George Bernard Shaw says that the world has 3 kinds of people: Those that make things happen, those who watch what happens and those who wonder what happened. Strategy gurus Hamel and Prahalad make the same point about companies with their own metaphor: On the road to the future, there are drivers, there are passengers, and there is road kill. The key differentiator among these distinctions is the extent to which behavior of people and companies is proactive!
For clarification this means two people in the same position may tackle the job in very different ways. One takes charge, launches new initiatives, generates constructive change, and leads in a proactive fashion. The other tries to maintain, get along, conform, keep his or her head above water, and be a good custodian of the status quo. The first tackles issues head on and works for constructive reform. The second “goes with the flow” and passively conducts business as usual.
The first person is proactive; the second is not. To be proactive is to change things, in an intended direction, for the better. Proactive behavior distinguishes individuals from the pack, and organizations from the rest of the marketplace.
Proaction involves creating change, not merely anticipating it. It does not just involve the important attributes of flexibility and adaptability toward an uncertain future. To be proactive is to take the initiative in improving business at every level and through each aspect.
At the other extreme, behavior that is not proactive includes sitting back, letting others try to make things happen, and passively hoping that externally imposed change “works out okay.”
We can intentionally and directly change things through the creation of new circumstances, or the active alteration of current ones. This is what is meant by true proactive behavior.
Here are some suggestions on Proactive Behavior for ALL OF US:
- Scan for change opportunities. It is up to each of us to keep our antennas up for new products, new customers, new markets, and new ways of doing things. Ways to challenge status quo and the way we, and the industry, have “always” done things: Going paperless, signature capture, on line bill pay, e-commerce, utilizing a CRM. We can’t grow without searching for new ways, and if we fail to change we may get left behind.
- To change our mindset we must set effective, change oriented goals for ourselves and our companies and drill that down to individual departments, regions, branches. Proactive behavior is focused on accomplishment with a real impact. A vision of going above what anyone else has done – something new that has not yet been discovered or tackled. Our finance department is pushing to reduce our days to close month end from 10 to 7 for faster reporting of results so that we can react to trends. Our credit managers constantly push for new records in DSO to increase cash flow. Our Sales team is implementing a project pipeline to increase communication with purchasing and finance. This should allow us to be more responsive to customer needs, fill orders more quickly, and react to market conditions in a timely fashion.
- Another proactive attribute is to anticipate and prevent problems. One of my favorite examples of this is from a manager of a daycare center, every morning she rolls on the floor to see her operation and the environment through the eyes of the children. Do we take the time to really get the field’s or the customer’s perspective? When is the last time you rode with one of your delivery drivers? Visited a job site with an Account Manager? Assembled a form? Walked into the shop and bent rebar when it was 90 degrees or -20? Met with a customer and asked about their day to day frustrations or what we could do to make their day better?
- Do different things or do things differently! A.H. Harris has always prided itself in “leading the industry” – what are each of us doing to find a better way? Are you advocating for reform of our infrastructure*? Do you attend and support the various associations and organizations in your regions? Are you providing the tools and training your associates need to lead?
- Take action! Learn by doing. Jump In! Get involved. Do not be afraid, be a pioneer, the first one to try a new idea. Remember if you are not leading you are following. Use pilot programs, measure the results. If a program or product doesn’t work, you can react quickly. Nothing ventured – nothing gained.
- A.H. Harris is celebrating 100 years. A century of service came from perseverance and proactive leaders. We don’t back down or back off from the obstacles. We don’t take no for an answer. We don’t settle for less, and we aren’t satisfied with defeat. Successes to me are those little challenges we have to get over, daily, weekly, monthly – the ways we find to get to Yes! Yes from a customer, Yes from a vendor, Yes from an Associate to try something new, Yes from the support team to make “it” happen, whatever “it” may be. Perseverance refers to effort, not necessarily to continuing the same strategies and tactics. It means taking new directions when others dead end. There are many ways to get to our destinations; we simply must keep trying every route.
- Achieve results. Change must not merely be thought about or attempted, but achieved. And the results are not just “making the numbers,” but having a change based impact on organizations, people, or situations.
Take control of your future and the future of your companies – be drivers! Nobody wants more roadkill.
As always, I value your feedback and input.
*The Transportation Construction Coalition’s annual legislative fly-in will be held May 10-11, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Washington Hotel in Washington, DC. In conjunction with the fly-in, AGC is hosting meetings with the Federal Highway Administration.
Although we were successful in passing a long-term highway & transit bill – the FAST Act – last December that temporarily stabilizes the highway & transportation programs, it failed to address the root cause of the funding shortfalls that have plagued the Highway Trust Fund since 2008.
Additionally, a short-term extension of federal aviation programs expires at the end of March and Congress is working on a multi-year bill to fund those programs.
Join your transportation construction industry colleagues as they meet with their members of Congress May 10-11 and tell them to continue working to provide stability and certainty to highway & transit programs.