Proactive vs. Reactive Workplaces

Many people in the USA are breathing a sigh of relief this morning as the powers that be in Washington reached a deal that will raise the debt ceiling and help avoid default. However, as Thomas Freidman pointed out in an op ed last week, the measures that legislators are taking at this stage are a reactive approach to a crisis instead of looking forward to help the country in the long term.

Many workplaces share this approach particularly within working groups or at smaller organizations that lack a board or some other body that focuses on bigger picture planning. When people get busy at work with all the day to day tasks that must be done, it is hard to take a long term strategic look at what they are doing. This tends to lead to action that is all about addressing the problem at hand instead of preventing problems in the future.

Probably the biggest impediment to taking a more forward looking approach is simply time and work capacity. When there is barely enough staff to cover all those tasks that are necessary for the business to survive, nobody is going to spend too much time worrying about anything that does not have an immediate impact.

Another related challenge, as has been noted on this blog before, is the lack of reflection time in most workplaces. I was recently talking with a friend of mine who works as a teacher and she was talking about how she devotes a significant amount of her ten-week summer vacation to curriculum planning for the next year. She is able to step back during the summer and look at what went right and what went wrong during the year and reformulate her approach.

This kind of reflection and planning is fantastic but most of us do not have ten weeks of vacation and are not willing to spend the small amount of time we do have doing work. As Friedman points out, successful companies and organizations have to have an overall strategic plan and are willing to take the time to develop and think about that plan.

At a more micro level, working groups and smaller organizations need to start doing the same. It’s not enough to simply have an employee write out his or her goals for the year, it needs to be a conversation that involves others within the working group and that takes time. In the short term it might meant that some seemingly important tasks may fall by the wayside but in the long term it can result in a more efficient, better performing organization.

When do you create time to consider the long term?

Do you plan as a group at your workplace or is it an individual thing?

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