On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Cara from Lattice about New York Times’ recent article about productivity tracking. We’re going to dissect what they got right and what they got wrong.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 26 minutes
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Cara Brennan Allamano
Cara has deep experience scaling HR operations, recruiting, and learning & development at fast-moving, global companies. Prior to joining Lattice as Chief People officer, she was SVP of People at both Udemy (UDMY) and Planet Labs (PL) and previously served in HR leadership roles at Pinterest (PIN), Efficient Frontier - now Adobe, Young and Rubicam, and Knight Ridder, among others. Cara is also co-founder of PeopleTech Partners, a group of HR leaders working to bring new HR/recruiting technologies to market. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Kentucky, holds a master's degree from the University of San Francisco, completed graduate studies at Stanford University and is finishing her Master's degree in Leadership and Ethics at the University of Chicago.Follow
Announcer: 00:00 This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Cara on from Lattice and we’re going to be talking about productivity tracking. And in particular, we’re going to be talking about what the New York Times recently, they had an article about productivity tracking, and we’re going to be talking about what they got right and what they got wrong in their article. And so we’re going to do some analysis of their work, which is always fun. Cara, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Lattice?
Cara Brennan Al…: 01:04 Yeah. Happy to. I’m Cara Brennan Allamano, I’m the chief people officer at Lattice, and we are a high growth startup that is on a mission to make work meaningful. So we provide a full suite of tools that allow for employee engagement, performance management, career development, and compensation planning. And we are in more than 4,500 companies across the US and AMIA and are growing pretty quickly, one of the fastest growing software platforms in Silicon Valley, these days.
William Tincup: 01:41 A unicorn of sorts.
Cara Brennan Al…: 01:43 A unicorn.
William Tincup: 01:43 A unicorn.
Cara Brennan Al…: 01:43 And possibly, depending on who you talk to, a double or triple unicorn.
William Tincup: 01:47 That’s right. Well, I know Jack well enough to email him. Y’all have done wonderful work for a long time so-
Cara Brennan Al…: 01:55 Thank you.
William Tincup: 01:55 So congratulations, just a great company and you’re doing good work for people. So productivity tracking, first of all, the idea of productivity tracking is interesting in and of itself, so we probably could talk for an hour just about that.
Cara Brennan Al…: 02:13 For sure.
William Tincup: 02:13 But let’s kind of go back to the article, what the New York Times, as they approach things, because when a New York Times writer writes about something in our space or HR career, et cetera, they don’t have the depth of experience that like you would. And years ago they did this bid on Amazon and the thing was, Amazon’s culture is bad, and I’m like, no, Amazon’s culture is for people that like to work in that environment, meaning-
Cara Brennan Al…: 02:49 Right, it’s all about aligning with what your strategic comparatives are and as long as you’re not lying to people about what it’s like to work there-
William Tincup: 02:59 That’s right.
Cara Brennan Al…: 03:00 People can choose to opt in.
William Tincup: 03:02 That’s it. It’s an investment. It’s more like Wall Street. There is no work-life balance, you’re going to work 90 hours and it’s meritocracy. And if you don’t like that, don’t come. So I’ve actually been critical of the New York Times in that article because it’s like, there isn’t a bad… I mean, outside of toxic and illegal and okay, that’s stating covered, but the way they positioned Amazon was like, well, that’s a bit unfair. So I’ve been critical. Let’s talk about this particular article and productivity tracking, so take us into the article as you read it.
Cara Brennan Al…: 03:40 Well, the fundamental bottom line was that there’s a number of new tools that are entering the market that are tech tools that are tracking people’s time and that includes looking into your home and looking at you when you’re sitting at your desk and determining, taking pictures every 10 minutes and seeing if you are in fact at your desk. There are tools that track your activity on keyboards. There are tools that track inputs and outputs via a software layer that’s on top of your emails and your slack and the different integrations that you have at your work. So, while tracking productivity is nothing new in work, and I think you can definitely go back to the turn of the century and the turn of the 20th century and the turn of the 19th century and the industrial revolution and understand that there was a lot of effort around measuring performance as productivity, it entering into a technology space where I think two things are happening.
04:45 One is people are coming in and it’s not visible to them. They may not know, or it feels different when you’re just going through your emails and not having someone watching you and tracking you physically. It feels like a secret layer behind the scenes. Even if a company says, “This is what we’re doing.” So I think that’s number one. And I think the second thing is, I think there’s an existential fear about just the power of technology and this is the beginning, what is the end or where are we headed with things like AI and machine learning in terms of the ability to measure and track? So the article was asking questions about that, was showing us profiles. And what was interesting is they did share employees that were on both sides. Employees that were feeling really unnerved by the tracking and the level of monitoring from a productivity standpoint and then others that said, “Hey, I’m doing a good job. I see this as recognition of my work. Measure me. See what I can do.”
William Tincup: 05:49 It’s interesting because it’s kind of like performance management on some level, if the performance management application makes you better as an employee, gives you in some insight that you didn’t have to yourself or of yourself, then that’s wonderful. But if it’s just a tool to basically for the company to lord over you, then it’s not cool, and it never has been. But I think on some level, I would be really interested to dig into the employees that are okay with it. Are those high performers?
Cara Brennan Al…: 06:29 Yeah, I think that’s a good question. I would take it almost a step back and look at it as, what are we measuring? That’s the bigger question to me. And I get concerned with a headline like this. The first question I have is, is this the primary means of assessment? Is this a primary means of performance management? Because if that’s the case, if performance management means that you’re taking pictures of somebody, making sure they’re sitting at their desk, I don’t see that as a long term solution and I don’t see that aligned with business success. 60% of US workers are knowledge workers and we all know that knowledge workers, to really provide value to an organization, that’s about that moment of inspiration, those moments of insight, that extra effort that somebody can put in outside of a nine to five. That’s about the relationships they’re building with their customers and their clients and those are things that can’t be measured by literally time and seat time in the desk.
07:41 So my concern with putting a highlight on a productivity measurement is that it appears to some that that might be the most important thing. And to me, that should be part of a conversation about performance that’s much broader and deeper than that and that’s when you get to the engagement conversation. And engagement is something where it’s someone who’s coming in, who’s a high performer or wants to be a high performer, and you’re helping them get better and you’re helping them self engage and understand more about themselves and go on that journey as an employee to understand how you can partner better with them. And yes, productivity and output will be a really… You will see that increase. You will see that come through, but that’s not the whole story. So as with anything, I think relying on measures like this and really trying to dictate how people are working, there’s risk there, there’s real risk there.
William Tincup: 08:45 It’s interesting. When a friend of mine, I did this Joe Rogan style video podcast, and one of the things that he said is he goes, “William, you just got to watch it.” This was a couple months ago. There’s going to be a big huge push by these technology companies to return to work. I’m like, “Nah, man, you know what? No, that’s not going to happen. I mean, we’ve figured it out. If there is a silver lining of COVID, it’s for knowledge workers. We figure out you don’t have to be, you can’t [inaudible 00:09:18] that flexibility. If you want to go to the office, great. But if you want to work from home, yeah.”
09:23 And he was like, “No,” he was adamant. He was like, “No. They have these huge facilities they’re paying a ton of money for, they want people in there, and they want to lord over them. And they wanted to go back to the foosball tables and all that other stuff because it was a way to bring people in and then it was a way to then track and monitor and et cetera.” I didn’t believe him, but it’s proven. I mean, every day we see a new article about this return to the office.
Cara Brennan Al…: 09:55 Well, you know what? I would challenge you on that. I think these things make good headlines and I definitely think there are believers in the office culture piece. I’ll start by saying Lattice is a remote first company. What we do in our company, as we have some wonderful offices that people can choose to go to if they want and they can also work from home and, or they can do both. Work home some days and go to the office some days.
William Tincup: 10:22 Oh, that’s cool.
Cara Brennan Al…: 10:23 I think remote work in a COVID environment is a decidedly different thing than the new world of remote work that’s probably only happened in the last two months in my population. I think there were a ton of assumptions coming out of COVID about what the next phase was going to look like, what the new normal was going to look like. And I think my sense is we’re not decided yet. We are not there. And I think you’re going to see thrash, you’re going to see companies figuring out and making mistakes as they go. But I do not believe that the new world of work is back to the office. And the reason I don’t believe it is because I’m in charge of real estate budgets, many CPOs are in charge of real estate budgets and CHROs. Because part of what we do is think about that culture and that culture includes the 800 people who have home offices at Lattice, and the same number of people that would choose to come into our offices. And what I know about those folks is, yes, they’re retaining their current leases, but they’re not renewing leases.
11:32 And what they’re expecting is that they’re moving into a flexible space where people will definitely have hybrid and many are going to be inching more toward remote first, and that’s aligned with business budgets over the next three to five years and that’s aligned with business strategy over the next three to five years. And I think the difference between a headline with an employee having a manager tell them to come back to the office and a business strategy that is led by the chief people officer, along with the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer, is that you are going to see a lot of thrash in the near term and you’re going to see people testing and experimenting because that’s how we learn and grow. But you’re going to see a midterm and a long term that looks very different than where we were before.
William Tincup: 12:18 So one of the things I wanted to ask you is, is there, as it relates to this kind of productivity, I don’t want to say Big Brother, but basically understanding what’s going on with people and how they work and where they thrive, how they thrive, et cetera, is we need data, so on one thing I want… So two-pronged question. First is the question of, how do you communicate, or do you, I shouldn’t even assume that you do, how or should you communicate what the company’s philosophy is or values are around productivity or around tracking or around just the way that they’re supportive of people thriving? However that plays out. And the second part of that is, do you think that there’s an inkling of a movement around employee privacy?
Cara Brennan Al…: 13:19 Yeah. I think a couple things. I think that employee trust is what we know foundationally and research tells us is what can really drive performance from within employee and the macro business success that can build is pretty foundational to how people are thinking in this new world of work and the best talent will go to a place where they feel trusted. I think part of trust is being open and honest about what you’re doing and what you’re not doing. So I think on one hand, communication is really important and whatever you’re doing in an office, whatever level of monitoring you’re doing, it’s about being open and upfront with that.
William Tincup: 14:06 Right, no surprises.
Cara Brennan Al…: 14:07 No surprises. And what I think a lot of people don’t understand is there’s a lot of monitoring that’s built into a lot of software, and these are questions that people in my seat, the chief people officer, have been thinking about asking and addressing for a number of years, even pre COVID. Microsoft came out with Outlook and they said, “Oh, look at all these amazing analytics that we can do.” This was years ago and all the analytics were basically monitoring analytics. I love looking at new tools that come into this space, lots of early stage companies trying to build people analytics to solve that problem. And many of those early stage people analytics companies were built on sucking in all the data from slack and emails and texts even, and looking at and counting that as performance. And a lot of people who are the buyers, people like me, have questioned, but wait, is that performance?
15:10 And there was a ton of pushback when Microsoft came out with Outlook from this CHRO community about, wait a second, you’re telling us that these are true people analytics, but they’re not really, they’re just monitoring. So to understand that these things have been around and there are certain industries, of course, banking, et cetera, that have to maintain this type of monitoring for a number of reasons, it’s interesting to see how some of those companies have handled it. It’s sort of the Amazon conversation that you’re talking about, if you’re open and honest and clear and people are choosing and opting into that and understanding that that’s one measure of their performance, I feel like that’s okay. And it can be seen as a real open conversation and being dynamic, or an open dynamic conversation about this is how we run our business and this is why. The challenge with everything comes in when it is a surprise and you didn’t know that that’s what the expectation was.
William Tincup: 16:13 Do you think there’s a level of personalization in the sense of, for some employees there’s a different layer of, again, we’ll say productivity tracking? Because that was the bit, but basically it’s gaining insight into where they thrive, how they thrive, et cetera. Especially if it’s reported back to them. The question is, I’m trying to figure out, okay, is it equally applied across all employees from CEO to a receptionist, let’s say? This go that far and that extreme, is it equally applied or is it situational or personalized to the employee?
Cara Brennan Al…: 17:00 I think we’re going to see more challenges to this. You see a headline like this, it’s going to prompt a lot of questions and it’s going to force a lot of communication and a lot more openness and I think that’s healthy. And what we already know and I think what we’re going to see more of is the top talent are going to go to environments that align with their values. And this, to me, just goes really back to the vision mission value element that we’ve been talking about for a long time, everything old is new again. But what is-
William Tincup: 17:42 Just go.
Cara Brennan Al…: 17:43 Right? What is that promise you’re making to employees about what it’s like to work here? And this is such a strong component of that and you have to be open and upfront, but what we already know and what we’ve known even more in the past five years and has shown up a ton more during COVID, is people really want to understand about how the work they’re doing is connected to the mission of the company, is connected to the vision of the company and the values of the company, and you do that through communication. And if you’re doing it well, you’re doing it through your performance management processes too because people are getting rewarded who are truly aligned with the mission and the vision of your company and creating those outcomes.
William Tincup: 18:25 If any, because when you mentioned top talent, we’ve talked about top talent a couple times, but do you see anything in the data, or even just anecdotally, that’s generational?
Cara Brennan Al…: 18:37 Well, the answer is yes. We even have some Lattice data that says things like we’re seeing some shift with early career folks really wanting, again, to be connected to that mission and vision and values and being willing to leave a role if that expectation isn’t met. I think what I’ve learned over 20 plus years in people careers is that we call it generational, I think it’s as much about stage of life, and the risk that you’re willing to take at different stages can vary significantly. And I say that because I’ve worked with some, quote, baby boomers and greatest generation folk who are some of the highest risk takers that I know because they’re in a position to do that. Whereas maybe their generational profile is a lot less risk, or is more risk averse. So I laugh because I’m not a hundred percent subscribed to the generational thesis, but I definitely think it comes down to an individual’s ability to take risk.
20:02 And I think what we saw, and what we’re seeing with the great reset, what’s people called before was the great resignation, is COVID redefined people’s risk tolerance and their want and need to define for themselves the lives that they want to lead and definitely employment came into play there. So we as employers have to really be aligned with employees in terms of what they want, what their risk profile is, and I do think that as the economy recovers, as we know employees who have choice demand more from their employers. And I think your question about demanding more privacy and expecting that will become even more important and come to the forum more because people have options and they’ll choose between an employer that allows them their privacy over an employer that says, “Hey, by the way, we’re going to be monitoring you.”
William Tincup: 20:57 Two questions. One is, how do you extend this, or do you extend this, again, I don’t want to assume, all the way into recruiting, like the careers page or job descriptions and things like that on the front end when we’re trying to bring that talent in? We focus so much on the employee, which is great, but we’ve got to bring them in. So how do we communicate, or do we communicate, to those folks about what our philosophy is?
Cara Brennan Al…: 21:29 Well, I think you solve or you create almost every employee or culture issue in the recruiting process. Meaning, you’re either being really clear and making sure you have the true right match to your business and the candidate is really opting in with clear eyes, or you’re not being thorough and people are coming in surprised, as you said, which is definitely what we don’t want. And so I think whatever your posture on monitoring, whatever your expectations around productivity is, that definitely needs to be a part of your recruiting conversation and people need to opt in.
William Tincup: 22:15 It’s interesting because, as you said, it’s almost like the word monitoring is got a bad rap. It’s got a bunch of baggage attached to it. But I’ve got kids, you’ve got kids, at one point we had baby monitors. There was cameras in my kids’ rooms so we could make sure that everything was okay. So wasn’t a bad thing, that was a good thing.
Cara Brennan Al…: 22:42 Well, I would challenge whether a baby monitor and a grown up adult worker monitor is really a fair parallel.
William Tincup: 22:53 It’s the word monitoring.
Cara Brennan Al…: 22:54 Yeah, for sure.
William Tincup: 22:57 The word monitoring is almost getting a… It’s almost like when someone hears that it’s like, “Woah, monitoring.” It automatically-
Cara Brennan Al…: 23:04 For sure.
William Tincup: 23:05 Leans people to that’s a bad thing and not necessarily. It can be, probably most often is, but doesn’t have to be that way.
Cara Brennan Al…: 23:13 Definitely. The words we use really matter, but that goes back to the core communication piece we were talking about.
William Tincup: 23:19 It does. Last thing I wanted to ask is advice that you’d give other HR practitioners around interacting with the rest of the C-suite in terms of, philosophically, making sure you get the program [inaudible 00:23:38] right but also the communication layer right. Especially people that are new CHROs, that are chief people officers, whatever, they’re new to a company, they don’t necessarily know everybody, how do they get this? How do they communicate to that group of people, their peers? How do they communicate to them about what should and shouldn’t be done?
Cara Brennan Al…: 24:01 I think one of the best things that a CHRO or a people leader or an HR manager in a smaller company can do is really paint the picture of what this could look like in real life. And the assumption there is that you are connected to the employee base, you have some understanding of yourself as an employee, so that you can be that voice of the customer, and that customer in this case being the employee of the company. So I love being able to paint the picture of a couple different scenarios and then leveraging the leadership to share feedback, have open conversations. You want to be able to help the leadership look around the corners and it’s a very different thing to say, we shouldn’t do this, and then go hard left, go hard right.
24:54 I think what I’ve found the most helpful and I’ve learned and I’ve changed my mind about things is saying, “Hey, one version of this looks like we move ahead with this monitoring software, we communicate, this is what the communication plan would look like and we can start having conversations with a few trusted employees to see what their initial reaction would be and I can bring that back to you and then we can rev on whether we feel like this is a good decision for the company. And then the alternative is that we come out with a no monitoring posture and here’s what that communication plan is and here’s what the few trusted employees have said about that-
William Tincup: 25:34 Oh, I love that.
Cara Brennan Al…: 25:36 And we can test that.”
William Tincup: 25:37 I love that because it’s like the porridge approach. You basically go back to the team and go, “Okay, listen, there’s hot, there’s cold, there’s just right. Let’s figure it out and then our team will then go and implement.” Cara, I could talk to you all day, but I know you’ve got stuff stacked up on your schedule. So thank you so much for carving out time and wisdom for the audience.
Cara Brennan Al…: 26:01 Well, thanks. It was great thinking through this.
William Tincup: 26:04 Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time
Announcer: 26:09 You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live podcast by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcasts, webinars, articles, and news at-
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.