What is People Operations? The Role and 8 Key Priorities

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What is People Operations? The Role and 8 Key Priorities

The way businesses operate is rapidly changing, and we’re moving into an era where companies understand the importance of putting people first. Enter People Operations, or People Ops as it’s often called.

But what exactly is People Operations and how does it differ from a traditional HR department? What are their role and key priorities?

Let’s find out.

What is People Operations?

People Operations is a strategic business function that focuses on putting the employee first by humanizing impersonal systems and continuously improving employee engagement, development, and retention.

The term was coined by Laszlo Bock—former HR Director at Google—who explored this in more depth in his book, Work Rules!

People Operations responsibilities include:

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  • Managing the employee journey
  • Developing a people strategy
  • Increasing employee value
  • Updating HR systems
  • Analyzing metrics
  • Helping to achieve the wider goals of the organization

It’s about creating a culture and environment that makes employees feel happy and proud to work at their organization.

A successful People Operations department improves company culture, increases employee dedication and diversity, and fuels business growth. So, if you don’t yet have a People Ops team, it may be time to invest in one.

How do People Operations differ from Human Resources?

Although People Operations may sound the same as HR, there are some key differences, especially compared to traditional HR departments.

Traditional HRPeople Operations
Focused on enforcing compliance and reducing liability.Focused on maximizing the value of employees.
Informed about decisions and told to execute.Consulted on strategic decisions and part of the conversation.
Works within narrow boundaries of “traditional HR.”Takes a wider, holistic view of the business and uses People tools to achieve goals.
Responds to issues as and when they arise.Proactively creates new systems and programs to improve ways of working.
Updates and maintains the employee database and inputs pay changes as requested by managers.Creates goal-based reward systems that encourage employee initiative and dedication.
Hire a replacement when a position is vacant.Support the current workforce so that there is less turnover.
HR departments tend to operate separately from all other departments.People Operations connect all departments together.

Many large companies, including Google, Buffer, and IBM, are moving away from traditional HR teams in favor of a People Ops model, which takes a more holistic approach to business.

People Operations department and roles

How do you know if your company needs a People Operations department, and what should it look like?

Startup companies like Uber and Tinder have all paid the steep price of not having any dedicated person or team devoted to managing people, which resulted in lawsuits filed against the companies for matters that could have easily been resolved in-house with the right expertise.

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If you are still in the startup stage of business, don’t underestimate the importance of having at least one employee dedicated to managing people and taking care of new employees—especially if you’re planning to rapidly scale in the near future. Experts recommend making People Ops one of your first 25 hires and having at least one person to manage every 50 employees you hire.

Larger companies might choose to create an entirely new team from their existing HR team. Another option is to hire People Ops specialists to manage the employee lifecycle within the organization.

People Ops is vital for building your organization’s culture and setting clear boundaries and expectations to adhere to. It sets up a transparent process for the entire employee journey from hiring to onboarding, performance reviews, promotions, and rewards.

Here’s a brief look at the different roles within the People Operations department and their primary responsibilities.

People Operations Manager

A People Operations Manager is responsible for managing the team’s overall work, similar to a Project Manager. It’s their job to oversee the team and ensure they work efficiently together within and across departments in a streamlined way.

People Operations Coordinator

Operations Coordinators usually take on admin duties, organization and assist in project management. They ensure that the day-to-day operations of the company run smoothly.

Director of People Operations

A Director of People Ops is responsible for leading, coaching, and overseeing the entire People team. Together with business leaders, they will develop and drive forward a people strategy across the company. They ensure all policies and processes focus on supporting and improving the employee experience across the entire lifecycle.

People Operations Specialist

A People Ops Specialist is responsible for running data checks and ensuring all HR records are accurate and up to date, and that all queries are answered in a timely fashion. They provide onboarding support for new hires and will often work alongside other teams, including Recruitment. Excellent communication and customer service skills are essential for this role.

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People Operations Analyst

An Operations Analyst is in charge of researching, identifying flaws in processes and operations, and proposing improvements and changes. Analysts are responsible for ensuring the company is always following compliance and regulations, thereby reducing liability risk.

What are the key priorities of People Operations?

Any People Operations department has several key priorities they’re striving to meet in an organization. Here are the eight most important ones.

1. Connecting individual employee performance with company goals

People Ops are responsible for helping all employees understand their primary role within the wider organization. They also continuously reiterate how the employees are contributing to the company’s goals. It’s their job to design work in a way that encourages engagement and makes employees want to be there and continue to improve their skills. Not only is this crucial for organizational commitment, but engaged teams are likely to work harder and be more dedicated to their role, which will create more profits and help the company grow.

People Ops should also be involved in the organization’s major goals, discuss how achievable they are, and flag any immediate concerns.

Key Priorities of People Operations

2. Mapping the employee journey and lifecycle

Employee journey mapping refers to identifying the “moments that matter” in the employee journey at your organization. This includes moments such as:

  • Interviewing
  • First day at work and job orientation
  • Other onboarding activities
  • Performance reviews
  • Training and development
  • Team events
  • Company restructurings
  • Exit interviews

The People Ops team is responsible for mapping these key moments out (as well as the time in between). They continually improve them to boost the overall employee experience. This is key and backed up by The Future Workplace and Beyond.com study, which found 83% of HR leaders believe employee experience is essential to their organization’s overall success.

Regularly communicating with employees throughout their journey also helps to promote an inclusive, supportive work culture and ensures everyone is heard. But to build trust, there must be consistency across the entire employee lifecycle, which is what People Operations strive to do.

3. Employee recognition

Research has shown that 40% of employees cite a lack of recognition as their top reason for feeling demotivated at work. At the same time, companies with a recognition culture have a 31% lower employee turnover rate.

This is why People Ops should focus on creating and implementing a reward system and recognition culture that helps employees feel appreciated for their efforts. This could take shape as a formal employee reward system or a series of informal emails sent to teams or the whole organization. Regardless of the system or method chosen, the priority should be ensuring employees feel appreciated at work.

4. Continuous engagement

High turnover and burnout rates can severely impact your bottom line. That’s why keeping staff happy and healthy at all times should be a key priority for People Operations. There are many strategies for this, including employee recognition, as mentioned above. But continuously engaging employees is vital and can significantly improve profits by lowering absenteeism rates, increasing retention, productivity, and happiness, and improving the overall organizational culture.

To do this effectively, it’s important to understand the core drivers of employee engagement – cultural, physical, and digital employee experience. People Ops team knows and addresses your employee’s pain points, and regularly speaks to the employees to understand what they need and want in their workplace.

5. Employee development

People Operations are responsible for spearheading employee learning and development. This includes skills training (upskilling and reskilling), career pathing, management, and leadership development, and helping set goals for individual roles through KPIs.

A focus on continual learning helps build a cohesive and collaborative culture where all employees feel competent and valued. In turn, this helps the organization succeed.

Trained employees are more motivated, productive, and consistent in their performance at work. For this reason, creating and implementing the right employee development plan is essential.

To prepare a development plan, it’s crucial to have the support of employees, which is why getting them thinking about their own development is beneficial. This includes asking them what skills they need to do their job, what would help them perform better at work, what professional goals they have within the company, and what support they need to help them develop.

6. Gaining employee trust

There are several ways People Ops can help gain employee trust. The first is through being transparent with employees. For example, information on company culture, salaries, and benefits are readily available through social media or public databases like Glassdoor. This means that People Ops must be transparent, particularly during the early stages of the employee lifecycle. Distrust often arises through a lack of communication. In other words, it’s People Ops’ responsibility to build this trust from the start by communicating regularly and clearly.

Collecting employee feedback and acting on it is another way to build employee trust. Check in with employees (through surveys and in-person discussions) to gauge how they’re feeling as well as how they feel about the company. Once you collate and assess this feedback, it’s vital to pitch suggested changes and improvements to employees and once again obtain their input. This creates an inclusive culture where employees feel involved in the entire process.

7. Change management

People Operations are responsible for managing changes across the business. This includes system updates, a move from manual to digital ways of working, employees switching teams, management shifts in business objectives, and changes based on internal findings.

Through overseeing and managing these types of organizational transformation, the adoption can go smoothly and seamlessly. It helps all employees adjust quickly and ensures there are no (or minimal) impacts on output and the wider business goals.

8. Culture development and transformation

The final key priority of People Ops is to be a champion of company culture and values. They have the ability to build a more ethical and diverse organizational culture and manage cultural transformation if the current culture is misaligned with the company’s vision and objectives.

Why is company culture important?

CultureIQ reported that employees’ overall ratings of their company’s qualities are 20% higher in companies with strong cultures, while 90% of employees at “winning” company cultures are confident in their leadership team.

People Ops should be clear on their values as head of people and openly communicate these beliefs with the company to build trust.

People Operations will help you empower your employees

No matter how small or large your organization is, establishing a People Ops team is imperative to modernize your HR strategy and ensure you’re putting your people first.

When your employees are engaged and feel appreciated and taken care of at work, you’ll create an unstoppable company culture and a fantastic reputation, which gains you a vital competitive advantage. Your people matter, so it’s time to show them that they do.

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