Can the tactical thinkers in your HR department mature into strategic leaders?

At first glance, tactical thinking and strategic leadership can seem mutually exclusive. Tactical thinkers live in the here and now, applying a task-based mindset to operation and compliance concerns. Strategic leaders, on the other hand, focus on an organization’s human capital needs over the short and long-term, including talent acquisition, leadership development, and organizational development. But tactical thinking and strategic leadership are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some of the skills that make your tactical thinkers effective can also position them for success as a strategic leader. A deep understanding of day-to-day operations and the long term plans for the business, for example, could provide unexpected insight into opportunities for strategic thinking and action.

As more HR departments adopt a human capital mindset, developing strategic leaders is a business imperative. Here’s how to groom your tactical talent for future leadership roles:

  1. Establish executive buy-in. Even if the executive team will not be involved in day-to-day HR training initiatives, these executives still need to be on board with your broader department goals. Ideally, the HR Vice President or Chief People Officer will champion the change management process. But it’s still important to ensure the broader leadership team supports these training efforts, including mentorship programs and continuing education.
  2. Share the company’s long-term vision. Since compliance and operation roles require close attention to detail, you can’t fault these employees for focusing on the minutia over the big picture. To develop their strategic skills, these employees need a holistic understanding of your organization’s long-term growth plans. I recommend holding a monthly or quarterly strategic briefing to keep HR in the loop on long-term goal progress. Include updates on each of your organization’s departments so tactical thinkers can begin to understanding how different teams fit together and identify talent gaps or opportunities for cross-over.
  3. Keep tactical thinkers abreast of industry performance. To truly understand company goals, your tactical thinkers need context. This includes what trends are impacting the industry as a whole, how customer needs are evolving, and what competitors are doing differently or better. This broad business information helps tactical thinkers move beyond the day-to-day tasks, consider how your organization fits into the marketplace as a whole, and begin considering how talent optimization can support growth and differentiation.
  4. Encourage critical thinking. As tactical thinkers become more educated about market risks and opportunities, encourage them to present their own quarterly market analysis. What do they think are the biggest trends impacting your organization? How would they optimize internal talent to shore up weaknesses or capitalize on emerging opportunities? Encourage employees to ask the “why”, “when” and “what’s next” questions. These exercises will help tactical thinkers adopt a critical thinking mindset, moving from taking orders and executing operation tasks to offering strategic perspective and insight.
  5. Invest in continuing education. Formal mentorships and leadership training programs can help tactical thinkers take the next step in their leadership journey. Mentors, for example, can help mentees better understand how their actions impact business goals. Investing in leadership training has a ripple effect: it signals to your employees that you’re committed to supporting their professional growth, which in turn boosts their job satisfaction, improving performance and reducing turnover.

How is your HR department bringing a human capital mindset to strategic operations and growth? I invite you to share your leadership training success stories in the comments below.


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