Empowering Proactive Employees
Employee empowerment falls largely on the shoulders of the company itself. If the business wants to achieve its goals, then it should ensure that its assets and resources are in excellent “working condition”. That includes paying attention to its human resources. Their responsibility does not stop the moment they pay their employees’ salaries and wages. They have a responsibility to keep their employees happy, healthy and proactive.
The need for employees to be more proactive is more apparent these days, as competition – both internal and external – is heating up.
Businesses find themselves constantly faced with the threat of competition, such as new entrants to the market, or old players stepping up their game.
As a result, they end up making more demands on their employees, giving them more responsibilities and putting more pressure on them to increase their productivity and improve performance. As businesses expand, they are more receptive to decentralization, so they need their employees to be able to work even without close supervision. They prefer employees to be more innovative, and they won’t be able to become innovative if they are not proactive.
Proactivity at work involves improving or enhancing organizational and operational effectiveness by adapting a self-starting attitude and acting on it, with the commitment of effecting and achieving changes. Proactive individuals are those who fully recognize that, in order to achieve personal, operational or organization effectiveness, there must be change, and they are the ones to do it.
In this article, you will learn about 1) what characteristics a proactive employee possesses, 2) factors that influence the level of proactivity, and 3) how to empower proactive employees.
MEET THE PROACTIVE EMPLOYEE
Who is the proactive employee?
There are several ways to describe him. Generally, though, a proactive employee is described as someone with effective planning skills, excellent communication skills, ability to resolve problems on their own and also work within a team structure, while able to maintain a good sense of humor.
Sounds like the perfect employee, doesn’t he? For many employers, being a proactive employee is close to being the perfect employee.
Being “proactive” means having the ability to create or control situations by making something happen, as opposed to simply responding to something after the fact. It is both an action- and result-oriented behavior, where the individual acts instead of reacts, and each action is geared towards obtaining certain desired results.
In a simple analogy, a fire has broken out in a densely populated neighborhood. The fire chief on site has two options: focus all the firefighting measures on the house that is being engulfed in flames so as to put the fire out quickly, or pay equal attention to the adjoining houses which, although they are not yet on fire, they will most definitely be if the fire is not immediately taken under control.
If he chooses the first option, there is a possibility that they will not be able to put the fire out quickly, so there is a risk that the adjoining houses will also catch fire. The fire chief that takes the “I’ll cross the bridge when I get there” stance, meaning they will focus on the house on fire at the moment, and deal with putting out the fire in the other houses when that happens.
The other option is anticipatory; there is a threat of the other houses also going up in flames, but before that can happen, the fire chief may take steps to actually avoid it. Therefore, he divides his team into two, the first team concentrating on the house on fire, and the other team putting measures in place to keep the flames from even getting to the other houses.
Needless to say, the fire chief that takes the second option is the more proactive one.
In a business or workplace setting, it is no different.
This presentation covers how your beliefs and attitude can influence your behavior (e.g. proactivity). A must read.
Let us break down the traits that characterize a proactive employee.
Highly involved and committed
The moment an employee enters an organization, he becomes an integral part of it. Therefore, he is expected to be aware of its goals and objectives. After all, his efforts on the job are all geared towards the attainment of those goals.
But there are employees that are satisfied with just knowing what these goals are, and what is expected of them, and proceed to going about their work, just as long as they get paid the compensation and benefits stated on their employment contracts.
A proactive employee is more committed than that. He demonstrates a high degree of involvement and commitment to the vision, mission and values of the organization and the unit he belongs to; he shows genuine interest in what he can specifically contribute, and actively finds ways to be able to do more, and give more.
A team player
Having strong interpersonal skills is a given for any proactive employee. He is someone who is trusted by his superiors, peers and subordinates, and he is one they can easily communicate with. Even if they are pulled from one team and placed on another, they will have no trouble adapting, and are able to work with that team in no time at all.
He is able to command the respect of the other team members, so they are willing to listen to his inputs, and vice versa.
A good performer
In order to be considered proactive, an employee must, first and foremost, be a good worker.
He must show strength when it comes to performing his job and assigned tasks. You cannot be called proactive if you do not have high output or good results to back up your claims. Being committed to the goals of the company is all well and good, and you might even be voted as one of the most agreeable members of the team. You might even be commended for your planning skills.
But if all of these do not yield results because you are not performing your assigned tasks well, then you do not deserve to be called proactive.
A proactive employee is someone who looks ahead, and makes decisions that have a long-term effect.
More than a trouble-shooter and a short-term planner, his decisions are made with consideration to how it would affect results in the long run. What if the decision made is just a temporary stop-gap, but end up causing more problems in the future?
If you are to use a doctor as an analogy, a proactive doctor is one who will find a long-term cure for an injury, instead of just slapping a bandage on it and prescribing something for the pain.
Do not be confused with this, as we have already established that a proactive employee is someone who works well within a team. A high degree of independence is also expected from him, particularly when it comes to taking responsibility and initiative in doing his job.
He can make decisions by himself, without waiting for others to tell him what to do, and how to do it. This type of employee is a manager’s dream employee, because they require minimal guidance, not requiring to be spoon-fed, or for his hand to be held every step of the way.
He learns fast, and he can go about doing his job in his own way, without disrupting others or violating policy and rules.
Strong sense of responsibility
All employees are expected to have their own sets of moral and ethical values. The proactive employee is one who highly values and practices personal integrity, and is bound by his strong principles with respect to the performance of his job and his role in the organization. Having a strong sense of responsibility is also expected of him.
It does not come as any surprise that the word “extra” has been associated with the proactive employee. He is one who puts in extra effort to his performance and contributes to the organization an extra push towards gaining its goals.
FACTORS THAT GIVE RISE TO THE PROACTIVE EMPLOYEE
The proactive employee is not born. An individual may enter a company as simply another typical employee, with ideals and philosophies of his own. Through time, he will grow and develop to what we hope is a proactive employee that is considered to be one of the major assets of an organization.
There are various factors and circumstances that shape employees towards becoming proactive.
Corporate and organizational culture
Whether an employee is proactive or not will depend on the culture within the organization. If the company encourages its employees to be more proactive by giving them more opportunities to do so, then they are definitely going to lean towards that direction. However, if the culture within the organization is so restrictive that employees are not even allowed to make the smallest decisions without running everything by the top management first, then there is no way they can be proactive.
Leadership or management styles
Employees tend to assimilate what they are exposed to, and when they find themselves under someone’s leadership, there is a huge possibility that the management or leadership style of that figure of authority will also influence them.
Aside from leadership, there are other elements of the workplace that can help shape one’s level of being proactive. The relationship built between and among employees in the workplace is definitely going to weigh in on one’s personal judgment. Even the attitudes of co-employees will also affect one’s way of thinking.
You need to create a positive work environment.
Individual personality and beliefs
This is what the employee already possesses upon entering a company. From the moment he was born, through his growing up years, all the way to landing his current job in the company, his personal beliefs, attitudes and opinions have been shaped by various environmental, cultural and emotional factors. As they work within the organization, these beliefs may have changed or evolved.
A child that was trained to become independent from an early age tends to bring that characteristic to the workplace. If he grew up making important decisions for himself, he is bound to have more confidence than others on his decision-making and planning skills.
HOW TO EMPOWER PROACTIVE EMPLOYEES
For many organizations, it is relatively easy to motivate employees to become more proactive. But they have a bigger, more crucial task at hand, and that is to ensure that these proactive employees stay, well, proactive. Proactive employees need to be empowered, especially if the business expects more great things from them.
There are several approaches or steps undertaken by companies in their efforts to empower proactive employees, and we will try to look at them in the following discussions.
Explain Benefits of Staying Proactive
In the beginning, the company will no doubt spell out the implications of their employees becoming more involved and committed. This motivates the employees to perform better and play bigger roles in the organization.
But then, somewhere along the way, the company stops, either because they have been distracted by other, seemingly “more important” matters, or they have decided that their work is done and there is no need to tell the employees what they already know.
But employees need to be reminded from time to time. There is a reason why positive reinforcement is highly recommended by work psychologists, because employees need to be given a push once in a while.
Proactive employees may already be aware why they are being encouraged to take a more active role within the organization, but it never hurts to explain it to them again.
You should remind your employees about the reasons why the company wants them to take more initiative, and one way to do that is to reiterate the benefits to the company. These include cost savings and savings on time and other resources.
You should also explain how their contribution facilitates the operations and functions of the organization. Tie it up with their personal and professional development, so they can get a clearer picture of what is in it for them.
Create a Culture of Trust and Empowerment
Employees need to feel that their supervisors and managers have faith in them, that they trust their decisions, and that they will make good ones once they do. Supporting initiative among employees and autonomy will open more doors for collaboration and cooperation within the team and the organization as a whole.
How do you foster a culture of trust among your employees? You can start by asking for their opinions and inputs on both small and big matters. Encourage them to come forward with their ideas. Solicit their suggestions and thoughts, and give them careful consideration. Let them know that you trust them to make decisions related to their work. You can also ask them to do more in their jobs, and tell them that it is all right for them to take risks, although within reasonable bounds. Giving them this degree of freedom, no matter how limited, will definitely make them feel more empowered.
If you are going to delegate responsibility, then you should authorize decision-making by your employees. It will be counter-productive if you delegate responsibilities to your teams and employees but, at the end of the day, top management will still have the final say.
Doing this will give your employees and teams more flexibility. They will certainly feel more confident, knowing that you, too, are confident in their ability to make decisions on the spot, even with your approval. It also drives home the extent of their responsibility and accountability, so they will take their jobs more seriously.
Encourage, Recognize and Reward
Do not hesitate encouraging your employees to do more or perform better. They may not admit it, but a word of encouragement from a supervisor goes a long way in boosting one’s spirits and motivation.
Some businesses do not hesitate to call out an employee when they make even a small mistake.
However, when the same employee does well, they barely acknowledge it. That does not do anything for the employee’s sense of proactivity.
Recognize your employee’s efforts, even if they do not pan out, or the result is not what was hoped for. Effort alone deserves to be commended, even if the results are far from satisfactory. This will serve as an encouragement for them, a way of telling them that they may have made a mistake, but they should take it as a learning experience and try again next time.
Finally, give credit where and when it is due. Reward the successes and accomplishments of your employees, whether through cash incentives, additional benefits, or even tokens of appreciation and acknowledgment. They need to feel that their efforts are appreciated, and they will feel more empowered if they know that there is a reward waiting for them.
Keep Lines of Communication Clear and Open
Your employees should be able to access management directly, and communication among the departments, teams and units should also be open and clear. This is to facilitate the free flow of ideas. It is a fact that crossed and convoluted communication lines are often the source of many problems and misunderstanding.
By keeping these clear, you are encouraging your employees to communicate more often.
Many companies these days implement the “Solutions Only” policy, where they encourage their employees to report a problem ONLY if they have a corresponding solution for it. It is one way for employees to learn to take more responsibility, since they will feel more inclined to help in finding solutions or fixes to problems, instead of merely reporting them.
The most important thing for a company to do in order to empower its proactive employees is to make that commitment to empower them. You cannot expect your employees to commit to the organization if you cannot do the same to them. If they see that you are investing in them, then they will be more motivated to stay proactive, and help the organization move toward its goals.