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  • Writer's pictureMark Harbottle

The difference between People and HR

Updated: Dec 17, 2021


Human Resources, HR, People, Talent, Talent Acquisition, Personell, Human Capital... the list goes on. Typically this (mine) field fits into two areas: Human Resources (HR) and People Ops (People). My role is Head of Talent, and I'm in the People Department at Cronofy - this was a route I chose, and wanted to explain the key differences between the two and why People was a route I proactively took.

HR & People

HR goes way back to the 1920's when it was referred to as 'personel administration' and mostly focussed on hiring, firing, paying, and evaluating employees. What a hoot. It wasn't until 2006 when Google rebranded their HR function to People Ops causing a shift in mentality - seeing the department less of a cold and policy driven corner of a business to one that adopts a human-centred approach.

People Ops is pretty new-school, I really believe that organisations are realising the value of their people, no longer are they seen as assets that will churn out work when given deadlines, and take their paycheck home every month. They have needs, both personal and professional, they need to feel appreciated and respected.

What is a business without it's people? There's no amount of investment, no logo or tag line, and no marketing activity that can replace the value of an organisation full of engaged, motivated people who enjoy each others' company and want to succeed for both themselves and the business they are employed by. Spoiler alert - that's what gets me out of bed every morning.

If HR is referred to as the foundations and structure of a house (through procedures, policies, compliancy, employment law, recruitment processes), then People Ops really makes a house a home. Its Chesterfield sofas are the L&D programmes on offer, the kitchen bar and range cooker are the tools and services provided to perform at your best. The fireplace and family photos are the engagement and retention, and the people that live there are, of course, the happy and motivated individuals that enjoy sitting around a dinner table talking about Q4 Marketing strategies (analogy gone too far?).

Why People?

In a time when people are working more remotely, there is more emphasis on the need for flexible working, and there is an overwhelming demand for top talent, a salary often isn't enough to keep someone in a role. There has never been a greater need for a People Ops team to focus on the people. This new-age department needs to look at how to develop and retain its employees through growth, team building, communication, fulfilling needs outside of a job description. People ops will look at increasing productivity, and activities to decrease staff turnover. It will also look to the future and put plans in place to either fill skills gaps through upskilling or recruitment. It's all about the People people!

It sounds like I'm digging into HR, and that couldn't be further from the truth. The two really do go hand in hand; HR will often set the policies around benefits, create compliancy for working conditions, ensure high standards for performance management, ensure legal requirements are met for employment - they really do look after the staff. It's very hard to make an argument of one versus the other.

My role

As Head of Talent, I'm in a People Department of one. We don't have a HR division or person - our Management team including CEO are extremely hands on when it comes to personnel matters. We have a wonderful Head of Ops who is all over compliancy, and many HR needs often land on my desk. I've helped set the structure around our interviewing / selection process, I've set onboarding standards and even led our creation and implementation of our Competency Framework. What I always come back to though is the people, or as my job title would describe, the Talent.

What I truly adore about People over HR is simply the focus on the people. I take a huge amount of pride and satisfaction in playing an active role in supporting someone's growth (we have someone who's been with us less than 6 months about to go through an apprenticeship programme), and welcoming unbelievably talented individuals to the company (we've doubled headcount since I've been here!). I adore that our people trust that I have their best interests at heart, and knowing that they feel fulfilled working here.

It's really hard work! I have to keep ahead of the times, I need to be thinking about where we are going and the implications that will have on current, and future, team members and ensuring a smooth road to achieve our business goals. I'm constantly looking to learn new things through HR qualifications, webinars in areas such as D&I and Neurodiversity, looking at how technology is adding value to experience, and measuring internal data in the right way for better, more sustainable results in the future.

So don't give me policies. Give me People.

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