How to Support Your HR and People Teams

Spotify is known for being a progressive company that treats their people right—we’ve even covered some of their practices, from how they find talent to how they manage career progression. But news is leaking out that the people who are arguably in charge of the great work culture at Spotify are, in fact, not happy about the environment at all.

According to leaked documents from Breakit, compared to its tech department, Spotify’s HR department is much more likely to think that their team is subject to favoritism, unfair task assignment, and backstabbing. If a company like Spotify is failing at People Ops, what hope do the rest of us have?

It’s important to note that shared services teams are often the least engaged teams inside a company. For People Ops in particular, finding the right people, managing the legal/back-end of HR, and mediating issues are constant, necessary, and often forgotten—when things are going well, they goes unnoticed. Moreover, in a technology-focused firm, PeopleOps roles are usually paid much less, and even regarded with less respect than their colleagues.

So, imagine for a minute that your job often requires you to mediate the interpersonal relationships of people who are paid much more than you, are likely younger than you, and—even when you’re doing your job well—don’t respect your role in the firm. It’s frankly unfair how sensationalized this story has been, given the reality of the role.

If this has you thinking about your own PeopleOps or HR team, there are a few things you can do immediately to support them:

  • Practice gratitude. You may not actually want to hug them (check with your company’s HR policy first), but look for ways that you can make people feel better. At NOBL, we close every Friday meeting with a round of “Kudos,” in which everyone has the opportunity to call out someone who went above and beyond their role. We’ve also created a specific channel on Slack called “Praise,” which anyone can use to applaud the efforts of a colleague.

  • Pay them fairly. Sure, on the open market a full-stack developer may be paid more than someone in PeopleOps, but adjusting salaries based solely on the going market rate ignores the actual contribution someone makes to the health of your organization and its culture. If you have a stellar PeopleOps person, someone who routinely takes on the organization’s challenges as a personal mission, then compensate that person for the job they’re doing, not just for a job they could leave for.

  • Know when to accept the blame. PeopleOps teams are the front-line surrogates for the leadership of the company, often forced to defend the consequences of unpopular decisions (like budget cuts) to the rest of the company. Leaders shouldn’t let the PeopleOps team take the brunt of the blame for their decisions just because they manage the consequences. As a leader, your job is to step up and explain the tough decisions confronting the business. If you need an example, Buffer’s CEO recently posted his explanation for a round of layoffs.

  • Go beyond engagement surveys. Engagement Surveys are a great way to generate data about the health of your company, but just as you’d never build a product by data alone, you should never run a company without conducting more qualitative interviews with your people. You could start by ensuring that all teams run regular retrospectives, or you could even use the same process for interviewing customers of your products on your internal teams.

  • Have a dedicated 1:1 with your PeopleOps Person. Shared services aren’t a one-way street: coordinate time with your PeopleOps contact to make sure you’re providing them with the support they need to perform at their best. Having a regular one-on-one meeting establishes a good working rhythm, but just booking the time isn’t enough; it’s too easy for these sessions to devolve into informal hangouts, leaving real issues unspoken. Instead, keep them structured:

    • Focus on the upcoming work of the next two to three weeks. Ask each other where you might need help, focus, or encouragement.

    • Move on to any interpersonal challenges you might be having, asking for advice but not orders.

    • Lastly, ask each other for personal feedback and hold the space for one another to listen and ask questions.

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