People Ops: It’s Like HR, Except Not Really at All
Picture this: A person who has been out of the workforce for about a decade decides to return and begins applying for jobs. They receive an email letting them know they’ve been scheduled for an interview. The email notes that they’ll be meeting with Emily from the People Ops department.
For younger employees in more progressive companies, nothing seems out of the ordinary in the above scenario. However, for the job hunter described above, their first thought is probably, “People Ops? What the heck is that? What job did I accidentally apply for?”
While People Ops is now all the rage, it’s definitely still a new concept to many. Case in point: if you’re a fan of The Office, you know that Toby worked in HR, not People Ops.
Speaking of all the rage, ChatGPT seems like a great tool to get the lowdown on People Ops. Fingers crossed it’s not “at capacity right now”...
Step 1: Let’s Just Ask Some Basic Questions
Prompt: “What is People Ops? Assume I’m completely unfamiliar with the term.”
Just asking for a straight up definition to start, but I also want to throw in that I’m a rookie when it comes to this trendy, new term. Let’s see if ChatGPT keeps it super basic.
If I knew absolutely nothing about People Ops, I would come away from these responses thinking, “People Ops is basically a more cuddly version of HR.” Descriptions such as “support the growth and well-being of employees” and “taking care of the people who make up an organization” seem less robotic and legal-minded than what people traditionally associate with HR.
ChatGPT also notes People Ops is more common in tech startups and in companies that emphasize a more collaborative and innovative approach to HR. It kind of feels like a backhanded way of saying, “I mean if you want to be uncool, then go with HR”.
Prompt: “Is People Ops different from Human Resources? If so, how? Use bullet points, please.”
A few things:
- Although ChatGPT did differentiate between HR and People Ops in the above responses, I’d like to see some more differences if possible.
- Bullet points make these differences easier to see.
- It can’t hurt to say “please”.
In both answers, ChatGPT essentially suggests that companies don’t have the definitions of the terms completely fleshed out as some may use them interchangeably or in a different way than others.
ChatGPT, without directly using the word, describes People Ops as a more progressive option. People Ops focuses on the employee experience, employee well-being, and views employees as valuable. HR, on the other hand, is focused on the minutiae of day to day transactions and processes, compliance with rules, and risk management.
When it comes to People Ops vs HR, I feel like ChatGPT likes People Ops better.
Prompt: “Why might a company choose People Ops over Human Resources?”
Basically, why is People Ops better? Or, in what specific circumstances can it/would it be a better option than HR?
If I copy/pasted these two responses and asked ChatGPT to summarize its own answer in one sentence, I’m 99% sure this is what I would get: “If you want to attract workers who wear beanies in the summer and own 21 pairs of converse shoes, then go with People Ops.”
Basically: ChatGPT identifies People Ops as a much more modern approach to the “bureaucratic” feel of HR and is more about putting people first.
Prompt: “Why might a company choose Human Resources over People Ops?”
I really think there’s a chance ChatGPT might just respond with, “If it’s 1987.”
In the 7 paragraphs of responses above, ChatGPT only spent 1.5 of them answering the question. But basically, it’s a more traditional, established, and recognized term.
Bottom line: ChatGPT is giving HR the “Ok Boomer” treatment thus far.
Step 2: Let’s Make the Questions More Interesting
Prompt: “Describe the ideal characteristics of someone who works in People Ops”
I’m curious to see if this answer matches up with how ChatGPT has, up until this point, chosen to define People Ops. Will it identify characteristics such as compassion, being less rigid, and more people-focused?
For the most part, this reads like a checklist for “traditional HR skills”, but a few notable exceptions are: empathy, cultural awareness, and emotional intelligence.
Prompt: “Describe three things a company with a People Ops department would do differently than a company with a Human Resources department would.”
I would ideally like ChatGPT to expand on some of what it had to say in its last responses.
I actually had to regenerate the initial response about 6 times before getting something new (ChatGPT is really committed to “emphasis on employee experience” and “data-driven decision making”).
If someone were brand new to People Ops, I think these responses would really cement the idea that People Ops is much more concerned with a positive, as opposed to a compliant, company culture.
Prompt: “I’ve just been fired from my job for underperformance. How would a sample conversation go with Human Resources regarding this?”
I’m going to run this same question (substituting People Ops) next and just take one response each. I’m curious to see if there is a much more “human touch” to the People Ops firing convo.
Prompt: “I’ve just been fired from my job for underperformance. How would a sample conversation go with People Ops regarding this?”
Ok, quite literally zero difference. It was definitely more effective just asking ChatGPT for differences between the two. I tried to get too fancy....
Prompt: “What is the best question to ask ChatGPT to gain an understanding of People Ops?”
I’m feeling somewhat defeated after the last question fell flat. ChatGPT, take the wheel.
Prompt: “What is People Operations and what does a typical People Ops team handle within an organization?”
This is apparently the perfect question to ask. Let’s see..
A few interesting notes:
- I feel like ChatGPT is hesitant to differentiate between an HR department and People Ops unless you specifically ask it to (in both responses it says “People Ops, also known as HR”).
- Both responses mention the term “compliance” which feels very “HR”.
- “Talent Operations” was also randomly thrown into the mix for anyone who wasn’t already confused by the difference between People Ops and HR.
Step 3: Let’s Ask a Few Fun Questions
Prompt: “If Human Resources is associated with business suits, what wardrobe would you associate with People Ops professionals?”
I desperately want ChatGPT to play this game, but I’m not sure if it will.
Tried this a few times, and “jeans and a t-shirt” was the best answer I could get. I really wanted ChatGPT to agree with my earlier assessment about the beanie hats in summer.
Prompt: “Write a song about why People Ops is the wave of the future in the style of 1980’s punk rock”
Any Ramones or The Clash fans in the house?
Comment #1: With phrases such as “gone are the days of HR just being a bore”, “no more toxic vibes” and “They truly do care”, ChatGPT again suggests a more progressive slant to the idea of People Ops as opposed to HR.
Comment #2: I sang this song out loud, and it sounds pretty legit.
Prompt: “In your best ‘Medieval decree from the king’ tone, explain two ways in which People Ops can change company culture”
People Ops definitely seeks to change some of the more “old school” approaches of HR, let’s see which ones ChatGPT identifies. Bonus: king stuff.
“Spirit of kindness, fairness, and respect”, “employees treated with dignity”, “harmonious workplace”, “well-being and satisfaction of employees”, and “culture of transparency, trust, and inclusivity” all sound super People-Opsy.
The Final Word
ChatGPT knows People Ops. Depending on how the prompt is worded, though, it may use it interchangeably with HR or it may differentiate from it entirely. ChatGPT is a great tool, but if you’re only asking it one question and then leaving, you are missing out.
Overall, People Ops is defined by ChatGPT as a more forward-thinking and employee-centered approach to HR.