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Understanding Proactive and Reactive Management Styles With Examples

Understanding Proactive and Reactive Management Styles
Proactive and reactive strategies differ in the way they tackle management problems and their approach towards planning. Workspirited gives a comparison between proactive vs. reactive techniques for business management, along with their definitions, characteristics, and some examples.
Akshay Chavan
Last Updated: Mar 10, 2018
Did You Know?
Software giants Compaq and IBM are both proactive success stories.
On the surface, there is not much similarity between a business organization and a school classroom. However, successfully handling both requires a similar strategy. A company has to complete its projects while achieving its objectives, and, at the same time stay ahead of its competitors. These projects may deliver a new product, improve an existing one, or fulfill some other purpose. To complete these projects, several teams work in collaboration with each other. Needless to say, problems can arise at any stage.

In the same way, handling a class full of students and completing lessons on time is nothing short of a project for a teacher. The main problem that may hinder this project is the discipline issues among students. Management strategies can be a useful tool in resolving both, classroom and organizational problems. Two of the most popular strategies in this regard are proactive and reactive management. Let us now understand the difference between proactive vs. reactive management.
Proactive Management
Proactive management is a strategy that believes in planning for the future, and recognizing and preventing any potential problems before they arise. It believes in envisioning the future, and working towards achieving it.
Characteristics of a Proactive Organization
  • Workplace practices are continuously reviewed for improvement.
  • Both, short and long-term planning is carried out, along with contingency preparation to help tackle negative developments.
  • Any problem is approached rationally, and logical decisions are taken, rather than quick responses.
  • The manager looks forward to involving all his team members in decision-making.
  • Employees are encouraged to have an innovative mindset.
  • A detailed documentation is maintained, including the minutes of every meeting, and responsibilities of every employee.
  • Roles and responsibilities are well-divided, which prevents territorial disputes among different teams or members.
  • A proactive organization tries to attract customers, without assuming that it will automatically be their first choice.
  • Markets are continuously analyzed, and polls are carried out.
  • There is close cooperation between the technical and marketing departments to identify new opportunities.
● Avoiding problems is easier than tackling them.
● It improves productivity, efficiency, and the quality of the final product.
● Employees feel that their opinion matters, leading to job satisfaction.
● High level of customer satisfaction.
● Planning a project in advance requires more time.
● Every single problem cannot be averted in advance.
Reactive Management
Reactive management is a strategy in which problems are dealt with after they arise, without planning for the long run.
Characteristics of a Reactive Organization
  • Planning for the future is considered a waste of time.
  • The only planning carried out is regarding a particular crisis, and the direction of the project is not analyzed.
  • Senior leadership shows a dictatorial attitude, and reserves all decisions to itself, which are simply conveyed to all employees.
  • Any innovative idea is viewed with suspicion.
  • All problems are approached with instinct or gut feeling, rather than careful analysis.
  • Team members are often shifted from their earlier task to handle an emerging crisis, leading to a stressful atmosphere.
  • Such managers usually do not maintain documentation, resulting in disputes regarding responsibilities, and absenteeism in meetings when employees are not informed.
  • A reactive organization usually takes no steps to draw old customers, instead assuming that they will be attracted by their existing relationship.
● Managers with a reactive approach show good problem-solving or 'firefighting' skills.
● They defend their team members and their performance against criticism.
● Project objectives and deadlines are often not met, and budgets are exceeded.
● The final product is often of poor quality, and so is customer satisfaction and the company's reputation.
● Resources for different tasks are not properly allocated.
● Communication between managers and team is poor, leading to frustration and rumors.
● Valuable time is lost in analyzing a problem once it emerges, rather than preventing it in advance.
● Employees may feel good leadership is lacking.
Which is Better?
Given the advantages of a proactive strategy, it comes as no wonder that it is followed by most successful businesses. Planning for the future allows organizations to prevent problems and meet their customers' expectations, without exceeding deadlines or budgets. Often, the only time that a reactive organization comes to know of a problem is when its customers come up with complaints, or employees complain about their working conditions. During such times, it is often quite late to remedy the situation, as some customers may change their service provider without conveying their problems to the organization, and may suggest other customers to do the same. However, in some cases, a combination of both, proactive and reactive styles may be necessary.

The following examples highlight the differences between a proactive and reactive approach to the management of different situations.
Situation: At an IT organization, an employee's computer or tablet malfunctions.
Reactive Approach: Since the situation is not anticipated, the employee is laid-off work for the day, leading to a loss in productivity.
Proactive Approach: A new device is arranged for the employee, and all other devices are supplied with the required software and maintenance to prevent similar occurrences in future.
Situation: A hotel employee gets news that more people from a particular country want to travel with their pets.
Reactive Approach: The hotel takes no action, until repeated requests from guests to provide accommodation to their pets.
Proactive Approach: The hotel reserves certain rooms for such guests, and advertises this service even before the guests arrive. Moreover, their feedback is taken to make further improvements.
Situation: Competitors of a particular organization lower the prices of their product.
Reactive Approach: The organization immediately lowers its own prices to fight its competition, and is hence forced to lay off some employees to reduce costs.
Proactive Approach:? Rather than a sudden response, the organization analyzes the situation, and improves its after-sales services without reducing its prices.
It's worthwhile to understand the effect a manager's strategy can have on his team. Most employees tend to learn from their managers. So, a manager that follows a proactive strategy can benefit the whole organization by teaching his team members to plan in advance and make rational decisions.
Blackboard Proactive