What is people operations?

People operations is the management and development of an organization’s workforce. Departing from traditional human resources (HR), people operations employs a more holistic approach, humanizing impersonal systems and processes to increase productivity and employee engagement.

Why is people operations important?

Digital innovation and the rise of hybrid working models have created an increasingly competitive, agile job market. It’s never been easier for dissatisfied team members to jump ship and relocate to another company—a phenomenon dubbed “the Great Resignation.” In response, more and more companies are turning to people operations in a bid to stand out from the crowd, attract and retain top talent, and get ahead of their competitors. 

People operations is concerned with the employee’s experience in every aspect of business operations, creating people-first strategies which prioritize engagement and job satisfaction, trusting that an engaged, motivated workforce will increase and cement sustained success. 

People operations vs HR

While traditional HR and people operations may initially appear to be similar, there are some important distinctions between the two:

HR People operations
Prioritizes enforcing compliance and reducing liability Prioritizes helping team members realize their full potential
Executes decisions made from leadership Collaborates with leadership and team members to make strategic decisions
Makes reactive decisions, often responding to issues as they arise Makes proactive decisions, initiating new strategies to continually improve the business and culture
Focuses primarily on recruitment, onboarding and offboarding Focuses more on supporting and maintaining the existing team
Operates separately from all other departments in an organization Connects all departments together
Operates within the strict parameters of traditional HR practices Provides a holistic approach to business goals using customized people tools and strategies

In short, people operations is a shift towards a more strategic approach to managing the workforce with a focus on culture and employee engagement and experience.

Exploring people operations departments and roles

The people operations department is tasked with creating and carrying out organizational strategies to increase people’s engagement, productivity, and morale.

It can take a village to successfully implement these strategies, so hiring the right people with the right skills is key. Common roles in this department tend to include:

  • People operations managers. Responsible for managing all work undertaken by the people operations department.
  • People operations coordinators. Responsible for the coordination of day-to-day tasks, administrative duties, and assisting in project management.
  • Director of people operations. Responsible for leading the entire people operations team. The director collaborates with leadership across the organization to design and drive forward people-first policies and procedures company-wide.
  • People operations specialists. Responsible for maintaining accurate HR records and running data checks. The people operations specialist often works with other departments and offers support during the onboarding process.
  • People operations analyst. Responsible for identifying and rectifying flaws in operational processes. They ensure that the company is compliant with all applicable regulations and laws.

What are the functions of the people operations department? 

People operations is a dynamic department covering a wide range of duties, including:

  • Designing and managing organizational structures
  • Creating a brand image which aligns with company core values
  • Supporting all team members in an organization
  • Attracting, hiring, and retaining talented candidates
  • Onboarding for new team members
  • Nurturing the company’s reputation as an employer
  • Creating goal-based initiatives
  • Monitoring and evaluating HR analytics
  • Updating or replacing outdated HR processes
  • Developing team talent
  • Delivering training and development programs
  • Rewarding high performance
  • Evaluating employee satisfaction
  • Designing and implementing compensation benefits
  • Enforcing compliance with laws and regulations

The role of people operations is to oversee the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to exit. With a focus on training, development, engagement and retention, people operations helps professionals feel empowered and perform to the best of their ability. This, in turn, increases productivity, reduces turnover and, ultimately, helps the business’s bottom line.

How do people operations improve company culture? 

People operations creates a culture and environment in which the company and people who work there can thrive. People operations focuses on people-centered strategies to tackle an ever-evolving, increasingly digitized workplace while fuelling business growth through its best asset: its people. 

People operations improves company culture by:

  • Creating reward systems which promote high performance and boost morale
  • Implementing a people-first company culture of recognition which reduces staff turnover
  • Promoting continuous engagement and collaboration between team members
  • Encouraging employee development through initiatives such as skills training, career pathing, leadership development, and goal setting
  • Prioritizing transparency and open communication in the workplace
  • Collecting and utilizing employee feedback to improve job satisfaction for the workforce

Today’s modern companies are moving away from traditional HR practices, instead embracing  people-centric, holistic strategic models. People operations, when managed with clear and realistic policies, protects the interests of a company and its people by encouraging interdepartmental collaboration, creativity, and initiative, which fundamentally benefit the bottom line.