Is it heresy to put “people” and “operations” in the same sentence?

It’s funny how you can seem to shock some purists by using in the same sentence two words that have nothing to do with each other. This is for example the case of the words people / humans and the words ‘process’ and ‘operations’.

I explained a while ago that if we wanted to stop using buzzwords and talk to people who don’t have a certain sensitivity we could easily replace the word experience with quality and link it to well known topics of operational experience.

Some people will retort that an experience can only be digital but I disagree.

• Because the smooth execution of a digital experience is the result of a perfectly executed form of operations.

• Because the best customer experience on an e-commerce site is ruined when the delivery is disappointing or the customer service is absent.

• Because the most beautiful application allowing employees to enter their expense reports in one click with a photo of an invoice or to apply their vacations is ruined when the validation circuit that follows is slow or dysfunctional.

In short, a “great experience”, whether on the customer or employee side, is the perception of the quality of a product or service, and for this product or service to have this level of quality, there are, behind it, people, technology, an organization, and processes that work in a certain way… or not.

Here we will talk more specifically about the employee experience.

Received and lived experience

A good employee experience is the conjunction of three factors:

The people who act and with whom we interact

The processes they follow or that those they interact with follow

The technology put at their service to succeed in their mission or made directly available to the client.

As you can see, there is no need to reinvent the wheel or come up with new concepts: we are going back to things as old as the hills and, once again, to the basics of operational excellence.

But you will notice one thing: there are two types of employee experience.

• The one I will call the lived experience or “operational” experience, that the employee lives while doing his work (and not only while being at work).

• The one I would call the received experience, which is the one we receive from those whose work “serves” us. I am thinking here of support functions and in particular the HR function. Note that I include the manager in the lived experience.

From all of this, it is clear that the employee experience depends in part on operating modes: those that the employee follows and those that others follow to provide him with a service.

From HR to People Operations

To prove me wrong, the words “People” and “Operations” are increasingly used together in a kind of rebranding of the HR function that some businesses now call “People Operations”.

If in some cases it is a simple announcement without much change in substance, it still generally translates into a paradigm shift with a real desire to put the individual back at the center.

Thinking “People Operations” instead of HR means putting the employee back at the heart of HR processes and thinking about them not in terms of the benefits of these processes for the people involved but for the beneficiaries. Let’s not forget that any support function tends to optimize its efficiency to the detriment of those it supports or other functions. In the same way that we think about “customer service”, we should start thinking about “employee service“.

In terms of employee experience the People Operations function is :

  • A received experience for the employees
  • A lived experience for those who work there, at least we hope so.

But it is not a lived experience for non-HR employees unless you consider that they spend 100% of their time in training, taking time off and submitting expense reports.

And that’s where the problem lies.

People Operations or People & Operations ?

I have had many opportunities to show the limits of employee experience as it is practiced today, for example by commenting on the 5th edition of the employee experience barometer, the 4th edition of this same barometer or by thinking about a true definition of what employee experience is.

In order to make real progress on the subject of employee experience, we need to look at operations in general. Not just People Operations but above all Business Operations in the broadest sense.

Once again I see that the employee experience is almost always applied to employees when they are not working, in the sense of “being in a work situation, operational, productive”. I call it “putting a spa next to the torture room”. It’s good, but unless you consider that people spend their lives in HR processes, you never miss what employees experience during at least 95% of their time. It’s a pity, especially since employees are not mistaken and would like us to deal with their real problems.

So the employee experience proponents need to look at operations, and since most of the time it’s HR that has inherited the subject, they need to get familiar with it. Or leave it to others.

The future is not so much about positioning ourselves on “People Operations” but on “People & Operations”.

Operations, a “dirty” word?

I’ve been doing a little experiment lately in relation to the post I mentioned above. In discussions with HR/employee experience people I said:

• Experience is the new name for quality. In general they don’t react, I assume they agree.

• It is the result of a form of operational excellence. At this point my interlocutor bleats.

• It is essential to monitor the business operations, quantify them and enter into a continuous improvement process. At this point, my interlocutor is generally close to syncope.

Why is this? Several reasons are plausible.

1°) He is HR and it is suggested that he is not the most legitimate to really drive the employee experience.

2°) He is HR and considers that only the human is a noble thing, that the process and operation stories are a vile, dirty matter.

3°) As the one who only has a hammer wants all problems to look like nails, he wants to limit the subject to his area of competence.

And to be honest I think the 2nd option is usually the right one. And I’m sorry about that.

How can you claim to care about people in the business if you don’t care about what happens when they work? What generates engagement or disengagement. What has the greatest impact on their health and mental charge. What they are paid for and evaluated against. What determines the performance of the business. What makes the “talent potential” of the business fully utilized, valued or wasted.

I’ve even been told “operations hurt people, HR’s job is to make them feel good”.

This is a unique opportunity for the HR function to show that it can combine the human imperative with the business performance imperative. But no one is embracing it.

It is all the more unfortunate that over time our economy and our operating methods have evolved. The days when process was king and the human being had to follow and adapt are over. Today, people impact operations as much as operations impact people, and when we talk about “People Centric Operations” we are talking about putting people back at the center of the business’s productive operations, not just messages and good intentions. To be HR and not to be interested in this subject is to be in the wrong era, or even in the wrong business, because their role is not to take care of people but of people who work in a business. It’s simply doing HR off the ground.

I believe that the ability of HR to embrace this new paradigm will determine whether it can make a real difference in the future or suffer an inevitable downgrade.


Those in charge of the employee experience in business need to be involved in operations at all costs. If they don’t want to or don’t feel legitimate, it’s time to hand over the employee experience to people closer to the business.

Image : heresy via via shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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