Hire a Head of People Operations

Hire a Head of People Operations

A head of People Operations is like a traditional head of Human Resources with several important distinctions. They are responsible for some combination of finding, growing, supporting, motivating, and retaining your team. They are a champion for your company culture and a resource for your management team. They are far more than an administrative function.

What a Head of People Ops can ‘own’
  • Recruitment, screening and onboarding: codify and document the processes, including applying a specific evaluation methodology (see ‘’Surround Your People with A Players’ section above). If the person is particularly seasoned, they can help with organizational planning for senior positions, though this capability is rare and make sure you know the difference.
  • Employee Value Prop (EVP) and culture: hone the EVP based on real feedback and continually reinforce mission, vision and values. Be the eyes and ears on the ground for the CEO, signaling potential issues early.
  • Engagement & accountability: spearhead learning & development initiatives (see ‘Supporting L&D’ section above) and orchestrate accountability framework (e.g. can lead implementation of OKRs at mid and lower levels)
  • Compensation & rewards: design compensation “banding” for mid and lower levels. Advise on senior hires. Regularly conduct market benchmarking analysis. Interface with the Board’s compensation committee. Incorporate non-monetary perks and employee recognition.
  • Standard admin functions:benefits, payroll, PTO, employee issues, etc.
  • Human capital KPIs:what are the measurable results you want this person to achieve? Examples include time-to-fill-position, offer-to-joining ratio, cost-per-hire, employee retention, Glassdoor rating, and EVP agreement rate. Talk with your People Ops candidates / new hire about basic software tools you can adopt to help you track these metrics. Lastly, keep it simple. Start with just a few that matter most.

People ops is an emerging role that is still being defined. Start by looking at your particular needs. Perhaps you need an internal recruiter who is 80% focused on recruiting and 20% on the other items above. This can be a logical economic calculation during heavy hiring phases. In general, though, we’ve found CEOs tend to under-index on the softer side of this role.

One important note: while a head of People Ops can be tremendously helpful in executing the items above, remember it starts from the top and it all breaks down if the CEO is not visibly out front leading the charge.

When to hire a head of People Ops

When should you hire a head of People Ops? Ideally, as early as possible. Head of People Ops is one of the most widely underappreciated positions among startups. Many companies wait too long and do irreversible damage to their organizational health. Natural startup law dictates that after ~50+ people (or roughly year 3-5) you face more significant morale dips, turnover spikes, disjointedness and so on.

Of course, these people don’t come free. For economic reasons, early-stage companies can typically wait to hire a full-time head of People Ops until one of two things happens:

  • You are about to hire a lot of people. Maybe you just secured a funding round and are about to bring on 20+ new team members this year. This might be a good time to bring on a head of People Ops.
  • You surpass ~50 people. At this point, the cost-benefit equation becomes compelling and you should consider hiring a head of People Ops.

Key call-out: hiring a Head of People Ops is not a cure-all. All too often, CEOs make a people ops hire to “fix” organizational disfunction. This is a formula for failure. Once again, it starts from the top. This position must have strong and visible support of the CEO. The prioritization of people matters must be clear.