LEARN with Cara Brennan Allamano, CPO at Lattice
Bringing over 20 years of work experience, IPOs, and more, Cara Brennan Allamano, CPO at Lattice, has seen a lot throughout her career. In our latest LEARN Podcast episode, Cara gets candid with Ted Blosser, our CEO & Co-founder, about her transformative work experience, what the future of work looks like, and why L&D is essential to maximize business impact.
“For a long time, I’d see really amazing HR people drive business outcomes, but we were often relegated to clerical and administrative tasks. I think that L&D folks have had that same experience. This is why I feel strongly about making sure you have the right tools. Because when you are in spreadsheets and docs, you’re not producing the most transformative work.”
Tune in to hear Cara Brennan Allamano, CPO at Lattice, discuss the following:
- The transformative moments in her career journey
- Her POV on the "new" future of work and how it's different than where we've been
- The rise of the L&D Partner
And much more.
01:06 - Intro and Cara's career journey
03:32 - The transformative career moment
05:16 - Leadership principles
07:42 - IPO moment
09:46 - Investing in People Tech
18:14 - Today's market shift & new normal
24:05 - Leaning into L&D & business impact
27:54 - Rapid-fire segment
Cara Brennan Allamano: For a long time, I'd look around and see amazing HR people who could drive business outcomes, but we were often relegated to clerical and administrative tasks. I think that L&D folks have had that same experience, and a lot of that goes back. This is why I feel strongly about ensuring you have the right tools.
Ted Blosser: Hi, everyone. I'm Tepp Lasser, CEO and co-founder of War Cramp, the All-In-One Learning Cloud for corporations. Welcome you to the Learn podcast, where we chat with leaders about their biggest learnings of their careers. We hope you enjoy this episode. All right. Hey everyone. Today we are delighted to have our guest Cara Brennan Allamano. Cara is the Chief People Officer at Lattice, and she has immense experience across all things HR and people related. We have so much great stuff to talk about with her. So, Cara, let's get started with your background.
I think that's a really great place to start. Tell us more about your career journey here.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Yeah. you know, I've been in HR for almost 23 years now, which is nuts. and the first half of my career was in corporate hr. So I was with Knight Ritter, a newspaper company, and Guthy Ranker and young and Rubik, Kim, and Wonderman, so definitely on the media and communications side. I had a roommate who had a friend doing a startup, and I lived in San Francisco. It sounded like an exciting new challenge. So moved into tech, in about 2008, almost 15 years ago now, too. And have, have really loved, loved that journey and, and have helped build human resources, people functions, uh, at, at those companies. So the first one was contact optional, which became Adobe Social, then Pinterest, then Planet, which was Space Tech. Uh, and then Udemy was, was when I moved over to the learning and development side and started sitting in the seat where I was the customer and the leader in the business. and then super excited to be here at Lats and have been here since last year.
Ted Blosser: That's an incredible, fantastic journey. So, are you still keeping up with your Pinterest board, though? That's the best question out of all.
Cara Brennan Allamano: You know what? That's hilarious. Ted. I was looking at it over the weekend, and my, as you would expect, my Pinterest photo was my wedding photo at the time I was at Pinterest; I had just gotten married and had all that up there. So it was, I had that moment this weekend. So yes, I'm keeping up with new Pinterest board
Ted Blosser: I might have to dig into that and link to that in the show notes afterward.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Yes, yes. I'm sure everybody wants to know what a blue and white wedding looks like.
Ted Blosser: Well, you've had so many unique experiences in your career, and those are just game-changing companies you've been at. Let me ask you this, what would you say was the most transformative of your career journey? I know it's hard, it's like picking, picking your favorite child, but what I mean by transformative is, at the time, the steepest learning curve or the most challenging, or looking back on it, it's like, wow, how did I get through that? Let's take a deep dive into what experience that one might be for you.
Cara Brennan Allamano: you know, I think especially working in high-tech companies, and especially working just on the people side of the business in general, you, you can't avoid some really transformative experiences. So whether it's like with a leader you're partnering with, or whether it's doing enjoyable things like growing Pinterest and, and taking Udemy public, that's amazing. And then, uh, the, the blessing and, and the challenge of being a part of this side [00:04:00] of the business is also being on the helping people through tough things. So, you know, the thing that comes top of mind when you say this, and it's probably recency bias here, it's, it's that we did just go through some layoffs at Lattice and, and that was really tough. and it's transformative. And it just really reminds me, why I do what I do, because I really wanna make sure that during the good times people have good experiences work. And also that, when you're managing through some of these more challenging times that you're doing, you're helping people have a lot of dignity and fundamentally that everybody's learning and growing through all of it. And you're able to reflect on, on some of the decisions you made, why you made them, and, and make sure you're continuing to improve,
Ted Blosser: You know, uh, and I could relate to, we just went through layoffs here at WorkRamp, so, and I know how challenging that is, especially for people leaders. Let me double-click into that just a little bit. What would you say were your guiding, let's call it principles or philosophies of making sure that that was, uh, let's call it the best experience as possible for either your team members or people remaining. Give us some background on what your guiding p philosophy was there.
Cara Brennan Allamano: when we had come to terms with the fact that this was something that we needed to do, I had a discussion with my team, and I said, look, our job here is to put as much energy and as much effort into making this a dignified experience. As much as when people join the company, I want them to feel that they were treated as well with as much thoughtfulness and as much respect as when they're leaving the company. And, we had people go back to that and go back to that sentiment. And I just wanna recognize Jack Altman, who's our CEO, definitely supported that and, and gave us the time and resources we need to make sure that we did this away in, in the right way for us as, as folks at Lattice and Latic and leaders that were having to make decisions.
Cara Brennan Allamano: and I think when you have your, you were saying guiding light or guiding principle, all about respect for the individual, and really we want, we want people to succeed, whether they're inside Lattice, whether they're outside Lattice, we even have a program where if somebody comes and says, I wanna start a company, we'll invest in them. That's really a sentiment that Jack founded the company with. So, in some ways, it made my job as a people leader easier as we were navigating this, this challenging time. And I can tell you, I also know that when we are, are getting back on our growth path, that Lattice and, and we, we are achieving what I believe and know we will achieve as a business, it's what's gonna make it even more fun when we get to that I p o or to that sustainable public company business or, you know, whatever metric we wanna meet. So I think what's interesting for me is understanding that some of those foundational things are always foundational good times, bad times in between.
Ted Blosser: That's right. That's right. And speaking of, and I have no doubt Lattice will be on that IPO journey. We're, we're a very happy customer. We're launching, uh, we use every one of your products, but just launching Grow, on March 1st.
but speaking of IPO...I want to double-click into a part of your career around Udemy. And I think, was that your primary IPO? Did you do another IPO? Okay.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Well, yeah, and, and I think that's, that's sort of the flip side of this conversation of, of what is something that's transformative and that was definitely a transformative journey for me. yes, what I'll tell you, which is interesting, is when you're on the people side of business, and you're in high growth companies, you [00:08:00] always have an eye toward what do I need to be as a sustainable company? And I use that term more than I p o because i p o is just one day. Yep. And, uh, and really what we're trying to do is, or build practices that are gonna be a differentiator for the business, you know, in 20 years and 30 years too. but definitely I think transformative, uh, uh, on a couple levels in that at Udemy, we are, we went public a year ago, October, so lit quite literally on the tail end of the pandemic. So we were building toward this public company readiness for two years. Yeah. And most immediately six months, like racing during a time when the, when it was a crazy amount of change.
Ted Blosser: Totally, I can imagine balancing both the IPO readiness and essentially how to work during the Covid pandemic must have been nuts for you.
Cara Brennan Allamano: It was definitely.
Ted Blosser: Well, let's shift gears just a little bit. We talked about your transformative, uh, let's call it, uh, primary work, uh, experiences. And not a lot of people know about this, about you, but you have, uh, essentially the secondary work experience around people tech. yeah. Maybe tell people a little bit more around people, tech advisors and also, uh, the investment partners. We'd love to hear more about why this came to be, uh, give us a little more information about it. Cuz I think a lot of people in the audience would find it really interesting.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Yeah. I, you know, I'm happy to talk about this. Also wanna note that like, this is where, I learned more about WorkRamp too, Ted. Yes,
Ted Blosser: That's right.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Tech Network and the, the community. So I think using, WorkRamp is as sort of a use case for, for how, for what People Tech does. in some ways I think it would be a little helpful here. So I'm happy to talk about both of us in that way. so, so people, tech partners, it is a group of, of around 250, heads of people, CHROs folks that are in, uh, positions to make decisions about the type of tools that their companies use, in high growth technology companies. And it started about, uh, more than a decade ago, my partner Robbie Peters, and I, we were doing some angel investing and, and some advising of early stage companies. And, and we were out for coffee one day. And I said, you know, what I'm finding is, is that this is first of all, really helping the founders that want to bring really cool technology to market, to serve the needs that I have as a, as somebody who cares about HR and talent andL&D and, and in, in facilities and, and the different areas of the business that I own.
Cara Brennan Allamano: And, and the reason I say it was it's transformative and really important is that it's not, it, it was not a sexy thing to do to care about future of work. And I know that seems crazy now and, and I feel like it's, it's really awesome that, that, I get to say that with irony now, but when I had like two choices for an H R A S whenever I would join a company, I had really old, old LMSs Ted, you know that.
Ted Blosser: Like That's right,
Cara Brennan Allamano: Right. Benefits were like, okay, vision, dental and, and health. And then you weren't you, this was during a time when everybody was trying to differentiate themselves and coming to the people leader and saying, well, we wanna be cool like Google and we wanna compete. But there were literally, we were all using the same tools. There was no differentiation. And, and the employee experience was becoming more, more digital. So, so what we've done, fast forward to where we are now, we're this group and, and we select companies, to become a part of, of the people, tech family. And we serve as advisors, as partners, as early customers. and we also serve as evangelists for what, what these folks are doing. And it has become a community of people that are really here to make employee experiences super awesome. And the, the side of that, you know, is that in addition to that, because you get a lot of really smart, awesome people together, we share a lot of information and, and we have become a place that people come to ask questions from a thought leadership perspective.
Cara Brennan Allamano: And, and we also just like to have a lot of fun together. Uh, this is a group of people that I have the utmost respect for and, these are the true innovators on the people side of business. So, for example, when when somebody asks, what are you using for an l m s? What are you doing on the learning side of business? This is where WorkRamp comes in, we share that information, we let people know what the next best new thing is, and then what we also do is reach out to these founders and say, is there a way we can help you get where you wanna go? Because our goal is to have you be a sustained business and we wanna use the best. so that's where we are.
Ted Blosser: Who we are. I remember when we were introduced really early on, I think it's 2016, and we finally were able to, uh, I think, uh, you all were part of our series C, which was, we were blessing to have you as part of it. but, but maybe the question I have for you, this gets a little more tactical on this, is we have, I meet with a lot of leaders, who kind of wanna do, I wanna call 'em side hustles per se, but they wanna continue to stay involved outside of their primary, let's call it primary work. What was your framework heading in? Were you saying, Hey, this is a 10% project, nights and weekends. How do you fit this in with such a busy schedule, and intermingle the two so fluently? Cause I feel like you're a shining example. I always talk to my, wife, where we're always talking about, hey, what, what are these other interests on the side that we can partake in while still really focusing on our core day jobs? Give us, give us some, some tips on how to actually handle the two together,
Cara Brennan Allamano: <laugh>. Well, I think, first of all, I think it is about doing the things that you love to do. And the things that I love to do is, I am a nerd for technology tools, and this is an area that I'll tell you, I have a very full day job, but, these are, these are things I found myself doing anyway, right? Like, I'd wanna know what was out there, I would really wanna understand, like, and bring new innovation to the companies where I was. So I think defaulting to that first in, in my case, it was something that was, you know, adjacent to the work that I was also already doing. I know that there are many other people that have other passions and things like that, that aren't, you know, wholly connected. And I think that's great too because I actually believe no matter what you do, you're learning and, and it's really important to, to stretch yourself.
Cara Brennan Allamano: I think a couple of other key things that, that were really helpful is to have a partner, and Robbie Peters. And, and, that was, that was luck. Uh, and then, and then some intention once we had already, been connected. And, what he brought to the table was he was working with, so Sequoia Consulting and he, he sold to customers like me. So we found together we could really, be complimentary and helpful in terms of our mission to help help founders and, and help ourselves. and then the last piece is I just, I think I believe in the power of a group of people. And, and people talk about having their tribe, folks have their communities. You see that there are lots of wonderful networks out there. And, a big part of this is just I'm a fan girl of a lot of the work of the other advisors, and I learn from them and I grow from them.
Cara Brennan Allamano: I call these folks my hive mind regarding people things. And so when you build those relationships, and you build them over time, they've become really special to you. And, and I think any of us in any different parts of our lives, I've found that investing in those things are, it doesn't feel like work, right? Yeah. It feels, it, it, it feels like you're just enriching, enriching your lives. And I think a lot of us all feel that way. so [00:16:30] it's been, it's been special. I think the other thing is like, just start something, right? So when we it, I think it can feel really big to go and say, I'm gonna start this whole side business and it's gonna be awesome. When we started, this was simply just an intention to do some interesting stuff and meet maybe once a quarter and do that. And, and it has grown from there. So I think just putting one foot forward and, and moving in a direction is, is a great way to start too.
Ted Blosser: I love that. So choose one, choose what you love, find a good partner, find a good group of people too. And, and think of your reach you've had all organically on people tech. I doubt you've spent anything on marketing.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Not at all. So that's awesome.
Ted Blosser: I'm wanna switch gears a little bit to viewpoints. You have so many probably good viewpoints of the world right now. One big topic right now, I talked to other leaders about is the shifting dynamic, in the corporate setting back to employers. If you think about, let's call it the 2016 through 2021 period, I'm just gonna guesstimate that was very shift-fair,
Cara Brennan Allamano: That spotlight
Ted Blosser: Shifted to a lot of the power resided with employers. That's why you saw some of the salaries kind of get out of band and and people jumping ship very frequently. now it's kind of shifted back to employers in this market, really cuz everyone's looking for efficiency and there's, let's call it fewer seats available for people at [00:18:00] companies. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what's your viewpoint on this shift? Is there a way, for example, is there a way that you would recommend that people, teams should run with this new shift in mind? Curious to get your opinions on it.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Well, having been doing this for a while, what I can say is, is there's definitely a cyclical nature to the work that we do. And if you're gonna be in HR for long enough, you're, you're gonna see this, you're gonna see going around, [00:18:30] the spectrum of, of very employee, employee focused periods of time, employer focused periods of time. What I think we're going into now, it does look and feel different to me. Interesting. and how I see it, and I've heard it framed a few different ways. Mackenzie was just doing some work on, on this being a performance and people organization. and, and that's a combination of a perfor, uh, an organization that would be very employer centric and maybe not so people friendly and then people centric and maybe not so business friendly. But putting those things together in a really meaningful way and thoughtful way, is where you, where all the research tells us is a sweet spot.
Cara Brennan Allamano: And, and this is what we on the people side of business have I've been charged with for 25 years, right. Is how do we get to that middle? Now what [00:19:30] I can tell you is my experience of being able to influence and make decisions and have the right people at the right times, uh, around the table has been very different. Yep. But what I'm seeing now through the learnings, through the pandemic, through the learnings of an extremely tight labor market, and I think this doubling down and looking back to the employee experience as a key differentiator for business, and I I credit some of this great research [00:20:00] that's been done in the last five years. It says, really the power of the knowledge worker is, is the, is key. It is, it is Apex, uh, it, it's at the top of the mountain for where we wanna be with business.
Cara Brennan Allamano: and I think there's many different factors that are going to that, including AI and some of these other components that are taking away some of these more, clerical tasks, administrative tasks. I do think we are in a different future of work, right? I think the pendulum will go back. You [00:20:30] know, we won't be on an extreme, we won't be, you know, elbowing everybody out for to, to get an offer to somebody that, you know, we feel like we have to have, but I'm really optimistic for this, this partnership that we can have between employees and business. And, and this is where, this is where you achieve great things. And we've seen those companies here, there and everywhere and we've tried to emulate them, but in a different kind of way. I'm seeing CEOs like you, Ted, sitting in the seat saying, this is my number one concern. I'm seeing people front lines saying, I wanna join a mission-driven company that aligns with my values. I mean, people feel empowered to ask for that. And then companies saying, I have to deliver on this. Right. So the investment is there both in, in time and, and, in sentiment.
Ted Blosser: I'm super curious from you. I I know when I work with my coach, we always talk about, other cos that you might want to emulate or you admire. [00:21:30] Are there companies actually flipping this question to you? Yeah. Are there, are there companies or people leaders where you're like, Hey, that company is doing it right, right now? Or that leader is doing it right at, at a specific company? I'm super curious. Uh, if you have anybody that's top of mind, you could totally flatter them.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Such's a hard question for me to answer <laugh>, and I'll just be honest because everybody has different experiences at companies too. So I, I actually have a fundamental belief that like one company could be the exact right company for, to [00:22:00] somebody optimize their career. And it could look like, you know, peaches and sunshine from the outside and then the company that looks like the place that people don't wanna be. I mean, to be clear, I started my, my career in newspapers when my friends were going into tech, right?
And so I was that person that people were like, why would you go work there? It was the a plus number one, right? First step for me. So understanding that's where I come from. I, I do, the reason I'm at Lattice is because I really, I was impressed with what they were building outside the company and then coming inside the company and seeing how Jack leads with integrity and, and we really do in our decisions, think about how we can build a company that everybody's really proud to be a part of that is also a high growth and, and successful business.
Cara Brennan Allamano: I think that's been really great. I had an experience at Udemy where it was truly a learning culture. We spent a lot of times time focused on learning there, but it was a culture that was really about people coming and growing and building careers. And, and so I think I've taken lots of different things from different companies. and you know, my hope is to continue to, to do that, to continue to work at cool places where I'm learning new stuff.
Ted Blosser: Well, to your credit, one of the companies I always admire was Lattice. That's why we, we asked Shaq to come, come, uh, uh, uh, invest and be independent board member, but just him infusing some of the culture you all have built into War Ramp has been, uh, uh, outstanding. So, it's real. Lemme ask you another, another viewpoint too. Obviously we're in the learning category here at War Ramp, you've run manyL&D teams yourself. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, maybe give, give us some of your core tenets of running a successfulL&D team. I know it's, it's one of the core pillars of a people leader, but give us your viewpoint onL&D. What makes, what makes a team successful or what have you learned even recently of how, uh, a team should run?
Cara Brennan Allamano: I think a couple things are important when learning, when looking at learning development. I think learning and development is going through a similar process that we went through on the HR side of the house. and I think they're doing it more recently in the sense that for a long time, I'd look around and see really amazing HR people that could really drive business outcomes, but we were often relegated [00:24:30] to clerical and administrative tasks. I think thatL&D folks have had that same experience and a lot of that goes back, this is why I feel so strongly about making sure you have the right tools. Because when you're mired in, you know, spreadsheets and trying to get, you know, Google Docs out to people, you're not doing the best work that you can, the most transformative work. so what what I've found with learning development teams is, man, these are some folks that have some of the clearest insights into the business because they are out there teaching and learning and being in that space where your employees are actually vulnerable and able to say, I don't know.
Cara Brennan Allamano: I don't know how to do this. I need to be taught. they tend to have really, really strong relationships and have their pulse on the business. So what I've tried to do is a couple things. Make sure that in the same way that my HR business partners are, are being a real conduit for feedback and [00:25:30] input and insight into the organization that myL&D partners are playing that same role mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And we're not just relegatingL&D to a program, specific role. And we're not just saying, Hey, feed folks, you know, growth paths that instead we're asking them, what are you hearing are the needs of the org and what do you think we need to do to build for those folks? So not underestimating the strategic insights and importance of our learning and development [00:26:00] function, I think is really important.
Cara Brennan Allamano: And then the other thing is, I feel really strongly thatL&D needs good tools and good tooling. And having been, you know, the first person we hired besides HR me at Pinterest, the, you know, one of the highest growth companies out there at the time was our learning and development leader. Wow. And it was because we knew if we're gonna compete with Facebook and Google for the very best talent, tho we needed to be able to deliver that. and so folks need to have good tools, they need to have resources and tools. and I'm a lot more optimistic now with, with platforms like WorkRamp and others and, and I'm, I'm seeing more connections between those tools and what we're doing on the HR side, what we're doing on the recruiting side.
Ted Blosser: I love this sound bite. The, the first one is never really thought about it this way, but they're much an L&D leader is much more close to HR business partner in the sense that , hey, they need to know the needs of the business and it's just different how you translate it, right. Hrp mm-hmm. might do it in a specific way, but an L&D person might build programs off of that. I love that, that tidbit for people mm-hmm. to think of them as almost similar roles as
Cara Brennan Allamano: Yeah. And, my L&D folks have been L&D partners.
Ted Blosser: Do you swap That's what I was gonna say. Do you, do you see a lot of swapping or roll, uh, changes between those two roles in the orgs you've run?
Cara Brennan Allamano: I just, you know what, I, I do my best, you know, depending on the size of the company to make sure everybody's in the same room. Yeah. Like when we're making strategic calls or if, if there's a challenge on the business side, making sure that h hrps have that connection to the learning development partner and it's not just a silo. and a lot of that happens anyway. So I don't wanna underestimate that those things happen, but really being intentional and calling that out I think is important.
Ted Blosser: Cool. Well, we're gonna close, Cara, this has been an awesome session. We're gonna close with what we call the learn rapid-fire round. So we're Okay, let's do it. Give the question, you can gimme one, two line answers or gimme context. Uh, but I'm gonna start with the first question. Who have you learned the most from in life? That's a hard one.
Cara Brennan Allamano: my grandfather turns 100 years old next week, James Michael Brennan Jr. And he has been a wealth of awesome stories and awesome learning.
Ted Blosser: Ah, that's amazing. And congrats on the a hundred, a hundred year mark. Thank
Cara Brennan Allamano: You. We're really happy.
Ted Blosser: All right. Next one. What is one podcast book, blog, whatever learning resource you have learned the most from?
Cara Brennan Allamano: right now I'm reading, uh, Marcus Aurelius's meditations, and I know that sounds a little highbrow, but man, it's really cool.
Ted Blosser: That's cool. That's really cool. I need to check that out actually. you did,
Cara Brennan Allamano: Mandela had it with him in, for all of his years in prison and credits credits it as the way he made it through.
Ted Blosser: Okay. Maybe we'll link to those as well too. That's, that sounds awesome. Alright. Uh, thinking about the future, what is one topic you wanna learn or it's on your, on your to-do list to learn more about? Or topic or theme?
Cara Brennan Allamano: I need to learn Spanish. Okay. I need to learn another language. That's I'm really interested in. That's
Ted Blosser: Awesome. I'm
Cara Brennan Allamano: Terrible at it, but I wanna learn it.
Ted Blosser: Duolingo. Go download it.
Cara Brennan Allamano: Yes. I know,
Ted Blosser: I know. All right. If you had your choice, you can meet anybody and learn from them, they could be alive or deceased, who would it be?
Cara Brennan Allamano: well, right, I think it's Marcus Aurelius. He's, he's a pretty cool dude.
Ted Blosser: I think there's a quote, I heard Steve Jobs saying this. He would trade all his technology that he invented for one afternoon with Socrates. So, uh, so, so I don't know how much you would trade for an afternoon with Aurelius, but Marcus Aureus.
Cara Brennan Allamano: My technology.
Ted Blosser: Yes. Yes. All right. Last one here. In terms of your career journey, if you had someone coming to you and saying, Hey, what's the one thing I can learn from you from your career? What's the advice, one piece of advice you would give to that person?
Cara Brennan Allamano: try new things. That's how you grow. And you, and by the way, you're gonna fail it. Uh, you're gonna fail at some of it, but some of it's gonna grow into stuff you never even knew would happen or you'd be capable of.
Ted Blosser: Awesome. I love that. Well, Cara, this was an amazing podcast. Thanks so much for joining us. I learned so much from you. I hope the audience can learn so much from you as well. Looking forward to connecting again soon. And for the audience, I hope you enjoy this session. And remember, always be learning.