What is People Operations? A Primer for All

3 min read
what is people ops and how is it different from hr poprouser header

What is People Operations?

This is not a question that a lot of people outside of NY and California are currently asking, but it should be. While every other aspect of a business has been optimized and scraped clean for value, few businesses are looking to add that same rigor to HR practices, to satisfy the purposes of an HR component – to find and keep suitable people to innovate and provide increasing gross margins. This is the case with the concept recognized as People Operations.

People Operations is to HR what Growth Hacking is to Marketing

Like Growth Hacking, People Operations was dismissed as unrealistic hype and buzzwords among stalwart industry practitioners, but also like Growth Hacking, People Operations started to show more value than the traditional practice.

In addition, People Operations (again, like Growth Hacking) involves rapid experimentation across all areas of the business to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business. The ways in which People Operations achieves that objective is by refocusing on employees, contractors, and volunteers (hereto known as “People”) as the value driver of the organization, is to continuously experiment with and improve processes that drive HR functions (which are historically administrative in nature), and offer services to the People to improve their quality. The quality of the brand, products and services, and innovation will improve as a result.

A Solid Definition of People Operations

Being HR practitioners and Strategy & Operations consultants who work with innovative companies, Poprouser can offer a durable and summarized definition of People Operations. Are you ready? Here goes …

People Operations is the business function of refocusing operations on its workforce as internal customers, and striving continuously for great internal customer service, using data-driven approaches. The core objectives of People Operations, also known as POps or People Ops, are to:

Shift from task-based management to objective-based management (MBO) – Higher productivity, measurable performance results

Encourage experimentation – Feeder for new insights

Carry out data-infused decision making – Better, more predicable decision outcomes

Rethink and redesign employee compensation – Compete for top talent

Offer unique and highly desirable perks – Greater employer brand

Build communities and closer relationships – Enhance retention

Provide autonomy and trust employees – Innovation

Improve, remove, and automate – Eliminate the need for previously redundant and unrewarding work

Cross pollination and collaboration – Build capable experts with fresh ideas from alternate sources


People Operations is also the name that Google gives to its HR department. Google pioneered People Operations under the tenure of Laszlo Bock, starting with his hire in 2006. He even wrote a book about how things are done at Google that makes them so successful. While many of the initiatives and complex concepts that Lazlo wrote about are not applicable to or within reach of companies of all sizes and all industries (software companies have more flexibility than most, and Google processes more data than almost anyone), the core tenets are solid, and can be acted on almost immediately, providing more value than traditional HR management, which is task-heavy and administrative, and almost never strategic in nature. Here are his four underlying principles of People Ops, summarized:

1. Strive for “Nirvana”

2. Use Data to Predict and Shape the Future

3. Improve Relentlessly

4. Field an Unconventional Team

That said, everyone who is or wants to be a leader of people should read Work Rules. You’ll understand those four principles better that way.