Why a Benioff acolyte left Salesforce after 15 years to lead a $3 billion HR software firm she thinks might one day be its rival 

Sarah Franklin joined people management platform Lattice in January after 15 years at Salesforce, the tech behemoth that, she tells Fortune, she joined when it was at a stage similar to Lattice’s current one. 

“I really saw the scale, growth, and opportunity that Salesforce made for customer relationships, and I was really passionate about building out learning platforms there for people leaders,” Franklin says. “Lattice has a great opportunity right now to do for the employee what Salesforce did for customers.” 

That’s no surprise to the Salesforce alum. It’s an incredible time to build tech that manages people and performance, Franklin maintains. “Now, when you add AI to the puzzle, and consider the relevance of employee disengagement and companies’ confusion over workforce plans and strategies,” it’s high time. 

Franklin arrived at Lattice two years after the company closed its most recent funding round, a Series F that tripled its valuation to $3 billion. By some estimates, the firm could reach a $48 billion valuation by 2028, owing to increasingly widespread digitization and remote work. Franklin replaced Jack Altman, the company’s co-founder, who left to form Alt Capital, an early-stage VC firm.

Franklin “knows what greatness looks like, having run all of Salesforce’s marketing, and having served as the GM of both the Platform and Trailhead businesses,” Altman wrote in a memo announcing her hire. Not to be overlooked, “she’s also worked directly with some of the best leaders in the software industry like Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor over her 15 years at Salesforce.” 

Lattice’s core product is fundamentally about managing people and their performance, Franklin says. “In engaging with an employee, you need to enable them, onboard them, and educate them—just like how you’d market to a customer.” The 20-year-old firm makes its money via subscriptions, and over 5,000 companies of all sizes currently pay for its software.  

The best people managers are those who help workers understand the value, not just of their work, but of how they can improve and how their career pathway may unfold. Plus, AI already is capable of modeling workforce plans, including determining how people should be paid, so inviting it to the table in all HR decisions is the natural next step.

The parameters of people-management AI

The rapidly iterating, impossible-to-master field of AI has already ushered the American workforce into “a great era of augmentation,” Franklin says. “Whether it’s as an employee, a manager, or an executive, removing the need to do rote work and allowing for more focus on strategic, impactful, engaging, stimulating work is paramount.”

Lattice is one way to get there, she says; companies can use its AI to make the employee experience feel “more human,” not less. “It’s also very powerful in helping people be more productive—which makes them happier.”

It’s still a delicate balance. HR is an emotional part of work, because it deals with the issues relating to the humans, not the workers. As Franklin puts it, it’s “complex,” “thoughtful” and “complicated” in equal measure. “That human element is never going to be automated by AI,” she says.

A conflicting statement? Not in Franklin’s perspective. Human-to-human communication is paramount; it’s the grunt work that should be left for AI. “For example, we do performance management processes on Lattice, but we believe AI shouldn’t create your performance score.” 

And what’s the state of the workforce? Only as strong as could be expected. 

“Take all the hurricanes that have happened at once—between the pandemic, geopolitics, the macroeconomy, the Great Resignation. Every CEO is looking at their organization and saying, ‘Who do I have? What are they doing? Where are they? What is my talent density? What do I need? What is AI going to do? Where should I be investing?’” Franklin says. “There are so many basic questions, but no baseline to really judge against.”

That makes now a more critical time than ever to have data that leaders can deeply understand. “It’s like Swiss cheese with people leaving, getting hired, and so on,” she says. “Average tenure is less than a year or two at most companies.” That makes questions about culture and upward mobility at a given firm “deeply fundamental,” Franklin says. 

The bad news? Most companies don’t have those answers. “It all comes down to data: understanding what’s performing, what’s working and not, what things will look like in the next 3 to 5 years, and how AI will change the workforce.” And, on a more granular level: What’s the cost of each individual employee?

That’s where Franklin’s Salesforce background comes into finer focus. “It’s interesting to go from a big 80,000-person company to a 1,000-person company and see that the same questions are there,” she says. 

Questions like: Should there be in-office mandates? Where do we hire? Who do we hire, and how many? “Clearly, companies of all shapes and sizes are faced with these same issues. And they all have an opportunity right now to invest in the systems that allow for creating talent density, purposefully, in the places that you want.”

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