The Case For Putting Your Mission At The Heart Of Your Strategy with Waymo’s CPO

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The Culture Code

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In the HBR article, “Put Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy,” the authors describe an intensive study that they conducted to understand the strategies high-growth companies use to drive growth. The authors were surprised to discover one strategy that kept surfacing: putting purpose at the core of your company strategy.

The authors write, “We began to recognize that many of them [high-growth companies] had moved purpose from the periphery of their strategy to its core—where, with committed leadership and financial investment, they had used it to generate sustained profitable growth, stay relevant in a rapidly changing world, and deepen ties with their stakeholders.”

Across my thirty plus interviews with chief people officers (CPOs), Waymo serves as one of the best examples of how a strong sense of purpose can drive culture and ultimately growth strategy. In this interview with CPO Becky Bucich, she does a brilliant job of breaking down Waymo’s culture and the work her team does to foster it.

Waymo is an autonomous driving technology company with a mission to make roads safer. It started as the Google Self-Driving Car Project and is the first company to enable autonomous trips for members of the public. The company has slightly more than 2,000 employees, or “Waymonauts,” and its cars are active in Phoenix and San Francisco.

Becky Bucich, CPO of Waymo
Becky Bucich, CPO of Waymo

Mission-Driven Culture at Waymo

Asked to describe Waymo culture in a few words, Bucich offered three phrases:

  1. Mission-driven: The company’s bold mission to make roads safer is foundational to its culture. “We are truly driven by the why. We're really intentional about understanding why people chose Waymo from day one during the interview process,” Bucich said.
  2. Safety and accessibility: “This is what we do every day,” Bucich emphasized. “I still remember my first day at Waymo more than four years ago. During my orientation, we each shared why we joined Waymo, and the stories were so touching. People spoke about family members who were unable to get behind the wheel and the tragic loss of loved ones.”
  3. Stronger together: Waymo culture hinges on collaboration to bring its technology to the world. “We solve our greatest challenges together,” Bucich said. “This collaboration is about psychological safety and knowing that you are never alone, even as you work on some of the most challenging work. Waymonauts know that they have extremely talented peers next to them who are ready to help.”

Waymo Sustains Its Culture Through Three Unique Initiatives

Bucich shared three critical ways that Waymo fosters its culture:

  • The Waymo Way: During monthly all-employee meetings, Bucich and her team carve out time to tell the story of a Waymonaut who excelled at demonstrating a company value. “Lifting up the stories of our culture carriers showcases values and teaches others,” she said. “We highlight these stories through an email publication that we send to the whole company. The write-up includes background about the individual, what makes them tick, and the specific story we want to share.”
  • WaymoServe: Employees across the country are encouraged to volunteer as a team and support local nonprofits. “We set aside time for employees to volunteer in the community,” Bucich explained. “This past fall, some of our volunteering efforts included nonprofits such as Compass Family Services in San Francisco, the South LA Teen Tech Center, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Arizona. That spirit of volunteerism and engagement in communities in which we operate is critical and something that we do day in and day out.”
  • Accessibility: “I think about accessibility in the context of a community, in particular,” Bucich said. “For example, when we launched in San Francisco, our Co-Chief Executive Officer (Co-CEO) Tekedra Mawakana communicated via all of the local publications in San Francisco. It wasn't just about reaching a broader audience. It was about reaching micro-communities such as Sing Tao, a Chinese language publication. We know we are building for the world, so we want feedback from across the user base in different cities.”

Just-in-Time Learning Helps Develop First-Line Managers

Bucich pointed out how essential first-line leaders are to the employee experience, saying, “People go home every night and talk at the dinner table about their experience at work. Often, their manager is the most pivotal person who either makes or breaks their experience.”

The first touch point all first-line managers receive at Waymo is new manager training after three months on the job. Regardless of your previous experience as a manager, you have to attend. “We don’t assume anything, and we ensure that we have a good foundation for all of our managers. We cover our manager philosophy and expectations, which are developed specifically within the context of Waymo,” she explained.

Once the foundations are in place, Bucich takes a “startup” approach to first-line leader development: “We offer quite a bit of just-in-time training. For example, after conducting our employee engagement survey, we train based on the results.” Bucich and her team also hold manager circles, where newer managers can learn from another manager who has more wisdom or experience in a relevant skill.

What Excites Bucich Most About the Future of Waymo

As Waymo scales and prepares to open markets in Los Angeles and Austin, Bucich shared that the thing that gets her out of bed every day is the impact Waymo has on thousands of individuals in their daily lives. “I think about my parents who are aging or a friend of my son who is visually impaired. Waymo enables them to preserve their independence and feel safe doing so.”

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.