In his article Strategic vs. Tactical Thinking: Empowering the HR Professional, Hebe Lugo differentiates between the two as follows: “doing things right” is tactical thinking, while “doing the right things” is strategic thinking.
The challenge for HR professionals is that success relies on “doing the right things right!”
In other words, focusing purely on strategy without ensuring effective implementation is just as potentially damaging as ignoring strategy in favor of exemplary tactics.
Even more challenging is ensuring the use of effective strategy and tactics across multiple HR functions. Often the two are so intertwined that it’s hard to differentiate. In Operational vs Strategic HR Focus, Tony Deblauwe cites the following examples of strategic versus tactical HR activities across various functions.
Function: Employee Relations
Tactical HR: Policies and records, compliance and discipline, company events and community relations, complaint resolution.
Strategic HR: Engaging employees to drive business results, recognizing teams and individuals strategically, seeing employees as an investment.
Function: Attraction & Selection
Tactical HR: Recruiting and hiring, testing and background checks, college relations, temporary staffing.
Strategic HR: Creating a compelling employment brand, workforce planning focused on talent needs, developing talent pipelines.
Tactical HR: Basic skills training, new hire orientation, values and competencies.
Strategic HR: People strategies that drive results, succession planning and onboarding, creating career and development plans.
Function: Performance & Rewards
Tactical HR: Performance management, compensation administration and surveys, job descriptions, executive compensation, benefit administration.
Strategic HR: Assigning goals and metrics aligned to the business strategy, rewarding employees for business results, measuring the results of deploying people, rewarding employees for their value, executive compensation tied to business results and shareholder value.
When HR Strategy and Tactics Collide
Sometimes HR strategy and tactics inadvertently contradict each other. One of the most common functional areas where this can occur is hiring. For example, building a high-performance culture and ensuring team diversity to support innovation may both be identified as strategic HR goals. But what happens when tactics required to ensure one bump up against tactics required to achieve the other? Ray Hennessay explores this challenge in his article, When Company Culture Becomes Discrimination. Many organizations who espouse the benefits of diversity are (often unconsciously), preventing it from happening because of the hiring tactics they use in pursuit of cultural fit. To illustrate his point, Hennessay quotes former Facebook engineer Carlos Bueno:
“We’ve created a make-believe cult of objective meritocracy, a pseudo-scientific mythos to obscure and reinforce the belief that only people who look and talk like us are worth noticing.”
Merging Tactics and Strategy in HR
Perhaps the real problem lies in trying to separate HR strategy and tactics. Ultimately, whatever tactics HR employs on a daily basis should support the overall business strategy of the organization. To be recognized as strategic, HR must help the company deliver successfully on its business strategies. This means:
- Knowing and understanding the implications of the organization’s strategic objectives as they relate to HR.
- Ensuring that all HR tactics; including procedures, processes and systems, support the strategic objectives of the organization.
- Avoiding HR tactics that support one strategic objective at the expense of another and communicating potential conflicts when they are identified.
- Not wasting time and energy trying to separate strategy and tactics. If you know what the organization is trying to accomplish and you use those objectives to drive your tactics, then you are doing the right things right and it’s all strategic.
In HR, there is no way to eliminate the tactical grind of day-to-day routine. You can, however, reframe it by making sure that all tactics support and align with organizational strategy. In doing so, you ensure that even the daily HR grind adds long-term value and moves the organization forward—and that makes you strategic.
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 Credited to Martina Laudahn, Head of HR Interim Management & Global HR Consulting at People Excellence.