High Impact #2: How Cara Brennan Allamano Condensed and Improved Employee Experience Programs

March 29, 2023

min read


Kerry Wang

Welcome to the second installment of the Searchlight High Impact series, where I talk with People and Talent leaders about the initiatives they’ve led that’ve created enormous business value, and their thoughts on inspiring the next generation of leaders. My guest today is Cara Brennan Allamano, CPO at Lattice. She shares an initiative she led while at Udemy to overhaul a smorgasbord of employee experience programs into a unified, efficient employee development program and better communicate the value proposition and ROI to everyone involved.   

The Guest

Cara Brennan Allamano is the Chief People Officer at people success platform Lattice and former SVP of People at Udemy and Planet. In past roles she co-founded the PeopleTech Advisors community, founded Pinterest’s HR function during rapid growth, and was Global Director of HR for the social media marketing platform that became Adobe Social. She began her career in Human Resources at Lieberman Productions, Young & Rubicam, and Knight Ridder.

The Situation

Udemy’s business is all about learning in a professional environment, but back in 2019, Cara and her team realized the ROI of their own employee development programs was diluted. It wasn’t that there was a lack of programming. In fact, the opposite was true: there was an abundance of initiatives across DEIB, employee feedback and team/crew development programs, and at any point throughout an employee’s first year the manager would be working on some part of each of those topics. The problem was the lack of linkage between the individual projects to create a cohesive program with a clear value proposition. In high-growth companies, employee experience programs like this can often “pile up” and employees (with many other pressing items on their “to do” lists) just go through the motions of each one without any real investment. Cara wanted to build in structure and value to maximize the impact of investment while reducing cost in time and money.

At the time of this interview, Cara had completed this at Udemy and was working on it at Lattice.

The Goal 

Cara’s initiative was to create an Employee Impact Cycle that laid out all an employee’s activities and how the company would support them, week by week. Having 12 months of content to hand to employees and managers was incredibly impactful. It gives employees a clear sense of the expectations and development ahead of them, increasing their sense of alignment, engagement and belonging and reducing the risk of first-year attrition. It gives managers a clear sense of expectations for their interactions with their direct reports (the when, the what, and why) that increases their sense of understanding, ownership and ability to execute.

The Process 

  1. Map out an employee’s entire first year. Cara and her team took inventory of all the employee experience programs they interacted with and used feedback surveys and conversations to determine where there were high points of ROI.
  2. Examine each program in turn and ask how to make it better. Make them all simple and more efficient. Cara acknowledged that at a high-growth company this is a never-ending task!
  3. Develop clear, well-articulated guidelines for what “good” looks like. 
  4. Rebrand the new, unified suite of employee experience programs. Cara and her team named the new program the “Employee Impact Cycle.” It defined, down to each week, what an employee’s activities and expectations would be and how the company would support them.
  5. Create documentation explaining the new Employee Impact Cycle. Communicating value is critical to create buy-in for change management. Cara’s decks and concise two-pagers allowed her to show candidates and new hires how the company planned to support them, and explain the value of the process to employees and management.
  6. Implement changes. Cara and her team condensed their old two-month long feedback process into just two weeks. This was followed by two weeks of level-setting, and then two weeks of development planning. These discussions took place in regularly-scheduled one-on-ones, so no additional meetings were required. 
  7. Much of the homework and pre-work from the old process was simplified down to just entering notes into a digital platform and the most impactful work was concentrated into meetings. Despite the scope of the challenge, their work paid off. These changes saved a significant amount of time and helped to involve the employee more in their own development process.

The Secret Weapon 

The unlock for Cara and her team was realizing “what matters most is what happens in the room.” Their interviews with employees frequently found the most impactful parts of the feedback and goal-setting process were the one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers. This led them to emphasize a shift from assigning pre-work to encouraging managers and employees to focus on their live conversations. It turned out these “in the room” conversations were more personalized and impactful, helping them accomplish the same goals with less work and time.

The Business Impact

  • Reduced employee feedback and goal-setting process from 80 hours of work to 6 hours of meetings throughout the year, saving at least $5M in employee time.
  • Responses to the question “I feel like I’m developing in my role at this company” on the next year’s employee survey went from the mid 60s to mid to high 70s, in the first year of Covid no less! This has continued to improve in subsequent years.
  • Employee engagement and offer acceptance rates increased. 
  • Better employee engagement leads to better outcomes across the business.

Lesson for the Future

This project made Cara realize just how important learning, development and growth opportunities were to employees in general. All of the research she’d seen emphasized this. But for organizations to really live and breathe what the research showed, they needed a structured, efficient and well-messaged approach to the overall employee lifecycle. 

She’s also very excited about how the role of the CPO has been evolving and where it might go next. In her words, “CPO is being a voice of the business. Human resources is the business. Where we used to be the person behind the people, now we’re being asked to step out in front.”

Final Advice

“In the brave new world we’re living in, employee engagement is more than everything going up and to the right, or even feeling good all of the time. It means doing your best work even when it’s hard, supporting others, and feeling supported in turn.” 

Kerry Wang

Co-Founder & CEO

Kerry, our CEO and co-founder, merges Org Psychology and Computer Science expertise. Passionate about people, psychology, and tech, she enjoys weekend reading and reality TV.

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