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The Strategic Lens: Gauging your HR Impact in a New Light

hrcriticalthinking hrimpact hrleader hrlearning hrstrategy strategichr Jan 30, 2024

 Cindy Johnson, Tag4HR Co-Founder

I've observed a recurring theme – the desire to move away from day-to-day HR tasks and be recognized as HR strategic thinkers. Yet, the elusive nature of what it means to be strategic has sparked many different conversations and introspection throughout my career.

The Subjectivity of Strategic: Is it in the Eye of the Beholder?

One of the most intriguing aspects of trying to be strategic in HR is the subjective nature of the term. What one HR professional considers “strategic” another may view as tactical. Leaders may claim their HR teams lack strategic acumen, while HR professionals believe they are strategic, leading to a potential misalignment in expectations. It raises the question: Does everyone have their own definition of what it means to be strategic?

Throughout my HR career, I've come to understand that being strategic in HR is a nuanced blend of both high-level thinking and hands-on execution. It's not an either-or scenario but rather a delicate balance that requires agility and critical thinking.

Building Strategic Strengths: A Roadmap for HR Leaders

For those eager to enhance their strategic capabilities, here are five key steps to embark on this transformative journey. I have found that by honing in on these aspects, you are more likely to secure a ‘seat at the table.’

  1. Stay Informed: Dedicate time on your calendar weekly to delve into emerging HR trends and best practices. It’s not just about knowing the trends; it’s about understanding how they intricately weave into the fabric of your organization. Acquiring these insights empowers you to enlighten your leaders about HR, offering a valuable opportunity for education and collaboration.
  1. Know Your Company: Dive beyond the surface to gain insights into your company – understand its needs, challenges, and metrics that define success. Immerse yourself in the narrative of your company’s history, familiarize yourself with its products, and unravel the significance of key roles by actively participating in job-shadowing experiences with influential leaders and dedicated employees. By delving into your company’s narrative firsthand, you can better participate in business discussions shaping its future.
  1. Understand Your Workforce: Embark on a journey to truly comprehend the heartbeat of your organization – your workforce. Forge personal connections with managers and employees. Dive deep into the individual stories within your workforce, decoding their strengths, weaknesses, unique skillsets, and personal aspirations. Construct a database or spreadsheet with all that you learn, creating a comprehensive resource for informed people decision making. This holistic understanding of your workforce not only fosters a culture of trust and collaboration but also positions you as a leader attuned to the capabilities of your most valuable asset – your people.  
  1. Master Your Data: Collect data about your workforce dynamics, such as turnover, regrettable turnover, promotion rates, time to fill, employee referral rate, offer acceptance rate, cost of hire, diversity, etc. Choose the metrics that will give you actionable data to share with your leadership team that will make an impact on the bottom line. Seamlessly blend quantitative and qualitative elements to compose a comprehensive narrative to identify ways to improve as well as celebrate what is working well. Your proficiency in HR metrics and data transforms routine meetings into dynamic forums for decision-making.  You just may be seen as the compass guiding your leadership team towards employee satisfaction and organizational success.
  1. Develop and Implement Your HR Plan: Have you meticulously created your HR plan? Elevate your approach by aligning your goals with the overarching business initiatives. It is not just about setting goals; it’s about crafting milestones that harmonize seamlessly across the company. Transform your plan into a dynamic roadmap, a living document you can share with leadership. Communicate your goals with transparency, inviting collaboration and feedback from others. Actively seek accountability and feedback as to how you are tracking and for continuous improvement.
  1. Invest in continuous learning about leadership and business acumen. Create space regularly to delve into the intricacies of leadership principles, personality styles, and grasp the nuances of business acumen. This investment in continuous learning is the catalyst for a metamorphosis in perspective enabling HR leaders to speak the language of the boardroom and contribute meaningfully to high-level decision making. Those who invest in themselves on these topics can become indispensable partners in steering the company towards innovation, growth, and sustained success.

Strategic and Tactical: A Necessary Bond

In the HR realm, the dichotomy between being strategic and tactical is a well-known challenge. I've learned that both are essential, but tactical must come first. Strategy without tactics can lead to visionary thinking with minimal execution, while tactics without strategy can result in chaos.

Critical thinking emerges as the linchpin that allows HR leaders to seamlessly navigate between the strategic boardroom discussions and the practical challenges on the ground. The ability to adapt swiftly from a strategic meeting with the CEO to addressing an employee benefits issue demonstrates the agility required in this dynamic field.

The Humility of Continuous Learning:

Becoming more strategic is a gradual process that demands intentional effort and humility. Many who claim to be strategic may still have much to learn. The true key to success is remaining humble, acknowledging our gaps in knowledge, and cultivating an openness to continuous learning. Take a step today to invest in your strategic capabilities and contribute meaningfully to your organization's success.

I believe by cultivating these practices as an HR leader it will lay the groundwork for establishing a strategic presence. Your strategic value lies not just in connecting the dots, but in weaving a narrative that unveils perspectives not initially apparent to everyone.