Monday, May 7, 2018

Are You Reactive or Proactive?

Longer ago than I like to remember I attended evening college to complete a management certificate. It was the beginning of a long period of educational self-improvement to compensate for not having studied earlier. 

I was 30, a police officer, husband, and father of two children, one only weeks old.

My instructor was a practising manager in the Queensland Railways. He was a likeable guy with a good sense of humour and a very good grasp of management theory. I loved attending his lectures.

I did three semesters (16 weeks each) of management and found it intriguing because everything I learned made sense; planning - organising - leading - controlling/monitoring were the key features of management.

As I progressed, I could see what was wrong with the management of the police force in which I worked - in my opinion at least. There were too many people promoted from the ranks who may have been very good police officers, but none had any idea about the principles of management. They learned on-the-job from people who were often inept or at least, not management trained.

Much of what we did was Reactive, commonly known as "fire-fighting".  A problem arose and then senior managers would go into crisis mode trying to find a solution that was legally and politically acceptable. Of course, it was often intended to protect them from career damage as well.

Management is all about being Proactive - planning and organising to avoid crises and the consequent need for fire-fighting. While nobody can predict with 100% certainly all the crises that will eventuate, it is possible to predict at least some and avoid them by good planning.

For example, progressive maintenance programs are intended to do just that, avoid equipment failures that are costly and inconvenient at the time they occur, perhaps holding up production and costing a firm millions in lost production.

Identifying evolving issues that could eventually worsen is another proactive activity.

When I took on my first management role, I had an opportunity to implement some of the management theory I had learned. At that stage of my development, Management by Objectives was the prevailing favourite. Then came Management by Walking Around and every five years or so another would pop up.

All the favourites were parts of the overall Planning - Organising - Leading and Controlling. The term controlling eventually gave way to the more acceptable "monitoring".

Management theory and practice hasn't changed all that much since I first began studying it. Later, at university, I learnt more of the same and as I gained higher management levels in my career, I became comfortable with a style of management that I thought suited me.

Now that I'm retired, I have no real need to manage much at all, although I still try to be proactive in what I do rather than be reactive.

Your Turn
Write a comment and tell us about your experience being managed by others or managing others. Are they/you reactive or proactive?


PS: Next post I'll discuss the management tool that helped me run a department in a large educational institution.

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