Navigating the Challenges of People Operations: From Career Choices to Layoffs and Employee Satisfaction

Retreat Team·05/17/2023
Navigating the Challenges of People Operations: From Career Choices to Layoffs and Employee Satisfaction
Today‘s People Ops
Kelly Lin
Kelly Lin
Director, Strategic People Partners

Today, we talked to Kelly Lin, Newsela about her career path and how she got into HR, as well as the challenges she faces in people operations, particularly in dealing with layoffs and supporting employees during difficult times.

Why did you decide to start your career in people operations?

Interestingly enough, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started my career. I began in finance, but found it unfulfilling. Then I had the opportunity to work in talent acquisition over a summer at SeaWorld, which I loved. As I grew my career, I became more interested in the people development aspect of HR. I changed my major and went back to school for psychology, and then worked in hospitality for Omni Hotels, where I learned a lot of the foundational HR practices. Eventually, I wanted to do something more exciting and broke into tech, where my passion was reignited by the challenge of creating structure in chaotic situations and focusing on people. That’s how I intentionally, but somewhat accidentally, got into HR.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in people operations?

The biggest challenge right now is the market, particularly in tech where layoffs are common and have a personal impact on people. Change management is critical in these situations, helping people stay grounded and leaders stay engaged while supporting their people through trying times and still making an impact. Finding the right balance between being understanding and compassionate while still getting the work done is challenging.

Have you experienced layoffs in your company?

Yes, in November we had a mass layoff. In my previous company, a retail and food and beverage company, we had to lay off almost the entire company due to the pandemic, and my role was eliminated. I’ve been through a couple of different rounds of layoffs.

I understand how challenging it is to navigate people’s care during layoffs. Can you tell me more about how you support people during these times?

There’s no right way to do layoffs, but it’s essential to ensure we’re supporting people individually and intentionally communicating the news. When we went through layoffs, my team wholly supported making time for individuals and being compassionate. Maya Angelou said people won’t remember what you did or who you are, but they will remember how you made them feel. That’s why we were so intentional about our approach, and I felt proud that we did the best we could to support our people during a difficult time.

How is your work evaluated? What are your KPIs?

There are a couple of ways. I specifically lead our talent management team, so our work is a little different than people ops because a lot of what we do is preventative, such as preventing lawsuits or increasing retention, rather than just delivering a program and measuring the resources used. A lot of my work and my team’s work is actually dependent on our deliverables that are set from a big-picture perspective. So we have company goals, which are then filtered down to departments, and then some departments, depending on how they tie into what our goals for the organization are. But more specifically, some tangible things we measure are around retention, regrettable attrition, decreasing increasing engagement, management satisfaction scores, employee survey results, and the intangible factors, like how strategic my team is being, and how they connect the dots to solve problems and prevent them from happening in the future.

Are there any initiatives in place to improve team closure and increase employee ROI?

It’s interesting because we’re fully remote. We have a People Operations and experience manager, whose biggest focus is culture and engagement. She plans the annual off-site, and organizes events like Earth Day or bring your kids to work days to connect people. We also have local meetups for folks in different distributed metropolitan cities. I can speak more specifically for my team, and we have a culture that I’ve been able to cultivate with continuous feedback. It’s really about creating psychological safety on the team, so everyone feels comfortable expressing concerns or saying “I don’t know” to certain things, and getting rid of some of the imposter syndrome. It’s really about creating a culture of fearlessness and support, so that people feel safe and secure to voice their opinions, knowing they have the support they need, to be engaged, motivated, and excel in their roles.

Do you conduct any surveys to assess employee satisfaction?

Yes, we used to do two mass organizational surveys a year, but we’re changing that a little bit. We’re thinking about doing one large survey that encompasses everything from general satisfaction with work to management to organization, and then doing more poll pulse surveys quarterly, which will be tied mostly to manager accountability. This will create more opportunity for actionable goals and improvement, rather than just seeing that once a year.

What kinds of tools do you typically use?

We use Culture Amp for our surveys, Slack for general communication, Google Suites for more Hangouts. But then, in terms of specific tools for our HR, we use UltiPro, and for talent acquisition, we use Greenhouse. We use Gem for talent analytics and Monday.com for our case management or project management boards. That’s probably the main platforms that we use.

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