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Proactivity, as defined by organizational behavior, is “anticipatory, change-oriented, and self-initiated behavior in situations, rather than just reacting." When a person is proactive, they are acting in advance of a future event. Proactive employees typically don't need to be asked to do something, and will usually require less-detailed instructions.


Proactive behavior is applicable to either one's own role, or to "extra role" responsibilities. Within one's own role, for example, a person may find a more efficient way to complete one or more of their responsibilities. Extra role responsibilities (i.e. those tasks outside of your stated job description) speak to an employee's organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). The proactive employee would, for example, initiate an offer of help their co-workers before they are asked to assist by either their colleagues or their manager.

The steps you can take to become more proactive at work apply to both your formal role and your part of the scope of the OCB within your team, your department, and your overall organization.

There are variations on the theme, however, the following behaviors are a common foundation for proactivity within all of the theories:

Organize | Take Stock | Be Positive

Proactive employee helps coworkers

Proactivity requires that you be organized. That includes your mindset, your space, and of course, your schedule! Organizing your time helps you approach tasks more efficiently and allows you to be more open to opportunities. This scheduling needs to include "downtime" for those activities that keep your life in balance.

A positive attitude is right up there on any list. Approaching tasks from a positive perspective encourages you to look for the best in every situation. It helps you become the employee who is "ready, willing, and able," who can always be counted on. A team player who is reliable and available will become the go-to person, the problem solver.

Take stock of your current responsibilities:

  • What are your tasks?
  • What are the priorities?
  • What can be consolidated, eliminated, shortened?
  • What can you do to stay ahead of less urgent tasks?
  • How do you solve problems?
  • Can you prevent them by planning ahead and developing alternative processes in anticipation?
  • What are the things you still need to know?
  • Can you automate any of your tasks to make them more effective and less time-consuming?

Communicate | Connect | Network

Proactive employees lead a meeting at work

Find a role model by observing the leaders in your company. When possible, spend time with them to gain insight from their behaviors. Try out their techniques. Some will work for you, others will not. You'll need to fine-tune what you acquire so that you are able to build your own repertoire.

Let others know that you want to be more involved. You'll need to create your own opportunities. Don't wait to be asked—present your ideas to your management team.

Goals | Persistence | Excellence

Proactive employees work on a project together

Set goals for yourself. Write them down! List everything that you want to accomplish. Set deadlines! Once you have the end in mind, you can achieve your desired outcome. A series of small goals leading up to the completion of a large goal keeps tasks from becoming insurmountable.

Stay the course on how you want to accomplish your goals. This may require overcoming your fears and rising above obstacles or setbacks. You'll need to step outside of your comfort zone and become increasingly resilient.

Strive for excellence from start to finish. Commit yourself to always presenting your best work—your completed project with no loose ends. Be passionate about what you do. Give it your all. No matter what the role you are assigned, you will be more effective when you put your full energy and effort into it.

Celebrate! | Be Flexible!

Proactive employees celebrate their success

Celebrate your successes, big and small, as you move along your path to becoming more proactive!

Be flexible! You can't plan for every outcome, so being able to react to the unexpected is an important trait for the proactive person. It is about the awareness of the existence of choices, regardless of the situation or the context.


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This post was originally published at an earlier date.

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