as much as you can under your current circumstances.  Your diligence and productivity likely will be measured in light of them.
  • Be proactive and a team player. If there are particular issues you, your team or your organization are facing (big or small), identify them and endeavor to be a part of the solution.  Search out ways you can help others in your organization, especially if they are experiencing difficulty, and help in a meaningful way.
  • Take Care of Yourself. It’s not easy to consistently do everything I’ve outlined above, particularly in challenging times.  Your success will depend on your own personal well-being.  Make sure to dedicate time to exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and interact with family and friends.

If you take the actions above, you will exhibit leadership qualities.  If your circumstances are less than ideal in light of the challenges we are facing, just do the best you can.  Most importantly, act now in a way that you will be proud to look back upon in different times.

              Scott Giesler

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

Obviously, the pandemic has created a new work dynamic for everyone, including in-house legal teams.  For many of you, your team members are worried about the impact of the pandemic on their personal health and the health of their families, friends, acquaintances, and society in general.  They are also working from home and often with competing in-home responsibilities.  You and your team members are involved in your organization’s reaction to the pandemic and its impact in addition to your normal responsibilities.  You and your team are dealing with (or have more intimate knowledge of) the negative consequences of the pandemic with respect to your organization. Your team is likely directly involved with helping your organization address these consequences.  All of the above obviously can create anxiety and have a negative impact on the mental health and motivation of your teams.

The most important advice I have to give legal team managers is to be realistic about the circumstances their teams are facing and be cognizant of the stresses your team members may be encountering both in and outside of their responsibilities to your organization.  Know also that your team members may not be communicating their personal difficulties, and almost certainly are not giving enough detail to truly understand everything they are dealing with on a personal level.  In my experience, and fortunately for all of us, in-house legal teams often have more than their fair share of people who are passionate about their job performance and their companies. The members of legal teams are typically dedicated and have a natural (or perhaps unnatural) desire to make sacrifices during difficult times.  Listen to them carefully, trust them, and be empathetic.  It will help to keep them mentally healthy, motivated, positive, and ultimately increase their productivity.

Be flexible.  Many of you are dealing with some big things that need to be dealt with expeditiously.  As members of a legal team within an organization, we are used to dealing with a high level of stress outside of the context of this economy and the pandemic. Many of us rely upon the complete dedication of team members to tackle our organization’s most important initiatives. For some of your team members, unencumbered dedication is not possible under these circumstances.  Having unreasonable expectations will place you directly in a losing battle.  So, dedicate your time to problem solving.  The flexibility you can deliver to your team will reduce their stress, keep them motivated and maximize outcomes for your organization.

Communication of your organization’s circumstances and the objectives you are trying to achieve were important before our current circumstances.  It is imperative now.  Over communicate where possible.  In my experience, even communication of negative information reduces anxiety.  In general, our teams are trained to think about the future and its possible consequences.  Replacing as much of what’s possible with reality (even when negative) reduces anxiety, increases loyalty, and makes the team more effective.

Lastly, and definitely not least important, inject humor and fun into your team environment where you can.  While we can’t have team parties and dinners right now, even the little things matter. If that’s not you, delegate it to others.  In my view, we can all use more levity under our current circumstances.

In times of crisis, there are always winners and losers. Who do you think the winners and losers will be this time?

In times of crisis, the people (and hence their organizations) who are winners are those who look back on how they handled the cards they were dealt and are proud of their actions.  For me, the winners are the people who remained calm, who were voices of reason, who listened to others and focused on helping their colleagues, who were passionate advocates for their customers and organizations, and who did not let the chaos around them distract them from accomplishing what needed to be done.  None of us will be perfect at doing these things.  However, the winners will make these things a priority.  As a result, they will be respected, have closer relationships with the people around them, have a greater sense of self-worth, have organizations that more effectively deal with difficulties and will have made a positive difference in the lives of others.

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

The professional world will need to get used to a new way of working.  The way we interact with each other has changed.  The vast majority of the professional world is working from home.  Many professionals are learning that they can work from home effectively, and some are finding it even more productive.   While life after COVID-19 will not be as remote as it is now, remote work will remain and will continue to be a significant part of our professional lives.  Increased remote work will have a number of further impacts.  For example, it is going to force the professional world to rethink the purpose of office space and how it is used.  It also will create a shift in thinking about work schedules and a focus on what is getting done instead of the time of day it is getting done.  Importantly, we also are going to need to find ways to replace the personal connection that is more quickly and naturally developed face-to-face.

The professional world also will be forced to accelerate its adoption of the internet and technology.  Significant parts of the professional world have been slow to adopt technology.  Many law and accounting firms still are significantly paper-based and lack collaboration tools and technology.  While many in-house legal teams are adopting collaboration and efficiency tools, it is my sense that adoption is significantly more in certain geographic areas than others and less at smaller organizations than larger organizations.  COVID-19 has changed the mindset of the customer/client and the mindset of many employees of professional organizations.  Professionals have to recognize the new reality.  They will need to adopt technology at a faster pace to deal with it or suffer a lack of demand or inefficiency that will significantly and adversely impact their businesses.

COVID-19 has significantly impacted many professionals in the healthcare industry.  The impacts will continue to evolve.  During the onset of the COVID-19 healthcare crisis, we actually progressed to a point where nations (including the United States) declared that they would take care of “their own” first in the context of a healthcare crisis.  That notion is not surprising under the circumstances. However, we reached that point so quickly, and it caused the United States to feel the negative “supply chain” impact of the movement of much of our healthcare manufacturing (including pharmaceutical manufacturing) overseas.  The consequences became palpable to many.  As a result, we already have begun to see a repatriation of healthcare manufacturing back to the United States, and I believe that will continue.  We will perhaps see a repatriation of manufacturing back to the United States in other industries.  This shift will impact the professional world in many ways.  The legal profession will need to gear up to support it and to offer expertise to help make the transition successful.

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

With quarantine, the number of meetings during my work days increased, leaving significantly less time for me to focus on the out-of-meeting work that requires attention.  A decent amount of that work moved to the weekend, so I am working more, overall.  While I worked from home from time-to-time before quarantine, there was always a clear distinction between my home and my office and what I would do at each location.  The contrast is gone.  The blurring of those spaces, the new work dynamic and the reduced travel and recreational options available turned my weekends into workdays.

The main thing I have been doing to stay mentally and physically healthy is to force a distinction between home and office.  My day has become more structured.  I try to stick to a schedule – starting work by a certain time and ending by a certain time unless there is an emergency of some sort.  I also work consciously to make sure weekends resemble some form of what a weekend should be.   I make sure to get outside as much as possible on the weekend — fish, golf, ride my bike, visit friends and do outside activities with my family.  I also am using the hour I am saving on commute time to work in at least 45 minutes of vigorous exercise.  I’d like to say I do that every day.  Let’s just say I try to do it every day.  I also cook at home a lot more than I used to and have been using that consequence of quarantine to eat healthier meals.  While I am a work in progress, I feel like doing these basic things has had a pretty positive impact on my health and my family life overall.

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