If you want to simply process applications, get new employees on board and make sure they're paid correctly and on time, your focus is likely more traditional, vis-a-vis the human resources function of your organization. But if you recognize that your employees are your most valuable asset and that their success is an integral part of your organization's success, then your approach to managing human resources will be from a strategic standpoint. Every HR function has a traditional approach and a strategic approach, but it's the end game that illustrates the differences between the two.

Recruitment vs. Talent Acquisition

Placing job advertisements online is a traditional approach to attracting applicants who may or may not be truly qualified for positions within your company. This traditional approach might flood your HR department with applicants, but it can be a tedious process to sift through applicants if you're just recruiting for quantity of applicants and not quality.

Even the most carefully thought out ads can attract applicants who are minimally qualified, and depending on how you construct your ads, you might even discourage top-flight applicants from applying for jobs where you need the help.

A strategic approach to recruitment is typically referred to as talent acquisition. Talent acquisition means that you engage in workforce planning steps to determine your current staffing needs, the availability of qualified applicants and, importantly, your future employment needs.

For example, let's say your end game is to expand your business, and you want employees whose careers will grow along with the business. In this case, an ideal approach is a strategic one that may include partnering with universities and educational institutions that are graduating students with the knowledge and basic skill sets necessary to form a cadre of employees with professional and developmental goals aligned with your organizational goals and future growth.

Job Training vs. Employee Development

Training the receptionist on how to use the new VOIP system won't have nearly the impact on her professional development as knowing how to assess her own leadership capabilities. The same is true if you sponsor in-house workshops on team development or on conflict resolution techniques. Although learning how to operate a high-tech switchboard is useful, it only enables the receptionist to perform his current job tasks and doesn't prepare him for advancement in the company.

Granted, some employees aren't on a career ladder, but offering training and development opportunities to your employees also can enhance their job satisfaction and level of engagement. Training and development options convey the message to employees that you are invested in their success and in their overall satisfaction with the company, its values and its principles.

The traditional route is training employees to perform their job tasks – the strategic route has a broad view and a holistic perspective that considers the employee more than just a worker, but as a person whose intrinsic needs include on-the-job motivation and satisfaction.

HR Productivity vs. Organizational Success

Traditional human resources also focuses on how efficiently the HR department can perform its team functions - whether payroll is accurate and timely, if sick and vacation leave hours are balanced correctly, and how to pull off the annual employee awards banquet.

By contrast, strategic human resources considers factors such as what level of turnover is detrimental to the organization and its bottom line, or if the succession plan will provide the organization with sufficient skill sets and leadership capabilities to move your company's mission forward.

The key to distinguishing between traditional HR and strategic HR is to dismantle the silo operation of an HR department and embrace HR leadership as an integral role in the organization's leadership team.