Both tactical and strategic HR are techniques used by human resources departments when defining business goals and objectives for both HR and the wider organisation, with a view to achieving success and reaching full potential. Yet what are the key differences between strategy and tactics, how important is it for HR to use both approaches, and how can HR software support each process? We’ve spoken to some industry experts to find out.
What are the main differences between strategic HR and tactical HR?
To put it simply, HR strategy is the plan you put in place to help achieve your long-term goals, and HR tactics are the actions you take to reach those goals.
For example, tactical HR could include writing and posting job descriptions, processing new hire forms, or creating and implementing company policies. Strategic HR looks at the big picture, such as improving employee engagement and productivity, developing recruitment and retention strategies, succession planning, or measuring and analysing employee data.
“Strategic HR involves planning for the longer-term – what does the business want to look like in five or 10 years, and how can HR support that vision?” explains Tracey Hudson, executive director at The HR Dept. “Tactical HR, also known as operational HR, involves thinking about the day-to-day – what actions do you need to take to get the tasks done today, this week, this month? It’s the things like processing payroll, dealing with a probationary review or disciplinary hearing, or recruiting someone.”
If strategic HR is the view from above, tactical HR is the view from the ground, dealing with the operations of the department and keeping it running on a day-to-day basis, adds Helen Armstrong, CEO and founder of Silver Cloud HR. “Strategic HR comes with vision, that ties into the business strategy, with long-term ambitions and objectives that set the parameters for those working in tactical HR. It’s looks at how a business can maintain a competitive edge, plans for ‘what-if’ situations, and uses data to make decisions.”
Why are both approaches necessary?
If HR teams only focus on tactical processes, and ignore strategic planning, they will fail to offer value to the business. Both strategy and tactics go hand in hand, and neither can work without the other, so it’s important that HR leaders don’t view each approach as separate elements.
“Both approaches are crucial to the success of an HR department,” remarks Helen Armstrong. “No strategy will work if there isn’t a plan to implement that strategy, so it’s important to have both a strategic plan and an operational, or tactical plan, within every HR team.”
Tracey Hudson adds: “HR teams need to consider both approaches to deliver the best value to the business. They also need to work closely with business leaders to ensure that the appropriate people are in the right roles and working effectively for the future.”
To have strategic HR, you must have a tactical one as the foundation, says Tim Ringo, HR author and director at LACE Partners. “The foundational, or tactical, part of HR means organisations are getting the basics right and keeping the lights on. Essentially, it's about shared services, basic IT and HR processes, administration, and payroll. This must be done well and cost-effectively.”
Once HR departments have laid and automated the foundations, he continues, moving into the more strategic part of HR will bring out the true value. “This means implementing HR analytics, collaboration and knowledge, succession planning and employee branding, for instance, that help HR get noticed and praised. It also helps develop and retain top talent and ultimately builds higher performance.”
Tactical and strategic HR also work together when it comes to costs savings, he adds. “Tactical HR will bring minimal savings, perhaps just break even. In comparison, processes that happen in strategic HR can amplify the value as people are performing in a far better way. There is a big difference in value between the two, but they're equally important. Strategic HR has a higher value yet is built on solid, tactical HR.”
Recruitment is a good example of when HR teams need to consider both tactical and strategic HR, comments Tracey Hudson.
“Strategically, you need to think about what the business will look like in the future, what skills your workforce will need, and how you are going to attract those people to your organisation or grow your own talent. Tactically, you need to think about your recruitment processes, writing your adverts to attract the best candidates, effective interviewing techniques, and strong onboarding processes to ensure that new staff feel welcome and stay with you.”
How can HR software support both methods?
Implementing the right HR solutions is crucial for HR teams looking to take both a tactical and strategic approach and achieve their long-term and short-term goals.
HR software is essential for supporting both approaches, says Helen Armstrong. “Tactical HR needs great process and automation to be a success, and provide the data and information needed by strategic HR to make decisions for the future. Great and complete data will allow strategic HR to identify trends and begin to make predictions to feed into the business strategy and help share the future company strategy.”
Tactical HR needs to be able to implement that company strategy, so it’s important to avoid wasting time on managing paper and spreadsheets, she adds. “A good HR system, that is SaaS-based and integrated to other business systems with automated workflow, will allow the operational teams to work on projects to help drive the business forward, rather than day-to-day processes that your competitors will likely have automated.”
Core HR technology can help to automate processes such as payroll or self-service access to HR, which supports the tactical side of HR.
“Ultimately, this frees up HROs to use more advanced HR technology to develop talent and focus on strategic workforce planning, succession plans, and collaboration,” remarks Tim Ringo. “Strategic HR technology is a high-end approach that makes a difference through talent management and employee experience platforms, for instance. This is where HR’s value is at its highest, helping build employees’ capabilities and performance.”
Tracey Hudson agrees, saying that HR software is predominantly invaluable for tactical HR, which in turn supports the strategic side.
“Having time recording software that talks to payroll is a great time saver, and being able to record holidays and absences in software avoids the challenges that come with everything being recorded in spreadsheets or, worse, on paper. Strategically, if you can pull off data from your HR software around staff turnover, leave reasons, training analysis to identify training needs and so on, then this will help inform your decisions around recruiting and upskilling your future workforce.”
To find out more about how HR software can help your HR team to develop both a tactical and strategic approach, click here.