case study

Palo Alto Networks, the next-generation security company helping tens of thousands of organizations worldwide prevent cyber breaches, is no stranger to fast growth. In the past ten years, they’ve seen compound annual growth of 103%.

Wendy Barnes, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Palo Alto Networks, knows that culture is a competitive advantage. “Culture is what we believe has fueled (and will continue to fuel) our growth—the way we treat each other and the way we treat customers,” she says.

Palo Alto Networks people work around the world, with one-third located at the Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters, one-third in international offices, and the rest remote. “In our rapid growth journey, we came to realize that one of our big concerns was making sure our employees felt like one team and all had the same understanding and experience of our values within the company, no matter where in the world they are,” says Barnes.

To continue to scale their unique culture and ensure a consistent experience for employees, Palo Alto Networks uses Culture Amp to gather employee feedback and take positive action.

Launching the first engagement survey

Palo Alto Networks first employee engagement survey was kicked off by the company’s CEO, Mark McLaughlin. His personal invitation conveyed that the survey and resulting actions were a business initiative, not an HR exercise. “HR ran the project, but the resulting actions are about the company, the leadership, and our employees,” says Barnes.

At the close of the survey, Palo Alto Networks identified two enterprise-level areas for action: increasing opportunities for career development and improving two-way communication. “We chose those two because they were among our top five drivers of overall engagement,” says Barnes. “Each of the dimensions also had about 20 percent neutral responses. Our thinking, based on insights from Culture Amp, was that if these people who were neutral saw deliberate, sustained action, they might change their minds.”

Setting the stage for taking action

To address the focus on communication, Palo Alto Networks formalized the expectation that all managers hold regular one-on-one and team meetings. They also created opportunities for employees to speak with executives through programs like “Ask Mark,” a real-time, virtual Q&A- style meeting with their CEO open to all employees worldwide.

Increasing opportunities for career advancement was also immediately actioned. They asserted that 100% of employees must have career conversations with their managers. Career ambassadors and career maps were introduced, coinciding with the launch of a mentoring program. HR has provided online tools and hosted face-to-face workshops to skill up managers, as well as created mentoring guidelines and best practices.

Sustaining cultural growth

Palo Alto Networks deliberately decided against an annual survey cadence. “We’re going to survey when it feels right; when most of our action plans have come to fruition,” says Rich Taylor, Head of Global Talent Development. Employees are kept up-to-date on what’s changing as a result of the survey and action plans during quarterly all-hands meetings.

“We want people to know we’ve heard them,” says Taylor. “We continue to work on these important areas, and plan to come back with even more information in the future. We maintain that drum beat of, ‘Your voice matters. You’re changing how the company thinks and operates.’”