The What, Why and How of People Operations

Continu Team
One Platform for All Learning
October 17, 2023

Dive into the comprehensive guide on people operations, its significance in modern workplaces, and strategies to optimize HR functions for growth.

Self-Evaluation Worksheet

Have you heard the phrase people operations? Is it right for your company? Some recent statistics may help you decide. Approximately 40 percent of employees who quit in 2017 did so within 12 months of being hired, according to a study based on data from over 34,000 exit interviews analyzed by the Work Institute.

About half of workers who departed in their first year left quickly within the first 90 days. And the number of employees who quit their jobs keeps rising each year. So if you haven’t considered people operations, you should.

So what exactly is people operations? It’s a mantra of putting the employee first.

The term was coined by former Google HR director, Laszlo Bock who later wrote a book about it called Work Rules! It involves any action needed to make an employee successful at work from onboarding until they leave the company. This also includes things like updating HR systems, treating employees as customers, supporting employees daily, analyzing HR metrics, and making sure everyone has the training tools they need to be successful.

How do people operations differ from human resources?

The next question you may be asking isn’t people operations just HR? Many human resource professionals argue that they are the same. However, while there are some similarities, there are differences worth noting.

Planning versus reacting

The traditional approach of HR is to hire a replacement when a position is vacant. Instead, people operations aims to please and support the current workforce so that there is less turnover. And with fewer people leaving there’s a decreased need to spend time hiring replacement team members.

Linear versus agile

Like every department within a company, HR serves a purpose. They have a list of tasks that they must complete. These could be hiring new employees, manage payroll, set training schedules, create performance reviews and schedule exit interviews. While this approach follows a very set path, people operations is more agile in nature. In other words, it looks at the overall business objectives and works to obtain these. So this approach may jump around the process depending on what works best to help serve the employees.

Solo operation versus cross-functional

While many departments collaborate within a company, human resources is sometimes left on its own. A marketing department, for example, may go to HR when a new employee needs to be hired, but there’s no interaction on a day to day basis. The goal of people operations, on the other hand, is to connect all departments together. So for example, looking at the business objectives, people operations would reach out to various departments to discuss how these could be met. Then by working together all objectives are achieved in a cohesive manner.

Best practices to keep top of mind

When rolling out people operations or hiring for this position, there are a few functions this person or department should focus on. Here are the key PeopleOps responsibilities to focus on to help strengthen your company culture.

Project management

This person or team needs to focus on managing the overall work production much like a project manager would manage a project. By focusing on the various departments and how they are working together, people operations helps streamline the process. They work to correct any bottlenecks or issues along the way.

Progress reports

Another function is constantly checking in with various department heads to see how day to day operations are going. This needs to be done in a way that won’t interrupt workflow so utilizing tools like slackbots or standups. But whatever method you use should improve the process without slowing it down.

Cultural development

One of the best ways to bring employees together is with a collaborative culture. So a robust focus on continual learning is key to building a cohesive company. You want all employees to feel valued and appreciated for their role within the organization.

Employee appreciation

There needs to be a focus on employee recognition spearheaded by people operations. Whether this a formal employee reward system or a more informal set of emails sent around, the focus should be about appreciating hard work.

Business changes

Whether a change is needed based on findings from people operations or management decides to shift business objectives, people ops needs to manage this change. By overseeing the change this person can make sure all employees and departments work together to implement it seamlessly.

Achieving goals

People ops should be part of the major goals set by the company. They can weigh in on how achievable these will be and raise any concerns. And people operations can also help set goals for individual employees through KPIs and OKRs.

How to begin using people operations?

Any organization no matter how big or small can incorporate people operations into its structure. There are a few steps to help roll out the process. The entire human resource process doesn’t need to be overhauled, but the thinking needs to shift. With a more holistic approach in mind, the goal is to make employees happier and more engaged leading to less turnover and higher productivity.

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1. Interview process

The first step in incorporating people operations is during the interview process. After candidates have been identified, this is the initial point of contact these potential new hires have with your company. How will you convey your culture? How will you explain why employees like working for your company? And how will you get to know the candidate beyond technical skills? Human resources should work with the various departments to formulate some questions that all interviewers will use. This will help explain the objectives of the company and how each potential candidate would work to achieve these. Going back to former Google’s HR director, Laszlo Bock, he suggests using the questions included in the career resources section of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website. Some of these questions include:

  • "Tell me about two suggestions you have made to your supervisor in the past year. How did you come up with the ideas? What happened? How do you feel about the way things went?" (For creative thinking)
  • "In the past, how have you obtained and incorporated customer feedback into your organization's planning and service standards? Give specific examples." (For customer service)
  • "Describe a situation where you were responsible for getting others to make a change. What role did you play and what actions did you take? What was the outcome? If you had to do it again, would you do anything differently?" (For adaptability)
  • "How does the work you are currently doing affect your organization's ability to meet its mission and goals? Do you think your work is important? If yes, why? If no, why not?" (For systems thinking)

With these open-ended questions not only will you get the most out of the interview process, but your potential employees will understand who you are as a company and how they might fit in should they be hired.

2. Pre-onboarding

After the interview process has concluded, the next stage of employee interaction is pre-onboarding. Again people operations should be part of this process. While most human resource departments simply call or email about the job offer, this should be an opportunity to connect with this new employee for the first time. Instead of a simple congratulations, take it a step further. Put yourself in this new employee’s shoes. What would you want to know?Put together an email with information like where to park on the first day, who this person will meet with, how to get to the office, what the dress code is and any other pertinent information. Another component of this should be a welcome statement from the company. This should outline the company culture and what this employee can expect to gain from working for your company. This puts the employee first and makes them feel instantly connected to the culture.

3. Onboarding

Once the new employee steps in the company’s doors, using people operations you want to start building a relationship with this person. While the traditional steps should still be taking like getting email setup, technology working, and paperwork completed, people operations provides a strategic layer.  A point person whether this be an inhouse recruiter who worked with this new employee during the interview process or another member from the people operations team should check in periodically to find out how they are doing. You want this new employee to get up and running quickly, but you also want to put their mind at ease that they made the right decision accepting the job.Another important role people operations serves during onboarding is streamlining the process. Instead of IT being in charge of technology,  human resources in charge of payroll and training putting a learning track in place, people operations can oversee this entire process. That way no steps are missed causing delays or frustrating the new employee. Better overall corporate communication equals a more well run new hire experience.

4. Ongoing engagement

Once an employee is fully invested in the company, you want to keep them as a valued team member. Hiring and onboarding are both time-consuming and costly so you want to retain your top talent. So how is this accomplished? People operations take a pulse on each department and their interactions with employees. This feedback along with feedback given from things like employee surveys can further tweak the process. So for example, if the survey comes back that their employees are not getting the training that they need. People operations can then work with learning and development on what the issue may be like the format. Then the training team could tweak their training program design so that learning is more clear, and entertaining and employees are receiving the skills they need to succeed.

5. Offboarding

As much as you would like to avoid it, employees do leave. Sometimes it’s for uncontrollable reasons like retirement or relocating to a new city for a spouse. However, some employees leave due to the job or company as a whole. You want to spend time with these employees to find out why they are leaving and what could have been done to change their decision. That’s where an extensive exit interview becomes a valuable tool for learning what’s working and what’s not. Some questions to ask include:

  • What were your day-to-day tasks? And did you think the workload was doable?
  • What were your responsibilities? And did you find these accurate based on the job?
  • Did you have the support needed to do your job successfully?
  • What further support could you have used on the job?
  • How was your relationship with your manager?
  • What are your thoughts about the company’s management team?
  • Did you understand and agree with the company's mission?
  • How was your experience with the company? Is that the reason you are leaving?

You can either administer these questions via a questionnaire or in person. Either way once completed people operations can review the results, make notes and then involve the other departments. So for example, if an employee mentions outdated technology as a hindrance to doing their job fully, this can be addressed with IT. Or several employees mention issues with company culture, management needs to be alerted to add more diversity training. Whatever the overlying issues are, the end goal is the same. People operations provide the bridge to connect the various departments to solve large employee exit issues.

How will you use people ops?

Are you considering people ops for your organization? The bottom line is no matter what your company size is you can benefit from people operations. Not only will it bring your company together, but it will help keep a pulse on your employees’ work outlook. You’ll create a more cohesive culture, keep valued employees happier, and meet business objectives strategically. By tying the company together overall communication will also increase and you’ll build a culture people want to work for.

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About the Author
Continu Team responsible for Continu's content.
Continu Team
One Platform for All Learning

Continu is the #1 modern learning platform built to help companies scale and consolidate learning. From training customers to employees, Continu is the only platform you need for all learning.

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