Why Your Business Should Care About People Operations

There’s no denying that more and more organizations are starting to understand how valuable having a specialized department for people operations can be

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People Operations Workest

In the past couple of years, companies large and small have realized how important it is to keep employees happy. For this reason, many organizations are now hiring people operations specialists or leaders. 

Over the last 5 years, Google searches for “People Operations Specialist” have increased by 950%, with companies seeking to understand exactly what it is they do, why they’re important, and if every company needs to incorporate People Operations practices into their employee retention strategy (spoiler alert: the answer is yes!). 

What is “People Operations”? 

Coined by Laszlo Bock, Google’s former SVP, People Operations focuses on creating a company and work environment that is engaging and rewarding to increase productivity and profitability, all of which is data-backed, instead of driven by gut-feeling. Companies with strong People Operations practices understand that it’s key to put employees first, as they are the most valuable resource. 

The competition is fierce for top performers, as the pandemic made people rethink their idea of employment. People are seeking fulfilling work, with companies who care about their well-being and development. People Operations focuses on driving productivity by shifting away from the old school mentality of treating people like cogs in a machine, to individual contributors

Are People Operations the same as HR? 

Depending on the size of the company, People Operations can fit under the HR umbrella, particularly at smaller companies. In larger organizations with a more generous budget, they might have a dedicated person who solely focuses on People Operations. That being said, there are some key differences between traditional HR practices and People Operations. These include:

  • Shift from manual to automation: Use technology instead of humans for repetitive tasks to ensure people feel fulfilled and engaged at work. 
  • Shift from gut-feeling to data-driven practices: Capture, analyze and share data-driven insights about the workforce instead of relying on gut instinct and anecdotes.
  • Shift from cost center to profit center: Optimize for workforce productivity and results (e.g. revenue and profits) instead of expense and efficiency (e.g. time and costs).
  • Shift from management to experience: Treat the employee experience like the customer experience, optimizing it to create an advantage over other companies. Your people are your most valuable resource, after all!

Courtney Seiter, former Director of People at Buffer, says the difference is that traditional HR is “about managing, rules, and policies”, whereas “People Operations is about designing work so that you want to be there  – present, engaged, and proud of what you do.” 

This is not to say we should do away with traditional HR practices altogether; both should coexist, as the nitty gritty HR details are necessary to keep any organization running smoothly (such as sorting out vacations, compensation, etc). 

What this means is that the approach to people management of your HR department should adapt, as People Operations looks holistically at your employees, and ensures they feel empowered and valued, and in turn, stay productive and engaged at work.   

People Operations can be seen as a natural evolution from traditional HR because if your HR manager and People Operations manager are different people, they both need to advocate for employees, enforce and maintain policies, and manage employee data. 

What is the role of People Operations? 

People Operations can vary between companies, depending on their function and size. For example, a small company might have the same person handling both traditional HR tasks and People Operations practices. Here are some of the areas and responsibilities a People Operations manager could address:

  • Provide a clear path for individual employees to understand what the company goals are, and what it means to succeed within the organization.
  • Take manual processes, like payroll, and automate them. 
  • Track and analyze HR data to improve areas that require attention (e.g. turnover). 
  • Lead the shift on how the company views employees: The goal is to see them as internal customers. 
  • Improve the day-to-day life of the company’s workforce to ensure employees feel their jobs are enriching and empowering, and avoid burnout 
  • Culture development and maintenance, which is one of the most important factors for candidates when choosing a company.
  • Introduce plans to create more diverse teams. 

Why should my business pivot to People Operations? 

Simply put, your people are your most valuable asset, and the competition is fierce for them. In order to recruit strong candidates, and keep your employees happy (and productive), it’s important to emphasize solving real workplace issues. Ensure your individual employees feel a sense of purpose and joy at work. This is more than simply putting a ping pong table in the common space; it’s about using data and evidence to introduce policies and practices. 

As Seiter puts it, people “are looking for more than just a place to work these days”. 

A great example of this is when Google used data to reduce turnover for women, after they found that new mothers were leaving the firm at twice the company’s average departure rate. After introducing a five month maternity leave plan, the data demonstrated a 50% reduction in turnover for this group! 

Moreover, People Operations can be the driving force behind more inclusive workplaces. With diversity being a key issue for companies, particularly during the pandemic, your People Operations manager can create a plan for hiring more inclusively, and ensure hiring managers follow it. 

By pivoting to People Operations, your company will tackle real issues with data, provide a clear path for employees to understand in what way they can individually contribute to the company’s goals, and feel engaged at work. 

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