How to Effectively Transition From Traditional HR to People Operations: By Department

Shifting from HR to People Operations is crucial for your organization’s success. Here’s how your HR departments can make the switch.

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It’s a reasonable question to ask: Is People Operations (People Ops) just a trendy rebranding of the traditional HR department? If that’s all it was, it would be just as logical to breeze right by the topic and use your time differently. However, People Ops is so much more than that.

A business with a People Operations mindset shifts their business and HR processes from seeing those who work there as resources, or cogs in the proverbial wheel, to valuing them as the people who breathe life into your customers’ experiences.

If you want your organization to keep pace with those that are thriving in our post-pandemic environment, shifting your HR focus to incorporating a People Ops model is critical to your success.

What is People Operations?

A People Operations model within the HR function focuses on the employee experience and educates them about how their role directly impacts the company’s goals and priorities.

A People Operations model within the HR function focuses on the employee experience and educates them about how their role directly impacts the company’s goals and priorities. It demonstrates each team member’s critical role in making the company successful.

In a word, a People Ops mindset is strategic.

Historically, traditional HR functions took a parochial approach and concentrated on enforcing:

  • Employee tracking
  • Processes and productivity
  • Policies and activities

In an HR organization that embraces People Ops, those things still exist. However, the expectation is that the employees have ownership of their outcomes. Essential tracking functions for time and productivity are automated, freeing people to be more effective and focus on the bigger picture of the overall employee experience.

To visualize the comparison, think of the differences like this:

Now: People Operations Focus Then: Traditional HR Focus
People Process
Operations Administration
Outcomes Activities
Experience Tracking
Data Instinct
People Ops Platforms HRIS

The bottom line is that a People Ops model not only says that results matter, but so do the methods used to get those outcomes. People Ops puts the people and ethics back into the process of doing business.

Where does a People Operations model start and stop?

People Ops, or to use the even more abbreviated version, POPS, focuses on the life cycle of the team member’s time with the company. It starts when the new job is created, documented, and a posting or advertisement for the vacant position is announced. It ends when the employee entirely leaves the organization — meaning they’re no longer:

  • Paying for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
  • On severance
  • Drawing retirement

They have completely separated from the company. Until that time, they are still part of your POPS life cycle.

What is this People Ops life cycle?

Forward-thinking companies started adding their HR partners to their business leadership team over a decade ago. In today’s environment, this means that whether a function is a revenue-generating role or a supporting staff role, its value is recognized.

When HR is at the table, and they and the business have a People Ops mindset:

  • Interdependencies are vetted: When a new job is being created, the business is intentional about the various touchpoints it will have around the company.
  • Functions are clearly defined: Job descriptions, job analysis, job responsibilities related to performance expectations and outcomes, career progression, and ongoing training needs are identified.
  • Business goals are built into the position: Measurable goals are set that directly tie to the company’s quarterly and annual goals, as well as that link to the organization’s stated purpose and mission.
  • Candidate qualifications and skills are defined: Those closest to the functions understand best what it takes to make them successful. When HR and the business work together to define these qualities for the ideal candidate, it is more likely that there will be a solid hire made, and the new hire will be a happy employee.
  • Succession plans are created: It’s just a fact – we live in a mobile society. Understanding what roles need to be part of succession planning is part of keeping your staff happy and healthy. The stress that comes with feeling one cannot make a career move creates a dysfunctional environment.

Ultimately, the People Ops life cycle starts before the employee knows they’re needed at the company and touches every part of their employment experience.

An HR department-by-department mind-shift to People Ops

You can be a POPS organization without changing function names. That said, moving from a traditional HR mindset to thinking with a People Ops perspective requires significant changes — for everyone. Business leaders need to embrace the value that staff processes bring, and HR needs to move from thinking in terms of forms and rules to seeing the people they’re there to serve.

Business leaders need to embrace the value that staff processes bring, and HR needs to move from thinking in terms of forms and rules to seeing the people they’re there to serve.

Ultimately, People Ops requires everyone in leadership to adopt a servant leadership approach to business.

Let’s break down each major function within HR and briefly discuss how this mind-shift starts to move the group to a new way of getting work done. Before we do, though, it’s important to acknowledge that most HR professionals work hard and are overburdened with their respective processes. This is not to say that individual HR pros are ineffective, but that the functions need a makeover.

People Ops focuses on the person rather than just the job being performed. That’s a big mind-shift.

So, let’s jump in.

Benefits and compensation

Then: Benefits were created with a one-size fits most approach. Jobs were designed to fit within industry-defined parameters to make analysis and market pricing more efficient.
POPS: Benefits are menu-driven, acknowledging that team members have multiple and varied life scenarios and well-being needs. Jobs are defined to fit what the business needs the functionality to be for the organization and are market-priced to recognize changes in the employment environment. New roles are included in career path planning.


Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Then: Identified groups were segmented and separated, with the unintended result being divisive.
POPS: The goal is to establish a strong company culture and improve the company’s image. Education and appreciation of differences and strengths are the focus to make the whole organization healthier and more cohesive.


Employee development and training

Then: Mandatory regulation-driven training and basic functions were the focus.
POPS: Training and development are built into performance plans, career paths, and schedules. They include education about setting personal goals that align with individual and company improvement.


Employee relations

Then: The approach to concerns and complaints was often slanted to the company’s and management’s point-of-view. Only managers had access to ER consultants.
POPS: Employees have the freedom to confidentially express concerns and seek advice regardless of position or tenure.


Organizational and leadership development

Then: The C-Suite was the only group with access to this group. They are the only ones who benefit from observations about being a more effective leader.
POPS: The goal is to optimize the business’ performance. The process is built into career pathing, including access to opportunities for personal development such as how to effectively give and receive feedback and how to identify the most effective career path for their individual strengths.



Then: The process was rigid and impersonal. Payroll mistakes negatively impacted employees.
POPS: Team members are valued, and empathy is expected when working through payroll issues. Expediency in resolution is a priority.



Then: Focused on ineffective technology and manufactured ways to shrink the candidate pool due to overwhelming responses.
POPS: Take advantage of AI processes that include evaluating legitimate minimum requirements for positions and completing required compliance forms so the focus can be on conducting valuable interviews, finding the best fit for the prospective employee and the company, and creating and implementing an effective employee onboarding process.


Part of the mind-shift also includes staffing. Some suggest the ratio of People Ops professionals to employees should be 100:1. However, others suggest it should be twice that at 50:1. It really is going to depend on your organization, how the functions are defined, and what technology you have in place or are implementing to make your processes more efficient.

What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve

Answer to see the results

Moving to a People Ops mindset results in a win-win

The POPS-minded company recognizes that team members need to feel:

  • Heard
  • Seen
  • Valued

When your employees feel that they are viewed as individuals and staff who are contributing to the company’s greater goals, everyone will win. Team members will be satisfied, and the company will thrive.

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