HR Advisors Conference Blog

Further thoughts from the conference or about the challenges of being in an HR Advisory role.

It’s the wrong trousers, Gromit!

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  and so even HR Advisors who aren’t thought of as strategic roles, actually can be! 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!


2 comments on “It’s the wrong trousers, Gromit!

  1. Sam Duncan
    June 1, 2016

    Agreed. I can think ahead almost predictively especially after a reactive event and advise the manager accordingly to avoid the situation happening again. Howeverr quite often though in my organisation, the managers forget or get off target with their other responsbilities. So one has to contend with that too. Still good blog!


    • angelaatkins
      June 1, 2016

      Thanks Sam – yes you can be proactive yourself but others may not be in the same space!! One of the many challenges of HR really. I don’t think we design management roles with enough time for managers to actually manage their team either….


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This entry was posted on April 5, 2014 by in Operational v Strategic HR Work and tagged , , , , .

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