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Get ahead of the problem: establish a proactive management strategy

Consider this situation: It’s the end of a long day, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you want to get home. Your gas gauge is hovering right above empty, and you know you can’t get back to work tomorrow without getting gas. What do you do?

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne, the Evil HR Lady, shares expertise, guidance, and insights based on 10+ years of experience in corporate human resources....

proactive management

Well, if you’re smart, you stop and get gas now. But, if you’re normal, you convince yourself that it will be easier to get up and leave 10 minutes earlier tomorrow morning to get gas on your way to work.

This is almost always the wrong decision, and yet our desire to put something off overwhelms logic, reason, and experience, resulting in a hurried morning where you curse yourself for not getting gas last night.

This is a minor example of what happens when you don’t tackle problems as soon as they arise. While getting gas on the way to work is a minor annoyance, it’s a small example of what happens when you don’t proactively tackle problems.

If you engage in this pain procrastination at work – not just on the way home from work – you’ll end up suffering the consequences. Here’s why proactive management is crucial to your success.

Proactive problem-solving saves pain in the long run

Let’s say you run a retail business. If you say that your doors open at 8:30, then you need employees to be there by 8 at the latest – otherwise, you can’t get everything done on time and get the doors open at 8:30.

You have a new keyholder who shows up at 8:05. You say nothing. Then it grows to 8:10. Then some days, she’s showing up at 8:25, and you finally crack and angrily tell her she has to be on time. She is now resentful – after all, why did you have to yell? The non-keyholding employees are annoyed because they have been standing outside, waiting for her to show up, and as such, they’ve started coming in later. Your employees’ morale drops.

Now, what would happen if you gave a brief reminder to your late employee that she has to be on time? If that didn’t fix it, you could work with her to find a solution. Maybe she has a child who must get on the school bus before she comes to work, and the bus has been late. Perhaps she’s just hitting the snooze button. You can’t solve the problem until you address it head-on.

But ignoring the problem can make it worse than just unhappy employees and a late opening. It can lead to a lawsuit.

Let’s look at this situation again. The keyholder starts coming in late, causing you problems. You’re non-confrontational and just drop hints that she must be on time. Finally, you can’t take it anymore, and you tell her if she doesn’t start coming in on time, you will have to terminate her.

She responds, “You’re punishing me because I’m pregnant!”

You can sputter that you didn’t know she was pregnant, or even if you did know, this is purely a decision based on bad behavior. But, without documentation and early correction, it looks like you’re only upset because she’s pregnant. Just imagine her attorney saying, “You never said anything about her timeliness before. Why did it only become a problem once she was pregnant?”

You can prevent a lot of minor problems.

Correcting people is not only time-consuming, but it can also be awkward. If you’re conflict avoidant, it can be almost painful to tell someone they’ve done something wrong. But, never fear! It turns out you can avoid a lot of problems by being proactive.

Here are a few things you can do when managing proactively.

1. Set very clear expectations

Mistakes go down when you tell your employees exactly what you want them to accomplish. Please note that this is not micromanaging. You set expectations and let them work it out themselves.

2. Give proper training

You might assume that everyone knows you should answer a business phone with, “Thank you for calling [Business Name]. This is [name].” But did you tell all your employees that? Or do you just get annoyed when someone answers the phone wrong?

3. Answer questions cheerfully

If you respond to a “Hey boss, what do I do about this?” with annoyance or anger, your employees will stop asking you and start guessing. If they start guessing, they will make mistakes and cause problems. Make yourself available, and tell your team that you’re available and willing to support them – especially your new hires.

4. Zero tolerance for bullies

By the time bullies reach employment, they’ve spent a lifetime perfecting their bullying skills and flying under teachers’ radar. How can you be expected to root them out? Well, the first thing is prevention. Don’t listen to gossip – the tool of the bully. Setting a standard of treating people fairly will help prevent bad things.

5. Communicate

If people know what is going on, they are far more likely to do the right things. If people have to guess? Well, sometimes they will guess wrong, and problems will result. This is especially crucial when working with distributed teams.

Get your procrastination under control

Mark Twain famously said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Identify your live frogs – the things you absolutely do not want to do and do them first.

If you take care of those right away, they don’t fester and get worse. And they don’t hang over your head. You eat those live frogs, and then, whew! They aren’t there ribbitting at you anymore.

If you start with the most challenging, terrible things, you also discover their problems before they get out of control. This proactive management approach will save you time and anxiety.

What about “wait and see?”

Sometimes this is a great strategy. But you need to choose it. If you actively say, “I am not tackling this problem because it may resolve on its own,” that’s fine – as long as you can articulate how it might resolve. If you can’t, you’re not “waiting and seeing”; you’re avoiding.

Be proactive. Take control and take care of those little things immediately, and your life will be much easier in the long run.

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