Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.
Why we’re still talking operational vs strategic. And shouldn’t be.
I’ve read a few articles and blogs recently about that old chestnut – strategic vs operational HR.
The phrase that immediately popped into my head was from one of the Wallace & Gromit movies. “It’s the wrong trousers Gromit, and they’ve gone wrong!”
Are we still having the debate about this because we’re looking at the wrong trousers? In HR we know what we’re talking about when we say ‘operational’ HR is different from ‘strategic’ HR. In fact when I first wrote Employment Bites a few years ago I harped on about this a fair amount. Back then I disliked the HR people I’d met who called themselves ‘strategic.’ To me they were acting like Catbert’s and the business didn’t want to deal with them. I wrote about instead being operationally strategic – that the operational work you do should be thinking about the big picture and what it will achieve. I was pleased to see this was Richard Westney’s take on it (read his blog here).
But if we’re still talking about this, I think we’re using the wrong term.
I think the REAL difference is reactive HR vs proactive HR.
Reactive HR is about responding to managers requests or incoming work – and that tends to be operational work (which you can then do with a strategic focus).
Proactive HR on the other hand is thinking about what issues are going to come up, what challenges the business is facing and what solutions HR can offer. What we generally call the strategic stuff. And the stuff we don’t get time to do much of.
I think it’s the same for most people managers. They are so busy on the reactive stuff that they never have time to be proactive.
And maybe instead of operational vs strategic, this is the issue. If all you’re ever doing is reactive work, it’s going to be hard to add extra value to managers. Or if you’re a manager, to drive engagement of your team.
I see now so many HRM roles which are being called HR Business Partner yet are an HR BP in name only. They’re still reactive, not proactive. And calling them what they’re not is really the wrong trousers, gone wrong.
I think all operational work should be done thinking strategically but the real issue is that we have to find ways to control spending all our time on reactive work so we can do some of the proactive work too.
What % mix is your role? Do you get enough time to do some proactive HR? If not, how can you up your %?
And to check out more about Wallace and Gromit, they actually have an official site!