How are People Operations and Human Resources Connected?

Eric Mochnacz
October 29, 2020

In today’s world, it’s increasingly common for job-seeking HR practitioners to see the terms “Human Resources” and “people operations” used in job descriptions interchangeably.  However, more and more, it seems when a business is sourcing for an HR Manager and another business is sourcing for a People Operations Manager, they are looking for different things.  Even as a strategic HR consulting firm, our team isn’t made up of corporate HR types.  We bring experience from diverse industries where we have demonstrated acumen in leadership and people management.  In fact, perhaps we should market ourselves as a strategic People Management firm.  However, the people solutions we provide small and medium sized businesses are often inherently linked to processes that have been traditionally handled by a human resources management team.  So, we try to bring a progressive, people-centric approach to any HR and change management projects we take on.  

What are HR’s Main Priorities?

In the traditional sense, the perception is that HR is responsible for payroll and benefits.  They are the person you meet when you’re hired, when you’re fired and when you have a complaint filed against you.  When I tell people I’m an HR consultant, more often than not, they think I help people fill out their I9 and W2, manage open enrollment, and spend the rest of my time policing the workforce for handbook violations.  The HR Office can be viewed as administrative and bureaucratic.  They are the department that develops the employee life cycle processes, but people believe some HR departments have automated those processes to a point where the person in front of them isn’t a person, but just another faceless cog with an employee identification number.  The common belief about HR is workers don’t go to see HR for help in working through problems; they are called to HR because someone thinks THEY are a problem. 

It’s difficult for those in human resources management to shed this dated image.  HR is responsible for the enforcement of applicable labor laws, that they are often perceived as rigid and impersonable.  For example, HR has a responsibility to develop a fair and equitable recruitment process.  That often means trying to identify someone’s ability to be successful in an objective way.  You like someone and want to hire them, but HR asks you to define, objectively, how they will perform in the job.  It’s not that they are trying to suck the fun out of growing your team, but demanding objective measures in a talent acquisition process helps them remain compliant and be armed with a rationale if they’re ever challenged on a hiring decision.    

Have you ever gone to HR and excitedly told them you were expecting your first child and they responded by telling you to email them so they can begin the FMLA paperwork?  It’s easy to consider HR as paper pushers and not much else.  The reality of it is that HR does have a need to be compliant and that sometimes outweighs the ability to be excited about the human side of what someone requesting FMLA leave just shared.

The bygone era definition of Human Resources is a bit myopic.  It focuses mainly on small portions of the employee experience.  It views the employee lifecycle as checkmarks in a box, rather an a long-term, day to day experience.  The traditional approach to HR focuses on chapters – a more progressive approach, a people operations approach, is focused on the entire story.

What are People Operations Job Functions?

When you approach human resources management as people operations, it helps shift the perception of the role in an organization.  Even referring to another person as a human seems dry and clinical.  Referring to your coworkers as actual people immediately engenders a more positive feeling.  

For me, when I see a job posting for a People Operations Manager, my initial feeling is the employer expects more from a candidate than experience in benefits and payroll.  The successful candidate is going to be responsible for recruitment, onboarding, performance management, leadership development, compensation and benefits planning, workforce communications, and anything else that directly impacts the people in an organization.  Now, it’s highly likely that an HR Manager would be responsible for these things too – but, within the scope of the common perception of HR, employees may just see another process as the end goal.  In people operations, the impact on the people is the first consideration, not the process itself.  

People operations is focused on creating processes that increase employee engagement.  It’s about developing a workplace where employees want to work.  People operation is about a more inclusive environment that encompasses what we believe to be human resources.  It’s a comprehensive approach to employee experience that touches on every aspect of th business.  

What’s the Difference?

Inherently, HR and People Operations are the same.  What makes them different are the external perceptions and the individual’s approach to the role.  Making sure employees get paid is the lowest level on an employee’s hierarchy of needs, and a number of HR professionals are incredibly skilled at running payroll.  They serve an essential function in employee satisfaction.  But beyond that, employees’ needs are much greater.  There are a number of HR professionals who have evolved their mindset to serve as a people operations expert, regardless of job title.  They recognize the responsibility to the people in the organization as they develop processes, enforce policy, and guarantee compliance.  If you can run payroll, but can’t deal with an employee crying in your office, that may mean the difference in how you’re perceived and the type of professional you are.  Are you strictly HR or are you actually skilled at people operations?  Are you focused on making sure an employee completes paperwork or are you focused on the experience that comes as a result of the paperwork?  Do you live to hire and fire or are you passionate about helping someone develop and grow in their career?

Where Does Red Clover Fit In?

Red Clover is an HR consulting firm by name, but we focus on people operations for your business.  We recognize the cause and effect relationships that exist between HR functions like payroll and benefits and people operations process like performance management and career development.  We can help you revolutionize and make modern any people-facing initiative or process that has a direct impact on your employee experience and employer brand.  We manage your HR function with a people operations mindset.  If your business is ready to change – reach out to us!

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