How many times a day do you turn on a light switch?
For most, probably multiple times a day, you expect the lights to turn on each time you do it. The chance that the lights may not turn on doesn’t even really cross your mind.
But every now and then, you flip the switch, and nothing happens. Only then do you realize just how essential electricity is because most of the time, we unconsciously always expect it to work – the wiring, the electrical grid, the engineering – humming along perfectly in the background without much thought or notice.
In many ways, this is just like people operations.
What is people operations?
People operations (POPs) focuses on managing and optimizing all aspects of the employee lifecycle including employee engagement, performance management, and offboarding, to foster a positive and productive work environment.
People operations: a peek behind the curtain
Employees and employers expect people-related processes and systems to run smoothly, efficiently, and without interruption.
When employees go to the doctor and hand over their insurance card, they expect that insurance to be accepted. When employees log into their online bank, they need their payroll to be deposited on time. When somebody comes to the office, they expect their badge to work when scanned. When leaders and managers need to gather information on their teams, they expect their team’s data to be up-to-date and accurate.
These behind-the-scenes processes and systems take incredible diligence, attention, and strategic planning. With 20 years of HR experience, I can tell you first hand, even at a mature legacy organization with established processes and systems, it still requires great maintenance and care.
But when you’re at a younger, quickly growing organization like G2, establishing people operations processes and systems is, to be fully honest, tough work.
However, it is a critical and necessary component if employers want to build a robust and truly supportive employee experience. In other words, if you’re going to attract and retain top-notch talent, you need to ensure your people operations are also top-notch.
I’ve gained not just a lot of experience but a lot of perspective about people operations in my over two decades in HR. In this article, I want to share my thoughts on the power of people operations, how to make them effective and impactful, how it’s changed over the years, and some advice on how to take your organization’s people operations to the next level.
The 3 pillars of employee success
I’ve worked in HR long enough to know that HR is rarely, if ever, the employees’ favorite department. Some of that is due to a lack of understanding of what HR does and why, but also, there are many longstanding HR stereotypes in the corporate world.
One common HR stereotype that I often run into and the Academy To Innovate HR talked about in a recent blog is that HR is all about hiring, reprimanding, and firing employees.
In all fairness, onboarding new employees, managing performance, ensuring employees adhere to proper conduct policies, and offboarding employees are some of what HR does – but it’s just a fraction.
Just like sales, marketing, engineering, or corporate teams, the responsibilities of an HR team is expansive and encompass a lot more than you think. Here at G2, our HR function is called Employee Success (I’ll get more into the importance of that name distinction later), and Employee Success is made up of three teams.
1. Talent acquisition
First is the talent acquisition team, whose goal is to attract, recruit, hire, and onboard the best possible talent. For those unfamiliar with HR, there is much more than just posting a job description and screening candidates. The work of the talent acquisition team starts well before any candidate applies with employer branding to build a diverse pipeline.
Once a candidate applies, talent acquisition is responsible for building and running an equitable, transparent, and thorough interviewing process with scoring systems and timely response time. Then, talent acquisition oversees an onboarding process to ensure every new hire is set up for success and works closely with managers to ensure it’s a good match.
2. Employee experience
The second Employee Success team at G2 is employee experience, which is dedicated to creating an exceptional experience working for employees – from the moment they join G2 to when they exit the company and become alumni.
This includes performance management, learning development, culture and community building, philanthropic efforts, engagement surveys strategy, and creating a workplace where every employee feels valued, connected, and inspired. Because of the wide-ranging nature of this work, employee experience collaborates closely with all Employee Success teams.
3. People operations
The final team that makes up Employee Success at G2 is people operations, the team that I’m proud to lead and I believe is critical to an effective and impactful people strategy.
The CHRMP defines “people operations” as covering all facets of how a business manages its staff. It entails creating, applying, and managing policies, programs, and practices that meet employee needs and enhance their well-being and job satisfaction.”
Effectively, our people operations team supports employees throughout their entire lifecycle by ensuring all people-related processes, systems, and guidelines are implemented and running smoothly. It humanizes impersonal systems to improve employee engagement, development, and retention continuously.
What does a people ops team do?
The duties and responsibilities of a people operations team are wide and expansive. To give you a better idea of what that work entails, here is just some of what is included in the scope of people operations:
The people operations team is responsible for many administrative tasks that keep the business running. These tasks typically include payroll management, staff data entry, and administration of employee benefits and policies, including paid time off, retirement plans, and health insurance.
Employee relations management
One of the focuses of people operations is preventing and resolving issues between employees and management. They also concentrate on understanding how employees feel about their jobs, the organization, and overall well-being.
Policies, regulations, and safety
People operations teams work closely with the legal team to ensure the organization adheres to employment-related legislation and regulations, including those governing equal employment opportunity, wage and hour laws, and health and safety requirements.
If you’re a global organization like G2, it also requires understanding and navigating the laws and regulations of each country you operate in. The team may also be responsible for the updating and publishing of an organization’s codes of conduct and employee handbook(s).
At G2, our talent acquisition team manages the onboarding process for new employees. Our people operations team manages the offboarding process, which is when an employee exits the company.
Offboarding requires administrative tasks like ensuring the return of company property, notifying IT and payroll about changes, and preparing any paperwork the employee might need to sign. Offboarding can also involve exit interviews where the operations team seeks feedback from the leaving employee on how to create a better work environment and experience for current and future employees.
People data and systems
People operations is also responsible for gathering and analyzing data to support decision-making and enhance the working environment. This includes maintaining the human resources information system (HRIS).
An HRIS tracks and maintains all people-related data, including confidential personal information, and is necessary for accurate workforce analysis. Because the operations teams’ work is based on processes, systems, and data, people operations teams often also manage an organization’s HR tech stack.
Why is people operations important?
By now, you have a good understanding of what a people operations team does, but let’s take a moment to talk about why a people operations team is essential to any organization.
“People operations is an integral part of your company. Not only do they support your employee’s life cycle and assist in day-to-day tasks, but they integrate that into a strategy to achieve your company’s business goals.“
What I love about this quote is that it perfectly captures the power and value of a strong people operations team which is that we serve as the link between leadership and the high-level business goals they set with employees and their day-to-day work.
Put another way: people operations takes the business’ strategic plans and helps implement them throughout your workforce.
Long-term people planning
People operations helps ensure that your organization has a sustainable headcount strategy, succession plans for leadership roles, and competitive total rewards within the budget. Without these strategies, your company cannot adapt quickly to external or internal labor market changes.
It’s no secret that top talent is attracted and retained by providing a happy and encouraging work environment. When employees have strong, supportive work relationships, everyone benefits. That’s why a people operations team is vital – we ensure employees work in an environment where they feel safe and supported if any issues arise.
Data-driven workforce decisions
Executives and boards love data. A people operations team manages and provides workforce data needed for short-term and long-term financial and strategic planning. When you consider that labor costs can account for as much as 70% of total business costs, leaders must be able to base their decisions on reliable, accurate data.
People operations vs. human resources
When Shakespeare asked, “what’s in a name?” in Romeo and Juliet, he referred to the idea that names are simply a convention to distinguish things or people, but they do not have any worth or meaning.
Laszlo Bock, Google’s first Head of People, introduced the term “people operations” to challenge a traditional style of human resources that focused on compliance and protecting the company first instead of its people. It quickly caught on and spread through tech and eventually to other industries and organizations.
So what’s in the name of an HR team? In my humble opinion, a lot goes into a name. We’ve survived the Don Draper-era usage of “personnel” and then moved on to “human resources”. But now, and rightfully so, many organizations are now calling their teams “people” or “people and culture”.
Why does this matter? Because it’s a sign of how committed an organization is to its people.
People operations puts people and empathy first. But of course, there is more to this shift than just the name. It’s about the overall approach and strategy.
- Minimizing risk → supporting employee success: Through the lens of managing resources, the natural tendency is to protect the resources. Through the lens of people, the focus is on how people can reach their greatest potential.
- Silo operation → business partner and consultant: People are an organization’s most valuable and important asset. People operations serves as partners and consultations to the entirety of the organization on how to maximize and better support their teams and people.
- Reactive to employee needs → proactive approach: People operations is about a holistic and proactive approach to employee engagement and retention. It’s about helping build employee happiness and well-being rather than waiting to respond to employee disengagement or unhappiness.
How to take your people ops to the next level
Building a strong people operations team is not easy. All the expertise, processes, and systems that go into people operations is a significant investment. But without it, you will find yourself at a considerable disadvantage in a competitive labor market where candidates are looking for employers who put their people first.
Whether you’re looking to improve your established operations or are still in the building phase, here are a few tips that can take your people ops to the next level:
- Create a seamless experience. The biggest goal of people operations is to make transactional activities as painless and seamless as possible. Make changes to benefits and processes that provide all employees equal access to tools and resources while maintaining organizational compliance.
- Think about the desired outcome first. My key to success is approaching each situation with the desired result in mind. What does everyone need, and how can we meet all these needs efficiently?
- Keep it simple. Employees struggle to adopt new practices or policies when they’re not clear, not easily found, or not easily understood. Keep things simple and easy to find.
- Be clear about ownership. Something I’ve learned over the years is the importance of being very clear about ownership of responsibility. What is the employee’s responsibility? What is the manager’s responsibility? What is the company’s responsibility? Be sure to state it clearly.
- Answer the “why.” Working in a fast-paced, fast-changing industry like tech means it’s important to ask, “why do we need this?” instead of just doing something because it was done before. Think about the why, the value, and the urgency.
Power to the people
My teammate Amber Pandya, G2’s Director of Employee Experience, recently wrote in her article on DEI that “the complexity of people is also what makes HR and managing people fulfilling and rewarding, but simultaneously frustrating and challenging at times”.
She says this complexity comes from “HR being the intersection of revenue and the human condition – two things that are not always aligned”. This is why organizations that can build a truly engaging and supportive work environment stand out in the labor market and are able to attract and retain the best talent because, in a way, they are defying the status quo.
G2’s HR team is called Employee Success. To me, this was a sign that G2 prioritized the success of its people first and foremost. I’m happy to say that my initial instincts were correct because, in my 20+ years of work in HR, I’ve never worked for a company as committed to its people as G2.
The name is pretty clear about its purpose and goals: if we invest in an engaging and supportive work environment first, and focus on employees becoming successful, then the revenue and customers will inevitably come and take your organization to new levels of success.
Wondering what’s next for your business? Learn more about how people operations plays into business operations and how to improve your process.