The big CEO Interview: Lattice’s Sarah Franklin ‘I want to democratize people dynamics’

In a TLNT exclusive, we interview the new CEO of Lattice about her plans to take the people success platform to new (AI-driven) heights:

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Apr 10, 2024

It’s just before Easter, and Sarah Franklin is (as I had a hunch she would be), bang-on time for our interview.

Franklin – the new boss at HR tech and people success platform, Lattice (pictured above) – has just celebrated her first 100 days at the company she joined in the New Year. With a remit to take the business to the next level, it’s clear she takes being punctual as just one of her many attributes.

In case her name isn’t a familiar one (yet), it no-doubt soon will be. Franklin is the former president and CMO at Salesforce (where she was listed by Forbes as one of the world’s most influential CMOs).

And according to departing co-founder, Jack Altman (also above, who stepped aside after deciding the time was right for someone else to take the helm), he couldn’t be happier she is now running the business.

“I was just blown away [by her],” he wrote, when he first broke the news to staff and investors. “She approaches her work and her life with joy, humility, and competence,” he continued. “She is one of the highest integrity, deeply caring leaders I’ve ever met.”

With praise like this, it’s hard not to be a little over-awed. But Franklin has a charming knack of making you feel like she’s someone you’ve know for ages.

“If you count it being a leap year, you could argue I’ve done an extra day this quarter,” she jokes, as we break ice talking about her first quarter as the boss of the 550-person company that is already big, but poised to be bigger still, as it prepares to launch a brand new HRIS system later this year. It’s one that will incorporate AI and take – in her words – HR to “the next level.”

“Jack and I started talking last year,” reminisces Franklin about her journey to being anointed Lattice’s new boss. “He actually came to my house, and went to coffee shops with me at first – it was very non-traditional! – but as we got further down the road, there was all the necessary deep-dives needed into strategy, and quite clearly, we clicked, and he knew I was the right person to take over.”

Moving aside for Franklin

As side steps go (Altman will remain as executive chairman), the moving in of Franklin is a rare example of an entrepreneur boss knowing exactly when the right time is to move aside.

“We’re transitioning from a founder-CEO situation to one where he felt he needed someone new to take things to a more global level,” explains Franklin, who added that with a shared vision to ‘make work more meaningful’ she “pinkie-promised” with Jack that she wouldn’t let him down.

So what is Franklin – who admits to not having an extensive knowledge of HR before joining the business – able to bring to the table?

Actually, quite a bit – and when you think about it, it’s clear that her experience does (actually) make her the perfect fit.

As a former Salesforce executive (with Salesforce often enviously looked at by HR professionals as the system HR needs), the synergies are actually quite strong ones.

“Salesforce is marketing CRM, and what we did in CRM is what we need to do for HR,” she says.

“HR has historically had to put up with huge, lumbering, not easy to add-onto software, and we want to bring what we did for marketers with Salesforce into HR.”

She adds: “Given that 70% of companies’ resources are spent on its people, their people system should be the most important one in the business.” She continues: “I’ve come to this role with cross-functional expertise; I’ve brought products to market; I helped scale Salesforce in its very early days, but now I’m really pleased to be here.”

Getting under the skin of HR

Typical of her approach to really getting under the skin of the business quickly, Franklin says her first 30 days were entirely devoted to “listening and learning” and meeting CHROs in person.

“I think I met 42 customers in that first month alone, and I’ve carried on meeting people leaders since.” She says: “It’s been lovely to meet them, and hear how we’ve helped them become more successful.”

AI is coming

The big push that Franklin will oversee is the ‘AI-ification’ of Lattice.

The business has already just launched a new AI feature for the platform’s employee engagement surveying tool, which will summarize and highlight insights from the survey responses, and even suggest actions to take based on this feedback.

But this is just the start of a much bigger push in this direction.

“AI is a really big piece for us,” she says. “When I was in the process of joining, the big question being asked was ‘what are we going to do with AI?’. The thing about Lattice is that we have a lot of data, and it’s data that really matters. We now feel AI is at the right maturity to be able to be used in a proper and practical way.”

She adds: “We want to be able to help HR process things that aren’t possible for humans to do. It’s not anything as fancy as Open AI,” she admits, “but it’s stuff that can add real business value. The ambition here is to make HR more strategically human, not to have technology that disconnects us.”

Work needs to feel great again

The passion with which Franklin talks is something that’s extremely enjoyable to behold.

“When people spend a third of their time at work, you have to make work awesome,” she says in very non-CEO speak. “I think work hasn’t been like this for a while. Work has become somewhere where it’s the people who shout the loudest who are often rewarded the most – while more hardworking employees go unnoticed. The sort of technology we’re able to offer CHROs is able to redress this. It will identify who is being most productive, and meeting business goals, and working best with other people.”

To this end, Franklin promises her HR technology will be a “democratizer in the complex world of people dynamics,” and many might agree this has been a long time coming.

Walking the walk

True to her word, and in her quest to make work great for her own staff, Franklin says she certainly isn’t going to be one of the many CEOs that are currently enforcing return to office (RTO) mandates – something that she accepts will be in contrast to what some of Lattice’s own clients are doing.

“I don’t believe one-size fits all,” she explains. “We say that by our values, we’re remote first. This is where we’re at when it comes to engaging staff for better performance.”

So does she think RTO-favoring CEOs should actually use their Lattice system to specifically determine whether the perception that remote workers have lower productivity is correct?

It’s something she accepts the system can be used for, but she’s astute enough not to be drawn in to criticizing what clients may or may not do.

“I think that by analyzing team performance, that’s where AI can really be important,” she says judiciously.

“But CEOs have been made blunt decisions,” she adds, slightly letting her guard down. “They [CEOs] sent staff home during the pandemic; and now they want then back. It’s easy to see why this might be creating unhappiness.”

Franklin says that if she can bring back what she calls “more purposefulness” into client organizations, then that will be no bad thing.

In the meantime, it looks like this HR systems giant will certainly be in good hands. “We’re going to do what we’ve already done in CRM, but for employees,” she says.

Yep, very safe hands indeed.

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