Author’s Cut: Why POPS Needs To Be Part of Your ’22 Business Plan

Kevin Marasco, CMO at Zenefits
Jan 5, 2022

An annual business plan is a crucial roadmap for where you want to go and how you want to get there. But how do you factor people operations into your 2022 business plan? On this special Author’s Cut episode of POPS!, host Didi D’Errico sits down with Zenefits Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Marasco to discuss. […]

An annual business plan is a crucial roadmap for where you want to go and how you want to get there. But how do you factor people operations into your 2022 business plan?

On this special Author’s Cut episode of POPS!, host Didi D’Errico sits down with Zenefits Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Marasco to discuss. You’ll hear key considerations for people ops in 2022, and questions to ask yourself to ensure your people programs are keeping pace with the rapid changes in the new world of work.

After you listen:

Ask a SMB Workplace Question and get featured on POPS! The People Ops podcast.

On this episode, you’ll hear: 

  • [00:29-01:16] The most important thing you can do for your business in 2022
  • [02:17-04:09] The motivation behind writing the book People Operations
  • [04:10-06:51] Why people are integral to the business planning process
  • [06:55-09:02] The shift toward HR having a “seat at the table”
  • [09:02-10:48] People considerations for 2022
  • [10:49-12:51] Key questions to ask regarding people strategy for 2022
  • [13:47-15:03] The one-word business leaders need to keep in mind moving forward
  • [15:03-17:45] Tools and resources from the new People Operations companion workbook
  • [17:45-19:30] How People Operations is helping Zenefits leaders run the company
  • [19:30-21:03] Why now is a good time to re-evaluate perks, benefits, and people programs


Didi: Welcome to POPS, the author’s cut on this show. You’ll get direct insights, tips, and hacks from the authors of the best-selling book, people operations to help you make work work better. This show is exclusive to subscribers of work The leading news site for small business people, leaders. I’m your host Didi D’Errico. Today, we’re going to dive into the most important thing you can do for your business set up your next yearly business plan over the past 18 months, that has required a combination of vision, clarity, flexibility, data-driven insight, and likely some nerves of steel. But to be honest, when it comes to the workforce component of your company plan, how much has.

Predicated on headcount and open positions versus say a guided conversation on strategic staffing questions. Given the backdrop of 2021 and the massive talent crisis today’s show is going to cut right to the chase on the big people, operations questions you need to stare down while you build your next year’s business plan.

Joining me to fast-track. This topic is Kevin Marasco. One of the authors of people operate. The best-selling book that inspired this podcast. Welcome to author’s. Cut. 

Kevin: Happy to be here. Thank you for having me. 

Didi: So before we get started, you’re in a rather privileged position because you not only have focused a lot of your career at the intersection of technology and HR.

But in the past year, you’ve immersed yourself in data, in conversations in deep dive exploration, that powered, writing this book as a result, you’ve had a lot of additional context on how to move from HR and paperwork to more strategic. And data-driven look at designing high-performance experiences or people operations for the new world of work.

We’d love to tap that context for today’s discussion. So let’s start with some baseline context for our listeners. What was your personal and professional motivation to write the book people operations in the first place, 

Kevin: the motivation was really to help small business owners, entrepreneurs, and people, leaders level the playing field, small businesses and mid-size businesses compete.

Against what I would call an unlevel playing field that competing against big companies who have typically more resources, knowledge, bigger teams, and be. Not only for, in many cases, customers, but also competing now for talent and for supply chain resources, especially in today’s world. And so typically bigger companies have advantages that small businesses just out resourced don’t have access necessarily to the tools.

And so really this book is all about empowering small and mid-size businesses. Insights best practices, tools, and guidelines to help them better, better compete. And it’s interesting having been a small business owner and in a family of a bunch of small business owners and entrepreneurs for so long, I think the.

Challenge is really interesting. If you think about it most small and mid-sized businesses starts with purpose, passion, or even a profession until one might’ve gone to medical school to be a physician or a dentist. And you learn all about that thing about being a good physician. And there’s so much to study for say medicine, but they don’t teach you how to run a business, how to market a business every company is built around people and whatever the business is that you started. It all starts around your people, especially in this move from a, it driven economy to a people driven economy, and those practices are not really taught. And so we wanted to write this book to be a playbook, to take some of these concepts that have been proven to work for companies of all sizes and empower small and mid-sized businesses with these ideas, concepts.


Didi: Great. So let’s dig in here. Let’s talk about people proofing the annual business plan. When you set out to write this book, you had a lot of ideas that you wanted to talk about as you just set up there in terms of leveling the playing field and, and bringing kind of full circle, the business dynamics of people into the equation.

But how far or close was annual company planning on your radar when you were, when you’re setting out to write the book in the first. 

Kevin: I wouldn’t say it was like the first thing we were thinking about, however, planning’s integral to any, any business you think about what is planning and then how is that done?

And how’s that perhaps even vary across companies of different sizes planting. It really provides a framework, provides management and ultimately every employee with a blueprint for what needs to be accomplished over the coming time periods also say the upcoming year. And then that also identifies what are the priorities?

What are we doing? Why are we doing. What people and skillsets do we need in order to accomplish it? What other resources, tools, costs, and ultimately the underpinnings of a business plan. And this plan bridges the gap from the current state to the desired future state of the small business owners, CEO, leadership team, and department heads, et cetera.

Yeah. Typically big companies become over time. Very good at planning. It becomes a formal annual process. All the department heads and individuals are involved very serious, rigid, and over time in highly effective companies. It’s how we’re thinking. Looking at competitive threats, how are we going to innovate, evolve the company?

Now as companies get smaller, tends to become a little bit less serious, more informal, and there’s nothing per se wrong with that. But in some cases there might be a business plan put together for investors or something. And then companies just tend to go into operating mode. Now, as a company scales, it tends to become more rigid.

So there’s this balance of like formality that can happen. It’s a discipline that helps the company continue to progress, but also balancing with some agility for dynamic while we’re living in. In any case I’m planning like people at the heart of any business and every company is built around people in the planning process.

People need to be integral into that and not an afterthought. I think that’s the key thing is in any case, people should be critical. Like the most important component is going to be the number one variable in terms of what we’re able to achieve. Typically also the largest costs and really interlocked with what you’re trying to achieve.

So it’s an integral part. But also at the same time, it wasn’t like why we wrote the book, moving from an it to a people driven economy. It needs to be increasingly just an integral part upfront of the planet. 

Didi: So let’s talk for a moment before we go a little bit deeper in your experience. How often does HR actually have a seat at the table when you’re looking at the big business priorities for the year in small and mid-sized businesses and those that did prior to the pandemic, what do you think was expected and how much does that show.

Kevin: Or see it shift in a major way in a progressive or people, operationally mature organization, if you will, where people are at the center of the company strategy and the people leaders helping drive company strategy, it’s always been an integral part and done up front and organizations where. That are just earlier in their evolution, if you will, perhaps less mature in that aspect, which there’s nothing wrong with.

There’s tons of those. And in those cases, it’s often the people’s strategies, a little bit more of an afterthought. Hey, here’s what we want to do, but then it’s okay. There’s some fundamental questions we have to ask. Do we have the skills and capabilities to actually achieve? And today’s world, there’s a new set of questions that people leaders have to be bringing to the table right up front in the process.

Even if we think we have the skills and capabilities, that’s no longer enough because of the great over half of employees. So 55% are planning to leave their jobs over the next 12 months. So you can just assume whoever you have on your team, that most of them are looking for a job and plan to leave in the next 12 months.

So even if you have the. Are you planning to backfill those skills? Do you have a recruiting strategy in place to source and find talent? If so, what does that look like? Because you’re going to be competing as every other company, because there’s a widening supply and demand gap. Every company is looking for talent and that the number of job openings versus your talent is widening.

And so now. There’s a recruiting war. Companies are upping their benefits, their offerings, their compensation, their workplace, flexibility, to be able to recruit more people from diverse locations and have diverse skillsets and profiles. And these are fundamental questions that impact who does the work, where do they do the work?

How do they do the work? And what’s our compensation strategy. What’s our workplace location and flexibility strategy. These are things even if they’ve been in place, they need to be rethought. So 

Didi: on that note, have you teed up some of the changes here at let’s talk a little bit about maybe the biggest changes and thinking about kind of synergy and urgency of strategic people, operations.

 what’s the impact on those bet, your business decisions that companies really have to be paying attention. The 

Kevin: biggest areas to consider are fundamental aspects of the workforce. Who do we employ? For example, maybe traditionally we’ve hired full-time employees and maybe now’s the time to consider part-time freelance gig workers over the next decade.

Most workers, the United States will actually be freelancers, not full-time employees. And to what degree. Where and how are we tapping this pool of resources, folks reentering the workforce. There’s all these Traditionally diverse and untapped talent pools that need to be thought about. And then that then leads to the next question.

Where can people work? What about there’s this geo arbitrage going on right now? Where on both sides, people are going to different locations. Because of a lifestyle and now they can do work digitally, remotely, virtually, and that gives them more balance and flexibility, but it also offers companies be able to tap that and get those skill sets and capabilities.

And in some cases save, save money doing so that could be readable. For additional resources to help grow the company. So these are some of the fundamentals that have massive impacts on the business, because if you go location lists or reduce your number of locations or your real estate footprint, if you will, that has a big impact on the cost structure of the business that can be redeployed.

And so some of these decisions. Of why people teams, people, leaders need to be integral in the planning process. And you need to reevaluate these things because this can fundamentally shift the direction and to a degree, the strategy of the company. 

Didi: So there’s a lot here, a lot of moving pieces. If we’re going to talk directly to the people, listening to this show right now and have them think about, ask themselves questions about their people, strategies, what are some leading questions they really ought to consider?


Kevin: given the great resignation going on over half of workers, planning to change jobs in the next 12 months and 40% planning by the way to change in the next three to nine months, do we have the right retention strategy in place? We thinking appropriately compared to competitors, folks that are employees that are considering going to about our workplace, flexible.

And there’s multiple aspects of that location is a part of that schedule is a part of that when and where and how work gets done. Can we take something that maybe used to be done in a facility on a location? Is it possible to make that work, offer more flexibility? You used to have more of a nine to five type of schedule, maybe it’s time to reconsider that maybe you could go to 24 7 where, you know, instead of having three people work nine to five, now eight hour shifts at a follow the sun model where there’s people working in different time zones.

It’s actually able to accomplish things in shorter time cycles, but that requires rethinking how in, where you staff that’s one, I’d be thinking about location for. We used to invest in, or a lot of companies still invest in real estate and offices, of course, but now there’s this rise of people using things like Airbnbs and what was, oh, we work now.

Folks are using Airbnbs for collaboration spaces and it’s probably a lot less expensive to do that than to have real estate in three locations in a city. So those, these are a couple of things. Rethinking location schedule. And then compensation is another one. I think about compensation strategy in terms of how you’re compensating your current employees and then future employees.

I think that’s one that needs to be reevaluated right now because the salaries and the are changing quickly, we’re seeing high and increase in inflation. And so it’s you, can’t just, you know what you paid someone last year. Probably not gonna work. 

Didi: Those are great questions to think about, because I think that they should be thought about not just by the HR leaders and in many small businesses.

The HR leader is also the founder of the company, or is also the CFO, but in sometimes it’s a siloed activity. And I think what we’ve been talking about is the opportunity. Bring those questions to an executive offsite or an executive planning where everybody really gives it a good thing to see, see the impact of the company.

I know here’s a spoiler alert, but one of our next shows that we’re going to do the author’s cut is going to talk about the cost of losing somebody. So when you’re thinking about compensation, and I know for small businesses, you’re thinking about limited resources and think, how am I going to be able to afford, to continue to increase compensation?

But if you look at the cost of losing those people, both the engaged ones, The disengaged ones. What does that do to your business and how do you, you know, do an end run on that as much as you can. And what do you actually end up saving in terms of thinking about it more strategically at the beginning of your business planning?

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. If there’s one word, I think that business and people, leaders need to keep in mind. This year when planning is flexibility and easy to get set in your ways, whether it’s, Hey, here’s how we pay. Here’s how we work. Here’s where we work. And perhaps that’s worked till now, but due to these challenges, unprecedented challenges that we’re seeing this talent crisis.

That’s just going to get worse. I encourage everyone to have flexibility when it comes to take the compensation. For example. Yeah, maybe this is what we paid, but. If you’re not willing to be flexible on that. And then someone else is, and ultimately, yeah. Then you’re gonna increase your risk of losing people.

And then that’s going to create, as we’ll get into the, the cost of that can be massive. And ultimately you’re gonna end up paying someone else probably more than. Replace that the labor, the talent, the people that you had not to mention lost productivity in, in, in between. So the cost can be much greater and ultimately you’re going to pay it anyways.

It’s just the market that work that we’re in right now do the supply and demand of people and talent. And so without flexibility, and maybe you can look at reconfiguring things, maybe we don’t need this. Maybe there’s an opportunity to automate this or go in a different direction from a company strategy, but.

You have certain skills you’re going to need to be reflectful and. 

Didi: And as we talk about all of this, it feels overwhelming, right? There’s a, there’s so many moving pieces. It’s not just one set of questions or one set of things to focus on because the, because of the vast amount of change that’s happening.

And I know that the focus of the book, people operations is really intended specifically for small and mid-sized businesses to think about practical ways they can get in front of some of these changes. Not quite so overwhelming. And I also know that there’s a brand new companion to the book, a workbook to try to get after that, to, to give some practice, to putting some of these ideas in place.

Maybe you could share a little bit of an insight from your perspective on that workbook and the open-ended questions and exercises that you think a couple of examples. It might be interesting to see it into the minds of the people that are listening to. 

Kevin: One of the purposes of the workbook is to, again, accompany the book and helping in this evolution from tactical and administrative HR to strategic people, operations.

And of course, part of that journey is being about how do I run payroll or file this benefits claim or open this requisition to fundamentally challenging and thinking about. How work gets done inside the company where, and how asking hard questions and reevaluating more strategic people, programs that feed into the planning process.

But other part of this is moving the business to being centered around people. And we really tried to in the workbook build tools. That people leaders can take into the executive room and executive executive planning sessions and help drive some of that conversation, not just participate, but actually help drive that.

And there’s tools in there that drive some of these conversations as fundamental and good questions that don’t just need to be asked one time when you’re building a business plan at the beginning of the business, but on an ongoing basis, for example, who is our customer right now? ’cause that, that for many companies right now is really evolving, fundamental things like that.

And if your customer is evolving and if you re answer that might impact the people that we hire, because if our customer is changing, maybe our people that serve and service them and need to change also in terms of how we connect and communicate and engage them and asking other difficult questions, like what value do we bring to our customers?

Why. Does our company exists? What is our perfect vision and philosophy and values today? Because maybe it has evolved over the past 24 months and the people leaders come and help drive. And update those conversations then not only does that help align the entire executive team, but that’s the foundation for really aligning the entire company and all other people programs.

So thinking about how do we align goals to make sure every employee understands the company, vision, mission, and philosophy that their goals are aligned and then go from there. 

Didi: Let’s talk about how do you implement this at your own company at benefits to get a different perspective on next year’s planning? What are some of the behind the scenes ways that people operations is helping you run your company? 

Kevin: Well, we’re going through it right now and we’re asking ourselves the same questions that I find it to be an energizing exercise to go through because it’s easy to do.

Caught in the inertia and just doing the same things. But when you pause for a second and reevaluate and under understand how have things evolved in our business with our customers, our products and the market at large simultaneously looking at one of the things we’re candidly looking at, we started off as a very centralized company in one location, and then we opened up a few more locations.

And up until recently, that’s been, when you hire, when someone starts at Zenefits, you select what office they’re in and now we’re of course, over the past 18, 24 months, we’ve gone heavily distributed. A lot of companies have, and now most of my team has gone from a hundred percent in one location to most of them being distributed remote.

And so we’re continuing to evaluate that. And how does that now go beyond borders, hopefully of international workers, but now we’re looking at. Given what’s going on, we need to expand the talent poll and things that maybe we did in a specific location. We’re definitely looking beyond that. And we’re looking to get creative with workplace flexibility in terms of when people work, how they work, making it more synchronous and on demand versus always having live meetings.

Hey, let’s let people. On a time that’s convenient for them, but providing the proper mechanisms for check-ins alignment and engagement between employees. So it’s still finding this balance of basically on demand, work with opportunities, for connection and engagement that we know that. 

Didi: Yeah. And that’s a great final note is that all the planning in the world goes out the window.

If you’re not, re-evaluating how it’s working and this check-ins and those conversations with people to say, how does this work for you today? Whether it be the on-demand work you’re talking about or the benefits they receiving. There’s an interesting article in work just a couple of months ago, about the top five benefits that most employers don’t want anymore.

They does just don’t work in today’s world. And so paying attention and staying tapped in obviously post and in-between any of your business planning is a big part of the equation and an important thing too, to make sure that you don’t dust off your hands when the plan is done. And then just go on with your business.

It’s about having. Active engaged conversation and relationship with the people that are going to help you run your business in order to make 

Kevin: that. Now more than ever, we need to be more, more agile and flexible reevaluating things and getting a little bit creative. I think too, also this is the article work has pointed out like the things, and this was just 18, 24 months ago.

Things that were important, all the perks. Yeah. People don’t care anymore. Right? Like it’s in a general, like there’s new things that matter. People have time to self-reflect and say, Hey, I have a new set of priorities. Then I’m rethinking about how. My work and life integrate. And what’s important to me, my family and community.

And so companies need to follow suit to adapt, to provide those priorities to their people. And that’s where it’s an imperative now to reevaluate and redesign some of the people programs. 

Didi: Well, if you’re looking at building some resilience into your business, and you’re interested in learning a little bit more about the people operations work book that we’ve talked about on this show, check out the show notes below we’ll have a link to a sample of the workbook.

And as a special incentive to our listeners, we’ll be giving away 10 copies of the printed workbook, to the first 10 people who reply to podcasts. It’s dot com telling us what you want to do with your pops workbook for your planning and 2022.


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About The People Ops Podcast

Every week, we share the decisions, struggles, and successes for keeping up with an evolving workforce and a changing workplace. No matter if you’ve been in HR or are just getting started, this combination of transformational stories with actionable ideas, as well as context on hot issues, keeps you up-to-date while answering the questions you didn’t even know you had.

Oh, and you know what they say about all work and no play? We tossed in a little levity to keep it real. Lessons, answers, and humor: everywhere you listen to podcasts.

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