How to be Proactive and Strategic at Work

Many leaders and talented individuals tell us that they want to do more than just fulfill their basic responsibilities, but their organizations either don’t have or don’t communicate a clear vision or direction for the future.

This is a big dilemma for people who consistently do good work, are reliable, and need something more to keep them engaged and motivated. If waiting around for someone to tell you how to be more proactive and contribute to the future direction of the business isn’t for you, then you will need to figure it on your own. Here are five recommendations to help you and your team become more proactive, agile, and strategic when you don’t have a clear line of sight to guide you.

1) Figure out where the organization is going.

Proactive people figure out where the enterprise is headed even in the absence of an official blueprint. They know how to be ahead of the curve and are prepared to contribute to the success of the business before they are asked to make changes and improvements. To begin, you simply need to step back and look at the big-picture business strategy. Every organization has a strategy, although some organization’s strategies are very clear, thoughtful, and intentional while other organizations sort of figure it out as they go along. If you are not privy to the “grand strategic plan,” you can ask yourself a few basic questions to get yourself started down the right path:

  • What are the key threats the business is facing?
  • What forces are driving the organization to change (technology, regulations, competition, and customers).
  • What new opportunities, products, and services is the company interested in providing?
  • What do senior leaders talk about the most?

You can be sure your rivals and competitors are analyzing your organization’s strategy and asking similar questions. In order to give you clues and insights into where you need to go, you need to gather data and do some of your own strategic analysis.

2) Assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Businessman thinking how to overcome a gap

Any time you undertake a proactive journey, you will need to create an inventory of your own capabilities and strengths as well as limitations and important gaps you need to fill. You need to understand them from multiple angles before you take on a new project and embark on a proactive and strategic journey. You will want to be aware of your vulnerabilities, how much you can realistically take on, and how to increase your readiness for change.

3) Pick the right target.

Choosing which strategic target or targets to pursue is really important because you need to have a focused goal or a proactive direction in mind for you and your team that is linked and aligned with the direction of the organization. You need to find initiatives that do two things:

  1. Your big idea must add value and complement enterprise plans; if it doesn’t, you may be perceived as going rogue.
  2. You must settle on something that you feel passionate about. You are demonstrating your initiative and looking for new ways to contribute to the business, and this will require additional time, commitment, energy, and ingenuity. To successfully execute your strategy, you’ll need all the passion you can muster.

Remember that in business, everyone has stakeholders and customers, either inside or outside of your company. Ask these questions to find opportunities to contribute and add value for the business and the people you serve:

  • What do our customers need?
  • How can we reinvent our services and offerings?
  • What processes need to be improved or streamlined?
  • How can we build a more effective and unified team?

4) Make a plan.

Build a road map for your proactive initiative, but don’t put undue pressure on yourself at this point in time. Striving for perfection can cause you to throw out a perfectly workable plan. All you need at this stage is a decent plan of action that will get you started on your journey. Think of it as the rough frame of your strategy or plan. This includes thinking through some scenarios and assessing the “headwinds” that could hinder your progress and the “tailwinds” that will help you move your idea forward. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is figure out the first step or what it will take to jumpstart the plan and help you gain traction.

5) Be fearless.

You need to be bold as you forge a path for yourself and your team and mobilize and launch your campaign, but don’t try to do too much. Concentrate your energy and resources on one or two action items and get the ball rolling. Then, as you acquire some experience and work with your team, you can accelerate. Proactive people have the resolve and determination to steadily execute and sustain the journey. They are quick to learn and adjust the plan, and they hold themselves and others accountable.

Success with your strategy ultimately comes down to personal ownership and willingness to take more control of your situation. You must be willing to take responsibility for making value-added contributions to your business rather than responding to problems and opportunities after the fact.

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About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.