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People Ops vs. HR: Maximizing the Values of Both Roles

Why it's important to understand the key duties in each role

Elle Mason

by Elle Mason - December 19th, 2022


What is People Operations?

What is HR?

What’s the difference?

Or …is there no difference at all?

Many companies use People Ops and traditional HR interchangeably, while others insist that the distinction is clear and they're completely different sectors. But we’re here to settle the debate: there is a difference! This article should serve as a resource on the differences between both roles (traditionally), and how to combine elements from the two to become an even stronger HR leader and business partner.

From a high-level view, you could say that People Ops focuses more closely on how effective people are and the ongoing development of employees, while HR focuses on how efficient processes are and remaining in compliance with laws and mandates.

From the day-to-day view though, many businesses are using the terms interchangeably – or they only have the budget for one person to take on both roles. Financial and resource constraints are real barriers to expanding the people part of the business into two (or more) distinct roles– which is why it’s important to understand the key duties in each role in order to utilize values from both.

What Is HR?

Traditional Human Resources professionals are often considered the “bones” or the foundation for managing people.. The core focus of HR is providing support services to the organization’s staff members such as payroll processing, legal compliance issues (e.g., labor laws), recruitment efforts (e.g., job postings), employee benefits management (e.g., health insurance), training and development initiatives (e.g., workshops), performance evaluations (e.g., appraisals), etc.

To put it plainly, HR might create a job listing, screen incoming candidates, ensure that they’ve met any legal/compliance requirements, manage their offer/benefits/compensation and hiring paperwork, and get them properly on-boarded into the system. Needless to say – these things are crucial! But PeopleOps often functions as an extension of that.

While the goals of HR are similar to those of People Ops—namely creating a productive work environment where employees can excel—it takes a much more black-and-white approach to achieve them than does People Ops with its emphasis on building relationships between staff members and fostering an overall sense of community within the organization itself.

What Is People Ops?

If HR manages employee logistics, People Ops will focus more closely on the experience side of employment by building the organization’s culture, values, and processes. The primary goal of People Ops is to create a positive work environment where employees can thrive and contribute their best work.

To do this, People Ops focuses on metrics such as team dynamics, employee engagement, communication strategies, recognition programs, career development opportunities, diversity initiatives, feedback mechanisms, and more. They could determine what elements or ideas are missing from the workplace that will help people thrive. They might also arrange engagement and experience-focused initiatives.

People Ops focuses on the employee experience and employee lifecycle, whereas HR focuses more on the organization and policies. In most organizations, the People Ops team is already part of the HR department. The benefit of having both a People Ops approach and a traditional HR approach is both work hand in hand in support of the company and its employees.

Massiel Guillermo
People Operations and Employee Experience Manager at Payoneer

How Are People Ops and HR Related?

Given that employees are the lifeblood of the organization, and the quality of their experience is just as critical as getting them hired, which do you need: HR or People Ops?

Ideally, both – for all of the reasons we just listed. Creating Taco Tuesdays and game rooms in the office might be great – but it’ll fall short without a traditional HR structure to manage critical components like making sure people get paid on time, or helping people when they have a serious complaint like discrimination or harassment.

Similarly, as important as compliance is, people need more than that to feel properly challenged, engaged, and committed at work. They need development, experience, and growth. That’s why it’s recommended that organizations create a broader “People Team” to house both People Ops and HR and help them work in tandem.

Businesses benefit from the capabilities of both people ops and HR by ensuring they have clear lines of communication between these departments. This helps ensure a consistent approach to talent management and employee retention, which can ultimately benefit the organization's overall performance.

Linda Shaffer
Chief People Operations Officer at Checkr

The relationship between People Ops and HR has evolved over time as organizations have come to realize that both departments need to be working together if they want to achieve their desired results. By leveraging the strengths of both approaches—People Ops’ emphasis on culture creation through interpersonal relationships and HR’s focus on providing tangible resources such as training materials or job postings—organizations can ensure that their workforce is engaged, satisfied with their jobs, motivated to perform at their best levels possible, consistently learning new skills that may benefit them in both the short-term as well as long-term future endeavors, etc.

How to Build a People Team

There are a number of considerations for any business looking to start a People team, combining the values of HR and People Ops:

How Big is Your Team, And What’s Your Growth Rate?

If your organization is going to grow from 2 people to 5 people in the next 16 months, then it may not be critical to start building a People Team. But if you’re going from 5 people to 50 people, creating more structure is recommended.

[quote-block author='Ricardo von Groll, Manager at Talentify']Businesses can benefit from People Ops and HR in the sense that they will have all people's relevant aspects covered. Strategy and execution are better performed once companies have both 'departments'.[/quote-block]

What are Your Current Retention and Engagement Rates?

If you don’t know, that’s a sign that perhaps it’s time to onboard someone whose role it is to gain and understanding of these things. And if these numbers or low, then intervention is certainly needed.

Do You Have the Financial capacity for a People Team?

For many people, particularly small businesses or start-ups, finances may be a barrier and there can only be one role. But you can still adopt the People Ops values or spirit by implementing strategies like periodic pulse checks, tracking retention, and leveraging HRIS software to automate as much as the traditional functions as possible – and free up time for employee experience initiatives.

How GoCo Can Help

  • Modern HRIS – GoCo’s Modern HRIS supports stronger employee engagement and experience, as it puts the power of control in employees’ hands. The same goes for HR managers — they're able to create a better environment for employees from day one, with digital onboarding, benefits admin, at-a-glance payroll, magic documents, and more.

  • Feedback — The feedback tool helps on the People Ops front, because employees can give and receive feedback, which ultimately helps them grow in their role, as well as stay engaged.

If both teams are appropriately resourced, their strategy will be built to have a huge impact on the overall company population as long as the ROI metrics are well documented through data and analytics. As long as the people strategy coming from these teams is data-backed, let the teams run with it! Data-backed strategy rarely fails if executed correctly.

Cheyenne Horvat
Manager, People Ops at Carta

Final Thoughts

It's clear that there're distinct differences between People Operations and Human Resources, yet they're closely related when it comes to helping an organization and its team succeed. Both disciplines bring unique perspectives - from understanding people's needs within an organization to ensuring those needs are met with appropriate resources - which should be leveraged for maximum benefit by busy HR department leaders looking for ways to optimize workplace performance among their staff members while simultaneously meeting company objectives in terms of bottom line profit margins or other measurable metrics depending on industry type.

Together they create a powerful combination capable of transforming enterprises into high-performing workplaces where employees feel appreciated and valued while also contributing positively towards organizational growth over time. By understanding how they work together you will be able to set your business up for success!

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