“I believe that everyone chooses how to approach life. If you’re proactive, you focus on preparing. If you’re reactive, you end up focusing on repairing.” said John C. Maxwell
There is enough said and written about proactiveness. We are told in schools and homes to plan and prepare well before an event takes place. Organizations appreciate their employees when they plan well for an event, take initiative to solve problems and be the first-mover in anticipating a change and seizing upon the opportunity. Yet everyone in our family, community and workplace does not think ahead, let alone acting on anticipation of the next event. Being proactive is not something which is found commonly. Mahatma Gandhi had said, “Future depends upon what you do today.” There are enough stories and quotes that inspire us to be proactive.
What stops us from being proactive?
Being the first-mover, taking the first step is not easy because one needs to be disposed towards taking charge, generating change and driving it. This is a personality trait and hard to reconfigure without a strong will. We have to recruit right!
Rewiring the instincts and styles is possible with help from a coach who shows the mirror honestly and inspires the person to change. Secondly, one must have the knowledge of the subject to understand the situation and design the change. Lastly, the change has to be driven by the person. One can acquire the knowledge and skills from a trainer, peer, boss and anyone who one looks upto.
Lastly, the work environment and the norms at the workplace can either spur proactiveness or inhibit it. Some managers tend to be more instructive than the others, supervise their teams closely and centralize decision making with themselves. In such an environment, team members are not empowered enough to take initiatives. The scope of innovative thinking, proaction and planning for the future gets curbed.
Do we need everyone to be proactive?
It is good if a secretary while booking the tickets for the boss starts preparing documents required for the meetings during the travel. The boss might not have asked for those specifically; might not need anything in particular. However, knowing that a travel is coming up and preparing for it, is proactiveness and can help the boss and the organization in its effectiveness.
Sometimes, the secretary could go overboard and fires from the boss’ shoulders to get the direct reports prepare many reports and presentations. If the boss doesn’t require them, it becomes wastage of organizational energy and costly person-hours. Moreover, the stress could have been managed better. A better idea would have been to prepare a checklist of items that she was planning and running it past the boss.
Nature of work is another important aspect to consider. A consulting organization could unleash its potential if its people take charge themselves, walk the extra mile and collaborate to learn the best practices, deploy them in solving customer issues and build excellent solutions. However, in a manufacturing plant, if every worker tries to innovate and experiment with the tools, equipment and materials, it could be a disaster!
What can an organization do?
There is no doubt that proactive employees can take the team and the organization to greater heights of performance buoyed by delighted clients and efficient work processes. The energies of self-drive and initiative could become ineffective if employees try to step into the territories of the others and take decisions on their behalf. These energies need to be directed in the right way so that the improvements and actions of planning are carried out in relevant areas.
Secondly, people have great ideas concerning various areas of work in an organization. Salespeople can suggest how finance team can improve the billing process, supply chain can reduce the time to deliver, design team can bring new products faster and so on. Finance team will have ideas for supply chain to reduce inventory, marketing team to prioritise the ad-spend on profit margins and so on. Leaders have to build a platform within the firm to inspire cross-functional collaboration.
Last but not the least, the leaders have to set examples of what is a right behaviour and what is not. When a wrong behaviour is demonstrated by a good performer, the leader has to have the courage of setting this right. Someone is energetic, enthusiastic and a top performer earning recognition all the time. However, the person habitually criticises actions in all other areas of work. The leader has to have a chat with the person explaining how this behaviour doesn’t help anyone. The person has to be shown the way of collaborating with the others and influence them in such a way that the organization improves. More often than not, leaders hesitate to have this challenging conversation with the person and thus, spoil an opportunity of setting an example.
We need a balanced approach in encouraging proactiveness and channelizing the energies positively towards building a great institution.