HR and People Operations: What’s the Big Difference?

1. What is people operations?

2. How is people operations any different from human resources?


These are two questions we get asked quite a bit. Did you Google “people operations” in your own quest for enlightenment? If so, let us guess – it was a bit overwhelming. It’s time to bust through the confusion around this term so you can (finally) understand the difference between people ops and the traditional HR function. By getting a sense of what people operations really entails, you’ll be better able to imagine how a solid “people” strategy will help your business win.


What is people operations?


People operations is what you find at the intersection of the three P’s: Product, Process, and People. In other words, it’s a focus on the people within your organization and the strategies (or lack there of) geared toward their engagement, productivity, and fulfillment that ultimately affect every other aspect of business.


Here’s the thing business owners need to grasp: People operations isn’t something that happens when you hire someone to manage it – it’s currently a living function of your company right now, with or without an expert guide or strategy to optimize it.


If you have any number of people working for your company, people operations is a necessary focal point, period.


How is people operations different from HR?


Many thought leaders define people operations as falling under the human resources umbrella. And there is certainly an argument for this being the case. But in our humble opinion, human resources has for too long been strictly associated with the more generalized (and let’s face it, mundane) administrative tasks. Think compliance, insurance, and payroll. Don’t get us wrong, everything HR-related is vital, as it all affects the experience of your people. But because of this, we see general HR services as just one piece of the people operations puzzle.


For Montani, human resources falls under the people operations umbrella.


If you asked your average Joe on the street what services an HR team is responsible for, he may mention a few of these items:

  • All the policies and the handbook
  • Hiring people and welcoming them on the first day
  • Mediating whenever employees get upset with each other
  • Making sure we get paid
  • Performance reviews
  • Firing 
  • Managing healthcare and 401(k) options


If you asked your average Jolene on the street what services an HR team is responsible for, here are a few items she likely would NOT mention:

  • Helping create and nurture a healthy, productive culture with clearly defined values 
  • Ensuring diversity and inclusion initiatives are in place and successful
  • Identifying key benchmarks for each position, making sure everyone involved knows these, and ensuring team members have the knowledge and resources to reach them
  • Creating a leadership development program that can easily scale, and preparing a line of leadership (succession) in advance of retirements
  • Employee retention and incentives programs to lessen the cost of turnover
  • Using actionable, competitive market data to determine a fair rate of pay for any position


The items in the second list are dually focused on the team member’s experience as well as the impact it can have on the organization. These are proactive aspects of HR – aspects that require a bit more strategy and longer-term thinking than the more general functions in the first list. They impact the all-important
culture of the company. And today, with greater competition to bring on the right people and encourage them to stick with your company, it’s a worthy investment to ensure all these bullet-list items (aka people operations functions) are being managed.


Every people ops function works together to bolster team member fulfillment and engagement. This leads to higher productivity, both individually and as a company.


Managing your people operations isn’t “extra,” but a long-term growth strategy.


Human resources is not being replaced by people operations. People ops is simply the more holistic approach to HR so businesses can strategically manage and improve the entire experience of the employee – from day one to retirement.


Great businesses simply can’t afford to leave their employee experience to chance. If you know your business could benefit from people operations support, or you want to find out if there are holes in your current people ops strategy, reach out to our team today. We’re passionate about serving our clients as their expert guide in all things people operations.


When people operations are executed strategically, culture becomes contagious, engagement increases, innovation runs rampant, and it drives business value across the enterprise. 

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