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Why Purpose, Growth & Community Matter Most (with Jack Altman from Lattice)

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Jack Altman is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Lattice. Prior to launching Lattice, Jack was the VP of Business and Corporate Development at Teespring, an e-commerce platform. Jack was also an early-stage venture capital investor in companies like Opendoor, Flexport, and PlanGrid. Jack earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics from Princeton.

Audio Transcription:

Timothy Reitsma

When you sit down to work on your business strategy, are you only looking at and thinking about the product and the customer? What about your people? You put in the same effort and rigor into building out a people strategy. I would say that this is one area that is likely missing. Well, today I had a great conversation with Jack Altman, CEO, and co-founder of Lattice, a company focused on turning employees into high performers, managers, into leaders, and companies into the best places to work. Stay tuned because you’ll gain a deeper understanding of why we need to focus on purpose, growth, and community. 

Timothy Reitsma

Thanks for tuning in. I’m Timothy Reitsma, the resident host of People Managing People. Welcome to the podcast where people managing people and we want to lead and manage better. We’re owners, founders, entrepreneurs. We’re middle managers. We’re team leaders. We’re managing people. And yes, we do human resources, but we’re not HR, at least not in the traditional sense. 

Timothy Reitsma

We’re on a mission to help people lead and manage their teams and organizations more effectively. So if you want to lead and manage better. If you want to become a better organizational leader and a more effective people manager, then join us.

Keep listening to the podcast to find the tips, tricks, and tools you need to recruit, retain, manage, and lead your people and organization more effectively. And while listening to the show, please subscribe and join our mailing list on peoplemanagingpeople.com to stay up to date with all that’s going on. Welcome, Jack, to the People Managing People podcast. 

Timothy Reitsma

It’s such a pleasure to have you on as a guest today. 

Timothy Reitsma

And but before we get into it, just tell us a little bit about yourself and a little bit about Lattice. 

Jack Altman

Sure. Yeah. Thanks a ton for having me excited to have this conversation. Lattice is a people management platform that we started in 2015. I and my co-founder had worked together at a company before that grew super fast and the headcount grew really quickly. The revenue grew really quickly.

But what we noticed as we crossed 100, 150 employees was that because we didn’t intentionally invest in maintaining a certain culture and making sure that employees had great career paths, that they knew how their work impacted the overall company goals, that they were getting feedback that they had great management because of that. Over time, the culture got really tricky and ultimately hold us back from reach, our full potential as a company and as individuals.

And so we wanted to build something that could help other companies work through these challenges. And that was what started off Lattice. And what began as a goal-setting tool evolved into a goal setting and one on one’s tool. And then we added performance reviews in our right around the end of the first year of running the business, and things started taking off from there.

And I think what we tapped into was this important notion that performance management should be about the employee, not about the company. It needs to be about developing people, about helping them grow, about helping them succeed in, and through investing in the employee. You will get a great business, not by extracting value and by seeing them as a resource to be managed and have their value extracted.

But by using all of these HR processes, flipping them on their head and saying, how can we use these to support employees? That’s what’s going to make companies successful. And around 2000, 16, that was when the industry really started changing in this direction. And that was our beginning. 

Timothy Reitsma

Wow, that’s. So it’s 20, 20 now, and I was just reading that, that you had some exciting news earlier this summer where you closed another round of financing and another round of funding. And so congratulations on that. 

Jack Altman

Thank you. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah. And so I like what you said about performance management. And it’s not about the company. It’s about the employee. And I know we’re going to talk about the topic of people’s strategy as the new business strategy. So. So walk me through that. Walk me through how it’s about how we need to shift from being about the company to bring about our people. 

Jack Altman

So I think there’s, there’s the underlying component, which is that all companies, in my view, are better off by investing in people. And this is something that no matter your particular company strategy, no matter your industry. I believe all companies are better off when they see the success and happiness and engagement in all of this when they see those things in their employees.

As one of their if not their most important job, those businesses thrive. A great example of this season is waiting, let’s go way outside of tech. Let’s take Trader Joe’s. You go into Trader Joe’s and everybody who works there is super friendly, super caring. We’ve had some Trader Joe’s interviews on the latest blog, and that’s deep in the culture.

They work really hard to make sure that they treat employees really well and as a result, they get better experiences for customers. And as a result, they do better as a business. And the flywheel continues. I think you see that all around, all around industries. And it’s not just tech. This is a goal. That’s the first piece is a core belief that investing in people leads to better companies and then other people’s strategy piece.

That’s where nuance and difference come in. So not all companies should have the same people strategy. And when I say people strategy, I mean that tactical directional ways that we are investing in people that we’re looking to hire, attract, retain, develop our people, and that can matter based on our business. So examples of different people strategies would be in 2020. Many of us are considering it.

Do we want to plan to go remote forever? Or do we want to stay local forever? There’s no one correct decision for that. But it requires a real depth of thought to look at drone business. Look at your market for talent. Look at what you’re trying to provide for customers and make those considerations on your own. So people’s strategy isn’t about doing things a certain way. It’s about being really intentional, about what your business needs are and how to match your people’s practices towards it. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah, that’s passive because, you know, the organization I’m involved in, we’re going through this. The topic of a business strategy right now and often a business strategy just looks at external, not internal, and not internal as how we’re going to be running this company from a people perspective.

Are we going to be remote? Are we going to be a hybrid or are we going? We go back to an office and it’s more than just, hey, we have a tuition allowance. So that’s our development of people. And so how do we move past that? Because so many job postings that I’ve read and I’m reading is. So we’ve got great perks for our people. So we offer flexible environments and a tuition allowance. And so so how do we go beyond that? 

Jack Altman

I believe what’s going to happen over time is that the market will do its thing and will make the companies that invest at a level deeper than perks. Those are only the companies that win over time. I really believe that the companies that invest in the core pillars of successful employee experience are going to be the companies that win.

And in my mind, the tillers are growth, purpose, and community and growth are tapping into this basic need that all humans have to make progress, to have long arcs of our life, have stories to them and growth and development. I think that is fundamental to being. Human purpose is about knowing that what we’re doing each day contributes to something that matters to the world, that there’s a reason behind the work that we’re doing that we aren’t just spinning our wheels for the sake of it, but that we’re making the world a better place, that we’re having an impact, that we care about, that we’re doing something that’s personally meaningful to us. But being able to give your employees a sense of purpose is really important. And then finally, it’s community. I think that people are naturally social creatures, which is one of the reasons why I don’t think remote is for everyone.

But I think that the community is one of the greatest joys that we can get from the workplace. And it’s one of the greatest sources of meaningful work. And so I think companies need to intentionally provide a community for people. And the ones that do intention provide a community for people are gonna have happier employees who stay longer and are more productive. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah, that’s fantastic growth purpose community, and I’m curious if you have any examples, just even at Lattice about how these three country pillars show up. 

Jack Altman

So on growth. One thing that we’re really excited about is we’re watching our third product category shortly, and it’s all around the concept of how can we give our customers tools to manage and support employee growth. So we really believe that companies who put their employee’s growth as a central pillar of the way that they manage them at the front and center, those companies are going to thrive.

But it’s really difficult to do it in practice. When you’re small, you can often naturally have opportunities for growth. Rise up. New teams are being formed, and there’s you’re hiring lots of people. And so people can have opportunities for management roles or to do a different type of engineering work or customer work.

When you get larger, when you go to a certain scale, it’s much easier for people to get lost in the shuffle. And so companies that pass a certain size need to really start investing intentionally. So we’re really excited to provide that to customer service systemically on the purpose side. What’s funny about that is we actually started with that as the primary driver for why we want to start let us in. It didn’t actually result in our most important product.

But one thing that we noticed my co-founder and I met at our last company was. We didn’t always know what the company’s most important priorities were. And as a result, we didn’t know how our own work mattered. And so we had this conception that if a company could really clearly articulate its own top company-level goals and then connect those down to the team goals and the individual goals, that as an individual contributor, I would be able to see my work does acts that contribute to why. And as a result, the company goals Z will be accomplished.

There’s this story that I think you on, Musk told, or maybe somebody else was telling it about Space X, where they were walking around on the factory floor, and somebody asked somebody, What were you doing? What are you working on? And they basically very quickly connected it all and said, I’m working on this Kanwal that’s going to go on the side of the spaceship.

That’s going to allow for it to get through the atmosphere in this way. And it’s going to weigh this much that we can come back. And I’m doing this because we need to get to Mars. And this is how we’re going to do it. And so that connection of purpose to yes, I might be working on a relatively small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s really important.

And it’s serving this higher purpose in their case of taking humanity to Mars. And by knowing that I’m going to feel more motivated because I know my purpose. And so we want to strive with ourselves to build that for people in Lantis, but also to build products and help people do it. And then on community and relationships that work, I really believe that feedback and honesty and openness and clarity.

Those are the types of things that build for high trust, high meaning relationships at work. And naturally, our products and feedback and reviews and engagement surveys are all about that. So that’s what we tried to have. Our products reflect those things that we believe are the deeper sources of meaning at work, not things like ping pong tables and snacks and all of that. 

Timothy Reitsma

Just to the surface elements in the office of, like you said, ping pong tables. But with people now working from home, it’s that they don’t have access to that ping pong table anymore. So it didn’t actually serve the purpose that you wanted it to end. Totally. And so I’m curious, let us know when we’re thinking about people and people strategy. Is your team back in the office? Are they fully remote right now? And what’s your plan? 

Jack Altman

We are fully remote right now. And that is out of safety reasons, of course. And I think that it would be it’s only appropriate right now. We don’t see a safe way to be back in the office. What we are going to embrace for the future is a this is some form of hybrid work where we acknowledge that different people have different interests, different teams have different working styles.

And I think a lot of us have learned in 2020 that maybe our tastes and preferences are a little bit different than we thought they were before we got the chance to see what working from home is like. For me personally, I really miss the office, but at the same time, I’ve learned that I have some really productive days when I’m not in the office when I’m working at home because I don’t get distracted and interrupted.

You don’t have a long commute. I can do some laundry in the middle of the day. So I think a lot of us are still learning our boundaries. I think the key for us is going to be to adapt to a more flexible work style in the future. But we are planning to still have an in-person office in addition to supporting our boat. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah. And as you think about the next year and you think about your business strategy for the next year, how much of the business strategy is really focused just on people, or do you start with your people strategy before you even look at your business strategy? 

Jack Altman

That’s a great question. I think you start with the business strategy and your people strategy is probably the most important effort in support of that. So I think that you start with a mission or with a goal or a purpose as a business. So, you know, for example, Amazon. Amazon’s goal there. Their mission is to be the most customer-centric company on Earth. And they’re really clear about that.

And that goes well beyond A.W.S or retail or anything. They only the most customer-centric company in the world. And then from there, they say, OK, what does that mean for our people strategy? What type of people do we need to hire? What does that mean for the types of roles that we need? What does this mean for our compensation practices? What does this mean for our cultural values? So I think you start with the company mission and purpose and vision and then people strategy is going to be the most important ingredient that helps you accomplish that mission. 

Timothy Reitsma

And what is so we kind of talked about a couple of elements of that people strategy? And so, again, is it you know, we talked about this more than just a tuition allowance. So is it just, you know, a complex Excel file or templates that you’d need to get filled out in order to be able to see, you know, come up with your people strategy? Do you need to do complex skills matrix or, you know, nine-box assessments or what? What goes into it? 

Jack Altman

A lot goes into it. And that’s a great question to get tactical about it because I think what you realize when you start to answer that question is it’s a big job. And it is if we were to think about what’s our sales, what’s our go-to-market strategy for sales and marketing, or what’s our product strategy? You wouldn’t say, oh, our product strategy. We’re going to answer that in a one page Google doc.

We’re that that’s going to be complex. We’re gonna have just actives and leaders and we’re gonna have tons of employees and we’re gonna spend off sites thinking about this. And there are lots of details and people strategy is deserving of that same sort of rigor. And when you think about all of the elements of it, you start at the very highest level. What are our values? What are the things that we care about that we won’t waver on?

So, you know, you set up the things at the company values level that is going to be true no matter what. That should be true across departments, that these are the things that we will prioritize and reward and fundamental. And doing that process well takes a long time. At Lattice, we did that process once very early on and we didn’t get a great result. We ended up with a bunch of very sort of bland corporate words, things like integrity and acting like an owner.

And then we stepped back, tried it again the next year, and we ran a better process that was led by our SEO, where we really did it intensively and we really thought more critically about what makes for good values. What does it take to do this correctly? And we came up with much more resonant values. Don’t go through them all. But an example is a ship itself, which guides that people should care about the company first.

And then there are teammates seconds and then their shelves last. And those sorts of things guide how we should act in different situations or another. One of our values is clear eyes, which is that we sort of look at each problem from a sort of the first principle, eyes wide open, see the world as it is a type of view. So those kinds of values and getting those values to really match what you want.

That’s the first step to a people strategy is what types of people do we care about, what values of this people matter most? And yes, of course, you mentioned things like competency and skills. There are questions like compensation. There are questions like what are the management practices that we’re going to hold near and dear? How are we going to do performance management?

What are tactics for when we need to make terminations? And, you know, is this Netflix where we reward sort of mediocre performance with generous compensation? Or is this most company where only if someone really isn’t meeting the needs of the job or they are they let go? So there’s a ton of questions, but going back to the original point, recognizing it and honoring it as something that is as multifaceted and complex as go to market strategy and product strategy, then equips companies with the right mentality to say, okay, we need to invest in this with real teams, real sophistication, real effort if we want to get a great result. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah, I appreciate that, because I’ve been part of organizations where people’s strategy is, hey, we were going to grow in ours. In a certain market. So just go find more people. And all sudden you have a team of people who aren’t getting along, aren’t focused on a purpose, not building community, and do not have any sort of growth mindset.

And so this is, I think, where it’s it’s key. And not just from a people and culture perspective or an HR perspective, but the entire executive team is on board with creating that people strategy. And, you know, have you seen how do you deal than deal with, you know, maybe an executive team or somebody on the team who’s just not bought into it into this approach? 

Jack Altman

Well, I think one of the key tenants of the highly functioning team, executive or otherwise, is the ability to disagree and comment. And so I think that up until a decision is made, a healthy team dynamic will debate and be honest and confront. You know, there’s also an opposite tendency that sometimes happens on teams where because they so conflict diverse and they can’t deal with interpersonal tension.

People will disagree with decisions before they’ve been made and they’ll have opposing viewpoints, but they won’t voice them. And so that there’s not a chance to earn that commitment, to have those disagreements, to see other points of view. But I think the key is to foster a culture where people are able and safe to disagree.

really, really, really meaningfully and fundamentally disagree and debate while the decision is coming together. And then once that decision is made to say, you know what? We’re one team. It’s important that as a leadership team, the company sees a unified front from us. I’ve heard my colleagues I gonna believe in the wisdom of the group.

And I’m gonna go with what we’re doing and I’m gonna put all my weight behind it as though I supported it from the beginning. And I think that ability is one of the defining characteristics of an effective team. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah, it’s as you’re speaking, it really just reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Patrick Lynch, Tony. And he often talks about, you know, the foundation for a team is trust. And so if you don’t have trust, it’s hard to engage in healthy conflict. And he talks it tells a lot of stories about conflict in his team and’s.

But it’s all comes from a place of deep care and deep trust. And so regardless if it’s a business strategy or people’s strategy, it’s when you’re going onto an offsite or bringing other people into the conversation, it’s just having that level of trust. 

Jack Altman

Totally. 

Timothy Reitsma

And so I kind of want to switch gears a little bit because you said something earlier that I’m kind of really curious about, and that’s about community. And, you know, as part of we’re thinking about people’s strategy. You’re thinking about business strategy.

We’re thinking about how is the future of work going to look building a community with a semi dispersed or fully dispersed team? I’ve been reading a lot about that. It’s it’s difficult. And though the one thing that keeps coming up as a theme is communication. We need to communicate. And so, Lattice, how are you building community within your team? 

Jack Altman

It’s a great question. And, I do agree with you. But I think it’s harder. I think a lot of the community that we have today is still a result of many of the connections that were built in person back in the office and before March. And so I do think that relationships, particularly new relationships, form and maintain more strongly when you do get chances for those in-person interactions. I think it can be done over Zoom.

I just think it takes a lot more intentionality and efforts to create the types of formats where an actual friendship, that a caring relationship is formed, where I’m invested in this person’s success right I feel like I really know them on a personal level where we have some shared experiences, all of the things that go into the formation of a typical human relationship.

Do you have to think about how am I going to create those in a remote context? And it also brings up a broader question of is it doable and how important is it really? There are many companies that have been all remote for a long time and very successful companies that come to mind or WordPress and get lab and web flow. 

Jack Altman

There’s a lot of really great companies that have been remote. As the sort of primary motive worked well before this all happened, and people in those contexts often will say that they are able to build great relationships. 

Jack Altman

But more importantly, maybe as they’re able to have a certain work-life balance, that it’s harder to get when you’re commuting every day. And, you know, I’ve got a seven-month-old baby now. And one of the great things this year is that I get to spend so much more time with him than I would have otherwise. So I do think that the purpose and relationship question goes a little bit broader than work.

And so there is this meta question of even if I can’t get the same strength of relationship at work, many people are willing to make that trade. I think a difference between all of us today and those employees who have worked at these remote cumins for a long time is this isn’t a conscious choice for most of us.

This is necessary that we didn’t select verses I think for many employees, remote, as you know, it’s preferable to them. So all of that said, I think the ways that you can sort of creating and foster good relationships remotely are more intentional opportunities for communication that isn’t just transactional.

So things we try to do, our coffee chats, we try to do game nights where we’ll get people together for two to play games online, of course, just kind of creating environments where people can get to know one another, not just, you know, sort of transacting work. I think that’s really important. So so there’s a lot like that there are team-building exercises, but it’s tricky. No doubt about it. It’s tricky. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah, it’s through this lockdown. I ended up starting a new role. And yesterday was the first time I met my new leader, my new boss in person. And I’ve been at this position for almost two months. And so actually, you know, having a distant visit and connection with one new leader was pretty phenomenal, actually. Like, you know, seeing somebody on your computer screen through Zoom or whatever video conferencing you have versus seeing somebody in person is just something about that human element that that is.

Yeah, I feel that. And I’m hearing that some people are missing. But yeah, this as we think about people’s strategy, it’s like what’s it going to look like? You know, what are the needs of even in our team. So as a company, what our needs. But also, you know, I’ve been interviewing people within the organization I’m part of and asking how are you doing? What are your needs going to look like in the future? And as you said, you’ve got a young one at home.

I’d be glad to be home with you. That person is with your child is phenomenal. Right. You wouldn’t necessarily be able to do that. So. So I think that’s also important. But, you know, I’m also curious, like, OK, so we’ve talked about the people strategy and some of the great elements that go into it. And so where do we start? So if a company has determined their values, they understand where they’re going, they’ve got their purpose. What’s Next which we do? 

Jack Altman

Well, I think that then the main things to do at a zoomed out, what, one level below that do we have the systems in place to attract, hire, develop? 

Jack Altman

Retain the type of talent that we set out to do so, you know, with our mission and our vision and our values. 

Jack Altman

We’ve hopefully described what matters most to us. And now we need to build the systems and processes that are going to allow us to go out and bring those people into the company, as well as the systems that are going to make those people successful once they work at the company and make them help, give them ways to grow and develop and want to stay and want to recruit their own friends.

That’s what comes next. At the highest Next level. And so you’ll see kind of two functions inside a people team. You’ll see a recruiting team and you’ll see a people Ops team. And so each of those will then be broken down into its constituent parts in recruiting. We will have sourcing and hiring and we’ll have strategic conversations and we’ll have cross-functional partnerships that we have relationships with managers in the ways that we need.

And there’s all that sort of work. And then on the people operations side, we’re gonna have lots of work issues there that matter, too. So how are we going to make Check and make sure that our employees are engaged and happy? How are we going to do performance management, how we’re going to manage compensation? How are we going to onboard new employees that we have all these sorts of questions? And then you keep drilling down from there. So basically, you’re gonna.

You can visualize like a pyramid with mission vision values the top and then maybe Next comes talent acquisition and then Next come in on one side, as well as talent retention and motivation and success. And you break down from there and you keep atomizing it until you’ve got down to the actual workstreams. And then, you know, hopefully, you’ve got strong leadership who can keep all of those disparate activities within your people strategy and your people team can keep those coordinated as well as communicate effectively with the rest of your organization so that people know what’s coming and they know what they can expect from the people team and how they can support and fit in and what they can be expected to see. 

Timothy Reitsma

That’s that’s great. It’s more than just, you know, finding a talent that fits a certain skill set. It’s finding somebody who is aligned with the values and the culture, but also internally ensuring that you have systems set up to support the team like you talked about growth and having the tools in place to grow our people. And it’s not just, you know, managing a person. It’s leading them in a way for them to succeed. And so. 

Jack Altman

Definitely so. Yeah. And I think that’s the key. I think a great manager is their job is not to simply, like, extract value. It’s to ensure that that employee is being successful, knowing that if you do that and you know that success means different things to different people. So the first thing any manager should do is know their employee’s career aspirations and know their goals and know what makes them fulfilled and what makes for a happy workday and a happy work year and all of those things.

And you start from that foundation and then you strive to meet that employee successful. And if you’ve done your job right, that employee success will be aligned with the company’s needs and it’ll sort of being in harmony. And I think that’s what great management looks like. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah. And that just feeds right into what we’re talking about earlier about, you know, having it’s not a separation of the, you know, maybe the traditional or kind of the old way of thinking of there’s work and then there’s life with our teams being dispersed, work more and more common, bringing those to those two items together, those two elements together.

And so I like that you’re kind of digging into the person of that person. Do you know what gets you excited? What are your personal goals? Where do you want to be? And as a manager and an organization needs to be there to support that individual to to to succeed. 

Jack Altman

That’s right. And I think even before remote work, which is certainly accelerating, but I think we were already starting to see work and the rest of our lives bleed together more than other times in history. And I think one possible explanation for that is the rise of technology and iPhones. And we’ve all got the Internet in our pocket now.

And so we’re reachable anytime. And we’ve got Slack at 9:00 p.m. and there are all sorts of ways in which, yeah, technology has just crept into our lives and brought work, you know, a little bit into every hour of the day, another may be more like broader trend. 

Jack Altman

And this is a bit of postulation. But I do also think that particularly in major cities in the US, we’ve seen the decline of some communities that have existed historically. Things like religion, for example, where the decline of those communities is. For many people working in, say, San Francisco or New York, or what have you. I think that and of course, many other places, I think that has also led to a gap for many people where they crave that community one way or another. And work is the most reasonable sort of filler of that gap.

And so people are looking for their colleagues to also be their friends and their community. And so in that type of world, it’s not just that companies are expecting more from employees, but rather that employees are expecting more for them from their companies and wanting their company not just to be their place in employment, but a place of the real purpose in their life. And I think that has gotten tangled up, too. 

Timothy Reitsma

Yeah, I think we could have a whole other podcast just on that topic of community and just that real blend of life and how organizations or rather people in organizations look to their colleagues to two for two to become friends or to drive big and deep friendships. And so, yeah, that’s it’s a fascinating conversation for sure. And so, yeah, as as we look to wrap up, Jack, I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your insights at Lattice and as well as why it’s important to focus on a people strategy. 

Timothy Reitsma

I’m going to take this and there’s some work that we need to be doing at our organization to think about what is our business strategy and how do we then come up with a people strategy to support the business and grow the business. So thanks again for coming on and have a great rest of your day. 

Jack Altman

My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

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