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.

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