Empower Personal and Professional Goals for a Win/Win

Erica Betz, HR Professional
May 26, 2021

Today’s employees crave opportunities and resources for growth from their employers. But according to Erica Betz, former head of HR at software company Squirrels, it’s not enough to say, “go develop yourself” and send them on their way. On this episode of PIVOT, Erica shares why it’s time for people ops to step up its game when it comes to developing people—professionally AND personally.

20 years ago, the end-goal of engaging employees was getting them to stay with the organization for the rest of their career. But times have changed, and the expectations of the workforce have changed as well. Today, employees crave opportunities and resources for growth from their employers. But according to Erica Betz, former head of HR at software company Squirrels, it’s not enough to say, “go develop yourself” and send them on their way.  

On this episode of PIVOT, Erica shares why it’s time for people ops to step up its game when it comes to developing people—professionally AND personally. You’ll hear tips for starting goal-setting conversations and how to use those conversations to engage employees and positively impact business performance. 

On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [02:52-05:39] What engaging and developing employees looks like in this day and age
  • [05:57-07:50] How to implement practices that develop employees as whole people
  • [07:51-09:57] The biggest mistake companies make when it comes to developing employees
  • [09:57-13:53] How technology can be a safe space for employees to speak up 
  • [13:55-16:57 ] How to use goal-setting and check-in conversations to solve problems
  • [18:05-21:16] Measuring the success of development conversations 
  • [21:51-24:35] 4 ways to kickstart a culture of personal and professional development
  • [24:46-25:49] Why Erica is inspired to create better work environments for employees

After you listen: 

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POPS Star Bio

Erica Betz is currently a Human Resources Generalist at Vantage Aging, a non-profit organization that offers paid job training and placement to senior citizens in the state of Ohio. Since first becoming interested in HR in college, Erica worked for several family-owned small businesses where she witnessed how the human touch makes all the difference. Before starting at Vantage Aging, Erica started the HR department and people ops function at Squirrels, a company providing wireless presentation software for schools, businesses, and homes.


Erica: If you’re a manager and you haven’t had an employee say, you know, I’m struggling at some point in the last year, then you must not be talking to your employees because we all are

Didi: POPS! It’s the People Ops Podcast from Zenefits, the only show dedicated to small businesses, sharing stories of pivotal people, moments. I’m your host Didi D’Errico. So what does it mean to you really see your employees? That’s what we’re exploring on this episode of pivot with Erica Betz, who at the time of this recording was the Head of HR at Squirrels. For Erica, the power of people.

Operations is all about that first word people. When you help employees grow both personally and professionally, it leads to creating a winning culture, which impacts a winning business. 

Erica: I started being interested in HR and business and what that looked like when I was in college, I was going to night school for business and working during the day.

And I had an HR professor that I just really connected with and I really liked, and she made such a difference in the thinking about business that I thought, okay, this is this, this is perfect. This is where I want to beat. And since then I have worked in a few different, small businesses, usually family owned and really seen how.

The kind of human touch to what you’re doing makes all the difference. And luckily about a little over three years ago now had the opportunity to come here at squirrels and really start the HR department and start focusing on people ops from really scratch. 

Didi: As we dig deeper into Erica’s journey, we’ll hear how she encourages team members to invest in their ambitions outside of work, and how that translates into building an award-winning culture.

Here’s the conversation with Erica beginning with a shift, she experienced herself while working at her first startup

Erica: inherently. When you have a tech startup, you’re attracting people. And usually the, the startup owners are people that are going to be working, you know, all night long. And they were young and hungry and, and all of that. And to me, as, you know, coming from my perspective, I’m like, yikes, you know, that’s.

That’s scary for me, but, um, yeah, you get a lot of people that have a hard time finding or allowing themselves to have an ox, which, and I have noticed that kind of being close to technology for a long time. That’s hard to, yeah. Grow in someone, the ability to set those boundaries and to not feel guilty about it.

So I would say that we, of course, haven’t always been successful with that. And, and, you know, even today we probably aren’t totally successful all the time, but the real shift is really digging into what engagement looks like and what. What the goal is in today’s day and age. There’s not a lot of focus on, we want this employee to stay here for 20 years.

That’s not really the goal anymore. For employers. We want our employees to be satisfied and motivated and fulfill what they want to fulfill in life. So if someone comes in and we know they have a goal of moving into a role that we don’t necessarily have in five years, We’re happy to have them for those five years and, and grow them and learn from them.

So I think that looking at it as a mutually beneficial relationship is really important, but also understanding what those limitations are. As far as setting your own boundaries is really important. And in working with people, meeting them where they are, uh, you’re not going find it. Someone that works, you know, 18 hours a day.

And just does that and, and be able to tell them you’re just going to work eight now. Um, it really takes a conversation of, you know, why we want them to spend the time with their family and, and to, you know, do their passions as well. So for us, it’s been a conversation. Absolutely. I think that looking at.

Professional development. As you know, with a part of personal development in there has gotten a lot of interest from our employees, just because it allows you to bring in areas of your life that you might’ve thought didn’t really loop into your job. You know, you didn’t really. That didn’t really become a conversation about work and allowing people to use those passions either, you know, spending times on time on passion projects, you know, teaming up with their coworkers on things, supporting our community, things like that have, have really allowed our employees to spend work time.

Growing themselves in ways that might not really be work-related. Um, but we see that come back to us, you know, tenfold, our employees are happy. They’re they’re successful in what they do. And they also have that other kind of boost of energy from whatever it is that they, they kind of have as their passion.

Um, and it’s just, I think that kind of supporting your community and, and being a part of that is important for our teams. So we try our best to find ways to do that. It’s been increasingly difficult through the pandemic. I mean, even if it’s just monetarily being able to support organizations that our employees are advocating for it that’s important to us or having a discussion about something that, you know, they saw and bothered them and openly talking about that is at least some way that we can tell them, you know, personally, you know, being a better communicator is sort of, kind of on you, but.

It benefits all of us and we’re all we all could be better. So let’s talk about it together. Um, I think having that level of humility and kind of growing and failing and growing and failing is, is important. And in a big part of personal development, I’m sure we all can say in our own personal lives, how we’ve shot for this and not made it, but, but that got us further than what we 

Didi: were.

So how do you take this really lovely concept of listening to, and seeing your people into an operational. Mode so that it’s not just about measuring it, but it’s also about making sure that it happens. Can you talk a little about that? 

Erica: That’s, you know, truly the million dollar question is, is once you understand some of these concepts.

You’ve not made much of a dent in what you’re doing yet. Um, and so how do you implement that? And for me, it’s been a lot of trial and error with our team being in a software company. And I’m sure with any industry you have, your departments are so different. One within the individuals in there, but also from department to department, you know, their needs are different, their issues are different.

Um, and so for me, being able to really check in. At those different structural levels, you know, with our leadership team. And what do you guys identify as areas that we can do better and all the way down through every employee, um, you know, how that communication flows and how to do better for me, I found that creating a plan individualized for each employee that you are going to follow up on that you’re going to check in on more than one time a year for me.

And. Allowing them to build that out in a way that works for them. So does professional development look like a certification to you? Not everybody likes to sit for an exam. I love to sit for an exam. I noticed, especially a lot of our developers say I would love to go to more conferences and see how other companies do things.

And. That’s absolutely a different, uh, thought that I hadn’t necessarily had, or I would love to be in a professional organization and just see how other professionals handle this. And I think that that’s, that’s great. So I have a conversation with them about, you know, how do you like to learn? What’s your learning style?

A few of our developers are kind of getting together to do what’s called a code jam. So they’re gonna, you know, they’re all coding at the same time. And that has really nothing to do with work, but everything to do with team building and really encouraging them to kind of build that, that personal connection and trust within each other as well.

So we’re happy to kind of accommodate them, but I think the consistency is key. If you say you’re going to, you know, provide them the access to those things, then when they ask for it, you have to do that. You have to say. Sure I’ll get you into that. We’ll make it work or, you know, tell them if they, if you have a budget for them, they need to know that they need to know what’s realistic.

I think a lot of companies make the mistake of saying. You know, develop yourself and employees say, okay, great. I’m in that role. And so for me, yeah, that might be a little bit easier to structure a development plan and set long-term goals, but that’s not a, you know, a technique that every person is taught or that has, you know, the desire to be able to build out.

So that’s why people operations comes into play in a lot of ways for us. Um, we check in and really make sure that our employees are on track with their own personal goals. Their professional goals and, you know, setting goals for, you know, the department and the company. And I think that’s one area where I can say that the Zenefits has made a difference for us.

And so really pulling all of that into discussion about growth and discussion about performance has made a huge difference because. Tying your performance to something and tying your, your goals to something are really, you know, that’s anchoring and grounding and means a lot to people. So when you say you did this and it really ties in to our goal of hitting this number, or, you know, getting to this place, they’re a part of that then, you know, it means a lot more to them than it would.

If you just said you met an arbitrary goal. Great. And move on. So yeah. Whereas it’s a lot of consistency and really pulling things together and really showcasing the fact that none of us could do this alone. We are a team always, and, and truly there’s, there’s no job here that, um, any other person could do just as well, or with just the same perspective.

And that’s so valuable to us. I think that. Every time I interview candidates. Um, I wish I could say yes to all of them because everyone has a different perspective and I can just see how I could learn from them and the team could learn from them. So I think building on that consistency and also the engagement of it, it’s a conversation.

I think a lot of bigger companies don’t have the time to do that. And that’s, that’s something that I think the move from HR to. To people ops is really changing right now, setting aside that time, making the space for employees to share how they want to grow and, and how they best learn. Um, it’s better to invest that time and money and resources into something that’s effective for that person.

And then to kind of do a one size fits all. You 

Didi: talk a lot today about the idea that everyone learns differently, where we all have different perspectives. We, we bring that into the melting pot. That is the company, but we also all maybe rally or advocate for ourselves differently too. And what I thought was super interesting coming from a technology shop, such as yours is really recognizing that technology has the power, not only to.

Automate and to organize and to streamline, but also maybe to elevate voices and perspectives as well. And if you could talk a little bit about kind of that aha. In your goal setting and your goal tracking that that were technology kind of added, it added a layer for the quieter members of your team.

Erica: Definitely an eyeopening moment for me to think we’ve had access to a lot of software tools. I mean, we’re a software company and we’ve, you know, even doing kind of engagements. Surveys or pulse checks on our own. We kind of gone through our first engagement survey with benefits now and, and it was really successful.

And I think it’s because our employees know that one it’s completely anonymous. It’s no one is collecting that information and then distilling it to anyone else. Um, and having that kind of security is, is one level, but also being able to. Be in a system like Zenefits, where you’re tying together a lot of parts of your job.

Um, and, and being able to one visualize that I think that’s important, especially for technology companies. A lot of people here are very visual learners and even just being able to visualize how those goals look and, and how that, you know, performance evaluation looks. And side-by-side comparing your own evaluation with your managers, um, and with your coworkers.

Because we’re able to build all of that out now is so important for people. And I think broadly speaking, allowing employees to take the time to process information, type it out, put it in a safe space and kind of walk away from it is so different than say we’ve in the past been, we’ve done all hands meetings where.

Um, when we all fit, we were all in the same area of our common area and watching the presentation on a big screen. And some of us would be talking and asking questions. And, you know, some people wouldn’t ask any questions, but probably had a lot more than, than, uh, those of us who could chat all the time.

Right. So there was, you know, not necessarily a space then for them to communicate some of those questions or goals or ideas. Um, and now there is, and so we’ve, we’ve seen a difference there and that can be really kind of. In all areas of, of your work life, having a space to look back and retrospectively, really look at a project or a conversation even, and have a space to kind of talk about that.

And I think that’s one thing that has grown a lot. Our team’s ability to mindfully and meaningfully communicate with one another. Um, words mean a lot. And I think. It’s really important, how you talk to people. It’s a lot easier to sound harsh. And I think a text message than it is if you’re looking at someone face to face in the same room.

So even navigating those conversations, I’m sure there’s, there’s been times where I’ve responded to an employee and they’re like, is everything okay? Did I do something wrong? And I think, no, of course not. Yeah. Be mindful of that. You know, bringing that to the front of what you’re doing because ultimately effective communication is.

What makes or breaks any company, you know, within any industry or any size, um, and allowing your employees to kind of have that space and have the tools that they need to advocate for themselves. Exactly what you were saying. Um, there’s only so much kind of advocacy that I can do before I, you know, have to pass on that empowerment to them and allow them then to, to share their own thoughts and feelings as much as I like to talk.

You know, I, I do like to listen as well. So I think that that’s. That’s a great point of, of kind of how those two, both learning styles and communication and advocacy styles really come together with technology. There’s, you’re hard pressed to find a way that you can’t communicate now with all of the changes that we’ve had in our work work society really.

Didi: Yeah, it all sounds so aspirational. So I’d love to hear it kind of in practice of asking people where they want it to develop professionally, as well as personally being able to align that So what does that look like? And maybe an aha about an unexpected outcome of, of goal setting and goal management. That was really powerful for your people this year. 

Erica: For us, it kind of goes in ebbs and flows where, you know, we will eventually hit a project or release a software update where we realize, okay, maybe we need to hire more people or that didn’t go as, as, as planned.

And that happens every few years where we have to re kind of evaluate their process or how many people we have on that team. And we definitely hit a kind of roadblock in, in the last year. Few months with a project we were working on and what it ended up being a pivotal moment for me and a real learning opportunity was that I was able to really check in with our development team and run a job analysis for a lot of employees and really look at how they see their priorities, their jobs, their communication, and then.

Work with them on, is that what you want to be doing is that, you know, where you want to go. And we have a unique team and that we have so many employees here that have started at one place in one department and grown into completely other different roles in different departments. So I was actually working with a couple of employees that started out in development and really grew into project management roles and, and checking in with them about.

Do you have the tools you need? Do you have the training you need? Um, is this what you enjoy doing? You’re great at what you do and is that why you’re in this role because we’ve kind of pushed you there and really having that difficult conversation of how did we get here? What are our problems and how do we fix them?

I think is, is, is a good example of, of kind of using all of that and to solve a problem. And our problem wasn’t, you know, was a dire, major issue, but we were noticing. Things like time estimation for software implementation. That’s a really difficult thing to do. Um, and, and kind of specking out software issues is a difficult task.

And being able to say, we’re not doing the best we can with this, but how can we empower you to do that? And so after doing a lot of that work and having those conversations. We made the decision to bring on a director for that team. Um, they needed more support, they needed a, another voice in the room and also to bring in a kind of an organizational consultant to work with our leadership team and, and really get a third-party look and a very objective look at, you know, what’s going on with our communication.

So being able to be flexible and, and I think what’s really important from our leadership team is being able to say, I don’t know. I don’t know how to solve that. I hear you. I hear that you’re having that problem in your day to day work and that you feel that way, but I don’t know how to solve that, but let me find someone that does, let me bring someone in with a voice that knows more than me.

and so, yeah, it was, it was a rough time for, for that team specifically, they have a lot of their, their hearts and souls put into their work.

They’re very passionate about it. And, and to say, I think I need help is tough for them. 

Didi: There was so much in that anecdote. I really loved the shared vulnerability. It’s not only the vulnerability on the behalf of your, of your departments or teams or individuals. It’s your management team saying we’re vulnerable too. We don’t all have the answers.

I’ve got to believe that that. Builds a lot in terms of trust for one another that you, that you’re honest enough to do that. I also loved learning about how you’re blending kind of personal passion with professional passion to allow lots of people to take on different hats and try different roles.

For sure. That’s one of the nice things about small businesses. You kind of can get your fingers in a lot of pies,, and try that out, but did they have the. I have the grace and flexibility to test drive some stuff and re recognize when it doesn’t necessarily work. And when it’s, when it’s a good fit.

 Didi: So as we wrap this session,, can you talk a little bit, everybody when you come to the operations and it is, how do you measure it?

What would success look like? in terms of measuring impact for this, you know, giving the space for communication and so that you’re not missing out when people have an idea and, or have some impact.

Input for themselves. And for the business, 

Erica: I can see a success story starting is when employees feel empowered to take some of that personal or professional development. Um, we’ve had a lot of failure in the past where management says,, I’d like you to do some professional development and that’s the end of the goal.

, and you know, honestly, that’s. That’s might as well, not be written down for all that provides to an employee and the authority they have to actually make that happen. So the more you have those conversations, I think the more employees that we see on a path that they set doing, the activities that they want to do is successful for me.

The, the more. Times I get to shout someone out on Slack that they completed something or got into a new place and whatever they’re growing in. Um, that’s a success for me. And I think being recognized by your peers for doing that is also a victory for people, especially a lot of people that are, are more reserved and we would never.

You know, be like me and be like, look at my Sherm certification, everyone. Um, here’s what it took to do it. A lot of employees love that like little spotlight that they wouldn’t normally give themselves. So I think for that development side, it is a lot of just watching those things happen. And that leads then to.

Having, you know, less turnover or more promotions from within the company or just having employees that are more interested in mentorship and things like that. I’ve seen that grow pretty exponentially. You know, we’ve, we’ve started an internship program where in the past entrance for us have, have been.

They haven’t always had a lot to do, I guess, because it hasn’t been as structured as it needs to be for a role at that level. And so, you know, we’ve had a lot of employees that have said that I would love to get an intern next time. Um, I have a plan of what they would do and goals for them. And just the fact that an employee would take their time to kind of set that up and say, here’s what I created.

Do you think it’s a good idea? I think that’s a sign of huge successes when employees are having ideas and then comfortable to share them. I’ve heard a few times really, you know, in the last year or two. Of employees saying I’ve always thought for the last few years that this would be a good idea, and now they finally feel comfortable to say that.

And so that’s exciting for me, I’m so excited to kind of follow up with those projects and ideas. And the important part is that the organization supports those. Um, and you know, you don’t hear it and lose it. You hear it and act on it in whatever way you can. Um, that’s really the key for me as far as like traditional measurements of success and numbers, right.

I don’t look at Tyna and stuff like that, especially for people ops.but ultimately looking at kind of those, those bigger kind of writing on the wall moments of our people leaving, you know, our key employees happy, you know, are people referring their friends to come and work here?

That goes in ebbs and flows and a lot of software companies where you’ll have a group of people come in and almost all of them are employee referrals. And then you don’t have an employee say a peep when you post a job in, in a, in a couple of years later and you have to evaluate, why are, why are we not seeing that anymore?

You know, what is it that people would not recommend about our company to their friends?, and I think all of those things really tie in and the nice thing about being able to focus on people operations instead of just that paperwork in filing HR approach. Is that you get a chance to look at that and really see trends and have the power to then engage with those trends.

Didi: on the note of kind of a community of learning together, are there a couple of things that you would suggest if they are kind of some they’re recognizing themselves in a, Oh, we’re one of those places where we work all night. Cause we really love what we’re doing or, Ooh, I didn’t really think about the quiet engineers in the corner that we’re not really taking stock of.

Um, where would you suggest that people who are turning in and really trying to pay. Better attention to, to their teams for the good of the individuals, as well as the good of the company. What are a couple of places? They might start a question they might ask themselves to, to take this on. I 

Erica: think there’s a couple of places that you can really begin to take a look at that.

And the first truly being at the, at the top or leadership level where that’s, where the change is going to come from, that is where the culture is set. And so having that true sense of vulnerability in yourself to say, we might not know everything. Um, and you know, we have a focus on. Doing the right thing for our company doing the right thing for our employees and less about, you know, kind of being right in the end.

And I think that that’s a major Bernay Brown, so I will always, always bring that up. But I think that’s really important is to be ready to make that commitment because it is, it’s a major commitment. If you are starting a business, it is just as much of a commitment to want to have a good. Ethical responsible business with your employees.

That’s just as much of a commitment of yourself. And so once you’re at that point, I think understanding where you are currently a baseline and I really love engagement surveys for that. I personally love Zenefits because it is completely anonymous. .

And so eliminating that fear and having a truly anonymous engagement survey where you’re asking those tough questions about trust and about how people feel about their positions and the resources they have and just. Coming to a very neutral space to look at that, to say these are my employees and I respect them, and this is what they think.

And so I respect that as well. I think that’s really a lot of hard work and,, it sounds a little kind of woo-hoo and a little bit idealistic, but honestly it is a lot of hard work. It’s, it’s, it’s truly, um, an emotional labor. And so once you get yourself to that point where you can look at that information in a neutral space and say, Okay.

I, I respect that they, they feel this way and we need to dig down into why they feel this way and what we can do to make a difference. Regular engagement checks is really, you know, the, the place to start because you can see that changing for better or for worse. And I think that that’s probably the best way to start, but also you have to make sure.

Space and make time for people operations. If that means you need to hire someone to do people operations, then you should absolutely devote yourself and your money to that role, because it’s so important. You’re going to save money in the long run. You’re going to make money. You’re going to make people happy or you’re going to fulfill whatever values you have.

If you do that, if you invest in that now and start that foundation, um, and it can be tough because some employees say, you know, I like working more than eight hours a day. I like doing that. And, and I’m glad that they liked that, you know, but it, they might not always, we’ve definitely seen that. We’ve had employees that love to do that.

And all of a sudden, you know, you’re married and have a family and, and. You don’t love it anymore, but you’re scared to not do it. So it’s, it’s tough. Um, it’s, it’s definitely tough and it’s labor on all ends, but it’s, it’s definitely a labor of love. And if you enjoy doing it or you find someone that enjoys doing it, it makes it that much easier.

Didi: Erica. Thank you so much for sharing your, your ideas and your input. There’s a lot to chew on here. Um, and I would leave it with one last question for you. When you think about the year ahead of you, what, what are you most optimistic about for small business and for your particular small 

Erica: business? The thing that like inspires me the most is, is kind of what we’ve touched on and that we don’t have to just go back to the way we were doing things.

We have an open door in front of us to create a working environment that is not only productive, but ethical and responsible to our employees. And that serves. The people that are devoting so much of their lives to what we do here. And that’s really what matters. And, and we’ve found so many ways to pick up on new voices or voices that we just weren’t hearing before and to bring in new ideas with the possibility now of remote work, being so much more appealing and open to companies and employees.

There’s just so much room now for change and growth, which. Honestly, it was also room for, you know, discomfort and, and, uh, that real hard work that you have to do. But, but in the end, I think that it’s, it’s only going to mean more success for people and, you know, that’s, that’s really our goal. 

Didi: I’m Didi, and this was PIVOT.

If you want to learn more about inspiring people, operations stories, like Erica’s check out zenefits.com/pops-podcast where you’ll find bonus resources, profiles, and even a link to order our new book titled you guessed it, people operations. Also, if you have questions you want us to answer on our show, check out the link in our show notes below and we’ll get it covered.


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