How to Deal with the Reactive Versus Proactive Dilemma?


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A reactive style, whether personal or business wide, is a reasonable choice for organizing activities. The main idea behind this style is that the agent waits for a trigger before acting. Such a method is quite “safe" because resources are “saved" until they are really needed. However, it could also become more expensive to wait for the last minute.

A personal example: Your drivers license is due to end, but you wait until the last moment to renew it. It’s most probable that, at the moment you want to renew it you are more occupied with work than you normally are you won’t be able to select the most suitable day to change the license.

A business example: You postpone the order to the supplier until your clients have ordered your product. When this happens, the clients wants you product as soon as possible and you have to request an express delivery in order to deliver on time.

Or. In a call center you have reserved seats for incoming calls. These are hard to plan and will lead to inefficient occupation. On the other hand, outbound calls which are proactively initiated can easily be planned and therefore more efficient to organize.

Somewhere in the middle is the holiday planning. If you wait until the last moment – the trigger: “now I’m off, ” you will find only a few possibilities, because most hotels are fully booked.

In a reactive mode you are saving your current money and you wait for a positive business event to do the purchase or investment. This means that you save money most of the time, because of the postponed “investment. ” This will bring you a positive interest. You do not know when the trigger shows up, nor how much time you have when it does. But often you have to pay more (the express costs) to fulfill the activity when triggered. This will not balance the interest payment that you receive while postponing the order.

The (main) advantage is: You save current money. The (main) disadvantage is: It is most probable that you have to pay more than initially saved when the action is triggered and you may loose the business when you are too late.

When is this really a problem? If we look at the “express” business (postal, package delivery, etc) there is enough business going on that is organized in a reactive-mode. Just-in-time production is reactive and may function very well.

If your business is focused on servicing than a proactive approach will be more adequate in most cases.

© 2007 Hans Bool

Hans Bool writes articles about management, culture and change. If you are interested to read or experience more about these topics have a look at: Astor White or sign-up for our newsletter .


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