Uh-oh. You’ve fallen behind in implementing the changes required to launch Project Supercool and your customer is complaining. You pull employees off Project Everyday to help out. New problems crop up as your people struggle to learn their new tasks. You shove your long-term planning aside so you can start fighting these new fires.
Or a senior employee has come forward and complained about their coworker harassing them. However, you haven’t noticed anything and the accused worker is performing their job well. With other things on your mind, you decide taking that worker aside and talking to them isn’t very necessary. However, things take a dive when the senior employee quits without notice. Again you’re pushing things aside and getting other employees to pick up the gauntlet and carry on with little to no notice.
And then disaster really strikes when a fire starts within the office which has now ground everything to a halt. It was caused by too many plugs and extension cords plugged into the wall. To make sure that doesn’t happen again you make some changes… the same changes a junior employee recommended some weeks before. However because he was describing something that could happen rather than something that did happen, you didn’t think much of it at the time. Now you’re half an office down with several assessments and reports to make as a result of the accident.
Welcome to “reactive management,” aka firefighting.
Reactive Management (And Why Something Bad Happens)
Sometimes reactive management is necessary, such as in a crisis situation. But it creates problems within a business when it becomes the norm. Reactive change management happens when you don’t have time to plan or ignore “issues” in the workplace. This leads to problems that seem to hit from out of the blue, forcing you to react as they occur.
Living in constant firefighting mode is stressful, inefficient, and expensive (it costs more to solve problems as opposed to preventing them). It results in lower quality work and higher turnover. Furthermore where health, safety, and employee wellbeing is concerned, reactive management could make you liable to legal repercussions or lawsuits.
Proactive Management (And Why Something Good Happens)
Proactive change management occurs when managers initiate the change from within, and plan ahead to avoid or manage future problems. The benefits of living in a proactively managed world are pretty much the flip side of living reactively. You experience reduced stress, greater efficiency, and lower costs. As an example, you can choose to look for POS systems (such as those provided by Revel Systems) that can streamline your business operations by taking care of inventory, online ordering, and even customer relationship management. In addition, with such changes, you can reduce turnover risk and see increased ease of adoption because your staff knows why the change is happening and what to expect.
How to Make the Change
You’ve seen the light, and you’re ready to switch from reactive to proactive management. How do you go about it?
- Step 1: Communicate. We’re creatures of habit. That’s why we order the same dishes at the same restaurants, and shop in the same stores. Change is uncomfortable. And scary. The most important thing a manager can do to proactively manage a period of change is to communicate directly and honestly with staff. Let them know the rationale behind your organization’s new direction, and allow them to express their concerns. Once they feel heard, and understand their jobs are safe, adoption flows much easier.
- Step 2: Assess. Proactive assessments of your employee’s conduct, the workplace, and procedures are essential in spotting issues before they become problems. When you do spot an issue, always take action in resolving it swiftly and properly. For example, having UK ISO approved safety signage put up where a risk assessment has shown that current signage is inadequate.
- Step 3: Find More Time. When you’re trapped in firefighting mode, the only way to break free is to find more time so you can proactively plan. Do this by delaying non-critical duties. Then prioritize and focus only on your most critical responsibilities. Budget a block of time as a buffer to deal with unexpected problems when they arise. Review and streamline your processes, because dysfunctional processes create and exacerbate those reactive situations you’re trying to avoid.
- Step 4: Boost Morale. Your teams endure incredible stress when in a reactive environment. Acknowledge this! And then let your people know your plans for resolving it. Remember to say “thank you” for completed tasks, and celebrate small wins.
Breaking free of the vicious cycle of reactive change management is a challenge. But by regularly communicating and encouraging your staff, and creating time to plan, you can transition from a reactive to proactive environment where change is embraced as a positive thing.
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