Charles Lattimer is a seasoned technology entrepreneur and innovator, bringing more than two decades of experience to his role of VP of Innovation and Growth at FinFit – a financial wellness company that specializes in increasing employee retention by reducing finance-related employee stress. For our latest Faces of HR profile, we sat down with Charles to discuss how he got his start in the industry, his biggest influence, as well as his thoughts on trends and best practices for the HR industry, including how company leaders can make HR a value within their organization. According to Lattimer, it all starts with rewriting the employer/employee contract.
“When 30% of the workforce was forced to take a break during COVID, a lot of folks took serious stock of their lives,” he recently told HR Daily Advisor. “Do I really want to sit in a cubicle for the rest of my life? Do I want the constant negatively of serving unappreciative, entitled patrons when I can sign up for Door Dash, set my own hours, and make more money?
“So, the question isn’t “how can company leaders make HR a value…,” it is “how can company leaders continue to not make HR a value within their organizations?” The country is facing and will continue to face a talent and recruiting crisis. In absence of full-blown automation in the service sector, company leaders need a shift in mindset that looks at their workforce as an opportunity to be nurtured, not a cost to be managed down and risk to be mitigated. It is incumbent on HR leaders to collect and analyze data to make their case for large resource allocations and tell a BIG story to leadership.”
In our latest Faces of HR profile, meet Charles Lattimer.
How did you get your start in the field?
I had never really thought about technology or human resources until graduate school at Virginia Tech. At that point, I had worked as a professional theatre actor and director, returning to college so that I did not have to spend the rest of my life sleeping on couches, making barely above minimum wage. This is when I made the very money-driven decision to pursue a career in comparative literature in hopes of becoming a poetry scholar.
One day, as I was wading through a mountain of books in search of a thesis topic and on my third cup at Mill Mountain Coffee in Blacksburg, Virginia, a friend mentioned to me that she was turning down a consulting project on how club managers could deal more effectively with their board of governors. We kicked around what, at the moment, seemed to be wild ideas about using the newfangled tools of computer-based teaching combined with actors performing rich boardroom scenarios to provide a new type of learning environment for managers. We put together an obscene budget, at least we naively thought so, and sent it off for consideration. Two weeks later we got an email that simply stated, “Get it done.”
A day later I changed my thesis topic to studying the rhetoric of corporate training communities and founded my first technology start-up. And, as they say, “that was all she wrote,” and I never looked back.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?
In the Human Resources industry, Ken Kovach, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for the B.F. Saul Company, was absolutely my biggest influence. For the most formative part of my leadership career and about a decade, when I was building my professional philosophy, Ken took the time to meet with me weekly and countless other times. In addition to the informal mentorship, we built some incredible programs for the B. F. Saul Company, such as their Center for Professional Development, performance development business process, and a rearticulation of the company’s mission, vision, and values.
Ken taught me firsthand that a workforce is not to be managed as a population risk, rather nurtured one human being at a time. He also showed me the importance of telling a data-backed story to senior leadership and how to sell transformative ideas to the C-Level. With that knowledge, I learned that one can move a mountain. For all of that, I am forever grateful for his friendship and mentorship.
What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?
Spreading myself too thin professionally – trying to capture every opportunity that came across my desk and being everything to everybody. When you are competent and have a knack for getting things done, your dance card will fill up quickly – board seats, committees, random projects, off-topic investments, etc. I learned the power of a saying, “That sounds like a wonderful opportunity, but no thank you.”
Time on task and the focus it takes to build domain-specific expertise are both critical. Experts get paid five times what generalists make and typically lead the team. I learned to dig in and dominate narrow opportunity sets, which are often oddly transferrable across multiple industry verticals.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?
In Human Resources, we have a daily opportunity to change the trajectory of individual people’s lives, which over the long term can have an extraordinary impact on a family and community. I love that.
Conversely, this is an industry that constantly fights for resources and legitimacy from senior leadership. It is a rare company that truly prioritizes its workforce, as quantifiably demonstrated through resource allocations. We need to do a better job at collecting and analyzing data in order to tell powerful, boardroom-worthy stories that justify significant continued investments in the workforce from leadership.
It sounds like through your experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.
When times are tough and I am helping myself or others traverse uncertain terrain, I try to remember the things that make human beings somewhat unique in the known universe: we can cooperate on large scales to enact profound change; we can contemplate ourselves in relationship to a greater context; we can bring forth an imaginative spirit that allows us to define ourselves beyond our current circumstance; we can predict long-term outcomes; we can experience abstract beauty; we can search for and achieve purpose in service of others. All those things that make us unique feel sacred to me. Taking care of others means that I can help ensure we keep those things intact. (Like everybody, I have my good and bad days in pursuit of that ideal.)
Why is this important for the industry? The Human Resources function is the primary advocate for workers to strive for and achieve their potential and callings. When that happens, companies are more competitive, make more money, and hopefully hire more people. This is an awesome virtuous cycle we can fuel as an industry.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?
I believe the trend of managing the cost of benefits from corporate balance sheets and onto the American worker has bottomed out – with 60% of folks working paycheck to paycheck, workers have nothing left to give. To be competitive in the war for talent, companies need to step up with better healthcare, continued education and certifications, unrestricted emergency savings vehicles, access to short-term financial liquidity, robust retirement matches, ready access to mental health services, safe spaces to deal with addictions, inclusive work environments, and many more things to foster the holistic wellness of each employee.
To address this complex opportunity, countless point solutions are emerging, and most will die off or be acquired. Jumbo, payroll-connected human resources “super apps” are on the way – with a half a dozen or so major winners. This will allow small to mid-size companies to compete more effectively with large enterprises for talent in a distributed workforce. To keep costs under control with scale, the Fortune 500 will orchestrate their own internal, holistic solutions – the economics for outsourcing an array of point solutions stop making sense once you exceed a six-figure person workforce. In five years, most of this will be cleaned up, and the HR function will be greatly streamlined and infinitely more effective.
What are you most proud of?
With nearly 60% of the workforce being unbanked, underbanked, or unfairly banked (subprime credit with deleterious terms for accessing credit and housing), I get the opportunity to work with the most innovative corporate and healthcare leaders in the world solving one of the most unjust and complex issues that the wealthiest society in the history of humanity faces. Some days it feels like we aren’t moving fast enough or going two steps back, but I get to fight the good fight and for that I am profoundly proud of the work I do.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Professionally: find three great mentors early in your career, stay in touch with them, and pay that forward one day by mentoring others. Personally: make your bed, shower in the morning, keep your space clean, ensure your communications are up to date, and make healthy choices – it is hard to help others if your life is out of control.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story and thoughts, and I wish all those reading or listening a lifetime of good fortune, kind relationships, meaningful purpose, and happiness along the way.