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Tactical vs Strategic - What People Operations teams can learn from Google's Lazlo Bock.

by Mariya Finkelshteyn

Mar 01, 2019

If you ever find yourself thinking, “If only I had time to focus on strategy instead of all this admin,” then chances are that you may be finding your People Ops role limited to the Tactical.

With the growth of progressive technology, APIs, and data flowing seamlessly across your organization, it’s becoming critical for the People Operations team of tomorrow to rise above the operational aspects, and move into Strategic People Operations.

But it’s not easy.

Often the People Ops team can find themselves as the gopher running between new hires, managers, IT, executives and broader talent base, putting out fires, answers questions, and scheduling meetings for managers.

The tactical and the strategic aspects of HR are intertwined, but it’s when the People Ops team can build repeatable and scalable HR systems to manage the tactical, that they can turn focus to the strategic.

How did Laszlo do it?

In 2015, Work Rules! Insights From Inside Google, was published by Lazlo Bock, shedding light on the top end of Strategic People Ops.

Strategic people operations book - Work Rules by Lazlo Bock

Here’s a quick summary of the insights, which each have the potential to transform your organization, team or workplace:

  • Give your work meaning: Connect company to more money, align sense of values and purpose.
  • Trust your people: Be transparent and honest, and embrace trusting good people with responsibility.
  • Hire only people who are better than you: Take the time and get it down right.
  • Don’t confuse development with managing performance: Separate L&D from reviews.
  • Focus on the two tails: Find the best and worst performers and study them.
  • Be frugal and generous: Most perks cost nothing, but pay-up on the important things.
  • Pay unfairly: Understand incentives and value creation.
  • Nudge: Encourage the right behavior.
  • Manage the rising expectations: Experiment with ideas.
  • Enjoy: Building a great culture and environment requires constant learning and renewal.

It might have worked for Laszlo, but I’m still trying to get managers to have one-on-ones — so why does understanding Laszlo’s focus matter?

Because without identifying the real strategic aspects of People Ops that can move the needle on organizational performance, it’s quite easy to get trapped in the tactical fires that arise day to day.

Tactical - Keeping the Trains Running

Tactical People Ops is performing the operational-focused aspects of Human Resources, often seen by the team as the administrators.

The initiatives undertaken are generally to keep the trains running on time, which means it can (unfortunately) often be a thankless and misunderstood role.

Tactical People Ops can be very much invisible to other teams because they are so focused on their own work, and lack the perspective of recruitment, onboarding, and ongoing employee success —along with the thousand other things that provide the work environment for people to be successful.

People operations tactical

Strategic - Driving the Organization Forward

Strategic People Ops focuses on maximizing employee lifetime value, employee wellbeing, productivity, and most importantly, driving the organization forward.

This is the hard part of People Ops, and it’s only when the Tactical People Ops responsibilities are handled do we have time to focus on the Strategic stuff.

How your People Ops team can gain employee trust?

With Lazlos's framework in place - People Operations teams  have the potential to transform the organization, team or workplace, but require trust from the team for their initiatives.

From developing and retaining talent, to building and managing company culture — employees must believe that People Ops holds their best interests in mind. This mutual trust and respect is essential for People Ops to successfully design and implement strategies that will better the organization.

With this in mind, what are some approaches People Ops can take to gain employee trust?

1. Be inclusive and consistent.

If you scan Glassdoor’s negative employer reviews, you’ll find many different kinds of complaints with a common root cause: the company isn’t listening to all of its employees. An organization should not have a pecking order or appear to play favorites — People Ops should have go-to tactics that make all employees feel equally important, regardless of their title and salary, or whether they work in-office or remotely.

Regularly communicating with your employees is another fundamental element in promoting an inclusive, consistent work culture. Jenilee Deal,  VP People at Qadiu, shares how Qadium’s People team builds employee trust by holding regular one-on-ones with everyone in the company.

They do this by selecting a sample from the employee base each quarter, inviting those employees in for a sit-down with a member of the People team. This shows that People Ops doesn’t just talk to managers and execs, but wants to hear from employees too. In these one-on-ones, the People team asks Stay Interview questions to understand why employees stay and why they would leave.

To build trust, inclusiveness and consistency must be shown across entire employee lifecycle — from preboarding, to reward, all the way through to offboarding.

2. Don’t just gather feedback, act on it.

A core responsibility of People Ops is to surface the voice of the employee base. Besides assessing how an individual employee is feeling, it’s also important to understand how employees feel about the company — regarding culture, work-life balance, direction, leadership, and vision.

Surveys are an excellent tool for collecting feedback to measure Employee Engagement as well as overall organizational effectiveness. And with surveying tools like CultureAmp, meaningful, anonymous feedback can be highly accessible. 

Once feedback is compiled and communicated to employees and managers, consider pitching your suggested changes and requesting employee feedback on proposals. Crowdsourcing tools, like Waggl’s real-time feedback technology, can help People Ops keep employees completely involved in the process, showing just how much you value their opinions.

3. Be transparent.

Today, People Ops doesn’t have the same control over the organization’s image that it did five years ago. Between social media and public databases like Glassdoor — culture, benefits, and salaries are all common knowledge. With company information so readily available, People Ops must be just as transparent itself.

In the early stages of the active employee lifecycle, distrust often comes from a simple lack of communication. Research shows that 69% of employees do not trust their employer to know what benefits are right for them. Consider using a Total Rewards Statement to communicate and promote your rewards package along with your reasons behind choosing it. This can show employees how much thought People Ops has put into their benefits package, encouraging them to trust and value your judgement.

4. Articulate your brand.

What does your team believe about people? What are your values as a head of People? What does your overall function value?  

Every company has a different kind of People Ops program — you might have a culture-based, performance-based, or compliance-based team. Articulating who you are and what you believe to be true is a great way to build trust.

Over time, your People function should know what it believes in, and be clear about those beliefs with the entire company to establish trust. Communicating your philosophy shows employees where your programs are coming from and the value behind them.

Your roadmap should be a blueprint of what the function is going to accomplish over the next 1-2 years. The roadmap details your function’s accountability and value, and builds excitement around what you’re planning to accomplish. 

People Operations strategy

Some employees believe that the People function is a fuzzy field, failing to understand its ROI. But by laying out a clear roadmap and specific goals that are interesting to employees, they will realize how your function benefits them. This will earn you credibility, proving that you are a valuable function deserving of time, energy, resources, and trust.

What does this mean for you?

For the busy People Ops team managing those train schedules, there used to simply be too many trains running to find time to focus on propelling the organization forward. But now, it’s never been a better time to be in People Operations.

There can be transitory costs (duplicate data, app fatigue, too many passwords), but the long-term benefits of leveraging purpose-built software to focus on the strategic aspects of People Ops are abundant.

Want to learn more about how purpose-built onboarding software can help you transition to the Strategic side of People Ops?

Sapling's HRIS can help your build a more strategic, efficient and people-centric HR function

Mariya Finkelshteyn

Mariya serves as the VP of Marketing at Sapling, leading marketing and demand generation efforts for the organization. She has a proven track record of driving efficiency and growth, bringing sales and marketing teams together through the utilization of shared objectives, best practices and innovation.