Workplace

'People in a Zoom world work harder.' Here's how HR can help.

Lattice CEO Jack Altman on the company’s $175 million funding round and the HR software platform’s product roadmap.

​Lattice CEO Jack Altman

Lattice’s success is a reflection of the VC world’s massive interest in the people-management space.

Photo: Lattice

HR tools are having a moment. Last month, Lattice, an HR software platform for tasks like performance reviews and goal-setting, announced a $175 million series F funding round, putting its valuation at $3 billion.

Lattice’s success is somewhat a reflection of the VC world’s massive interest in the people-management space: Investors and companies are eager to find new tools to help people do their jobs better and manage their relationships at work. Those tasks are more important and daunting than ever before, as the way we work has been fundamentally altered.

I spoke to Jack Altman, the company’s co-founder and CEO, about what’s next for the company and the industry, as well as the future of HR tools in general.

Here are excerpts of our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

What do you think is behind the success of HR software startups right now?

The way that companies have to treat employees has really changed. And I think that has led to the birth of a lot of different processes that require new tools, new thinking and new best practices. You can see that in the way that performance reviews are conducted, the existence of things like surveys, the way that people think about compensation, the way people think about promotions and career development, the way companies need to invest in onboarding, development and growth. That backdrop has led to companies needing to retrofit their processes for a much more employee-centric world. And that has created opportunity for us.

Can you talk about some features on the product roadmap that you're excited about that you haven't launched yet?

Here are two we're really excited about. As the backdrop, we currently have three product areas: performance management, which is where we started; employee engagement, which is surveys; and Grow, which is career development, basically job architectures, levels and ladders for people to understand how their careers are progressing. We have two more [product areas] that are in the works. One is a dedicated goal and OKR platform to set, track, align and plan goals. We've always had a product for that, but now we're building that out into a much more fully fleshed-out product. And the other is compensation management, which will launch this summer, which we're passionate about.

What's an example of a big gap in what people want from their compensation management system and what's currently available?

Oh, man, there's a lot. Everything. There's pay equity analysis and understanding what's fair and what's the market. And there's benchmark data, which there are versions of, but there's nothing that's great and in real time and all of that.

There's these moments when companies go through and review everybody's compensation at the same time. And they might do that once or twice a year. And it's chaos for HR teams to manage: spreadsheets everywhere, stuff out of date, manager conversations and approval chains. It's a real headache.

There’s also how people can understand what their own comp and equity are. Equity compensation has such a long way to go. Where is it today, what will it be like in the future and how are employees able to understand what their risks are? What's the real value? What does the strike price mean? What does this mean for my taxes? How does this unlock? What happens if I leave the company? I think nearly every aspect of compensation can be improved.

I'm curious about AI-based automation: Is that currently part of Lattice? Is it going to be, in the future?

It's not yet, but I do think there's a big role for it. AI is an inevitability. The thing that scares me would be if we got to a place where performance reviews, self-reflections and feedback were all done by a robot. I wouldn't like that. It's not just about the feedback itself, it's about the process of thinking, “What has this person done well in the last year, and how can I best influence the way that they're thinking to help them grow and succeed?” And I think the process of thinking about that stuff is really valuable. A lot of people, myself included, sometimes find doing things like performance reviews draining … but so is exercise, so is eating vegetables, and the process of these things is really important.

What do you think has changed the most in the last year or so when it comes to what employers and employees are expecting from their people management systems?

So, the last year has been wild for this. You don't have in-office drop-bys, you don't swing by someone's desk anymore. You can't have an impromptu meeting, you don't overhear people in the office. So people are going to demand more from their tools, because people still need community and connection, and they need to understand that they’ve got their manager’s ear when they want it. I think that’s going to put more pressure on software systems to stand in for the water cooler and the three-hour, in-person meeting and all the rest of it.

How often are you expecting or wanting people to check in with Lattice? Daily, weekly, monthly or just when they're doing their performance reviews once a year?

If I'm a manager, one of the things that's important is that I give recognition and feedback. And I can't do that as easily in a remote context. And I can't just walk by and say, “Great job.” In lieu of that, it’s important to have a system that captures those things for me. So it's not that I'm going to do it all day, every day. But there's a shift from verbal to written, and that gets captured in a place like Lattice.

Retention and recruitment are the big things that everyone's worried about right now. What do you think are the top three or so things that companies can do to recruit and retain the best talent at this moment, when everything's so competitive?

I believe that the way to attract and retain is to give lots of agency, trust and autonomy to people. And I think that is a shift from the historical standards. Some companies do have a mindset more of command and control, assign and push. I'm a much bigger believer in companies that have a really clear and purposeful mission and have a great system of values that employees can gravitate towards.

Does that mean more asynchronous work? Does that mean letting employees work when they want to? What are some big examples of what you’re talking about?

It means letting people manage their own time and schedules. Don't tell them exactly what hours they need to work beyond some reasonable amount of coordination across teams. Vacation policies also fit into that same idea. I think giving people general goals rather than explicit, detailed directions fits into this mentality. Even better, letting people pick their own goals when they've got the context and are in a position to do that.

The other thing that is on everyone's mind is burnout. How do you reckon with this at Lattice, and what are you doing to either proactively or retroactively deal with it?

It's really hard. People in a Zoom world work harder. There was a lot of fear that people were going to slack off. And it's like, no, they just work. It's not healthy. We've tried all sorts of stuff. We've done mental health days where we basically would give people days off randomly and periodically to just unplug and have a day to relax. And we encourage managers to be thoughtful about these things and to make sure that they're checking in with people and that for people who over-work one day, the next day we go easy. We try not to let stuff drift into the nights and weekends that much. We have a very long-term mentality on that kind of stuff. Another one is just making sure that work volume doesn't get out of hand.

The other thing I think is also really big is checking in with people to make sure that they like their work. Another big source of burnout is when people just don't like what they're doing. Working 30 hours a week on something you hate will burn you out much faster than working 60 hours a week. Managers need to be thoughtful about checking in with people and saying, “Hey, is your work bringing you joy? Are you still motivated and inspired by what you're doing?” You can easily burn somebody out even if you say, “Hey, sign off every day at four.”

Lastly, let’s talk funding. What are you going to do with $175 million?

We're just gonna, you know, buy bitcoin [laughs].

We're going to use it to hire and grow the team. We're a software company. All our costs are people costs, more or less. So this [will go toward] funding that. It lets us continue growing the team, investing in product, hiring around the world, building our go-to-market teams and all the infrastructure that we need to keep scaling the company.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

In any case, businesses aren’t waiting for the official pronouncement. They’re already bracing for impact as U.S. inflation and interest rates soar. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 — the highest increase since November 1981 — and the Federal Reserve is targeting an interest rate of 3% by the end of this year.

Keep Reading Show less
Nancy Sansom

Nancy Sansom is the Chief Marketing Officer for Versapay, the leader in Collaborative AR. In this role, she leads marketing, demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, events, brand, content marketing and communications. She has more than 20 years of experience running successful product and marketing organizations in high-growth software companies focused on HCM and financial technology. Prior to joining Versapay, Nancy served on the senior leadership teams at PlanSource, Benefitfocus and PeopleMatter.

Policy

SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Enterprise

These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

But while it was one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, blockchain also has been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Fintech

Kraken's CEO got tired of being in finance

Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories
Bulletins