Q&A: Part 1: Building Better Engagement

Danny Speros, Director of People Ops, Zenefits
Jul 13, 2021

With just 4 in 10 employees reporting being “actively engaged” and turnover rates at a 20-year high, employee engagement is top-of-mind for businesses of all sizes right now. We’re tackling the big topic of building better engagement across a 4-part series—starting today.  In Part 1, Zenefits VP of People Ops Danny Speros discusses how to […]

With just 4 in 10 employees reporting being “actively engaged” and turnover rates at a 20-year high, employee engagement is top-of-mind for businesses of all sizes right now. We’re tackling the big topic of building better engagement across a 4-part series—starting today. 

In Part 1, Zenefits VP of People Ops Danny Speros discusses how to align people and their work to company outcomes, and why this can have an outsized impact on individual engagement.

After you listen

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On this episode, you’ll hear: 

  • [00:56-01:37] The state of employee engagement today
  • [01:37-03:07] The factors that impact employee engagement, and those that don’t
  • [03:07-05:29]  Steps to help people align their day-to-day work to company success

POPS Star Bio

Danny comes from a family of entrepreneurs and spent 8 years running the family construction business including HR, Sales, Operations and Accounting. He understands the joys and challenges of building a business and learned a lot about how to avoid some common pitfalls. This context fuels his passion for working with other small businesses at Zenefits. Today, Danny taps more than 20 years of People Ops and small business leadership in his role as VP of People Ops at Zenefits. This makes him a great guest expert for the podcast, so you’ll hear from him often.  And you might just catch an occasional cameo from his young daughter in the background.


Danny: How can I build better employee engagement? 

Didi: Welcome to POPS, the show that shows you how to shift from human resources, paperwork to people operations, but the new world of work by answering one question at a time today, to help us answer your question. Here’s Danny Speros, VP of People Ops at Zenefits, 

Danny: Building better employee engagement is a big topic to tackle that topic. We’re going to break it up into a four-part series. Today is part one of that series. And we’re going to talk about aligning people and their individual work to the outcomes of the company and their customers and how that has an impact on individual.

To start off with here’s a couple stats, only four out of 10 employees are actively engaged now as a head of people at Zenefits and a manager myself, I would normally think that that number at my company is a little higher and it turns out that so do a lot of other leaders think that that number is higher.

So there’s a gap between what we think employee engagement is really at. And what engagement really is at. And in the current environment, there’s a wave of turnover happening right now. We’re at the highest levels of employee turnover in at least the past 20 years. And maybe even beyond that fully, a quarter of employees are thinking about changing jobs and that may be as high as 30 to 40%.

So when we talk about engagement, it’s not how much people like their job, although that plays a part, it’s also not all about the money, although that also plays a part. And it certainly, as we found out in the last year or so, it’s not all about the perks we’ve gone for a year without foosball tables, ping pong, tables, sodas, or snacks in the office.

In fact, we’ve gone without the office entirely. And in some respects may not ever go back fully to those kinds of. But what we have found is that we’ve made stronger connections and that’s what engagement is really about. It’s the connection that people have to their work, to their coworkers, their customers, the outcomes that we can influence and the personal satisfaction and growth that we can achieve through the course of our work.

The first part about building engagement is really about the alignment that people have to the outcomes of the organization and the customers that they support, or the mission that the organization has. And it’s really about finding meaning in our work in a previous life, I was a leader of a construction company.

And at the end of every day, there was something tangible that I could look at, touch it, feel it, take a picture of it. I then take those pictures back to my production shop and share them with the rest of the workers that didn’t get a chance to actually see the finished installation. Not all work is that tangible and the larger the organization, the easier it is to be separated from the outcome of the work.

So, what do we do? There’s a handful of things that are critical, no matter what your organization does to helping people align themselves and give them truly meaning, like, how does the work that I do impact the success of the company and how does that impact our customers? So the first step is really to define what good outcomes look like.

What does success look like? What does that look and feel like for our customers? What does that look and feel like for the company and what are some of the metrics that we’d be able to demonstrate that with the next step is to take those goals and that mission, and then figure out how departments work to achieve those, and then how the different teams break up and work to achieve those and ultimately get it all the way down to.

What does the work that each individual does? How does that contribute to the ultimate goal of the customer and the, and the company? And how does success at the individual level help us achieve success at the, at the sort of macro level now setting and defining goals and all of that’s great, but what if the world changes or what if something changes drastically, there’s gotta be some adaptability built in and there can be.

And so it’s, it’s fine. If things need to change, it’s fine. If, um, how we achieve. Those ultimate outcomes change, but it’s important to at least have a definition and then have a frame of reference. And then the sort of the last piece of this puzzle is that it’s up to leaders. It’s up to managers to constantly be looking at.

Is the work that we’re doing actually leading towards that success, review that connect on that, adjust and repeat where necessary and doing those things is really going to help sort of bring this full circle. And it’s important to connect with individuals. No matter where they are in the organization.

And it makes sure that they get a chance to see that here at Zenefits. One of the neat things that we do is every month we share a customer success story. So we share a story of how customers are achieving things that they couldn’t have achieved without us. And we’re sharing that across all of our employees so that all of our employees get a chance to see right.

I had a part in that, and that’s a big deal and it’s something that’s important to creating an employee connection with the outcome.

Didi: Do you have a question for our experts? Click the link in the show notes, or if you’ve got other ideas and feedback about our show, send them to [email protected]

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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.

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