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Over the last few years, employee expectations have evolved alongside global, social and political events. In fact, despite current market conditions, 40% of Americans plan to look for a new job this year, seeking employers that prioritize flexibility and culture while valuing creativity, talent and hard work. To keep pace with these expectations, People leaders must recreate the People function with an employee-first approach, which includes:
Traditional HR can’t address these shifts independently, but a modern approach to HR can. And people operations is the next frontier of what modern HR looks like. All organizations need strong people operations to build on the traditional HR responsibilities, like compliance and policy, by incorporating forward-thinking, people-first initiatives that support a data-backed approach to employee experience.
HR: Function vs. action
Over 35% of employees believe HR’s primary function is to advocate for the organization — not its employees. Why? Because when it comes to employees, the traditional HR function is reactive, not proactive. For example, if an employee asks a question about a benefit or policy, an HR leader often provides an answer straight from the handbook. Or when an employee quits, HR opens a requisition, posts the job opening and works on hiring for that position.
Modern people operations requires a system of action, not just the existing framework of compiling and reviewing data. A strong people operations function doesn’t sit in the background and ask if it’s compliant — it asks questions designed to push an organization forward. A modern People team strengthens its entire organization by:
Preemptively assessing employee onboarding, training, performance evaluation and compensation needs.
Collaborating closely with finance teams
Holding training and information sessions on new benefits and open positions
Providing real-time access to people data
Facilitating connection and collaboration at all levels of the organization
Proactively recruiting and hiring individuals based on an organization’s business goals
Implementing informed, strategic and equitable people practices
All of these responsibilities revolve around one common theme — putting employees first.
People operations: The new HR
Only one in four employees say their People leaders do a good job of balancing their needs with those of their organization. This stems from a reliance on the historical approach to HR, focused on compliance and back-office tasks. HR teams need to evolve, which starts by embracing their role as people operations, a modern, employee-centric approach to HR. Adopting the tenets of people operations will help build employee trust, by leaning on these six attributes.
1. People data visibility
Leaders should start by asking, “How are all of my employees accessing the information they need to make informed decisions?” People leaders must eliminate people data silos so that employees at every level can get insight (such as where Joe from engineering is based) and take action (like updating their address), without depending on the People team. Traditional, siloed solutions miss telling the whole story because data doesn’t live in the same place, and not everyone has access. Organizations should instead adopt a people operations platform to provide a single source of unified truth for the whole organization.
Even better, managing and storing people data in one place creates a positive ripple effect organization-wide. Executives can strategize more efficiently and effectively, tracking metrics over time like DEIB, forecasting and employee retention. Meanwhile, managers are empowered to make decisions faster, more intentionally and with less bias. And employees can access the information they need to feel invested in their organization — like org charts, employee directories and personal employee data.
Over 90% of U.S. workers want companies to commit to DEIB efforts. Yet, we know that DEIB continues to be an area where employees feel like their employers are lacking. A people operations platform can help People leaders improve DEIB programs by drawing data-backed insights from across the organization. Armed with the right data, companies can track and measure DEIB goals over time. However, it’s not enough to just track your People data — employees need their leaders to take action.
Leaders can mobilize by including employees to develop DEIB initiatives that matter to them. For example, leaders can organize employee workshops to build plans, analyze data and design support systems, such as employee resource groups. Workshops, such as inviting subject matter experts to organization-wide meetings, drive DEIB initiatives forward and provide a safe space for conversations about past, current and future experiences.
To maintain an employee-first culture, organizations must invest in their people’s growth. Nearly 95% of people say they’d stay in their role longer if their company invested in learning and development opportunities.
It’s no longer enough to offer a learning and development stipend — leaders need to empower their people with direction on how to use this kind of benefit. Start by creating a list of recommended programs, courses and resources by department. Encourage your People team to create regular learning and development check-ins with department heads to ensure employees are getting value out of these opportunities.
Alternatively, build this programming into required meetings. For example, host a leadership training course offered throughout the year at regular intervals, and encourage follow-up discussions across manager teams (i.e., create a “management” Slack channel to facilitate these conversations). Either option creates a “default” so that employees know exactly how to benefit from learning and development opportunities and will walk away knowing their company is invested in their growth.
4. Ongoing feedback
The annual review no longer matches employee expectations. Instead, employees want their leadership to embrace continuous performance management. Over 55% of employees believe that annual reviews have less impact on their performance than more regular, consistent constructive criticism and positive feedback.
Organizations should facilitate regularly scheduled reviews at least twice a year or quarterly. More frequent conversations offer opportunities for managers to:
Address smaller issues before they escalate into more significant problems
Identify and address employee pain points
While continuous performance management will look different from one company to another, managers must always maintain consistent communication to cultivate trust and alignment with their employees and to better support team success.
What is employee-employer trust built on? Transparency. Employees need transparency from their managers and their leaders. While many HR teams have taken steps to transition from compliance officers to employee advocates, people still lack confidence in the HR function. To embrace transparency, People leaders should formalize internal communications through scheduled check-ins and meetings, signaling their commitment to workplace culture and trust.
Lacking trust or confidence in their People leaders, employees may struggle to remain engaged or feel a sense of belonging. Almost 65% of employees say trust directly impacts their sense of belonging at work. When leaders embrace honesty and authenticity about organizational goals and changes, their teams feel supported, prepared and respected.
6. Flexibility with accountability
In an employee-first culture, People leaders value a healthy work-life balance. When employees have time to take care of their physical, mental and emotional health, they arrive at work as their best selves, feeling supported.
To help employees attain a healthy work-life balance, companies should move away from the traditional 9 to 5 schedule. Instead of tracking time spent online, organizations should track progress against results and output. A people operations platform helps leaders set fair, clear and measurable output goals, even when employees have “flex” days every other week. Leaders must focus on the results of those goals to inform performance management.
People operations is the new HR, and the HR function must adapt to the new normal of today’s workplace. Organizations shouldn’t throw traditional HR practices out the window but should instead embrace a more modern approach to HR, rooted in employee-first initiatives and outcomes.
This story originally appeared on Entrepreneur