In interactions with clients in workshops and coaching recently I have
seen a number of instances of people, very intelligent and lovely people I might add, procrastinating.
I am also certain that most of the time they don’t even realise they are doing it!
Recognising passive activity
I pick it up in the way they describe their activity (or lack of it). Typical conversation goes along the lines of
Them: ‘I realise I need to address this issue’
Me: ‘So what have you actually done so far?’
Them: ‘Well things have been busy but I am going to talk to Tom soon’
Me: ‘When exactly are you talking to Tom?’
Them: ‘Well I am waiting for him to let me know when he is free for a chat’
This passive activity is not moving things forward yet people convince themselves it is!
Similarly, when someone sends you an email that requires you to act but you need some further clarification, you let it languish in your inbox. Then when you can ignore it no longer, instead of picking up the phone, getting clarity and even giving a response there and then, you send another email asking for the clarity (and convincing yourself you are now being proactive). That email lands at the bottom of the other persons ‘to do’ pile and sits there languishing some more.
You could pick up the phone or walk over to their desk and prompt them, but you don’t, you convince yourself it is no longer in your control. So you wait for a response and tell anyone who asks that the issue is being held up elsewhere.
This is passive activity at its best!
Taking responsibility and making things happen
In his book ‘Who says Elephants can’t dance’ Louis V. Gerstner Jr expressed his frustration when he took over IBM, at the organisations tolerance of a ’failure to execute’. As he put it ‘I’m looking for people who make things happen, not who watch and debate things happening;.
What I am talking about here is being proactive. Being proactive is the first of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits and he elaborates....
‘As human beings we are responsible for our own lives…we have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen’.
With this in mind I do wonder how many of our employees see proactivity as merely a something they can ‘choose to do’ rather than having a ‘responsibility to do it’ for their organisation?
Why does proactivity matter?
If an organisation is to be successful and fight its corner in the market place it needs its people to be proactive. This is because proactive people take responsibility for making things happen, they drive through a flow of activity to achieve specific results rather than taking each individual action as an outcome in itself. Proactive people are flexible, adaptable and focus on continually improving their organisation. They not only move things forward at pace but they delve down into finding out what the business really needs, rather than just blindly doing what they are being asked to do.
In contrast, passive activity means that the organisation may never maximize it’s potential because action is postponed, delayed or circumvented until it’s absolutely necessary. Sadly perhaps, by then it is too late and your competitors have already driven up their share of the market place. Passive or reactive people respond to situations and do what others tell them to do. They focus on the next move of the chess piece rather than winning the entire game. They often fail to explore why something is wanted, or even if it is indeed needed, so resources get invested (and wasted) in doing the wrong things.
Spotting passive activity in the workplace
So how do you recognise what sort of culture is in place in your organisation?
Well passive and reactive language often reflects a ‘victim’ mentality. People are heard saying ‘I have to do this…’, ’I’ll try to fit it in’, ‘I can’t do that’, ‘it is just how it is here’, ‘that is not allowed..’, ‘I’m not sure’, ‘it is on my to do list’, ‘I sent an email last week’, ‘I am waiting for a response from…’, ‘Yes but…’ and so on.
In contrast, proactive language reflects an ‘action’ mentality. People are heard saying ‘I did’, ‘I can’, ‘I will’, ‘I choose to’, ‘I’ll find out’, ‘I am on it’, ‘consider it done’, ‘Yes and….we can also do this’.
If you hear yourself using reactive or passive language it may be time to put a rocket up your own backside and role model the behaviour your organisation needs. In other words instead of saying ‘I can’t’, ask yourself ‘how can I..’ then just do it!