Transforming People Operations – Jessica Zwaan

Jessica Zwaan at the CultureLab podcast

If you are a regular listener of the CultureLab, you’ve probably stuck around because of something we have in common – a frustration with the old, outdated HR function and a burning desire to find new, better ways of shaping thriving cultures.

My guest today, Jessica Zwaan, is someone who took our shared frustration and used it as fuel to innovate.

She started asking herself:

What if we treated culture, people ops, and ways of working as one of the products that our company is building?

What if we developed an agile, evidence-based approach to serve our people and businesses and to drive performance?

What if we used product design approach to the people function?

And that’s how People Ops as a product was born.

According to Jessica, currently the COO at Whereby, People Operations is the (largely unseen) product your team buys into during recruitment, and then continues to subscribe to until they hand in their resignation.

To create a great People Ops product, you need to adhere to two principles:

  1. Maximize impact to the mission
  2. Accomplish everything through others

In this episode, Jessica and I talk about the details of this approach.

Episode highlights
  • Key elements of the People Ops as a product.
  • Doing research to design a better people function.
  • Using first principles thinking to solve people problems.
  • How input metrics can distract you from creatively solving problems.
  • An activation metric and an engagement metric – how are they different and why it matters.

Listen to the interview in the player below or on iTunes. If you like what you hear, please leave a review, and it may be featured on a future episode.

More about Jessica Zwaan (in her own words)

I am a person and I like to think I am good enough to do it professionally. So that’s what I do. I’m a hands-on COO. I find my joy in diverse, kind, and world-changing companies of excellent people, which is why I am at Whereby, where our mission is to build a world where anywhere works. (How fantastic is that?). I have a first-class honors law degree, with a dissertation on the legal implications of remote working cross-border in Europe, and experience running and scaling remote and hybrid workplaces. Previously: VP People, Culture, and Talent for UK Tech Track #1 Wonderbly, Yieldify, Box (NYSE:BOX)

Books mentioned in this episode

Built for People by Jessica Zwaan

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Redefining HR by Lars Schmidt

Additional resources

People Ops as a Product (article) by Jessica Zwaan

Ruthless Prioritization (article) by Brandon Chu

Plio (company)

CultureBrained® Community – a one-of-a-kind virtual community for Heads of Culture, founders, and leaders who want to up their culture game.

The Culture Playbook Guide

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