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PeopleOps versus HR: Understanding the key differences and advantages

Posted by Kanika Sinha

April 5, 2023

An increasing number of businesses around the world are realizing the value of putting people first and making the employee experience their priority.  This has led to the prevalence of an increasingly popular workforce management approach known as people operations — commonly referred to as PeopleOps.

In fact, major organizations like Google, Yelp and IBM have already shown that moving away from traditional HR practices, and prioritizing employee experience by instituting a PeopleOps model is the way forward.

But, what exactly is PeopleOps? What value can it bring to your business? How is it different from the traditional HR model? Read on for a comprehensive guide on PeopleOps, its advantages — and more!

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Understanding PeopleOps

Background: The concept of PeopleOps began at Google in the early 2000s. Its former HR director, Laszlo Bock coined the term while attempting to fix an attrition problem at the company. In doing so, he overhauled the HR department and introduced sweeping people-centric policies — only to conclude later that having a specific team of people being the scenes to help fill job openings, create learning opportunities, and more can help employees to be more productive, healthier and happier.

What is PeopleOps? At its core, PeopleOps aims to put people at the center and prioritize experiences. Its goal is to put the employees first and to empower them with the tools they need to be productive at work, and succeed in their roles as well as overall happiness.

Broadly, PeopleOps represents an evolution of traditional HR practices, with a greater emphasis on data-driven decision-making and employee experience. By leveraging technology, data and analytics, PeopleOps helps businesses build a more efficient and effective workforce that is better equipped to drive outcomes.

How PeopleOps differs from HR

It isn’t surprising that businesses use the terms PeopleOps and HR interchangeably. After all, both departments have some similarities, with PeopleOps technically operating under the HR umbrella. However, the two terms are distinct. 

As the Forbes article explains, “the primary difference between People Ops and HR is not so much in the daily tasks but in the approach to members of a team. PeopleOps aims to understand employees holistically as individual contributors while the traditional HR mindset views them more as a resource to be calculated and managed for efficiency.” 

Besides, while HR is more about managing, compliance, rules and policies, PeopleOps entails designing work so that employees want to be there — present, committed, engaged, and proud of what they do.

The table below outlines the key differences between the two.


Traditional HR

Puts employees at the center and prioritizes experiences.

Views employees as resources.

Takes a result-oriented, strategy-focused approach.

Takes a task-focused approach.

Focuses on increasing employee value through programs and systems that support their needs.

Focuses on enforcing policies and compliance.

Employs a holistic approach to address business goals using customized people tools and creative ways.

Operates within the narrow constraints of HR practices.

Devises and implements goal-based initiatives with a total-rewards philosophy.

Maintains the employee database and executes compensation changes as requested.

Emphasizes data-driven decision-making and the use of technology to streamline HR processes.

Emphasizes fulfillment of traditional HR functions and processes.

Serves leadership by educating and advocating a people-first approach in alignment with business goals.

Receives and executes directions from the organization’s leadership.

Seeks to establish practices and proactive programs that prevent issues from arising in the first place.

Tends to be reactive, responds to employee-related issues when they arise.

For more clarity, let’s parse the roles and primary responsibilities of a PeopleOps manager vis-a-vis an HR manager:

Functions of a PeopleOps manager

Functions of an HR manager

They focus on employee engagement and retention as well as related management strategies.

They focus on the practical aspects of employee management including legal and structural.

They identify and implement new ways to empower employees to thrive.

They enforce compliance with an organization's rules and regulations.

They work towards having the right people in place to achieve the organization's business goals.

They manage employee compensation and benefits.

They brainstorm, deliberate and redesign employee compensation to attract and retain top talents; and improve the quality of hire.

They recruit, hire, transfer, promote and fire employees.

They create healthy workplaces and a sustainable brand image besides focusing on acting before conflict emerges.

They serve as mediators during employee conflict resolutions.

Why PeopleOps is critical for businesses

For PeopleOps, it’s about designing work so that employees want to be there — engaged and happy. Doing so triggers ripple effects across the organization that ultimately improves the bottom line and sets the business up for long-term success. 

Talk to us about how Escalon’s PeopleOps can help you improve HR effectiveness and achieve better business outcomes.

Here’s a comprehensive look at the key benefits of switching to PeopleOps:

Helps employees grow and succeed. This might be the most obvious to have a PeopleOps team in place: You want your people, and therefore your organization, to succeed. PeopleOps can provide a clear path for your employees to understand in what way they can individually contribute to the company’s goals, and feel engaged at work, thereby powering higher productivity and greater results.

The perfect example of this is Google, which by leveraging the power of data-driven PeopleOps has been able to create great workforce experiences and build effective teams — where employees motivate each other and collaborate to solve problems. It’s no fluke that Google has been repeatedly voted one of the best places to work and has high retention rates.

Build diverse teams. PeopleOps can provide your business with the explicit structure needed to break bias and open the door to underrepresented groups. Your PeopleOps manager can create a plan for hiring more inclusively and ensure hiring managers follow  — thereby ensuring you have a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Add greater strategic value. Historically, HR departments have been focused on completing repetitive and routine tasks (such as reports or payroll). PeopleOps while still managing these responsibilities goes beyond to home in on what is crucial for growth, efficiency and success.

This involves setting achievable individual and team goals that align with the company’s goals. Plus, providing employees with what they need to reach those goals. This may be as simple as making business goals clearer to employees, or it may be providing better training, tools or technology to ensure they reach their full potential and drive better business outcomes.

Helps stem the problem of attrition. Ensuring that your employees feel heard and get the recognition they deserve, PeopleOps can help you stem the high employee turnover and increase retention. 

Improves transparency. PeopleOps helps you do away with the problem of siloed teams prevalent in traditional HR models. PeopleOps relies on multidisciplinary teams with members coming from various backgrounds and departments thereby increasing transparency throughout the organization. Plus, enabling them to respond better to employee needs by drawing on their diverse skill sets and experience. 

Outsourcing PeopleOps can help

Instituting a ‘purpose over process’ mentality and considering employees as the company’s best advocates is certainly the way forward. But, if you’re not ready to commit to a full-time PeopleOps staff, bringing in an outside expert can help. An outsourced PeopleOps team offers a convenient and cost-effective way for small businesses to reap the benefits of a more strategic approach to employer-employee relations and better outcomes.

Want more? In addition to HR, benefits, recruiting and payroll through its PeopleOps, Escalon’s Essential Business Services include FinOps (CFO services, taxes, bookkeeping and accounting) and Risk (business insurance). Talk to an expert today.

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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. Escalon and its affiliates are not providing tax, legal or accounting advice in this article. If you would like to engage with Escalon, please contact us here.


Kanika Sinha
Kanika Sinha

Kanika is an enthusiastic content writer who craves to push the boundaries and explore uncharted territories. With her exceptional writing skills and in-depth knowledge of business-to-business dynamics, she creates compelling narratives that help businesses achieve tangible ROI. When not hunched over the keyboard, you can find her sweating it out in the gym, or indulging in a marathon of adorable movies with her young son.

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