How Cruise created a thriving culture growing from 120 to over 1,500 employees with Lattice
Cruise is building the world’s most advanced, all-electric, self-driving car technology to safely connect people with the places, things, and experiences they care about. Self-driving cars will help save lives, reimagine cities, redefine time in transit, and restore freedom of movement for individuals who live in dense urban settings.
Cruise pushes the boundaries for self-driving car technology. After grabbing the world’s attention with groundbreaking progress toward self-driving car software, Cruise secured a partnership with General Motors, Honda, and several other companies and prepared for hypergrowth. In less than 3 years, Cruise expanded its team by over 10x and didn’t plan to slow down in its mission to usher in the future with self-driving cars.
That expansion plan presented many challenges for Cruise’s people operations team that was intent on maintaining fairness and transparency in performance management. The team needed a tool to support their growth, and Lattice fulfilled their evolving needs as the company scaled.
Pressing on the Gas
Since day one, the Cruise team focused on their mission: to build the world’s most advanced self-driving vehicles to safely connect people with the places, things and experiences they care about. Courageousness was rooted in the company’s identity.
Lindsay: “It’s been so exciting to be able to make a real tangible impact on the processes that we've built and to support all of our employees in making that mission possible."
Sheila: “I love the fact that the entire company, even as much as we've grown now, is still rallied around one common goal of just making that car go. No one has competing priorities.”
For a company with a mission as bold as Cruise’s, rapid success was only the start of a long journey. That journey began with hiring right at every stage and ensuring that employees are getting a consistently positive experience. And as Cruise added more employees each day, reliable systems were even more necessary.
Lindsay: “Organizational design - making sure that teams are set up to operate effectively - is so important. That goes hand in hand with how much we're hiring. As we're continuing to bring folks in quickly, we have to set them up for success in the right roles.”
Sheila: “So having systems that can scale with us and make processes easier rather than burdensome is the key.”
In planning for rapid hiring, Lindsay and Sheila knew the systems supporting people operations needed to contribute to a strong culture of transparency at Cruise.
Sheila: “Along with that, our communication is really strong and transparent. In order for us to get the work that we need to get done and to move as quickly as we need to, that transparent communication is really important.”
But naturally, prioritizing scale risks losing the individual experience of an employee in favor of the process as an end. To account for that, Lindsay and Sheila knew designing checks for fairness in their performance management would be vital.
Lindsay: “In addition to scalability, our focus was making sure that we were designing a system that employees felt was fair and gave them a full picture of their performance. Peer feedback and upward feedback to managers were crucial parts of that to create a full 360 program. This meant redefining how we're doing ratings to be more specific to Cruise and thinking through how we calibrate those ratings to ensure fairness.”
That idea of fairness kept the culture of frequent, direct, and honest feedback grounded in empathy. Without it, it’s easy to get off-track and at worst could actually hurt employee growth.
After all, the company’s success depended on constant growth, learning, and progress. Ultimately the responsibility landed with managers to ensure employees were being pushed in the right direction.
Lindsay: “We’re making sure that while we're promoting internally, moving from an IC to a manager role, that we're investing in them and giving them the resources that they need. They need to be equipped with the ability to coach and mentor their team so they can succeed.”
The vision Cruise’s people team shared for a fair and transparent experience designed for scale and employee growth presented a difficult people operations challenge. The team realized they had a need for a performance management tool to help manage their culture through growth.
Lindsay: “A traditional top-down route simply wouldn't work for an organization as highly matrixed as we are.”
Lattice at Scale
Before getting in the weeds with feature capabilities, the Cruise team knew that usability had to be a differentiator for their performance management tool given the number of employees they would be onboarding. Lattice’s intuitive user experience quickly got their attention.
Lindsay: “What drew us to Lattice was how easy the interface was. There is literally no training required. I just send them the link and they can get started on their own super easily. That has been really important for our population we can’t have something that takes them a long time to navigate.”
For managers, having all of the information they needed about their team in one place meant never having to wonder where to start when completing a performance review or sharing feedback. All the feedback, updates, goals, and praise were collected in Lattice, giving managers a detailed snapshot of each of their reports’ growth over time at the company.
Lindsay: “All the additional features in Lattice have helped make performance reviews really easy for managers. They can refer back to any feedback and weekly updates given throughout the year so they’re never starting from scratch.”
But Lattice couldn’t just be easy to use for employees and managers. Given that Cruise was about to grow nearly 10x in size, the platform had to be smooth for the people operations team to handle.
Sheila: “Our hiring class sizes every couple of weeks could be up to 40 or 50 people. Doing things manually just really wasn't an option. Automating processes as complicated as 90-day reviews was absolutely essential, and Lattice makes it so easy.”
At scale, that effort savings multiplied and made a significant impact on the team. Ensuring that reviews could be managed seamlessly from onboarding to end-of-year gave Lindsay and Sheila the opportunity to focus on other pressing priorities. These included building programs for developing Cruise’s culture of transparent feedback and supporting employees across the organization.
Lindsay: “Direct communication is just the norm here at Cruise. I think it has to be that way with how fast we move and the work we have to do. We need to be able to say what we need to say. We’re trying to reinforce the culture of everyday feedback throughout the year, and Lattice provides great tools to facilitate that.”
Whether that meant facilitating authentic 1:1 meetings between managers and direct reports, supporting leadership development programs, or launching their “Model Cruiser” employee recognition initiatives, Lattice's tools met Cruise's needs. This single source of truth captured a clear picture of employee performance and growth trajectory.
Sheila: “I always talk about the ability to give feedback on an ongoing basis in Lattice. Having that conversation with managers reminds them that it's not only a great way for you then to have a reference point when you go to your end cycle, it’s also a really great way to document the feedback throughout the year. They set the example of a model feedback culture.”
No Signs of Slowing
Since breaking the 1,000 employee mark, Cruise’s growth has only continued to rise. And after adding each new team member, Cruise used Lattice to strengthen their performance management practices.
Lindsay: “Adding automation for things like new-hire 90-day reviews has been so important for us, especially with our growth rate. Feedback has also been really positive about how easy reviews are to navigate and complete. In our last review cycle, we had a 97% completion rate which was amazing.”
Of course, scaling introduced new challenges along the way that honed Cruise’s performance management practice even more. While adding many new managers meant calibration played an even more significant role in enforcing fairness and accountability.
And as Cruise’s needs shifted, the Lattice team adapted quickly and explored new solutions.
Sheila: “Lattice’s calibration capability has made a huge impact. This was important for Cruise to maintain fairness and make sure all of our managers are aligned along a defined set of criteria for evaluating their reports. The willingness for the Lattice team to listen to us when we have a feature request and being able to act so quickly, it just continues to impress me.”
Lattice became the headquarters for all-things people management for Cruise. While the company worked to create the autonomous cars of the future, Lindsay, Sheila, and their people operations team relied on Lattice for consistent, seamless, and even automated performance management.
Lindsay: “Lattice is a very lightweight solution that is really easy to implement. You can get it up and running, especially if you need to launch something quickly for a performance review cycle. Meanwhile knowing that employees can easily access everything - weekly updates, 1-on-1s, ongoing feedback, everything - in one central location has been incredibly valuable.”
- Massive growth put a lot of strain on systems. Lattice’s scalable performance management suite was flexible and consistent to meet Cruise’s needs.
- Lattice’s usability meant new employees needed little to no training to get started, saving time and energy for the people operations team.
- Automating processes like 90-day review cycles for new employees was crucial given the large new hire classes during Cruise’s expansion.
- Lattice’s Feedback made it easy to support Cruise’s culture of professional growth and transparent communication, especially for new managers.