From Reactive to Proactive Management

Getting out of "Firefighting" Mode

Reactive Management

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davelogan

Imagine that you're managing two important projects. Project A should be nearly complete, but it's nowhere near done. So, you pull people off Project B to help. 

This project then falls behind, and people make mistakes because they're stretched. When your customer complains, you reallocate team members to address his concerns. A backlog of problems then builds up as your people get to grips with their new tasks. You're forced to put long-term planning aside, so that you can respond to these new problems.

This type of management is called "reactive management," or "firefighting." It's hectic, stressful, and inefficient – but it can sometimes become routine.

In this article, we'll look at reactive management in more detail, and we'll see why it happens. We'll then outline how you can move to a more proactive management style.

What is Reactive Management?

Reactive management refers to a situation in which you can't – or don't – plan ahead for problems or opportunities. Instead, you react to them as they happen. As a result, you're always a step behind. You don't have time to look ahead to pre-empt problems, so they seem to happen "out of the blue."

In contrast, proactive management happens when you plan ahead to avoid or manage problems.

Why Reactive Management Happens

You might be in a reactive state for several reasons. For example:

  • A crisis may have forced you to change or abandon your plans. You need to make short-term decisions to cope with a fast-developing situation.
  • Your organization may have poorly planned processes or policies. You need to spend your time fixing these or working around them, instead of planning for the future.
  • You may find a reactive management style exciting. People can enjoy the "buzz" that goes along with it.

The Problem With Reactive Management

Firefighting is sometimes essential during a rush, or as part of a short period of change. However, it can have serious implications when it becomes the norm.

First, reactive teams are likely to deliver ...

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