In the past few issues of the Fogelman Flash and Fogelman Focus, I have discussed
development and execution of long-term strategies, the benefits of cooperation over
competition, the value of meritocracy and the merits of empowerment. In this issue
of the Fogelman Flash, I would like to talk about the importance of proactivity, a
trait that differentiates the average from the excellent. When proactivity is embraced,
organizations and individuals can to move to the next level in their industries and
At its most basic form, “proactive” is how we describe someone in control of a situation.
Often, this is because he/she is making something happen or because he/she is preparing
for some eventuality. The former is a case of offensive proactivity; the latter is
a case of defensive proactivity. In both scenarios, however, note that the individual
is acting rather than being acted upon. Additionally, both cases require the individual
to look ahead to the future when determining the best course of action for NOW.
The benefits of proactive behavior
Proactive behavior can and should be demonstrated in any job position. I would like
to share the story of an employee, a custodial worker, who was asked to clean a cobweb
in the corner of a room. He did just as he was instructed and cleaned the corner magnificently;
however, while performing this task he noticed a stain on the carpet. Typically, stain
removal did not fall within his job description. He could have simply cleaned the
cobweb as instructed, left the stain alone and continued with his day. However, the
custodian put forth the effort and cleaned the stain as well. He understood that his
actions resulted in saving his employers both time and money. If left unattended the
stain would have remained on the floor for a matter of months, most likely until spring
cleaning. Additionally, he saved his employers the cost of hiring a carpet cleaning
This story is a simplistic example of the benefits of being proactive. The custodian
understood his job at a higher conceptual level which led him to save his company
both time and money. When we go beyond the very basic requirements of our job descriptions,
we become more productive – we can become innovators and influencers.
Proactivity at the individual level
Proactivity at the individual level helps us take control of the direction, length
and influence of our careers and our lives. Working ahead on specific upcoming duties
is one way demonstrate proactive behavior. However, proactivity comes in many forms,
from taking the initiative on assignments to developing a three year directional plan
for your career. Individuals who truly desire to control the course of their lives
need to thinking intently about the steps necessary to better their positions or reach
their goals, then implement the steps systematically. One step in the rung is often
to actively seek and execute tasks outside of one’s typical job description – showing
your initiative and exhibiting skills to yourself and your boss that could lead to
an expanded role. By taking control over your position, you help your organization
take control of its own.
The one warning I will give regarding proactivity is that it requires direction to
be successful. Acting for the sake of acting can often become an exercise in futility.
However with a set of well-though-out goals and a deliberate plan for implementation,
an organization can thrive.
Proactivity at the organizational level
For an organization to be successful it needs to be comprised of proactive people.
The company should take it upon itself to encourage and reward proactive behavior
at any level, from custodial workers to the CEO. It is important to encourage people
to go beyond the bare minimum requirements, to take action and preempt problems. If
employees adapt proactive behavior then the company will inevitably grow.
Proactive behavior is not only critical to the success of corporate organizations;
it is also necessary in academic environments. For example, our basic role at the
Fogelman College is to educate students on the fundamentals of business. It is important
that students learn finance, accounting, management, marketing, etc. However, we have
a greater responsibility than just teaching business skills. We need to create an
environment and offer experiences so that our students become capable, intelligent,
well-rounded people. By offering one-on-one mentoring, ethics training, business etiquette
classes and philanthropic activities we can ensure that our students graduate ready
to take on the work force. In return, they will become model citizens and continue
to enhance our community and University.
In conclusion, proactive behavior is beneficial for both individual and organization
growth. The key is to constantly look beyond the simple task at hand – if you see
a stain on the floor, clean it!