Strategic and Tactical Thinking in Human Resources

Each HR Leader knows the value of strategic thinking. She knows that the CEO appreciates the strategic management of Human Resources. However, we usually do not think strategically (we just do not know a definition of the term). We act tactically because we do not see a clear difference between these two approaches. None of them is wrong. However, the HR Strategy needs a large portion of the strategic thinking in place. The strategic idea or thought is usually shaped in a particular process. The HR Strategist can talk for hours how the last big idea evolved (because she has a clear evidence).

Strategic thinking asks critical questions about the current status of the organization, its processes, procedures, and products. It connects all advantages and disadvantages to ensure that it is producing new innovative ideas. It is always focused on the future of the business and incorporates trends and strategic moves visible on the market.

Tactical thinking does not ask any strategic questions because it is focused on the operational issues of the organization. It usually forms tactical alliances across the business to push an important decision. Each stakeholder has interests in the decision, and the projector has to find a workable proposal.

Human Resources often mixes both approaches. Human Resources usually has just one strategic interest – it needs to implement the HR strategy. However, it has many tactical issues on a daily basis. HR Professionals often speak about the strategic approach to internal clients. They think the tactical approach. They do not talk about the alliances that change the business how we know it. They speak of the short-term deal that brings benefits to both parties. However, it
sounds better call it strategic approach. It is the same story with thinking.

Strategic Thinking in Human Resources

There is no general and widely accepted definition of strategic thinking. It is focused on ideas generated by the long-term forecasting of trends in the industry. The significant change always requires strategic thinking because the team has to identify opportunities that are not easy to reach. Sometimes, it is also called critical thinking.

Strategic thinking is a discipline of the strategic management of the organization. It does not provide answers to the fundamental management question “What?”. It also addresses the next two most important management questions: “Why?” and “How”. The organization cannot build the sustainable competitive advantage if it does not understand the full picture of the competitive landscape. Human Resources is not an exception.

Strategic thinking is about the development of the competitive advantage for the organization. The strategist analyzes all inputs, identifies critical features and brings innovative ideas that enable the change and growth. This is the aim of the HR Strategy that is why strategic thinking is the underlying discipline.

Strategic thinking often challenges culture and the systems in use (it fights against the status quo). By the detailed analysis of current practices, it identifies all weak spots in the business. Most employees know weak spots, but they are resistant to name them. They just exist, and the organization builds hidden workarounds. Strategic thinking raises issues, names them and proposes strategic solutions. It does not bother with alliances inside the firm; it proposed the way to improve the strategic position on the market.

This is a core difference from tactical thinking. It uses existing culture and systems to reach results. A strategic approach calls for the action. It provokes the team to start eroding the systems in use. This is the essential difference between the strategic and tactical thinking.

The HR Strategist often uses strategic thinking because it is focused on the synthesizing of new ideas and thoughts. These can move the organization forward. They can change the corporate culture in the business and significantly change the way we do the business.

Strategic thinking skills are not any unique qualities. The strategist needs strong analytical skills, attention to details, listening skills and has to be capable of the synthesis from different angles. Most strategists hear conflicting arguments, but they need to find a way forward.

SWOT Analysis is one of the most common strategic thinking tools. It is a simple tool allowing to describe the current status of the organization, including strengths and weaknesses. It can provide an extremely critical view of the organization, but it also offers solutions. Most people understand issues and problems when these are visualized in front of them. It can also help to build a required burning platform. The HR Strategist cannot wish more when designing a new HR Strategy.

Tactical Thinking in Human Resources

Tactical thinking is always short term focused. It is not about the strategic long-term sustainable solutions. It is about getting results and agreements as soon as possible. Many HR Professionals miss the point when they speak about the strategic influence. They talk about the tactics, they do not speak about the strategy. They just need to set up a short-term plan how to achieve goals and objectives in the nearest future.

Tactical thinking is about planning of the next steps in a difficult and challenging environment. It is about setting short term objectives and finding key stakeholders to support the favorable decision. Most HR Leaders understand this well because they are required to negotiate and form the supporting group for each decision. Often, tactical thinking can build alliances that have nothing in common, just they share the interest to push a decision through.

Decisions made using tactical thinking usually have a limited impact on the organization. Most employees do not realize the decision was made because it has no impact on them. Decisions are focused primarily on solving the immediate needs of the business.

There is usually no detailed long-term plan for tactical thinking. There is just a need for the quick decision that drives the behavior of all participants. The best tool for tactical thinking is the action plan that describes smaller decisions and agreements to be made to reach a final tactical conclusion.