<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1349950302381848&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
People operations: roles, priorities & steps for success

People operations: roles, priorities & steps for success

Jonathan Davies


See how an intranet works

Learn how an intranet works with this short video.

21 mins read

Wed, Jun 28, '23  

Modern organizations are rapidly changing, and a critical shift that’s taking place is the understanding that putting people first not only matters, but it makes an impact on the bottom line.

People operations (known as people ops or POPs for short) is a business function first coined in 2006 by Google’s former HR director, Laszlo Bock. It focuses on employees and puts the people who power an organization and their needs first. 

When done right, people operations create a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

What is people operations, exactly?

People operations is a strategic business function concerned with putting people first and taking care of the overall management of the workforce in a company. 

The people ops department champions the continual development and engagement of staff, creating smarter ways of working and fostering a sense of community and motivation within a workplace.

Typical responsibilities of people operations departments include:

  • Facilitating the ideal employee experience
  • Managing the employee life cycle
  • Giving employees the tools to perform their best 
  • Aligning people’s goals with company goals
  • Increasing the value of the workforce with training and other opportunities
  • Analyzing people & HR metrics 

The importance of people operations

Regardless of industry, business managers all over the world have woken up to the fact that people are the heart of any company. Your biggest customers are your employees. Without a solid workforce and key talent, your organization’s value will decrease.

Perhaps it’s easiest to quantify the value of people operations by first assessing the costs of getting it wrong. For instance, employee turnover averages 57.3% in the US. If people are unsatisfied with their roles, company culture, or workplace environment, they will leave, taking valuable knowledge with them. 

The cost of recruiting new people is also high. In 2023, the average cost of a new hire increased to $4,700 (up from $4,000 only a few years prior). Not to mention that costs to hire executives and leaders are 3 or 4 times higher than the overall average cost per hire.

There are also very tangible benefits to stepping away from the traditional bureaucratic and authoritarian role of HR by making people operations the heart of your HR department. That means:

  • Recognizing people as valuable assets and not just as tools to make money
  • Promoting a deep-rooted sense of inclusivity and being part of a community at work
  • Actively improving company culture and the work environment
  • Motivating employees who become more productive naturally
  • Upholding a healthy work-life balance and boosting morale
  • Increasing employee loyalty to the organization 

There’s no denying in the modern era of work, a business’s workforce is critical to enhancing the value of a company. 

People ops vs. human resources

While people ops is a strategic part of a company’s human resources department, there are some critical differences between POPs and HR.

Traditionally, HR departments have focused on the practical elements of managing employees, including logistical, legal, and contractual obligations, ethical considerations, and the day-to-day management of the workforce. HR departments that operate in this way can feel very bureaucratic, non-personal, and somewhat stale. 

People operations prioritizes people and their needs and identifies the causes of behavioral or systemic patterns in the workplace. It also values the employee experience and improves company culture, recognizes employee achievements, and humanizes workplace interactions.

Traditional HR

People Operations

Focus is on enforcing compliance

Focus is on maximizing the value of employees

Works within narrow boundaries

Takes a holistic view and uses people and technology to achieve goals

Reactive — responds to issues after they arise

Proactive — actively improves the employee experience, ways of working, and the company culture

Manages employee database and inputs pay changes when requested by leaders

Engages workforce and recognizes achievements and valuable contributions by the team

Manages recruitment when job vacancies open up

Supports current workforce to minimize turnover

Operates separately from other departments

Connects all departments and the people within them

Not involved in decisions made by higher management

Included and consulted in strategic decision-making

Does not look at the bigger picture or understand the root causes of employee disatisfaction

Uncovers employee patterns and trends and identifies root causes of common issues

Policies and processes override the needs of employees

Employees’ needs and expectations are discussed openly and valued

Linear approach

Agile and adative approach


Core people ops priorities

When it comes to people ops, strengthening employee engagement to minimize attrition and turnover is a top priority. But it’s not the only priority. Here are a few others. 

Optimizing the employee onboarding experience

Onboarding is a critical moment in the employee life cycle where people ops can establish trust with new hires. Important elements of onboarding include the level of transparency throughout the recruitment process and the support that helps new hires step into their role with confidence. When businesses don’t focus on these aspects, new hires are more likely to quit in a short time frame.

Chart the employee life cycle 

Every employee will inevitably transition through different phases in their career and relationship with an organization. Savvy HR teams will likely be aware of the employee life cycle and where each employee is in that continuum. 

However, many traditional HR teams focus exclusively on recruitment, onboarding, and offboarding, without paying much attention to the middle stages that relate to employee recognition, development, and retention.

People ops, on the other hand, takes a more holistic view and prioritizes the moments that matter for each employee to keep them engaged and build trust. 

Drive employee engagement and connection

Keeping staff happy and healthy involves activities that veer away from the model traditional HR teams may be used to. 

People ops teams can improve the employee experience by considering:

  • Whether perks and benefits are desirable to employees
  • How to gain deeper insights into employee motivations
  • Objectively assessing the recruitment process from the eyes of a candidate
  • Gathering information about whether people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace
  • Assessing future learning and development opportunities for all employees

Provide learning and development opportunities

In the hustle of daily operations, business managers are often unable to provide avenues for professional development for their direct reports. 

That’s where people operations can step in to ensure everyone is progressing in their careers.

Well-trained employees are more likely to stay with the organization instead of looking for new work elsewhere due to feelings of boredom or the need to chase new challenges.

Recognize and reward employee contributions

Establishing a vibrant and healthy recognition culture takes some work. Traditional HR teams have a distinct lack of focus in this area which is why around 40% of employees feel demotivated at work due to a lack of recognition.

When people ops teams recognize good work, they are able to reduce turnover rates significantly. No matter how recognition becomes part of workplace culture, the important thing is that employees feel appreciated.

Support change management

In times of change and upheaval, people operations are responsible for creating stability as soon as possible. Key priorities during such events include:

  • Clear communication about the change, delivered early and often 
  • Preparing the people who will be affected before the change takes place
  • Providing training to ensure everyone is confident with the new way of working 
  • Offering avenues of support in case of concerns

People ops plays a critical role in ensuring such changes progress smoothly and seamlessly. The sooner employees can adjust, the fewer consequences and financial losses the organization will incur.

Handle employee offboarding

Every employee’s journey with an organization will inevitably come to a close, and it’s the role of people ops to ensure they part on good terms. This leaves the door open for past employees to refer clients or new hires to an organization, or they may even come back and work on projects. 

Track people metrics

It’s vital to track the right people metrics at every stage, including the qualitative elements people ops prioritizes. Traditional HR teams can benefit from tracking more meaningful data points.

Modern people ops managers track the following metrics:

  • Time to hire
  • Quality of hire
  • Employee turnover
  • Employee happiness
  • Cost per hire
  • Diversity ratings
  • Employee attrition rate
  • Absenteeism
  • Job satisfaction
  • Employee engagement

Key roles within the people ops department

If you’re considering creating a solid people ops department, here are some key roles to consider along with their responsibilities.

  • Director of People Operations: Oversees the entire people ops team and drives the organization’s people strategy.
    • Connects the organization’s goals with its people strategy
    • Partners with managers to plug any talent gaps within teams
    • Supports leaders within the company on major employee relations issues
    • Joins strategic meetings and provides direction to other executives
  • People Operations Manager: Oversees the employee life cycle from attracting the ideal candidates to maintaining relations with past employees.
    • Connects between executive leadership and employees
    • Manages critical functions like employee onboarding and offboarding
    • Typically handles many day-to-day HR functions like payroll processing and reviewing leave requests 
    • Enhances equal opportunities and diversity in the workplace
  • People Operations Specialist: Maintains the administrative duties involved in day-to-day HR processes.
    • Documents company policies and procedures
    • Assists with offboarding and job information changes
    • Provides support to enhance the employee experience throughout all stages of the life cycle
    • Analyzes the data and analytics associated with the company’s HR strategy

How to develop a successful people operations program

When it comes to establishing a thriving people operations department in your organization, some important things to consider include:

  • Ensuring the people in your workforce are at the center of people ops’ priority list
  • Proactively improving employee happiness and satisfaction at work
  • Setting up the correct technology to support people ops
  • Continually evaluating how well people ops initiatives are received by employees 
  • Giving employees an avenue to provide constructive feedback

Create a foundation   

The success of a new people ops division rests on your ability to implement the basics properly.

Start by using the data you have about your employees to identify key pain points at any stage in the employee life cycle. Make sure you tell employees why you’re collecting information and how you plan to use it. 

If your current culture doesn’t place people at its center, or if you don’t view your employees as your biggest customers, then this shift needs to happen pronto. Otherwise, you’ll face challenges with incorporating a successful people ops program.

Align the people ops strategy with company goals

People ops should align the people strategy with the company’s overarching goals. So, make it a habit to involve the Director of People Ops in conversations about the company’s strategic direction.

Focus on the entire employee life cycle

Don’t fall into the trap of treating people ops in the same way you do traditional HR. Break down the bureaucratic feel by being transparent with your workforce and understanding what motivates each person in the organization.

Use data to guide improvements

Finally, set up a tool like Happeo to help you gather meaningful data about your employee’s engagement rates. With the right data in your hands, your people ops team can proactively enhance employee motivation and engagement before it becomes a retention problem.

Power people ops with Happeo

No matter how big or small your company is, people ops is a central aspect of modernizing your HR strategy and attracting top talent.

With tools like Happeo, you can seamlessly enhance your people ops strategy by:

  • Leveraging a central place to store all of the organization’s information
  • Onboarding new employees quickly and seamlessly
  • Automatically embedding your company culture in the digital footprint of your business
  • Offering employees the opportunity to be recognized by peers and to grow in their role
  • Powering productivity through crowdsourced information
  • Helping you keep track of all the important metrics that matter 

Join hundreds of teams that have improved their people ops strategy in 6-8 weeks with Happeo.