Q&A: Part 3: Building Better Engagement

Danny Speros, Director of People Ops, Zenefits
Jul 29, 2021

Professional development is key to employee engagement. But fewer than half of employees get the opportunities they want for professional development at work. In Part 3 of our series on building better employee engagement, Zenefits VP of People Ops Danny Speros explains how to bake professional development into company culture, starting with managers. After you […]

Professional development is key to employee engagement. But fewer than half of employees get the opportunities they want for professional development at work.

In Part 3 of our series on building better employee engagement, Zenefits VP of People Ops Danny Speros explains how to bake professional development into company culture, starting with managers.

After you listen:

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

On this episode, you’ll hear: 

  • [00:38-01:29] Minding the professional development gap
  • [01:29-03:01] Normalizing non-linear career paths
  • [03:02-04:11] Why managers should meet with employees to talk about their career goals
  • [04:12-04:42] How professional development contributes to employee engagement
  • [04:42-05:10] Why professional development is a two-way street

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 operation, 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: This is part of three in our series on employee engagement. And if you haven’t yet be sure to check out parts one and two today, we’re going to talk about professional development and how important that is to employee engagement.

Over three quarters of employers tout their trainings and development as professional development for employees, but fewer than half of employees find that they’re getting what they want in terms of professional development in the workplace. What’s important to think about here is that there’s a gap between what employers think they’re doing and what employees actually want.

In the workplace in terms of professional development, one of the biggest things that younger employees, but certainly employees of any generation want is that they want to feel like part of what they’re doing is helping them to be even better at what they do in the future, or unlocking new opportunities for themselves in the future.

And to be able to get that in the workplaces. Another thing to think about here too, especially for people that are managing younger workforces, is that careers. Aren’t a linear path. It’s not easy to just keep going one step up into the right every single time, like a ladder. I know we talk about career ladders a lot, but I haven’t yet found a ladder that took me straight from the bottom to where I am today.

Professional development is a range of things. And career development is a range of things, but it includes experience on the job. It includes training, it includes education workshops, and there’s even self-directed development that comes. And to some degree, even personal development and growth that happens in other aspects in our life.

And all of these things kind of come together to form our professional development. And it’s helpful to share with employers. Especially people of younger generations that are younger, newer to the workforce, that careers may not just follow that same direct ladder right up to the top. And one of the ways that we’ve done that at Zenefits is that we’ve had people from different parts of the company, successful people, people that everybody looks up to, um, come in and just share like how their career grew from.

A to B and then sideways over to C and then down a little bit to D and then shoot up to E all of these things are just part of a normal career path and helping people kind of see that and understand that it just because I started out as an associate and go to associate to, then I go to specialists, like there’s not necessarily a direct.

It’s really important to have managers meet with each individual person and understand what is their goal, what do they want to achieve in their career? What do they want to do in five years and truck connection? And certainly ask them, how does the work that they’re doing right now, help them on that path?

What types of experiences or learnings or educations would help them even further? Are there things that we can do as a company you can do in your role, maybe some side projects or some additional educational opportunities or some shadowing, what are some other things that we can sort of work into your job that help you achieve that goal?

And then also what other training or education might be appropriate. And then oftentimes it’s helpful for someone. To have a mentor or a coach or something along those lines, but somebody who has gone through those types of things or who is in that position that they want to move up to, to sort of help and make suggestions around books, to read articles, to read things, to think about experience, to game.

So all of those things together can help form a career path or a professional development path for an employee. But the real important thing to think about here is that employees want that. Of course, they stay for pay. They stay for benefits. They stay for flexibility and a whole bunch of other things.

But one of the big things that employees really get out of it. And this is part of, sort of the employee employer implied contract, is that what’s in it for me. And one of the, one of the things that’s really in it for employees is the growth that they get and the ability that they’ve got to advance their career and do even bigger and better things in the field.

 The last thing I’ll say on this topic is that it’s a two way. This can’t just be something that the employee does on their own, because then they don’t essentially have the connection with the employer in terms of engagement on that. And it shouldn’t be something that the employer maps out and says, here you go, here’s your path.

It’s really gotta be something that the employee and the manager worked together on and form a path that works best, for both parties. And when you have that, you’ve got a good step towards employee engagement.

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 podcast at  dot com.


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