Why Small Businesses are Choosing People Ops Over HR

HR and People Operations are similar in many ways, but there are key differences. We spoke to one expert about People Ops and what it could mean for your business.

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All you need to know about People Operations, and how to implement it at your company

In 2006, Lazlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google, rebranded Google’s Human Resource function and renamed them as People Operations. This shift has been much more than a title makeover. In fact, it has helped people shift from viewing HR professionals as policy police to strategic partners to the business.

Today, many organizations have transitioned their HR function into People Operations. These teams put the focus on creating human-centered workplaces. They want strong technology to power them and help them be nimble, efficient, and support a distributed workforce. If you’re wondering what “People Operations” really means, and why people are choosing it over HR, read on.

What is People Operations?

People Operations:

Rather than viewing employees as cogs in the wheel, People Operations views them as an important piece of the puzzle and focal point for the company. The department not only consists of HR professionals, but also other teams that influence different areas of the employee’s environment.

Kate Railton, VP People Operations, at Mejuri says that “We view People Operations as the full employee experience. From the way in which the employee arrives at the business, operates within the organization, performs at their best, and is able to be their most productive and impactful self. We look at goals and OKRs [objectives and key results], we prepare the office to be a collaborative workspace, we think about technology and data representations to drive decisions, and we develop and maintain an inclusive culture.”

“We view People Operations as the full employee experience. From the way in which the employee arrives at the business, operates within the organization, performs at their best, and is able to be their most productive and impactful self.”

Railton says that connecting her team’s work to the business’s strategy is an important part of the People Operations function. She says, “We work to enable accountability in our people and our leaders so that they can work towards the vision, goals, and mission of Mejuri. We line up our programs in accordance with the business direction and we are true partners in that fashion.”

A natural evolution from traditional Human Resources

In many ways, the 2 departments carry similar responsibilities and work in tandem with one another. For example, both teams need to:

  • Act as advocates to their employees
  • Maintain policy and compliance
  • Handle employee data

Where things begin to evolve for People Operations is the shift towards designing engaging programs and opportunities for development. Focusing on employees as a competitive advantage and maximizing their growth are other crucial components of People Ops.

“In my role as a VP People Ops, I oversee the Information Technology team, the Office Management Team, and then the core HR teams,” Railton says. “I am then able to connect together how our employees are supported at work — be it in an office or remote — what tools they are using, and deepening their productivity and overall engagement.”

Traditional needs of HR, present needs of People Operations

Managing the nitty gritty of rules, policies, and data are still extremely important. You’ll need to strike the right balance to ensure neither focus is abandoned.

To achieve this balance, Railton ensures that one of her team’s quarterly objectives and key results is always around developing policies, doing research, or maintaining compliance.

“If we tackle it as a team every quarter it doesn’t feel like a heavy lift and we can focus 75% of our time on acquiring, inspiring, and retaining our employees.”

“We often pair initiatives with fun themes, marketing plans, and team prizes. While rules and policies are never viewed as fun, you can always make them more enjoyable.”

Railton also suggests getting creative with the traditional sides of HR and making things like policy and compliance more fun. She says, “We often pair initiatives with fun themes, marketing plans, and team prizes. While rules and policies are never viewed as fun, you can always make them more enjoyable and look to gain some collaboration across teams and the business.”

What does this mean for your small business?

If you’re trying to create a strong People Operations team, Railton has a few tactical steps to help you.

First, she recommends investing time in creating your company values, and making sure that these values drive all the work you’re doing as a business. She says that “values and vision are the foundation of the house and they should connect to how your teams set goals, how you partner with and support your customers, how you build your product, and most importantly how you work together as a team and invest in your people.”

Next, she recommends investing in HR employees early on to help make sure your basics are covered. She says that “things like headcount tracking (Excel or a system) and handbook writing don’t seem as exciting but they are very worthwhile. All too often, I join an organization where this isn’t organized and we spend a lot more time fixing in the first few months.”

If your HR team is busy with administrative work, policy, and compliance, it may be time to refocus their roles. Doing this will help drive your company in a more strategic way. To learn more about the tactical ways HR and People Operations contribute differently, check out this informative chart called “HR Reinvented”, created by Greenhouse.

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