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Being Proactive vs. Reactive

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Being proactive in the workplace means making decisions in advance to optimize future production, efficiency, profits or career success. Being reactive means waiting until problems emerge before stepping in to resolve them. It is more of a status quo approach.

Strategic Planning and Policy Making

Strategic planning is a proactive business tactic. The planning process involves top-level managers meeting periodically to review and establish goals and strategies moving forward. This type of planning ensures the company is moving in the right direction and preparing to take the steps necessary for success. A proactive approach to policy making means company leaders establish policies that optimize workplace performance and minimize legal, ethical or financial risks. In contrast, a reactive approach to policy setting means company leaders wait for problems to emerge before setting policies. In other words, they are developed on the fly. In some cases, companies revamp or set new policies after a unique customer complaint emerges, for instance.

Human Resources

Closely aligned with strategic planning, proactive HR means intentional and planned efforts to recruit talented workers to fill specific roles in the company. Proactive recruiting, for instance, means companies clearly define the workers they need and use strategies such as headhunting, career fairs and online promotion to attract talented employees. A reactive approach to HR means human resources staff or managers wait until positions open to implement recruiting methods. HR policies also aren't established until a problem compels it with a reactive effort. Companies are sometimes caught off guard at the sudden departure of a great employee. Proactive succession planning means a replacement plan is likely in place, but reactive companies must act quickly to fill an opening when no replacement is in place.

Manager's Role

One of the keys to success in a leadership role is proactive management. Applying this approach, a manager plans ahead, and schedules and directs activities that put workers in the most opportune situations. A manager has greater control over the success of his team and his resource utilization with proactive leadership. Upfront and clear communication is also important for proactive managers. A reactive manager takes a more wait-and-see approach, which means he doesn't make a decision or take action until things break or employees complain. Reacting only when problems come up may allow for legal, ethical or financial problems. Sometimes, though, a manager faces a customer or employee crisis that he had no way to prepare for, and he must react effectively.

Employee's Role

Being proactive helps an employee succeed in his role and impress hiring managers for a possible promotion. Employees show initiative by always finding things to do, making decisions with confidence, seeking their own growth opportunities and identify innovative improvements. A proactive worker often separates himself from peers in similar positions. In contrast, a reactive employee who waits to be told what to do tends to demand more time and attention from a manager. Employers prefer employees who take initiative and don't wait to be told what to do, reports Mind Tools. Reactive employees may miss opportunities to improve processes or secure clients.


Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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