14 Years Later: People Operations is the Future of Human Resources in the Philippines

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Patricia Yap, this chapter is titled, “14 Years Later: People Operations is the Future of Human Resources in the Philippines ” In it, Vane Macatangay, the Regional HR Director of Zen Rooms, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in allowing for greater collaboration within teams.

Every company we know has a unique business strategy that contributes to its success. The biggest and most recognized ones however, possessed something greater—people. And although a company wouldn’t be one without them, some places just knew how to highlight themselves using their people as their greatest asset and strategy. One such company is ZEN Rooms. 


And in doing so, the people at ZEN Rooms were highlighted and led by none other than Vane Macatangay, the Regional HR Director who took it upon herself to change the way the human resources field was viewed in the Philippines. 


Macatangay, with more than 10 years in the field of HR, observed one thing through and through. “People avoided us,” she said with a laugh. “Before I became the HR Director of ZEN Rooms and moved from one company to the next, my first job was in a manufacturing company. And it was so bizarre that whenever my supervisor and I came down to the manufacturing-assembly department, people would look at us in a certain way and I would just simply think, ‘why—did I do something? Did someone do something?’’”


Through the years, Macatangay saw how employees in the Philippines often avoided HR at all costs. She said that it was primarily because whenever an employee would have interactions with anyone from HR, it would always be one of two things: employee grievances or labor disputes. When they weren’t interacting with them however, they’d be seen as just someone who processes their payroll and droned on about internal policies and compliance. 


Thankfully, she learned about Laszlo Bock, the former SVP of People Operations at Google, and the man that coined the term “people operations”. With this, Macatangay learned that HR was always viewed as administrative and bureaucratic. She learned that the way to shift this view was to transform HR to “People Operations” as it was perceived more credible and trustworthy. 


Because before Bock coined the term in 2006, most executives and employees would simply view the human resources as just an administrative function: Here’s the payroll, review and sign it. Here’s the employee benefits, handle it. Here’s a person we don’t need anymore, fire them. Sounds familiar? You bet.


Employees then viewed HR as an enemy to avoid. This shouldn’t be the case. Instead of hearing alarms blare when an HR is walking down the halls, employees should see a beacon of light when the HR walks through and executives should not limit their role to that of an administrator.


This is why Macatangay thanked people who think like Bock. As the future draws closer, more and more organizations and companies, especially technology-based ones, are putting the focus on HR as more of a strategic business partner. 


“More than a decade ago, Bock started this whole ‘people operations’ movement, and people are coming to realize it now more than ever. Thanks to technology as well, organizations are becoming more collaborative both internally and externally, and it’s really shaping the way HR worked with all levels of an organization” she said. 


And when Macatangay started working for a tech startup back in 2018, she really saw and learned how people operations was the future of HR.  According to her, the primary reason why she joined the company was to work closely with an agile HR and people operations expert that she heard worked there. 


Funnily enough, Macatangay didn’t need much guidance to begin with. Before joining this tech startup, Macatangay already knew she wasn’t the typical HR practitioner. Only when she actually got the chance to work with this person did she realize that she was already performing the tasks and responsibilities of people operations. 


If we were to look at people operations in a nutshell, it’s an all encompassing department that accounted for human resources as humans before anything else. Through people operations, companies abandoned the limiting view of employees as just “resources.” In Bock’s highly-esteemed book “WORK RULES!”, he removed the HR’s common bureaucratic paradigm to that of getting things done. People operations, in a nutshell, designed the workplace and work culture to something employees, as human beings, want to actually be there for. Two of the ways this can be accomplished is through an open-door culture and high engagement practices. And for Macatangay, she ensured the presence and use of both for her own form of people operations at ZEN Rooms. 


According to Macatangay, people operations allowed for greater collaboration and more self-organizing teams. Through such a strategic business model, everyone has buy-in and input. “Instead of HR just bringing the hammer down and nailing people with enforced policies, as if saying here’s a policy, it’s either this or nothing so go do it, people operations do the opposite. We start with everyone’s voice—blending it all in to form a recipe of fruitful contributions,” she said. 


Organizations after all have higher performance rates and successful project outcomes when its people are engaged and treated as stakeholders. When Macatangay came to work at ZEN Rooms just this March 4, she immediately recommended having someone work with her on engagement. However, the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic put limitations on their operations. Despite this disruption, she still pushed to have engagement activities even if operations have gone remote for the time being. 


Since the lockdowns, ZEN Rooms, through Macatangay’s guidance, have been providing both professional and personal engagement. Some initiatives she shared were their refresher meetings on business-centered goals and their health and fitness sessions and webinars. To make these initiatives holistic, they also targeted their employee’s mental wellbeing through mental health talks and meditation schedules, even going as far as partnering with a mental wellness platform to provide 24/7 chat support and teletherapy for employees.


In the same manner, the same level of focus goes for an open-door culture. While this is typically known as an “open-door policy” and done by managers, let’s not forget that the HR leader held the same level of regard. Having this policy encouraged communication, made difficult issues easier to discuss, and gave heads a better understanding of their people.


“I’m opening my doors to our employees. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a professional or even a personal concern, I’ll welcome you to talk,” she said. Years of experience has taught her that in opening up and being more approachable, people were assured that you’re not just there to cast a shadow of judgement over their heads and that you actually valued them as people. 


“Even from the start of my career, I always questioned why management simply gave everyone things to do without much discussion nor consideration for the people. Because of this view, I realized that I wanted to be the HR practitioner that was different. We’re middlemen after all, and humans are not just resources. In order to have a thriving company, we should invoke a culture where everyone is proud of their work, everyone’s values are considered, and people don’t want to leave,” she said. 

To get more insights from other HR leaders like Vane Macatangay, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


The 50 - and other business books about the Philippines and Asia Pacific - will soon be streaming on Audiophile, our platform for exclusive Filipino audiobooks.

 

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