Workplace

VP of People Ops at Zenefits explains how the role of HR is changing

Danny Speros says 2021 has changed the role of HR for the better.

A businessperson in an office handing over a piece of paper

HR departments have become the workhorse of tech companies.

Photo: Thirdman via Pexels

HR departments have become the workhorse of tech companies. It’s hard to pinpoint an earlier time when companies depended so much on HR to solve their myriad problems. Over the course of the pandemic, HR teams have been rightfully invited to the leadership table to solve for everything from hybrid work and pandemic protocols to tech-talent hiring gaps and the Great Resignation. And they’re bringing the data to back it up.

Danny Speros, VP of People Operations at Zenefits, has spent almost the entirety of his two-decade career in human resources, and to say he’s witnessed massive changes in the role HR plays in the industry would be an understatement. Gone are the days when it was OK for an HR team to solely focus on compliance. That’s the bare minimum, he said. Speros spoke with Protocol about how the nature of people operations and human resources has evolved within tech and the new challenges facing HR departments everywhere.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How has the role of people operations within HR changed over the past two years alone?

There were times in my 20s, many, many years ago, when I would explain to friends and family who didn't necessarily know what human resources was, “Well, I'm involved in the hiring and the firing, and all the stuff in between.” And one of the other things that kept sort of floating up in the world of human resources is we want a seat at the table, we want to be strategic. And I think what's really flipped, especially in the last couple of years, is that we're at the table.

The things that people operations teams are driving are integral to the success of the organization. And the way I approach my job and the way my team approaches our job is we're providing the tools, the technology, the information and the assistance and guidance that our people need to accomplish the goals of the company. And so that can come in the sense of learning and development or planning or goal-setting or performance alignment.

I think one of the most important things we do right now is we've always been a source of listening and an advocate for the employee, but now we need to do that at scale. And we need to not just listen in conversations, but also have methods for employees to provide feedback that can be analyzed.

How have you and your team done this at Zenefits?

The Great Resignation has obviously been in the news this last year. I feel like in some ways, we've fared well with it. However, we've still seen our share of resignations this year. So we don’t just do exit interviews, we do exit surveys where we aggregate data from people on their way out the door. And we also correlate that with other data points within our environment. Whether it be performance or departments or locations or movement or promotions or compensation, we can tie some of those things together and start to see patterns.

What would you recommend to other HR teams observing patterns of attrition at their company?

By looking at [data], perhaps we can prevent the next one and the next one from leaving. So being able to use this and communicate it to our leadership team in real time — and by real time I mean weeks, not months, certainly not a year — we're able to make better decisions as an organization to retain our people.

So my advice to other people in the profession is to start connecting the dots. You have data, or at least you have access to it — people are willing to share this information with you — and to the extent you can collect those dots it can really help you and your organization be better off next year.

How have tech companies changed the way they think about their employees?

An overarching thought on this is that it's a two-way relationship. Historically, it's really been a one-way relationship where the companies made the rules and employees either followed along or chose to leave. And I think what tech companies and a lot of other companies are realizing in light of the Great Resignation, and in light of some of the changes that have come about in the workplace, is it's no longer a one-way street. Companies need to deliver value to the employees in exactly the same fashion that employees need to deliver value for the organization.

I think as long as the company and the employee agree that it's mutually beneficial, we’re good. When that starts to get out of alignment, or perhaps the company just can't offer the employee the types of opportunities that the employee needs to be able to build their career, then it's an opportunity to move on.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Policy

How the internet got privatized and how the government could fix it

Author Ben Tarnoff discusses municipal broadband, Web3 and why closing the “digital divide” isn’t enough.

The Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative, which kicked off in May, will roll out grant programs to expand and improve broadband infrastructure, teach digital skills and improve internet access for “everyone in America by the end of the decade.”

Decisions about who is eligible for these grants will be made based on the Federal Communications Commission’s broken, outdated and incorrect broadband maps — maps the FCC plans to update only after funding has been allocated. Inaccurate broadband maps are just one of many barriers to getting everyone in the country successfully online. Internet service providers that use government funds to connect rural and low-income areas have historically provided those regions with slow speeds and poor service, forcing community residents to find reliable internet outside of their homes.

Keep Reading Show less
Aditi Mukund
Aditi Mukund is Protocol’s Data Analyst. Prior to joining Protocol, she was an analyst at The Daily Beast and NPR where she wrangled data into actionable insights for editorial, audience, commerce, subscription, and product teams. She holds a B.S in Cognitive Science, Human Computer Interaction from The University of California, San Diego.
Fintech

How I decided to exit my startup’s original business

Bluevine got its start in factoring invoices for small businesses. CEO Eyal Lifshitz explains why it dropped that business in favor of “end-to-end banking.”

"[I]t was a realization that we can't be successful at both at the same time: You've got to choose."

Photo: Bluevine

Click banner image for more How I decided series

Bluevine got its start in fintech by offering a modern version of invoice factoring, the centuries-old practice where businesses sell off their accounts receivable for up-front cash. It’s raised $240 million in venture capital and about $700 million in total financing since its founding in 2013 by serving small businesses. But along the way, it realized it was better to focus on the checking accounts and lines of credit it provided customers than its original product. It now manages some $500 million in checking-account deposits.

Keep Reading Show less
Ryan Deffenbaugh
Ryan Deffenbaugh is a reporter at Protocol focused on fintech. Before joining Protocol, he reported on New York's technology industry for Crain's New York Business. He is based in New York and can be reached at rdeffenbaugh@protocol.com.
Enterprise

The Roe decision could change how advertisers use location data

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restricting use of location data. But that may be changing.

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restrictions on the use of location data. But that may be changing.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, the likelihood for location data to be used against people suddenly shifted from a mostly hypothetical scenario to a realistic threat. Although location data has a variety of purposes — from helping municipalities assess how people move around cities to giving reliable driving directions — it’s the voracious appetite of digital advertisers for location information that has fueled the creation and growth of a sector selling data showing who visited specific points on the map, when, what places they came from and where they went afterwards.

Over the years, the digital ad industry has been resistant to restrictions on the use of location data. But that may be changing. The overturning of Roe not only puts the wide availability of location data for advertising in the spotlight, it could serve as a turning point compelling the digital ad industry to take action to limit data associated with sensitive places before the government does.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins