Human Resources

The People Operations Toolbox

By Nicole BeckermanOctober 25, 2016

Have you ever wondered if there was a way to design your experience at work so employees are happier, more productive, and more engaged? You’re not alone—there’s a fresh brand of Human Resources professionals in town, and they’re in the business of using technology, data, and strategy to transform employee experiences for the better.

Nurturing and retaining talent have become high priorities for organizations, and with the rise of big data it only makes sense to ask how we can use such insights to craft a better work experience. As the CEO of Zuman wrote in a LinkedIn post, “People Operations turns Human Resources decisions from a hunch-based pseudoscience to a data-driven exact science.”

Archana Ramesh, a Senior Manager of People Innovation and Operations at a fast-growing Bay Area tech company, says, “When you think about how much time an adult spends in the workplace (over a third of their waking hours), I love that my job every day is thinking about how to optimize such an important part of everyone’s life and make it more productive and meaningful.” Her diverse background illustrates the unique perspective modern HR professionals bring to an organization.

For example, Ramesh participated in a leadership development rotational program while living and working in Moscow, Russia; she worked with groups in 26 countries as a global HR Business Partner; and she has provided strategy consulting to Fortune 50 companies. Of her current role, she says, “Starting from the minute a potential candidate comes in contact with the company to when an employee leaves, you want that individual to have a great experience and People Ops programs enable that experience.”

Technologies, Metrics, and Tools

When improving the employee experience rests in your hands, it’s wise to have concrete metrics and different ways to examine them. From the recruitment phase to exit interviews, many use tracking systems to identify areas of improvement and design effective solutions. For example, when Google wanted to give out additional compensation, their People Ops team was able to identify which method (PTO, increased base salary, bonuses, etc.) would have the greatest impact on employee satisfaction.

In addition to the standard office suite of software, new  applicant tracking solutions, benefits administration, talent management systems, data analysis solutions, and employee feedback systems are available. Ramesh currently uses Jobvite and BambooHR, but is always evaluating emerging tech, such as Namely and Reflektive, to add to her toolbox.

She notes, “There is a wave of new technology in the HR space that’s driving a consumer-grade experience for employees in the workplace by utilizing machine learning and sophisticated analytics to guide smart people decisions. There are quite a few sources that note the exponential increase in funding for HR tech startups and new technologies with this renewed interest.”

Critical Skills and Techniques

Despite all the figures, at its core People Operations is about human beings, and as Ramesh says, “When was the last time you came across two people that were motivated by, excited about, and challenged by the exact same things?” A sales rep working out of the Atlanta, for example, is going to have a drastically different employee experience and set of needs than a software engineer based in Menlo Park.

Designing experiences which serve the entire range of a company’s staff demands that HR professionals delve deeply into various areas and understand these divergent mindsets. Soft skills such as active listening, empathy, and curiosity are vital to have in this line of work.

Spearheading Change

Gaining buy-in from decision makers is key for effecting changes or new programs in an organization, and HR is no exception. In fact, when it comes to HR initiatives, a strong business case often needs to be made in support of any proposed plans. Frequently, efforts in this area are met with skepticism about costs and concerns about disruptiveness or effectiveness, so being able to prove economic value is a necessity. Since HR projects and decisions rest on data, it is important to deliver robust metrics which support the how, when, and why of new initiatives.

However, Ramesh cautions, “The challenge with getting buy-in from people is the challenge with almost everything in our world today; too much information!” With only small windows of time to present to leadership, adding in the voice of the customer (employees in this case) and crafting a meaningful story is necessary to win the day.

“I recently went into a meeting with the CFO to talk to him about a new compensation planning tool we wanted to roll out. Having data to show why it was the right approach was huge but when I was able to tell him that I had already shopped the tool to 10-15 managers in critical business functions and incorporated their feedback and had their buy-in to roll out this tool, that was what ultimately lead to getting the CFO’s sign-off.”

Bringing a scientific, data-driven approach to HR is beneficial on the cost side, and will result in a more productive staff who are excited and motivated about their work.

Nicole Beckerman

Nicole Beckerman

Writer

About the Author

Nicole Beckerman is a marketing consultant, writer, and clothing designer based in Los Angeles, CA. She holds an MBA from Mills College as a Goldman Sachs Scholar.

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