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What is People Operations?

Jul 1, 2022| Reading time: 8min

BY Alex Hilleary

Principal Content Marketing Manager

Let’s jump to the answer of your question – no, ‘People Operations’ is not just a fancy new way of saying Human Resources. There’s actually a more nuanced and interesting distinction.

What is People Operations?

People Operations is a business function in charge of crafting the employee experience at an organization. Those who work in People Operations help their companies empower, engage, and retain employees.

Where did the term ‘People Operations’ come from?

Coined by Google in the mid-2000s, the term ‘People Operations’ spread through tech and later to many other types of organizations.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s first Head of People, introduced this term to challenge a traditional style of Human Resources that focused on compliance and protecting the company first.

People Operations vs. Human Resources vs. Talent Acquisition

Alongside Human Resources and Talent Acquisition, People Operations is a sub-function within a People department.

  • At smaller organizations, one person might be responsible for all three of these elements of the People department.
  • At a larger organization, a People Operations team may be extensive, with roles dedicated to separate parts of People Operations (ex. a Learning & Development Specialist or a Head of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion)

Human Resources

Human Resources focuses on the logistics of employment. With a focus on tax setup, payroll, benefits, and administration, Human Resources helps a company pay people and comply with labor laws.

Talent Acquisition

Talent Acquisition sources and hires new employees for an organization. 

People Operations

People Operations builds and executes programs — like new hire onboarding —  that shape the work experience of current employees. People Operations ensures employees are resourced, supported, and empowered at work.

Who needs People Operations?

All organizations – well, those that employ people –  need People Operations.

Modern workplace dynamics are changing. Employees have higher expectations for their work experiences than ever before.

Employees now expect:

  • Comprehensive onboarding programs that help them navigate the organization quicker and become productive faster
  • Learning and development programs that help them upskill on the job
  • Proactive interactions with managers and leaders
  • A framework for intentional inclusivity and equity in every aspect of work

If your company doesn’t deliver, your employees will find another that does.

The emergence of remote work means that your employees have more workplace options than ever before. The top talent will leave companies that do not invest in their day-to-day workplace experience.

People Operations is business-critical for companies that want to attract and retain the best talent. A great People Operations function will help ensure that a lack of talented, motivated does not become a blocker in achieving your business objectives.

Responsibilities of People Operations

A People Operations team is responsible for designing and running programs to enhance the day-to-day employee experience. Some of the most important responsibilities of the function include:

Onboarding

People Operations equips new employees with the tools they need to be successful starting on Day 1. These resources range from the technology new hires require to do their jobs to the social support and training they need to navigate the company.

Example activity: Sending a welcome email to a new hire.

Internal Communications

People Operations disseminates company-wide information alongside leaders and champions the organizational culture.

Example activity: Coordinating an all-company meeting

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

People Operations leads diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to ensure an organization is supporting an inclusive workplace.

Example activity: Supporting employee resource groups

Engagement and Connection

People Operations creates shared spaces to build trust and community among coworkers.

Example activity: Organizing a company-wide happy hour event

Manager Empowerment

People Operations supports managers with training and education.

Example activity: Running a new manager training program

Performance Management

People Operations implements a standardized framework for measuring employee performance.

Example activity: Leading a performance review cycle

Learning and Development

People Operations supports employees in their career development and provides educational programs across the organization.

Example activity: Facilitating a workshop to help employees develop a new skill

Milestone Recognition

People Operations recognizes an employee’s impact and time spent at an organization.

Example activity: Celebrating work anniversaries

PTO and Leave Management

People Operations manages time off for employees and ensures they are supported returning to work after time away.

Example activity: Re-onboarding an employee returning from parental leave

Offboarding

People Operations closes out relationships with employees to ensure a smooth departure.

Example activity: Coordinating an exit interview

Additional Responsibilities

Sometimes, those with People Operations titles also take on some responsibilities of Human Resources like:

  • Perks & benefits management
  • Compensation
  • Compliance

Or those of Talent Acquisition like:

  • Recruiting
  • Employer branding

How do you create a top-performing People Operations function?

Outstanding People Operations teams have a few approaches in common:

1. Dedication to operational excellence

A strong People Operations team is process-driven and builds programs that will scale alongside the company. The team effectively implements software to complement the manual work they do.

2. Focus on business priorities

A strong People Operations team can articulate how their programs help advance company-level goals and priorities.

3.Fixation on results

A strong People Operations team is driven by results. If they create a program that no one uses, they see that as a failure, instead of a box they checked.

4. Appreciation for the human touch

A strong People Operations team knows that human connection is at the heart of a positive employee experience. The team thinks about how to put people at the center of the programs they build.

What’s Next for People Operations?

People Operations is still an emerging field. The responsibilities of the function have increased significantly in recent years, especially with respect to internal communications.

Pressure to surface DEI initiatives in daily work, to adapt to hybrid-remote work, and to accommodate for a changing talent landscape has dramatically reshaped the People Operations function. 

We will continue to see People Operations evolve into a more complex, indispensable, and operational field in the near future.

HR has weathered a storm, with 98% of HR leaders saying their role has changed since the pandemic and 70% saying they’ve just experienced one of the most challenging years of their career. Learn what it takes to help your team and people thrive.

Watch the webinar here

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