Head of People and Culture vs. HR Director: Breaking Down the Job Descriptions

In the past, HR has been to workplace culture what a principal is to a school. The average office worker associates HR with rules, bureaucracy, and a top-down management approach straight out of the early 1950s. Since the term “human resources” was coined by Peter Drucker in the ‘50s, that assessment of HR is relatively correct.

Modern offices are evolving past the traditional trappings of an HR department and moving toward a person-first approach to employee management and recognition. Here, we discuss the difference between an HR Director and the Head of People position and how HR is evolving in the modern workplace.

Topics at a Glance

  • What Is an HR Director?
  • How HR Is Evolving in the Modern Office
  • What Is a Head of People?
  • Technology and People Operations

What Is an HR Director?

Human Resources Directors are in charge of the HR department, but their jobs involve much more than just sending out notices to employees about office etiquette. As their name suggests, an HR Director is in charge of running the HR department. This includes keeping track of employment laws, regulations, and guidelines and even running hiring searches. An HR Director's job is primarily reactive, ensuring that they fill empty positions, settle employee disputes promptly, and follow all rules and regulations correctly.

In general, an HR department works to manage employee-employer relations, settle work disputes and take disciplinary actions, work to hire and fire employees and ensure that employees get all benefits offered to them. HR’s primary function is bureaucratic, and while some offices gripe about their HR department, without their efforts and the efforts of an HR Director, businesses would run into significant issues, both on a social and legal level.

How HR Is Evolving in the Modern Office

While some may insist an HR department is outdated, this part of the office plays a vital role in communicating between employees and employers and should not be discounted. Instead, some modern businesses are adopting a people-first approach to their HR department, changing the language and purpose of the department to be more active and personable.

In a traditional HR environment, HR works on hiring new people and solving disputes as they happen. On the other hand, the modern office leans toward a “People Operations” department, as coined by Lazlo Bock, former Head of People at Google. “People Operations” seeks to preempt problems before they happen.

For example, People Operations would work on employee satisfaction and retention, whereas HR would find new people to fit the workplace culture. This subtle shift from reactive to active planning can significantly affect workplace culture, help overall employee retention, and give HR a positive spin.

By crafting an entire department angled at helping employees seek out and plan their workplace success, employee relations can improve from the ground up, from something bureaucratic and soulless to essential resources employees can use.

What Is a Head of People?

The Head of People position goes much further than the HR Director title. A Head of People works with employees to ensure retention and crafts workplace policy to fit the needs of the employees better. In addition, the Head of People considers diversity and inclusion during office hiring periods. Where HR is about mitigation, the Head of People focuses on inclusion and equality, working to create an office culture welcoming to diverse voices.

While the same goals of HR are present in People Operations, a Head of People is an approachable figure that works with office heads to craft policy that puts people first. They craft training programs and employee wellness initiatives and work closely with employees to develop workplace guidelines that benefit employees as individuals. Where an HR Director focuses on hiring and legal presidents, the Head of People drives employee engagement and helps start rewards initiatives to recognize employees for their work and incentivize company loyalty.

Technology and People Operations

With a large portion of work done remotely or online, the scope of Human Resources has grown outside the physical office. For workplaces embracing People Operations as the standard, online resources are a great boon to employee communication, management, and engagement. With Slack channels and communication programs, remote employees can feel workplace engagement. In addition, online meeting spaces allow for remote collaboration and diverse insights and opinions in one location.

Thanks to the freedom of remote working, the office has grown from a physical building to an online space perfect for collaboration, employee engagement, and clear communication. With employee recognition programs from Slack apps like CultureBot, the Head of People can quickly praise employee efforts and promote a positive workplace environment, all within Slack channels. In addition, chatting channels keep employees connected between projects, while wellness incentives and virtual watercoolers keep the conversation moving and help keep employees engaged.

With technological experience and online employee engagement practices, a Head of People can help boost employee retention and work to mitigate issues before they happen. In contrast, a traditional HR Director would focus on reacting to problems as they show up.

If you’re looking for a Head of People at your business, look for someone who understands technology and is willing to use innovative ideas and online resources to craft a workspace that works for remote and in-person employees. By combining the convenience of online conversations with a person-focused approach to employee management, the modern workplace can transform employee relations and boost retention and employee satisfaction.

While transforming something so ingrained in the workplace culture as Human Resources may seem daunting, moving to a people-first approach can benefit your business and create a welcoming environment for employees and employers.

By taking a step back from the top-down approach of traditional HR and moving to work with employees as individuals, you can communicate to your employees that you see them as valuable assets to the company, not replaceable cogs. Although the HR Director and Head of People titles may cover the same area of expertise, the people-guided focus of a Head of People can transform any company's hiring practices.