Organizational Behaviour

The Downside of Proactivity

A while ago I wrote a post on “proactive” behaviour, talking about the risks of encouraging people to be proactive, but then ignoring their input.  One of my readers recently posted this comment regarding the post:

I have a team member who is very proactive, but as you say this can be a double edged sword. The feedback he gives sometimes isn’t well received – by myself or by others, possibly because he speaks the truth but doesn’t understand that things can’t be changed quickly it takes time and priorities needs to shift. You say “help your team understand when to engage in proactive behaviour, and when it might not be welcome.”, do you have any advice on how I can do this.

I don’t have any perfect answers for Beverly’s question, but I do have a couple of places to start:

First, when communicating about ideas, projects and decisions, note which items are up for discussion, and which ones the decisions are not reversible. That may help the employee channel his energy.

Second, if they employee has a valid point, but resources and priorities don’t allow for a fast response, it might be worth taking the time to have the team review priorities. Perhaps this is important enough to shift priorities?  If not, the employee will at least feel that his concerns have been heard.

Third, it might be worthwhile to examine your own reaction to his feedback. You note that his comments are often “the truth”, yet there is resistance to change.  Could it be more than priorities and time? Is it possible you find him threatening, or annoying? Or that he has thrown a monkey wrench into the works again? Are you really listening to him, or are you already dismissing his concerns?

Finally, consider whether it is the content of his comments, or the manner in which they are expressed. Perhaps he can be coached to provide feedback in a more persuasive, supportive manner.

No matter what you do, a frank conversation needs to be the beginning of the process. My guess is that he believes that he is adding value by proactively noting issues that needs action.  The first step to a solution is to work together to identify the problem, and a plan to address it.


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