My Proposal To Increase Proactiveness

When I was in my mid-20s I had a fear of flying. This wasn’t a mild anxiety about travelling by plane, but a full-blown, can’t-breathe-can’t-sleep-for-five-days-before-flying-I’m-going-to-die-get-me-out-of-here-now! level of fear that meant that, for five years, I managed to avoid air travel altogether.

My long-suffering girlfriend, sick of car-based holidays, finally had enough and suggested that we fly to the Mediterranean for our fortnight away. And I, being the man of the house, sheepishly agreed.

My palms started to sweat about a week before we were due to fly, and by the time I reached Luton Airport’s departure lounge I was nothing short of a quivering wreck. Half a dozen gin and tonics helped to numb the fear a bit, but as my mind raced a mile a minute, I turned to my girlfriend and asked her to marry me.

It took me until I believed I was about to die before I made, as it’s turned out, one of the best decisions of my life.

I’m not alone in making the right decision at the last possible moment. Many businesses wait until the situation is critical before trying to make necessary changes. BA, for example, has waited for ten years or so before making the changes to its working practices and cost base that has been demanded by competition from both Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic.

Sometimes these crisis-led decisions work out well. In the early 1990s Asdaappointed Archie Norman as CEO when the company was in real trouble (and ITV have made a similar move by recently appointing him Chairman) , and he managed to turn the company around through a series of bold steps, such as the development of the George clothing brand (now the UK’s #1 brand) as a key differentiator against other supermarkets.

But, crisis-led decisions don’t always work out. Eighteen months ago many of our leading banks were far too late in reducing their exposure to high-risk loans, and it’s far from certain that BA will survive its current difficulties intact.

Waiting until the situation is critical before making big changes means that you end up reacting to events, not leading them. Market leaders sustain their position by proactively making bold moves to take their business forward.

Tesco, for example, has systematically made proactive moves into new markets, both geographical (e.g. China and the USA) and commercial (e.g. its new banking business).

Here are five ways in which you can help your organisation become more proactive.

  1. Ensure you have strategic clarity and focus. A clear, focused strategy guides the ongoing decisions and actions of an organisation and its people. Like a magnet being waved over iron filings, it helps point everyone in the same direction.
  2. Embed a systematic approach to innovation. Strategic advances are made through innovation, not problem solving. Resolving problems is about dealing with the past, not the future. Problem solving may help you restore performance to previous levels, but it will not dramatically improve your strategic position.
  3. Exploit new opportunities to drive proactive change. Steve Jobs used the development of iTunes to drive radical change in Apple. The company is now in the communications, media and entertainment industries as much as it’s in the computer industry, and that has been delivered through a series of conscious, proactive decisions rather than through reactive steps.
  4. Seek external challenge and perspective. Organisations often need an external perspective to help identify their real issues. Some CEOsbring in a stream of senior external executives, others have particularly strong relationships with certain consultants, trusted mentors and peers, and many spend significant amounts of time with their customers.
  5. Raise the bar continuously. There is a danger of setting performance goals: you might achieve them! And when you do reach your goals, what next? The best companies know that all goals are stepping-stones, not a final destination.


To find out more contact Stuart by clicking here or call +44-(0)1636-526111.