Resilience in People Operations: 5 Ways to Extinguish Today’s Fires for Tomorrow’s Success

A few months ago, I was a guest on the RecruitingLive podcast, which is produced by William Tincup, president of RecruitingDaily. It’s always fun to talk about people operations from a strategic standpoint and to share my insights with the broader HR community. But, even as our discussion segued from workforce modeling to people operations data to Planful, one theme was consistent: People Operations must rise above the firefighting.

Of course, that’s painfully obvious to everyone in people operations, especially after 2020. Those who began last year with the most thorough, thoughtful workforce plans had to throw them out of the window by the end of Q1. People teams were put into reactive mode. Even now, as we move through 2021, some uncertainty remains, as does remote work, the desire to return to offices, changing career expectations, shifting talent pools, and so much more. Fighting fires is what People Ops does well, but it’s time for a change.

So how can people teams get out of firefighting mode and become a proactive, strategic source of value for the entire organization? Here are 5 ways from the recruiting podcast episode that can help.

5 Tips for People Operations:

#1 – Understand that Adaptable Means Change is Constant

We’ve learned to cope with pandemic-related uncertainty over the past year, and it has added to the uncertainty already facing our organizations and people. People teams usually get pushed into firefighting mode because they lack the tools, data, and insights to get ahead of this flood of uncertainty. That’s where workforce planning comes in. It lets People Ops look ahead, model different scenarios, and work alongside the business to better prepare for whatever comes next. 

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that things will eventually get back to normal. While the pandemic will hopefully end soon, you’ll still be facing the constantly changing whims of competitors, customers, markets, regulators, and so many other forces. The first step to being adaptable is realizing that change and uncertainty is constant. Only then can adaptability become a fundamental part of your role, not something you only rely on during a crisis. 

#2 – Own the Strategic Value that People Operations Brings to the Table

Being proactive helps elevate People Ops to a more strategic role across the organization. Instead of just being the team who urgently fills open roles, you can work with Finance and the business to plan, model, and forecast future workforce needs ahead of time. It requires you to raise the financial IQ of people teams and business leaders so you can all work with and support Finance. It also turns People Ops into a role that’s strategically important to growth, but it requires workforce data and workforce planning tools to make it happen.

Once you have easy access to the right data, you’re better able to take your seat at the executive table. You can then answer questions and provide insights on more than just headcount numbers. Instead, the strategic value of People Ops shines through as you help the business place bets on when and who to hire, how to staff new projects, how a partnership or acquisition might impact workforce planning, and more. 

#3 – Use Strategic Insights to Build a Better Workplace

With the same data, insights, and planning capabilities you use to help the business, you can also solve your biggest workforce and operational challenges. Remote work, returning to the office, and hybrid work are top of mind these days, and with the pandemic and vaccines still in flux, planning for multiple scenarios is the only way to prepare. Again, this requires People Ops to work with Finance, Operations, and the business to develop viable plans, options, and scenarios so you’re ready.

Beyond the pandemic, don’t forget about your goals around culture, diversity and inclusion, benefits, health and wellness, training, and succession planning. You probably have others, too, and you know all too well that access to the right data is critical to making the right decisions. Workforce planning software gives it to you, and gives you the planning, modeling, collaboration, and forecasting tools to bring your workforce initiatives to life.

#4 – Share People Operations’ Power with the Business

People teams are frequently pulled into tactical workforce conversations that consume bandwidth and leave less time for the important, people-focused initiatives mentioned above. Enterprise workforce planning empowers the business with the insights to make more, and more informed, people decisions on their own. Managers across the business can then see, for example, what happens when an open role is redefined or how a hiring decision today might impact their productivity tomorrow.

Bringing the business into workforce planning builds bridges with people teams. You become a collaborator while giving People Ops more line of sight into coming changes and opportunities. That helps eliminate fires because your visibility extends months and quarters ahead rather than just days or weeks. That collaboration and resulting insights then snowball so you can make even better decisions. 

#5 – Measure Success by the Lack of Fires

On the podcast, William asked me how I measure success. “When you don’t feel like a firefighter,” I replied. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, People Ops has to get out of firefighting mode. When you have more time to think about how you’re doing people operations, it magnifies your strategic value. The lack of fires will become apparent as you are suddenly able to focus on decreasing time to hire, casting a wider net for top talent, and modeling the ripple effects of workforce decisions. 

Ultimately, People Ops wants to speak the same language as Finance and the business. That starts by building a single source of workforce data truth, working in collaboration, bringing strategic value to the table, and getting out from under the constant fires. Workforce planning is the people team’s foundation for accomplishing all of that, and more. 

To hear me dive a little deeper on these important topics and more, listen to the RecruitingLive podcast. And, if you’d like to learn more about Planful for Workforce Planning, check out this video overview

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