We’re excited to welcome our first People team hire! Our new Head of People Strategy, Farah Kassam, started recently. She was previously the Director of Talent Development at Reddit. We’re really happy to have her working at Lattice! In this post, Farah and Lattice’s content marketing manager Sulagna Misra discuss her HR origin story, her move to Lattice, and how she feels about being the first People hire at an HR tech startup.
Let’s get into your origin story. Why did you get into People?
Well, what I realized about myself early on is I wanted my purpose to be about helping people. Specifically, to support, enable, and be of service to people in a way that was helping them grow. I was also very interested in how people work with others and organize themselves into groups and systems. I studied psychology in undergrad, which was thinking about the individual, and I did my master’s in gender studies, which was more about thinking about systems and groups.
But figuring out how I could actually make those things my job took a while. I thought I would work in public health, or a non-profit, or international development, or counseling. Eventually, I started thinking about what I was actually doing day-to-day, and I realized that I wanted to be able to help people at work, because we spend so much of our lives at work and put so much of our energy and emotional investment at work. I’m also of the mind that helping people be their best selves at work also helps them be their best selves outside of work.
I felt like if I could impact that part of people's lives, I could really make a difference.
So once you decided on People, how did you get started?
I started with recruiting. It felt like a very practical, tactical thing to learn how to do. I got to learn about a lot of different companies and their different processes. I got to listen to lots of individuals and their stories -- which is also something I love to do.
I then got to build out the recruiting team and building out processes, which I also love doing! Thinking about systems, and processes, and making things efficient, and building those processes from scratch -- I love all that.
Eventually I wanted to move more into the HR side of things, so I started out by moving into a startup where I was doing what you typically do at a startup, which is a bit of everything -- everything from office manager to executive assistant to recruiting to engagement surveys to wellness programs. At that time I also finished my yoga teacher training, which helped me focus more on the mindfulness aspect of work. I bring it in subtle ways, I think.
But it meant I got to do a lot more HR, which I was really excited about. So in my next role I really started homing in on the HR business partner side of things. I was the HRBP for Engineering, Product, and Design department, doing conflict management, working through personnel issues, working with managers, building performance management, building out leveling and compensation -- the really foundational frameworks you need to have to be able to scale a company and make sure you’re looking out for your employees. I also built out learning and development programs like manager and feedback training, working on employee engagement and educating the company on how to understand people analytics. As the company and team scaled, I got to build out and lead the HR team. So, that’s where I am now.
Yeah. And where you are now is Lattice.
There are three things that really motivate me. One is people. That's what made the decision so easy to come here: the people at Lattice. Being able to work with people who just seem to genuinely care, and who I could be myself with, and who I felt like I could have honest, hard conversations that will enable us to get things done more efficiently, but also enable me to grow.
That kind of leads me to the next thing that motivates me: growth. Being able to take what I know and bring it to a place where I can add value, but also in a new role and environment where I can be pushed beyond my comfort zone. Everything about Lattice felt like it was going to put me in an environment where I had to grow, but also where I felt supported and safe to do so.
And then, the last thing was just the sense that I am adding value and making an impact. Especially being part of a smaller startup, what you do has more impact on the company overall. And the growth part isn’t just personal growth and professional growth, it's also about being part of a company that's growing.
You're constantly having to learn, rebuild, and adapt, because things are changing, processes are breaking and having to be rebuilt. Nothing gets stale or stagnant, which is good for me.
It’s interesting you just talked about three major values because I wanted to ask about how your values and Lattice's values align. We have very clearly defined values, and I'm curious how they speak to you.
I really like our values, and I feel like they resonate with me, and they’re really easy to bring into your everyday moments.
I think one that is really, really exciting for me is the Clear Eyes value, because I want to be honest about what's happening, so we can figure out what to do next -- which links to another value, What's Next. In order to grow, in order to really understand our trade-offs or make hard decisions, we need the space to have hard and honest conversations.
But we also need to have the freedom to change our minds or think through different perspectives on the same problem. It’s like saying, "We're all different and we all have different perspectives, but what we're all agreeing on is having the conversation."
I think one thing that I've learned from working at Lattice is that a lot of things can be developed, and changed, and improved by just having a conversation, and just trusting that the other person wants to listen to you and is interested in the conversation too.
Yeah, exactly. You feel safe coming into that conversation. And you can also grow on the other side of that conversation. I could come in thinking one thing, and then leave thinking another. That's how we get growth.
Just a conversation can be transformative.
Yeah. Also, with the What’s Next value, I love that hunger for the next thing. It really resonates with me, because I want to constantly be pushing myself. I want us as a company to constantly be wanting more for ourselves.
I feel like you're not afraid of change.
No. I like it and I thrive on it.
So, let's talk about what you’re going to do now that you’re here. What is your 90 day plan?
My number one priority is to build relationships and get to know people. I'm new to the organization and I want to understand where we've been and how we got to where we are. Then my insights, and my programs, and policies will be that much more informed and more relevant to who we are and who we want to be.
And then, more tactically, we're growing a lot right now. So I’m also focusing a lot on recruiting. Right now every new hire has such a large impact on the culture.
You used Lattice as a customer as one point. Not even as an admin, but someone who used the product and helped get employees to use it. When it comes to having been a customer, how does it feel to be here? How does it compare to being a customer?
So, the thing that I really loved about being a customer is that I felt like everyone I interfaced with at Lattice really cared and respected the work I was doing. I felt like they were really trying to actually help me do my job better, and empower me, and support me. The Lattice team were really hands-on when it comes to implementation -- they did trainings with execs as well as managers and were really focused on our goal of creating a culture of continuous feedback. It was by far the easiest implementation process for a performance management system we’d had.
Something that I absolutely loved as a customer was just feeling like we were all really partners, and you respected the work that we were doing, and also met us where we were at, as opposed to saying, "This is how we think HR should be."
It’s also exciting to get to be in more conversations about our product, and our positioning, and just the business as a whole.
It must be so interesting to be an HR person joining an HR tech company.
It's a very interesting dynamic, because normally HR is the behind the scenes person.
Yeah, I can tell you’re not used to this spotlight. Even during this interview!
Yeah! When you’re HR or People, you're the support function, and if you do your job really well, people don't notice. That's not a bad thing, either! It just means that things are working. But at Lattice, there’s a hyper awareness on the role, because you guys are building tools for HR people, and you're talking to HR people all the time. It’s clear you guys really, really value this role, and you're super excited I’m here. Everyone's been so welcoming, and just genuinely curious about how I see things. The exciting thing for me is that I’ve felt that at all levels of the company, which is very empowering.
You must already have so many coffee dates on your calendar, of people wanting time with you.
Well, I’m more of a tea and hot chocolate drinker myself, but yeah! It’s great though -- I’m going to be going on lots of walks to the Ferry Building with you all.