Tactical HR vs Strategic HR. What’s the Difference?

Do you know the difference between tactical HR and strategic HR? Each has its own individual purposes and goals that make it an integral part of a company’s HR planning. Here’s a look at what each one means, how they differ and how to decide which one is right for your organization. (Spoiler alert: The answer might be both!)

What is strategic HR?

Strategic HR is much like strategy in other areas of business. It’s the big-picture, long-term vision for how you want your HR department to operate today, tomorrow, or in five years. When companies sit down to do strategic HR planning, they look at various scenarios, what-ifs and goals.

Overall Business Strategy: This is the biggest-picture look at the HR planning process, and takes into account where the department fits into the organization as a whole, and what its role should be from a philosophical standpoint. It requires collaboration with senior leadership both inside and outside the company’s HR departments and a long-term vision of where everyone sees the company headed.

HR Department Objectives: Strategic planning is where leadership addresses issues like talent recruitment and retention, company culture, compensation and benefits, work perks and employees’ internal image of the department from a philosophical standpoint. Addressing these issues from the timeframe of years vs. months or days can help anticipate areas for opportunity and challenges as the business grows.

Maintaining a Competitive Edge: How the company presents itself to potential employees, stockholders and the public at large is partly HR, partly PR. But especially for companies that face heavy competition in the marketplace, how they handle HR at the executive level can make a huge difference between success and failure. Having a solid strategy in place here can be one of the biggest benefits of strategic HR planning.

Mining the Data: HR data analytics can be used to draw a picture of your workforce and organization that anecdote might not otherwise uncover. By combining regular business metrics, such as return on investment and profit margin, to HR-specific areas like employee turnover, benefits usage and engagement, performance reviews and even attitude surveys, you can spot strengths, weaknesses and emerging trends

What is tactical HR?

If strategic HR is the view from 10,000 feet, tactical HR is the one from the weeds. It’s the day-to-day and month-to-month work that keeps the department moving forward. It’s also referred to as operational HR or reactive HR, and all three descriptors are good ones.

Personnel: This is where the rubber hits the road for people management, and can include everything from onboarding a new employee to dealing with a harassment complaint. If a workplace issue involves a person, it’s the job of personnel to handle it professionally.  This can include updating and posting job descriptions, creating employee satisfaction surveys, or implementing company-wide HR training classes.

Administration: Many employees keep a folder in their inbox labeled “housekeeping” or “admin” and it’s for the same reasons the HR department maintains this tactic — to keep all the paperwork organized and moving. If the organization is part of a regulated industry, such as health care or outsourcing, it can also involve keeping proper documentation for compliance regulations.

Supervision and Compliance: For better or worse, it’s the job of the HR department to not only create and distribute company policies, but also enforce them. This not-always-pleasant part of the job can include letting employees go (and then helping them navigate post-employment issues like COBRA,) fixing noncompliance issues or handling employee complaints.

Why the Best HR Leaders Use Both Strategies

Even the greatest of plans have no effect if there’s no plan to implement them. And likewise, existing in a reactive, day-by-day environment without a plan can lead to frustration for both the department and the employees it serves. That’s why it’s important to both envision and plan an HR strategy and break it down into practical, workable solutions that bring the plan to life.

Here’s an example: If the strategic HR plan for a large manufacturer is to assess the current skills gap in its workforce ahead of upgrading its technology or bringing in new equipment, the tactical HR plan will implement ways to close those gaps by providing training.

Or, if a strategic HR plan is to expand its call-center workforce by establishing a remote program that allows employees to work from home, tactics could include writing up new job descriptions, working with the IT department to establish hardware and software procedures, and implementing policies for every aspect of the program from remote interviewing to performance evaluations.

At CorbanOne, we’re experts at both strategic and tactical HR and can help your business with everything from creating vision boards to implementing the baby steps required to get there. We’ll be your partners in strategic planning, and then take the burden of the day-to-day off your shoulders so you can keep your eye on the big picture. Contact us today to find out more about the businesses we serve.