People Operations Manager: Defining a New Era in HR Leadership

September 7, 2023
People Operations Manager: Defining a New Era in HR Leadership

The human resources environment is constantly evolving. Shifts in corporate culture, employee preferences and an evolving market landscape require the function to adapt quickly to the times. Traditional HR teams are changing, too, inspiring an influx of fresh, creative HR job titles. The industry itself is rebranding HR name, role and purpose initiatives in line with “people operations,” the new name for HR. Recently we’ve seen a shift from titles like HR Manager to creative versions like Chief Happiness Officer and Head of Talent. New HR titles for 2023 reflect an array of alternative names for Human Resources department personnel. Based on human resources’ new name, people operations job titles gaining traction include People Operations Leader, a.k.a. People Operations Manager.

This new term for human resources is a sign of more than simply rebranding the HR function. Implementing a People Operations department leadership style demonstrates a shift in how to manage HR functions, where the focus should lie, and what the mission of the HR ops team has become.

In the past, the HR department represented rules and compliance: forms to be completed and policies to be administered. It appeared that traditional HR teams were in the business of protecting the company from its own employees. Granted, it’s important to assure the company is enforcing compliance and ensuring policies are administered. But the human side of the HR equation was often lost in the shuffle.

People Operations on the Rise

People operations leaders and teams look at the HR function from a talent-first perspective. Their role is to analyze candidate and employee experience and assure it’s positive and forward-thinking.

It’s not just about making sure employees are happy on the job with casual Fridays. It’s making sure they have all the tools they need to be successful, grow, and develop. It’s leveraging the best tech for strategic data analysis rather than relying upon outdated HR systems. They know when it comes to business operations, employee-centric tools drive business success.

The more we recognize that the employee (and candidate) experience directly impacts the bottom line, the more we modify to enhance. The more we align business success with individual employee and team success, the more growth we see. As we shift rote tasks away from staffers with better HR systems and technology, the more time they have to develop and innovate.

The bottom line is that if you want a company of drones, you invest in robotics. If you want a company that serves your consumer base and innovates, you invest in talent. From there, it’s critical to assure the “new hire honeymoon” becomes a long-term commitment. Improving employee engagement should always be a key priority.

Why the Change?

From the entry-level employee to the CEO, every role in an organization is necessary for the success of the business. No well-run company hires extraneous employees. Each person is integral to making or breaking a business.

No other resource a company owns has that capacity. Machines don’t innovate; they don’t invent or create. Talent does. Technology doesn’t respond to customer demand unless a person tells it to do so. The most valuable resource an organization has is its people.

And with the evolution of the field, new names for Human Resources department professionals and their missions are nothing new. Decades ago, the shift to HR from the personnel department accentuated that humans are an invaluable resource to business. Ensuring they have the support and tools they need to thrive equates directly to the success of the company. Without people, there is no business. Aligning the HR function to that paradigm — to a people ops team and leadership — may be as long overdue as was the change from personnel to HR.

What Does a People Operations Manager Do?

Change the focus

More than a name, people operations is a shift in focus. Rather than concentrating on compliance and policies, this role concentrates on employee advocacy. A people operations manager or leader grows talent and leverages tech to do so. HR departments have been the keeper of massive amounts of employee and candidate data for decades. Modern technology allows leaders to mine that data and make tangible improvements at every step of the employee experience.

All this results in increasing employee engagement, bettering employee retention 7and, ultimately, improving their company culture. This further filters down to increasing employee value as top-performing employees provide stronger customer satisfaction.

Boost candidate experience

Beginning with the recruitment function, a people operations specialist looks for ways to boost the candidate experience. Technology that streamlines, moving candidates quickly through the application processes, assures them your organization is cutting edge. It also confirms that you value their time.

Once hired, high-touch onboarding processes transition new employees to valued team members. That minimizes new hire attrition and maximizes success rates.

Have an internal customer point of view

People ops focuses on employees as internal customers and “markets” to them as the sales team would a paying customer. Its ultimate goal is to keep employees engaged. This personalized investment not only strengthens the team but builds employee trust.

The data people operations leaders use analyzes more than who has been in their role and for how many years. It also:

  • Helps identify training and development pathways to help the staffer grow.
  • Quantifies what development tools lead to success, how the employee is engaging in training and where training can be enhanced.
  • Creates tangible career trajectories that allow employees to see their growth in the near and long term.

People operations managers also use tech to assure high-performing staffers consistently emerge through the talent pipeline and during the employee journey.

Empower teams and staffers

Empowering managers and teams is critical to the role of people operations leaders. Performance management is a top priority. They look for ways to minimize rote tasks. They actively seek technology that frees up time to concentrate on more important, high-value tasks. Their role connects the human-technology interface to maximize employee engagement and productivity.

Advocating for employees will always be a part of the HR function. For these leaders, however, it goes beyond responding to concerns and complaints — although those are critical. When employees bring problems and issues to the team, they respond from an employee-centric perspective. The message is: We support our workers to resolve problems that affect the investment we’ve made in their future.

Strategize with data

In the same way operational safety teams look for and correct hazards in the workplace, people ops teams look for and correct potential “hazards” for individuals, teams, and the company. They use data to identify problems and adopt corrective and preventative protocols.

High turnover data suggests a problem area. The team then searches for the cause and corrects it. Low productivity data suggests log jams in processes, so they then look for tools to improve. Whether a data-driven quest from the employee database or a response to an employee concern, theirs is a role of improvement.

Using the volume of data at their disposal, people ops leaders can look for trends. Then, they make adjustments and new procedures that keep the focus on employee experience and success. One of the newest trappings in the HR toolbox is predictive analytics. This technology uses artificial intelligence as a business function to spot inclinations in the big picture and at ground level.

Do your marketing or sales professionals tend to leave at the 3-year mark? Performance indicators (PIs) help people leaders identify employees at risk for flight, creating high employee turnover. Analyzing that data by hand could take weeks. But using the information already stored in your HR data banks, PIs can answer such questions in moments.

Develop staff

PI analyzes skills gaps, allowing companies to develop employees in whom their investments will likely pay off long-term. It’s one way to ensure key priorities are met. Companies use key performance indicators, benchmarking, and other assessment tools to find issues ripe for intervention. This fosters employee development and growth.

While people operations may sound like a new term for HR, it’s more than a rebrand. It embodies the positive shift that empowers HR teams to plan strategically for business success. They are advocates for and developers of your most valuable resource: people.

People Are at the Heart of Every Organization

Whether for a big corporation or a small to midsize business, it’s worth the effort for business managers to consider these concepts under the HR umbrella. Ideally, teams assuming people operations titles help prolong the employee lifecycle. They also understand how to continue beyond, leveling up your succession planning in the process. Implementing people operations principles can help get your organization there.

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