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How to Be Proactive at Work: My 5 Step System

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.

1. Predict

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.

2. Prevent

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.

3. Plan

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.

4. Participate

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.

5. Perform

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.

Photo Credit: Doug88888 (Flickr)

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30 Responses to “How to Be Proactive at Work: My 5 Step System”

  1. Karen F. says:

    Love this post, Chrissy. :-) I always enjoy how-to’s related to productivity, seeing as I work for myself. lol It just gives me a great sense of accomplishment getting things done within the time they’re supposed to — the first time. Your steps here are very simple (which I love even more), and very doable. Hope everyone out there imbibes the concept!

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google or Twitter for questions, comments or violent reactions)

  2. [...] told that you’re a control freak, don’t just write it off as an inescapable character trait. Take a few proactive steps to share the spotlight and hand the reins to someone else. Everyone, even you, will be better for [...]

  3. [...] and you’ll be promoted and the company will be purchased by Google. But I like to encourage a proactive mindset. Do what you can to improve the situation and, if things don’t change significantly and quickly, [...]

  4. [...] the perfect position will open up and you’ll want to jump on it immediately. If you’ve been proactive about keeping your resume updated, you’ll be ready to [...]

  5. [...] have one mantra for professional success: Be proactive. Don’t react to what’s going on around you. Instead, predict and prepare. Be actively engaged [...]

  6. [...] water” scenario (which, being an animal lover, I hate!!). When you see change on the horizon, be proactive. Do what you can to ease the transition, minimize the chaos and enhance the [...]

  7. [...] your boss isn’t handing out assignments, find useful work to do. Make sure it will obviously help the company and make sure everyone knows you’re doing it. [...]

  8. [...] love Chrissy Scivicque’s advice about How to be Proactive at Work because proactive people are the ones constantly moving forward and making things happen! Are you? [...]

  9. [...] told that you’re a control freak, don’t just write it off as an inescapable character trait. Take a few proactive steps to share the spotlight and hand the reins to someone else. Everyone, even you, will be better for [...]

  10. [...] have one mantra for professional success: Be proactive. Don’t react to what’s going on around you. Instead, predict and prepare. Be actively engaged [...]

  11. [...] A proactivity cycle describe as: Predict -> Prevent -> Plan -> Participate -> Perform: http://www.eatyourcareer.com/2010/08/how-be-proactive-at-work-step-system/ [...]

  12. Annoi7 says:

    Really enjoyed and learned a lot through your post. Though your P’s are simple but most of us don’t follow it due to our procrastination and complacent behaviour. My personal opinion is that being proactive or reactive actually lies in one’s nature. If you are born a proactive person, you can’t be reactive only all the time though can happen few times and vice versa.

  13. ADITYA SINGHANIA says:

    i am being reactive nowadays but today i am proactive

  14. [...] Eat Your Career – How to be Proactive at Work: 5 Step System [...]

  15. [...] With multiple managers, the workload can easily bury you. Don’t be afraid to take control. And be proactive about it; don’t wait until you’re [...]

  16. [...] When you are faced with a problem, you start solving it when the matter’s already on your hand. That’s reactive. On the other hand, “prevention is better than cure” is a proactive person’s motto. He or she strikes even if the iron is not yet hot. Well, I know you got my point. 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.” (How to be Proactive at Work, Eat Your Career) [...]

  17. [...] think about expanding their network until they need something—like a job. But I encourage you to be proactive. Building a strong professional network doesn’t happen overnight, and these relationships are [...]

  18. [...] time: Be proactive. Make your plan. Look for possible obstacles and prepare for how you’ll deal with them. Don’t [...]

  19. [...] to ‘Eat Your Career‘, (what a name right?), “the most valuable employees are the ones who are proactive. [...]

  20. [...] to ‘Eat Your Career‘, (what a name right?), “the most valuable employees are the ones who are proactive. [...]

  21. [...] Be proactive. I am proactive because I know that a goal can motivate me to go further. If I just stay and wait, nothing would happen to improve my life. Currently in college my goal is to obtain a CGA certificate in recent years. Based on that purpose, I choose those courses which can be transferred to CGA credits and I try to get good marks on them. I know CGA certificate won’t be easy to get, but after I make the decision, I study harder on my courses. Here is a useful link to help you get proactive: http://www.eatyourcareer.com/2010/08/how-be-proactive-at-work-step-system/ [...]

  22. [...] The important thing is to simply start the process. Once you have a plan, it can be revised. Regular review is an essential component of any PDP so, as things change, you can make adjustments. Even better—as you see change on the horizon, you can proactively plan for it. [...]

  23. [...] when the perfect position will open up and you’ll want to jump on it immediately. If you’ve been proactive about keeping your resume updated, you’ll be ready to [...]

  24. […] difficulties. Until and unless I finish that particular work, I never fell comfort. This kind of pro-activeness helped me a lot to figure out difficult problems and helped me finding the solutions of some kind […]

  25. […] proactive and take initiative – Don’t sit on your arse waiting to be told what to do. Waiting for someone to tell you this is the biggest waste of time and the road to […]

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