If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read about the need for organizations to be “more proactive and less reactive,” I could’ve bought an Italian villa by now. Despite the sense of urgency that usually accompanies that time-worn platitude, it is rarely followed by any sensible corrective action.
Part of the problem is how it’s described. Can someone please explain to me the difference between being “active” and being “pro-active” in a way that makes sense? A better word for what people are really griping about and pleading for is “pre-active,” not proactive. Consistently superior businesses tend to be exceptional at anticipating future conditions and taking the necessary action to pursue potential opportunities and prevent potential failures. That’s being pre-active.
One reason that organizations aren’t very good at pre-active improvement is because they approach it sporadically, and they trap themselves in projects and initiatives that are time consuming and complex. When that happens, they get gun-shy and stay wrapped up in their comfy day-to-day operations, dealing with whatever changes and adjustments they need to make as they come along. That’s NOT being pre-active.
While some improvement efforts can indeed by be quite daunting, it’s possible to make meaningful progress with a relatively simple, yet highly effective method for getting everyone engaged in continuous pre-active improvement.
First, start with a single focus. Pick an area where you’re having persistent problems or you want to make consistent gains – take safety or quality, for example. Every Friday at 2:00 p.m., schedule a 30-minute meeting with all managers and supervisors, and discuss this question: “Where is the next quality/safety incident likely to happen during the upcoming week?”
To get all employees involved during the preceding week, supervisors and managers ask that same question of the people who report to them. In addition to getting widespread buy-in for the process, you’re getting the benefit of input from the people on the front line who are in the best position to spot potential failures and opportunities for improvement.
After discussion at the meeting, the supervisors and managers pick ONE item from the list of possibilities that everyone will focus on during the following week. A number of benefits come from this approach:
- The likelihood of that particular failure occurring is greatly reduced.
- Employees are also thinking throughout the week about the other potential issues they came up with, and they are more conscious and attentive about those items as well as the primary organizational focus for the week.
- It requires a relatively modest investment of time, it is uncomplicated, and it helps to hardwire safety or quality or whatever the focus happens to be into the culture of day-to-day operations.
So the next time someone pleads for a more “proactive” approach to dealing with problems and opportunities, tell them you’ve got a solution. Better yet, be “pre-active” about it – and go tell someone about it right now before they complain again.
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