Let’s take a few minutes to look critically at your actions in the workplace.
- Do you react to the events happening around you or do you take initiative to prepare for, participate in and/or control the events?
- Do you take an active or passive role? Do you think in terms of the present or do you look to the future, anticipating outcomes and preparing for the consequences?
- Do you make a decision only when you have to, when you’re backed into a corner or when you’ve put it off for as long as you can? Or do you make conscious decisions as part of a larger, long-term plan?
In my experience, the most valuable employees are the ones who are proactive. By definition, this means they control situations by causing things to happen rather than waiting to respond after things happen. People who are proactive don’t sit around waiting for answers to appear; they stand up, put one foot in front of the other, and find the answers. They don’t wait for someone to hand them an instruction manual and a box of tools; they’re resourceful.
Proactive people are constantly moving forward, looking to the future, and making things happen. They’re actively engaged, not passively observing. Being proactive is a way of thinking and acting.
Now, this concept can be a little abstract for some. An article written by motivational speaker, Craig Harper in 2007 explains it like this:
Reactive is, ‘I’ve got massive chest pain and pins and needles down my arm. Maybe I’ll go to the doctor.’ Proactive is, ‘Even though I have no symptoms, I want to live a long, healthy life so I have embraced the life-long habits of healthy eating and regular exercise.’
So, are you being proactive or reactive in the workplace?
Certainly, there are times when it’s appropriate to be reactive. We have plenty of decisions to make in-the-moment. There are times when we need to be flexible and adapt to a rapidly changing environment. There are times when long-term plans must be abandoned in order to meet immediate needs. And there will always be those unavoidable roadblocks that even the most proactive person in the world would not have been able to foresee or avoid.
However, the ability to be proactive provides a clear advantage in the workplace and most managers expect staff members to demonstrate a proactive mentality.
I have identified five key behaviors (The 5 P’s) involved in being proactive. Below, I’ve outlined my system and exactly how you can develop your abilities in each area.
Note: I’ve recently expanded my work on this topic and published the book, “The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up & Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life). It’s available on Amazon here.
In order to be proactive, you must first develop foresight.
Proactive people are rarely caught by surprise. Learn to anticipate problems and events. Understand how things work; look for patterns; recognize the regular routines, daily practices and natural cycles that exist in your business. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to become complacent. Use your imagination when anticipating future outcomes. Don’t simply expect the past to always be an accurate predictor for the future; use your creativity and logic. Come up with multiple scenarios for how events could unfold. Proactive people are always on their toes.
Proactive people foresee potential obstacles and exert their power to find ways to overcome them before those obstacles turn into concrete roadblocks.
They prevent problems that others would simply look back on in hindsight and claim unavoidable. Don’t allow yourself to get swept up in a feeling of powerlessness. When challenges approach, take control and confront them head on before they grow into overwhelming problems.
Proactive people plan for the future.
Avoid one-step, “here and now” thinking and instead, look ahead and anticipate long-term consequences. Bring the future into the present; what can you do today to ensure success tomorrow? Don’t make decisions in a vacuum; every decision is a link in a chain of events leading to one final conclusion. In order to make the best decision, you have to know where you came from, where you are, and where you want to end up.
Proactive people are not idle observers, they are active participants.
In order to be proactive, you must get involved. You have to take initiative and be a part of the solution. Recognize that you are only a piece of the whole and that you influence—and are influenced by—the actions of others. Don’t simply react to them. Engage with them. Exert your influence and make a contribution.
Being proactive means taking timely, effective action.
You must be decisive and willing to do the work NOW. Procrastination is not an option. Take ownership of your performance and hold yourself accountable. Stand behind your decisions. Being proactive means you have taken careful, thoughtful steps to choose the appropriate path; you’re not just reacting impulsively to your environment.