What is People Operations - And Its Role in 2023?
People Ops, People Operations, or POPs – any of these three words might sound familiar to you. Think it's a "cool" replacement for HR?
The term "People Operations" was coined in 2006 under the leadership of Lazlo Bock, former Google SVP of People Operations. He also wrote a best-selling book about his work, candidate experience, and People Ops at Google - "Work Rules!".
He discovered that Google's happiness index was significantly low during his tenure, especially among female employees. So, as women were leaving the company in droves, it was up to the POPS department to figure out why and how to fix it.
Upon investigation, the People Ops department discovered that it was a new mother problem: They were leaving at twice Google's average departure rate. At the time, Google offered an industry-standard maternity leave plan (12 weeks of paid time off for new parents in its California offices and seven paid weeks of leave for new parents in other states).
So, in 2007, Bock made a transformation that would forever change the people dynamics at Google and rank the company as a top parent-friendly organization.
What did he do?
New mothers got five months off at full pay and full benefits and were allowed to split up that time however they wished - including taking some of that time off just before their due date.
If she liked, a new mother could take a couple of months off after birth, return part-time for a while, and then take the balance of her time off when her baby is older.
The People Ops movement is dear to our heart at Zavvy.
POPs teams put people at the center and prioritize experiences. They champion continuous development, smarter ways of working, meaningful relationships, and feedback. In a way, they are the reason we exist.
But, what exactly is People Operations, and what is its role in an organization? What are its key priorities in building and maintaining an engaged and empowered workforce?
What is People Operations (People Ops)?
The Folks at Indeed define People Operations as "the business function that supports employee engagement and productivity. People Ops improves — and humanizes — business operations and works to create a positive employee experience. It's all about putting your employees first!"
After all, an organization that puts its people first is bound to succeed. When employees are at the forefront of an organization's activities, they are happy, productive, and engaged. In return, they help your organization reach its goals.
At Zavvy, we believe that People Ops is the more modern, human-centric, experience-based, and analytical approach to HR. Here's our breakdown of what the People Operations or POPS department does:
- They encourage higher employee productivity and increase performance results by shifting from task-based management to objective-based management.
- They build, transform and maintain an organization's employer brand by offering one-size-fits-one/unique and highly desirable perks and benefits.
- They foster relationships and build communities to boost employee wellness and retention.
- They remove, improve and automate tasks to enhance employee motivation and eliminate tedious and unrewarding work.
- They brainstorm, deliberate, and redesign employee compensation to attract top talents.
- They identify candidate disengagement markers and implement processes to provide a fantastic candidate experience.
- They encourage experimentation, reiterate trust and autonomy, thereby improving employee engagement.
- And most importantly, they give employees the tools needed to live up to their potential and perform at their best.
Alex Burlingame, Director of Sales/Marketing Operations at Fringe, couldn't have summarized it better with this LinkedIn post:
🆚 People Operations vs. Traditional HR: What's he Difference?
It isn't surprising that companies use the terms "human resources" and "people operations" interchangeably. After all, both departments have some similarities, with people ops technically operating under the HR umbrella.
Regardless, both roles are different and have distinct responsibilities:
Functions of an HR Generalist
- Maintains an employee database
- Enforces compliance with an organization's rules and regulations
- Manages employee compensation and benefits
- Recruits, hires, transfers, promotes, and fires employees
- Serves as mediator during employee conflict resolutions
Functions of a People Ops Manager
- Boosts engagement and retention.
- Identifies and implements new ways to empower employees to ensure they thrive.
- Creates and maintains a holistic company culture.
- Reduces time to hire and improves the quality of hire.
- Builds and maintains a company's positive reputation.
To further corroborate this, Evelin Andrespok, former People Operations Manager at Toggl, said in a Forbes interview:
"The primary difference between People Ops and HR is not so much in the daily tasks but in the approach to members of a team. People Ops aims to understand employees holistically as individual contributors, while the traditional HR mindset views them more as a resource to be calculated and managed for efficiency."
❓ Why is People Operations Important Today?
"Employees engage with employers and brands when they're treated as humans." Meghan Biro
It's been more than ten years since Google coined the term "people operations" and championed employee-first strategies such as extended paid leaves for parents. However, one thing holds true:
People Ops is here to stay.
Most companies had to relearn workplace dynamics during the pandemic.
They had to change their approach to flexibility, remote integration, asynchronous communication, reputation management/employer branding, workplace psychological safety, employee wellness (inclusive of mental health), etc.
And when the world eased into the "new normal," it became glaring that those changes were just a part of a whole in keeping employees happy, engaged, and empowered. The key to achieving this? It's no other than People Operations!
In "Work Rules!" Bock explains the similarities between two entirely different companies.
One is a multinational tech business with university graduates accounting for most of its employee base.
The other is a large, family-run retailer known for employing school leavers.
So what makes these giants successful, irrespective of their different industries?
Both companies didn't only obsess over their products or processes. Instead, they invested in ensuring that their employees were empowered and elevated to decision-makers. As a result, employees at both companies flourished, and the turnover rate was almost non-existent.
We live in a world where companies constantly analyze figures and forget one sole element— its people. Presently, many companies and their management still struggle to come to terms with the correlation between a highly engaged and happy workforce, increased revenue, and company growth.
A Gallup study shows that business or work units that score in the top quartile of their organization in employee engagement have nearly double the odds of success compared to those in the bottom quartile.
Companies like Uber and Tinder have paid the price for lack of people orientation, having learned the lesson the hard way.
All-in-all, People Operations impacts more than "just being HR" in an organization.
- Listens to and advocates for employees; while also ensuring that employees' needs align with the company's overall mission.
- Modernizes the talent pipeline and the overall company using technology such as Employee Development programs.
- Keeps employees connected (irrespective of location), builds stronger relationships, and encourages social interactions.
- Works alongside the Internal Communications department to develop and improve organizational culture and enhance employee relationships.
- Collaborates with HR & management to track and maintain workloads and expectations such as interviews, preboarding, and onboarding new hires.
- Monitors, maintains, and improves employee working conditions, well-being, and turnover rates.
- Assists employees with transitions into new roles or a part of a broader business restructuring.
- Recognizes and rewards top-performing employees.
- Assist with building and launching innovative and smartly-delivered Employee Training programs to update employees' skills and empower them to be the best at their jobs.
- Cultivates and promotes an organization as an employer of choice and creates a sustainable brand image starting with its employees (via employer branding).
🗃️What Does A People Operations Manager Do In 2023? Departments & Roles
Here are some of the roes within the People Operations department and their primary responsibilities.
Director of People Operations
The Director of People Operations oversees the entire People team and is responsible for driving people strategy, paying particular attention to creating and supporting a great workplace culture. Some of their responsibilities include:
- Driving the people strategy aligned with an organization's practices, values, and strategy.
- Partnering with managers to identify each business unit's talent gaps and development needs, identifying and supporting learning activities and initiatives to grow leadership at all levels.
- Serving as a resource to managers on employee relations issues and partnering with them to ensure that they lead and manage employees aligned with the organization's goals.
- Actively participate as a key executive in functional areas that require tight alignment and consistency for equity, fairness, simplicity, and efficiency.
- Providing data analysis, metrics, and tools that demonstrate progress toward achieving key milestones and help drive strategy.
- Effectively interfacing with all levels of the organization to coordinate and oversee all people-related activities.
People Operations Manager
A People Operations Manager oversees a company's entire employee lifecycle, including onboarding, internal operations, and employee experience.
They connect executive leadership and employees, manage all People Operations functions, such as onboarding / offboarding, benefit & compensation administration, visa-related requests, payroll, time-off requests, and performance management, build and implement systems to support diversity and inclusivity within the company, and plan and direct employee engagement events to promote a mission-driven culture.
People Operations Specialist
The People Operations Specialist develops, optimizes, and implements people processes and programs while overseeing the day-to-day responsibilities of people operations. Some of their duties include
- Documenting, implementing, and improving upon processes, procedures, and programs regarding team member lifecycle.
- Ensuring the delivery of critical people operations processes such as unemployment claims, offboarding, and job information changes, including compensation, promotions, and transfers.
- Providing functional and technical support regarding employee experience.
People Data Analyst
They are responsible for building new analytics and reporting capabilities to support program evaluation and operations. They also handle ad hoc reporting and analytics requests while addressing long-term stakeholder needs and driving insights for HR Partners and Executives using the existing dashboard, HRIS data, and leveraging the people data ecosystem.
Other roles in the People Ops team are
- L&D Specialist,
- Employee Engagement & Advocacy Specialist,
- Employer Branding Manager,
- and Onboarding Manager.
📈 People Ops Key Priorities: Best Practices for Strengthening Employee Engagement and Experience
1. Give employees a voice and power
No one knows what they want or need other than the employees themselves. Let them decide. Since the People Ops team understands the organization's vision and where it is headed, it must leverage data and feedback to make informed decisions regarding professional learning initiatives, talent development, and employee engagement.
2. Track essential metrics
Traditionally, many HR teams felt overlooked. They just didn't always have the numbers to prove their value.
Modern POPs managers should be KPI-driven. Key metrics include:
- time to hire
- quality of hire
- cost per hire
- employee turnover
- employee retention
- diversity ratings
- absence rate,
- employee engagement and job satisfaction
Data gotten from these metrics could help the team find answers to questions such as:
- What are we doing right for our people, customers, and the company?
- What areas should we improve upon to increase engagement and satisfaction?
- How are we contributing to the company's top and bottom lines?
- How are we measuring the department's effectiveness and impact on the organization?
- Is the information from these metrics contributing to the organization's overall growth?
3. Display proactiveness and focus on the future
While the typical HR department is reactive, POPS is known to be proactive because they envisage where they want the organization to be in the future (say the next five to ten years).
What do you do? Begin to plan and implement strategies for the future.
For example, if future work trends suggest that top talents will ONLY work for organizations that are heavily ESG-focused (ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance), what do you do?
Your company may have a diverse workforce and implement DEI programs, but external audiences may not be aware. You can start planning by
- Externally communicating key inclusion and diversity metrics and achievements in your organization.
- Communicating your operational carbon footprint, setting site-level greenhouse gas emissions targets, and giving your external stakeholders updates as you implement each stage.
- Developing a strategic ESG roadmap and framework.
4. Create a positive employee experience
Research shows that investing in employee engagement results in increased productivity, increased customer ratings, increased sales, increased profitability, and reduced employee absenteeism.
To maintain and improve employee experience, the People ops team can ask the following questions:
- Are our perks and benefits highly desirable to our employees?
- What tools can we use to gain the latest insights into what drives and motivates employees?
- Are there enough learning and development opportunities for our employees?
- What future learning and development trends should we start implementing?
- Do employees feel a sense of belonging at work? Do they feel heard, seen, and respected?
- Do our new employees enjoy a great candidate experience and seamless preboarding and onboarding Experience?
5. Capitalize on employee enablement
Korn Ferry discovered that 33% of job seekers looking for new work cited the need for new challenges as their reasons for leaving their current employers.
Employee engagement will motivate your team to an extent.
But, for how long? The truth? Not so far!
For employees to truly do their best work, the People Ops team must enable them to do so. Employee enablement is the shift from assuming or merely analyzing what employees to - to giving them exactly that.
🏢 3 Examples of Top People Ops Companies
These companies need no introduction in leveraging People Operations to maximize employee experience and enablement.
Cisco ranked first in the 2021 Best Place to Work List:
96% of employees enjoy working there - compared to 57% of employees at a typical U.S.-based company.
🔍 Learn from Cisco's stellar people policies in our extensive case study Run Employee Performance Reviews and Feedback Like Cisco with Data-Driven Processes.
Since the company pioneered People Operations in 2006, it has enabled its employees by supporting and empowering them to become decision-makers who can forge their career paths and realize their full potential.
So it's no surprise that employees truly identify as "Nooglers" (for new employees) and Googlers (a full-time Google employee).
👲 Speaking of Nooglers, discover how Google onboards new hires and how you can easily replicate it.
From 2016 till the present, Salesforce has been at the forefront of people-first awards thanks to a dedicated People Operations team that works to ensure that the company doesn't lose its founders' unique vision:
"To create a different kind of technology company. A value-driven company built on trust, customer success, innovation, equality, sustainability, and responsibility for one another and giving back to our communities."
The software giant's dedication to its people is reflected in its values, empowering everyone to be a Trailblazer with its culture of Success to Work from Anywhere, its volunteering efforts, employee well-being perks, and opportunities, amongst others.
The company currently ranks second on the Great Places to Work list.
The lifeblood of any organization is its people.
People innovate, develop solutions, create strategies, build solutions, and drive organizations forward. To help them become the best versions of themselves, organizations must treat them like customers. They must be respected, valued, revered, and not just treated as resources.
Employees' values increase when you invest in them and treat them as who they are (human).
Building a People team from scratch or looking for an employee enablement tool that provides you with everything to go from traditional HR to a true People Ops approach?
Zavvy's enablement platform combines employee experience, growth, and relationships. You can check out our products and features or talk to one of our experts today!