Culture / Executive Leadership

People Operations, Human Capital Managment or HR?

The below article was written by Allaya Cooks-Campell @ BetterUp. I am including this article in my blog to help the reader understand the nuances around PO, HCM and HR. I work in the space of people operations but that term is often confusing to the listener. PO transcends departments, organizational structures, budget line items and divisions. It is at the core of every business.

People operations: What is it and how can it support retention?

In 2006, Laszlo Bock was recruited as the next Vice President of Human Resources at Google. But when he received his offer letter, the title of the role had been changed to Vice President of People Operations.

Bock quickly called up Shona Brown, Google’s then SVP of Business Operations, and asked her to change it back. He worried that the “oddball” title would make it harder for him to find another job if things didn’t work out at the company. 

Brown explained that conventional business language wasn’t well regarded at Google. At that time, the HR function was seen as primarily administrative and bureaucratic, while “operations” was viewed as a more credible title by engineers — one of the most important employee segments at Google. After all, for the engineers, people in operations were on the hook for getting things done, every day. 

Brown and Bock agreed that he’d start with the people operations title, and he could change it in six months if he chose. But he never did. His 2015 book WORK RULES! captured his experience and introduced the idea of people ops to a much larger audience.

Since then, the term people operations has become more and more common in the business world. But what is it? And how can it help with employee retention?

What is people operations?

At first glance, you may think that people operations — also known as people ops or POPS — is just a new, fancy way to refer to human resources. And there is some truth to that: some HR leaders have always been more progressive, strategic, people-centric, or business-oriented than others. Depending on the industry and the company, other HR leaders tend to be compliance- and policy-focused, regardless of job title. 

Many HR leaders care deeply about their people, and most People Ops leaders also want to avoid litigation for the company.

But language matters, and the shift to people operations does signal a shift in thinking for many companies. While people ops falls under the HR umbrella, it often has a broader scope and a more personalized approach.

At many companies, an employee may only interact directly with HR during the hiring, onboarding, and exiting processes. Much of the interaction with HR comes through tools for human capital management. But people ops includes all aspects of an employee’s life cycle, from recruitment and selection to performance management, professional development, and succession planning — at a human scale. In this way, people operations can help organizations identify and attract the best talent, develop and retain their employees, and create a positive work environment.

The responsibilities of a people operations team include:

  • Developing a comprehensive people strategy
  • Onboarding new employees and getting them set up with the necessary tech stack
  • Managing the employee journey from beginning to end
  • Updating and optimizing HR systems, including payroll and applicant-tracking software and implementing automation and workflows for a more seamless employee experience
  • Keeping track of and analyzing metrics like employee turnover rates and time to hire
  • Getting the right people in place to achieve the organization’s business goals

In WORK RULES! Bock argues that human resources teams have a tendency to see employees as disposable cogs in a machine while people operations teams are dedicated to designing a workplace that cultivates joy and inspires workers to do their jobs. 

What do people operations do?

People operations focus on eight key priorities within an organization.

1. Connecting the dots between employee performance and the goals of the business

A people operations team is there to help your staff understand their roles within the wider organization by reinforcing how each employee contributes to the company’s goals. Moreover, they should design work in a way that encourages employee engagement and professional development, which can, in the long run, help achieve your business goals. 

2. Mapping the employee journey and lifecycle

People Ops play a critical role in any organization by overseeing the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to exit. Their responsibilities include developing and implementing employee policies, training and development, performance management, and change management.

The People Ops team is responsible for continually improving these key moments to elevate the overall employee experience. 

3. Employee recognition

Research from Survey Monkey reveals that 82% of employed Americans consider recognition an important part of their happiness at work. A critical responsibility for People Ops should be creating and executing a culture of recognition and rewards that help staff feel appreciated for their hard work. 

4. Employee engagement

High engagement is vital to successful workforce management, which is why people ops teams focus on its core drivers: cultural, physical, and digital experiences. By understanding and addressing these factors, the team can create a workplace that fosters employees’ well-being.

5. Employee development

Professional development is essential for a cohesive and collaborative culture. By creating and implementing the right employee development plan, employees will feel competent and valued, leading to increased motivation, higher productivity, and enhanced performance. 

6. Gaining employee trust

People ops can build employee trust by being transparent with employees from the start. This includes sharing company culture, salaries, and benefits information through social media or public databases like Glassdoor. 

7. Change management

The people operations team is essential in ensuring a smooth and seamless organizational transformation. By overseeing and managing the transformation, they can help employees adjust quickly and ensure that business goals are not impacted.

8. Culture development and transformation

People ops should champion the company’s culture and values to create a more ethical and inclusive organizational culture.

People operations vs. traditional human resources: What’s the difference?

Acknowledging that there is overlap in the responsibilities between HR and People Ops professionals, it’s helpful to understand the distinction that the people like Shona Brown might have had in mind. There are some key distinctions between how people operations was conceived versus the perception of traditional HR departments.

In short, people operations is a shift toward a more strategic and data-driven approach to managing employees with a focus on culture, employee engagement and employee experience.