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The DNA of Innovative Culture

The DNA of Innovative Culture

Nancy Vitale, the CHRO at Genentech, explains how the company’s culture starts with its patients. A leading company in biotech and pharma, Genentech has created a winning workplace by having a clarity of mission, which is to deliver life-saving drugs to millions of people around the world. Vitale shares what has kept the company among the best workplaces in the U.S. since it was founded in 1976 and how it continues to be one of the most innovative employers in the biotech industry.

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Introduction:

Welcome to Better by Great Place to Work- a podcast that helps companies become a great place to work for all because it’s better for people, better for business, and better for the world. I’m Christopher Tkaczyk the Chief Content Officer at Great Place to Work. Each week we meet with great leaders who have helped their companies become better workplaces by focusing on their best asset- their people- who in turn help their organizations become more successful. Support for Better comes from Genentech a global leader in biotech and medicine and continues to be a long-time winner on Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Chris:

Welcome to Better by Great Place to Work. We're coming to you today from the Great Place to Work For All Summit 2019 in San Francisco. I'm joined today by Nancy Vitale, the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Genentech, who is also one of our sponsors for the podcast's first season. Welcome, Nancy.

Nancy:

Thanks, Chris.

Chris:

And thank you for being such a generous supporter of Great Place to Work and the For All mission.

Nancy:

You are welcome.

Chris:

We're very happy to have you here today. I know that you're not new to the Summit. In my experience over the years of having attended the Summit as a journalist from Fortune, but now as an employee at Great Place to Work, I have to say this year I think it's the best we ever had. So I hope you're enjoying yourself during this visit, and we look forward to having you back again next year.

Nancy:

Thank you.

Chris:

I want to talk a bit first about Genentech and the numbers. When I start telling the story of a business, I think that the numbers are the first place to look to begin to tell that story. Genentech is one of the all-star companies that has appeared on Fortune's annual list of the 100 best companies to work for using the Trust Index survey results from Great Place to Work, we've discovered that 87% of Genentech's employees say that, overall, looking at all the statements on that survey, that it's a great place to work. 95% say that they feel good about the ways they can contribute to the community through the company. 93% say that they are able to take time off from work when they think it's necessary. They have the freedom to do that rather than being restricted by policies. Another 93% say that they are proud to tell other people that they work for Genentech, and again, 93% say that when they've joined the company they're made to feel welcome.

Chris:

All of those statistics around employee happiness have also helped Genentech appear on Great Place to Work's list for the Best Workplaces for Giving Back, for the Bay Area, for the Best Workplaces in Healthcare and Bio-Pharma, 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials, People's 2018 list of the companies that care, People Magazine, the Best Workplaces for Women, and the Best Workplaces for Diversity. Congratulations for all of that. And this is why Genentech has been on the list every single year, because it meets the needs for all those. You know, it fills all those buckets.

Nancy:

We're very proud of that. Thank you.

Chris:

It's very difficult for a company of any size, especially one that's the size of Genentech, to sort of become, as I call it, the quadruple threat of being on the list for women, for diversity, for millennials, and being on the 100 Best list, so there are very few companies that have that honor. Nancy, I want you to start the conversation a bit telling me about how employees at Genentech are made to feel welcome, every single employee. How they're living, how Genentech is living the For All mission.

Nancy:

Sure. Well, the first thing I'd point to is just that. It's clarity of mission and clarity of purpose, and it doesn't really matter who you ask at Genentech. You can ask a scientist in our research organization. You can ask a technician on one of the manufacturing shop floors in one of our plants. You can ask an HR business partner on my team, and people will say it's that clarity of mission. It's, "I'm here to help patients who suffer from serious or life threatening diseases," and it's that clarity of purpose and mission that really unites us and ignites us all. You know, when people are passionate about their work, and they feel like their work is meaningful and having an impact in society. It really does create the framework and the foundation for being a Great Place to Work For All.

Chris:

And how long have you been at the company?Nancy: I've been with Genentech a little over 12 years, and in this role heading up the HR team for almost six years now.

Chris:

You joined when the company already had so many honors, or having a great culture. At what point in your time at Genentech, or maybe it happened before you arrived and it was at your previous job, that you discovered that having a people-first culture was the only way a company can actually truly succeed? Just personally, when did you discover that?

Nancy:

Yeah. Well, I have to say I've had the good fortune of working for a lot of great companies in my career. In 2006 when I joined Genentech, they were actually the number one company on Fortune's Best Places to Work list, so that's when they first caught my attention, quite honestly. And in that first year, my perspective started to evolve and shape around this notion of people-first. For us, one of our big cultural pillars is patient centricity, so people for us starts with the patient, which is our ultimate kind of customer.

Nancy:

And from that, in everything we do, how do we keep the patient at the center? How do we bring the patient into the room, into those decisions that we make? How do we ensure that we're all keeping that focus no matter where we work or what we do? It guides our actions, really, and that translates to another one of our cultural pillars, which is being people-focused, and it's how do we create that environment where people can do their best work in service of our patients.

Chris:

I'd love to hear an example about how a new policy, or a new program that you've introduced over the past six years or so, has sort of trickled down to the patient. Have you guys mapped that out in any way or discovered the path?

Nancy:

Well, I'll give you an anecdotal story maybe, and that is particularly in the Bay Area as we have evolved as an organization, and as commute times for folks have increased. I mean, we still want our headquarters in South San Francisco to be a place that people come together. We believe that co-location breeds collaboration, and collaboration breeds innovation, and we want those happenstance interactions to still happen.

Nancy:

That really does drive innovation, and ultimately, hopefully, translate to a new medicine for patients at some point in time. We also recognize that to enable people to be their most productive selves, particularly here at our headquarters, we don't want people having to spend so much time on the road, or trying to get to work, and so we've taken a good hard look at working flexibly as an example, and giving people options to be their most productive selves. And part of that is through experiments.

Nancy:

I mean, we're a science company, and so our whole lifeblood is on running experiments to see what will actually work in the drug discovery and development process, but that notion of experimentation carries out through all parts of the organization. So we started running experiments with drop-in centers, and giving people flexibility to work wherever they can do their best work. And that has translated to greater productivity and the ability to do more work on behalf of patients.

Chris:

In the time that you've been in your current role, what is the thing that you're most proud of?

Nancy:

Yeah. I'd have to say in creating this environment, in working with an incredible leadership team, and in being able to impact those everyday decisions, so I wouldn't point to one thing, but it goes to some of what we stand for. Everyday Epic is one of the terms we use. It's the little everyday things that we do that, over time, can really lead to something pretty epic, and I'll give you one example of that. The work that we've done around diversity and inclusion, as an example. We are an organization that has really made strides in the last decade around diversity, particularly from a gender diversity perspective. And it's through those everyday things that have enabled us to do that. You know, half of our organization, it's 50/50 men and women, all the way up through the director ranks.

Chris:

That's shocking to me.

Nancy:

And the officer ranks. Almost 45% of our vice presidents and senior vice presidents are women, and three of our seven C-Suite are women. And it's through this decade-long focus and the little things that we have done, and focus on the intention, and measuring that progress that has led us to have such success in comparison to a lot of companies who I think are looking for a quick fix perhaps, or waving a magic wand. But it's really through that everyday focus that has enabled this over a long period of time, and we're an organization that takes a long view. Sometimes it can take a decade to bring a molecule from the discovery in a research lab to the point where it's actually approved by the FDA for patient use.

Chris:

Doesn't happen overnight.

Nancy:

No, certainly doesn't.

Chris:

And so while you're also focusing on closing that gender gap even more, are you also having the conversation around pay parity as well?

Nancy:

Absolutely, and it's something that we regularly take a look at, and it's one of those areas that, when you think about the experience, you could say is there a cause and effect or is there a correlation, but when so much of your workforce is made up of both men and women equally, that drives. That is a big contributor to that pay parity equation.

Chris:

How does Genentech recognize a job well done and celebrate its talent?

Nancy:

I'd probably point to a couple things, Chris, in this regard, and it gets to rituals, so one area that I'd point to is our patients. Going back to our mission, we bring in patient speakers to really address all of our employees, and to hear directly from people that are benefiting from the medicines that we make. And these patients that come in, they really do speak from the heart, and all employees have exposure to hear these folks speak to the impact on their lives and their family lives with regard to what we're doing. And it's that gratitude that they're filled with that they express to our employees in the everyday work that we're doing. That is really a form of reward, and inspiration, and recognition for our employees.

Nancy:

Another example of a ritual is bell-ringing ceremony, so when the FDA approves one of our medicines we gather people from all parts of our campus, and cafeterias, and in courtyards, and every employee brings their little bell with them, and in unison we ring these bells to signify yet another new medicine addressing patient needs. And so these are the ways that we come together, we celebrate successes, and we recognize that it's each person's contribution that really culminates in some of these successful moments for us when patients really recognize the impact that these medicines are having.

Chris:

And how many times do you have these patients in and there's not a dry eye in the house?

Nancy:

Oh, it happens all the time.

Chris:

Everyday, right?

Nancy:

I mean, have your Kleenex, have your tissue handy, for sure.

Chris:

Yeah. I can only imagine. I would not last.

Nancy:

It's incredible.

Ad:

This podcast is brought to you by Genentech, a biotechnology company dedicated to the rigorous pursuit of science and the discovery and development of breakthrough medicines for people with serious diseases. Recognized as one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For for more than two decades, Genentech cultivates an environment where scientific innovation thrives and where each person feels valued, included, and able to contribute their best for patients. Learn more at gene.com

Chris:

Wow. You've already mentioned DNA and how it's part of the conversation all the time at Genentech, but I'm trying to figure out how Genentech ties the need for diversity to its goals toward innovating.

Nancy:

Yeah, and I think this is where you need both parts of this equation. You need the D in diversity, and you need the I in inclusion, and it's particularly critical in our industry when you think about the experimentation, and being able to look at challenges and problems from all angles, and from all different kinds of lenses. So in our case, I think the diversity is absolutely essential, and our desire and focus on representing the talents that are available in the marketplace, and ultimately, with the goal to represent the patients that we serve in the marketplace.

Nancy:

And so bringing those different perspectives to bear in being able to formulate different hypotheses and run those experiments and carry that out, but you only get the value in that diversity if people truly feel like they're part of that equation, and that's where that inclusion piece comes into play. And it's the environment that we create in being able to allow people to do their best work, and so a couple examples in that realm. We've had a longstanding tradition of our Diversity Network Associations, or DNA groups. This is what most companies call their Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs.

Chris:

Right.

Nancy:

These DNA groups are not only providing a space where people can join different communities, and have a safe space, and one that they enjoy with their community, but it's one in which we're creating an environment where these folks can really be allies for each other. And we've had several different events over the last year where you see different groups working together, our African Americans in biotech with our G-Pride group, with our Vita group, and these folks really just coming together in a way in support of one another as allies for one another. And it is a catalyst for creating a greater sense of community across Genentech, and in an acknowledgement that we're in this together, we all have different perspectives, and different things to bring to this equation, but we're all kind of serving one mission. And how do we support each other in that?

Chris:

Can you think of an example of a recent patient who visited? Can you share that story that you might have heard?

Nancy:

Yeah.

Chris:

You don't have to name any names, but I'd love to know a little bit more about that.

Nancy:

Sure. One of the medicines that we've recently brought to market is a game-changer in treating hemophilia, and we had an African American gentleman come in as a patient, and it was incredible to hear him talk about not only how he was able to live a more full life as a result of this medicine and not having to worry about infusions, and how it's freed him to travel. But the fact that he was able to have a baby with his wife, and what an impact on his overall quality of life situation that has brought, and his story is not unique. I've heard other speakers, talk about the freedom that this medicine has given them, so when you think about it, it's not just treating the disease of these folks, but it's really the multiplier effect that it's having on their friends, their family, and the freedom to live a fuller life.

Chris:

And throughout the course of your career, what is the best advice you've ever received?

Nancy:

That's a great question. I've had the good fortune of really having a lot of mentors and sponsors in my career, but I'm going to give you a recent example, actually. I was at an event where one of our managers was speaking to some early-in-career candidates that we had brought in, and he was talking about risk-taking, and he used this analogy. I think it was his mom that told him this, that you need to go out on a limb, because that is where the fruit is, and I just love that phrase, because I think it captures the essence of risk-taking, putting yourself out there, because that is where the real reward can come into play.

Nancy:

I liken that to what we do as an organization, and the need to constantly take risks knowing that most of the medicines that we're in research and taking through the development process, most of those will fail. You know? 90% or so of those medicines will fail, but we have to keep going at it. An example of that is there's no cure for Alzheimer's yet, and we've had some recent failures in this realm. And yet we're putting ourselves out on that limb to keep going after it to learn from our failures and our mistakes so that we can keep at it, because we know there's a reward here that can be pretty substantial for patients if we can figure this out.

Chris:

Have you personally benefited from the work that Genentech is doing from the medical standpoint? Or do you have family members that have?

Nancy:

Yes. I know folks, when I'm out and about at conferences or networking events, who will come up and share with me their story, and I've had a couple of those incredible experiences where folks have said, "Genentech saved my life. I will share a personal story for me. Many years ago I was diagnosed with an early stage breast cancer, and I'm cancer-free today. I have a regimen of a hormone therapy. It's made by another company and another organization, but it makes me appreciate to an even higher degree the work that we do, and knowing that this broader ecosystem is so big in terms of folks that are really trying to help people live quality lives.

Chris:

I'm curious, the majority of your talent are highly educated people, so they can get snatched up by competitors. What are you doing to keep them? How are you keeping turnover low?

Nancy:

This is probably one of our biggest challenges. I mean, when our co-founders started Genentech almost 43 years ago, they really not only created a company, but Genentech is known as being the birthplace of biotech. And for many, many years we were the only game in town, and over time that has changed. And even in the last five years or so, it's been a perfect storm with the increase in venture capital spent, startups in the biotech and pharma industry, just a huge investment of folks. And I have to say, this ongoing focus in playing offense and trying to create an environment where people can do their best work, and really going back to the core, how do we nurture our culture of being patient-centered, people-focused, and science-driven? Those remain those big pillars for us.

Nancy:

But I have to say, my mindset has also shifted on this topic in the last year or so, and that is because a number of our folks who have maybe gone to some of these other biotech or bio-pharma organizations have really created a larger ecosystem. And we're all kind of in this for the right reasons in trying to impact patients' lives better. Sometimes those Genentech alumni come back to us, but more than just bringing their experience, their expertise, and their skills and capabilities to these other organizations.

Nancy:

Many times you hear people say, "We want to create the next Genentech," and I think it's fantastic, because some of these alumni that go to these other organizations are really bringing their experiences from Genentech as a great place to work, and they're creating other great places to work. So it really takes this to almost a multiplier effect of Great Place to Work For All. If the ecosystem can benefit from that, starting from the catalyst of what we've been able to create as the birthplace of biotech, I think is phenomenal.

Chris:

Going back to that retention question, you're seeing an increasing number of millennials who are working at Genentech as they are coming out of grad school, getting their doctorates, that sort of thing. What are you doing to train them and to keep them to stay?

Nancy:

Our demographic is a little bit different than what you might find at most kind of Silicon Valley companies. We have a large Gen-X and a large baby boomer population. To your point, as your millennial population grows, and Gen-Z is not too far behind them, one of the biggest benefits that millennials are seeking is development. And we invest heavily in not only development and supportive of individuals' direct roles, but also in helping them understand what are their career aspirations. So at our headquarters we have a career lab that people can leverage with independent career counselors to explore what are the things that they want to achieve in their career, what are their aspirations, and to help them chart a path to go achieve those aspirations.

Nancy:

We've recently contracted with an organization called BetterUp Coaching where people can leverage through virtual coaching assistants in their day-to-day roles. So when you think about this notion of what keeps people, if they feel like they're being invested in and that they can continue to learn and grow and develop, and that there's opportunities for them, that's a huge part of the retention equation.

Chris:

How is artificial intelligence affecting biotech these days? Specifically from the workplace experience.

Nancy:

Yes. Well, that is a huge question, and I think from a workplace experience perspective, we've looked at a lot of different organizations who promise that the delivery of artificial intelligence can help create greater employee experiences, or help in the productivity equation, or do a better job of screening candidates. And I have to say, today there's a lot more hype than reality. I think it is going to impact how we do our roles in the future, absolutely. I think with the notion of how do you leverage big data at scale, how do you inform through analytics, decisions that you're making to support your employee population.

Nancy:

But I have to say, today I think it's more about running those experiments and seeing what are the opportunity areas in this regard. I mean, we've run a couple of those experiments, particularly as we've looked at how we acquire talent, but I think that's what you have to do, is just be much more mindful of the promise versus the reality. And continue to experiment, learn, iterate, and go from there.

Chris:

Great. Thank you, Nancy. This has been fun.

Nancy:

Thanks, Chris.

Chris:

And thanks again for having such a great partner in Genentech.

Nancy:

Thanks a lot, Chris. It's been fun. Appreciate it.

Speakers

Christopher Tkaczyk

Chief Content Officer, Great Place to Work

Nancy Vitale

Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Genentech