Seven Steps to Being Proactive: Lessons from Great Explorers

by Michael Haberman on April 30, 2010 · 0 comments


HR folks often complain about how they have to spend all their time being “reactive” and have little opportunity to be “proactive.” Ever heard that? Ever said that? Yeah, right me neither (said with tongue-in-cheek.) SHRM has addressed that in the SPHR educational section of the learning system. They talk about the importance of being forward thinking and aware by being an “environmental scanner”.

I  have always had a big interest in both the past and future. I read alot of history and biographies and I also read alot about the future. I was a big fan of John Naisbitt’s  Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, Megatrends 2000 and Peter Capezio’s Powerful Planning Skills: Envisioning the Future and Making it Happen. I am currently reading a book called Futuring: The Exploration of the Future by Edward Cornish. In his first chapter I was able to find a lesson that I thought was very applicable to strategic HR. He talked about the seven lessons we can learn from the great explorers of the past. These lessons include:

  1. Prepare for what you will face in the future. There was never a successful explorer who did not sit down and make a list of what needed to be taken and prepared. Any explorer who did not do this preparation was not famous. They were dead. You cannot have a “we will cross that bridge when we get to it” attitude in HR.
  2. Anticipate future needs. This is implied by lesson 1. You cannot predict the future, but you can anticipate it. You can review scenarios and determine what is likely to occur. So if you are going to drastically change a process, or benefit program, or staffing think about what all the possible reactions may be and prepare for them.
  3. Use poor information when necessary. There may not be a good or perfect “road map” for where you are headed to, but someone has probably tried it already. They may have failed, but at least you have some information on which to base your decisions. Perhaps under a different set of circumstances you had tried to do something in the past and failed. You will not want to recreate that but at least there is the beginning of a “map” you can work with.
  4. Expect the Unexpected. Realize that “the best laid plans of men oft go awry”. Have a contingency for dealing with something occurring that you had not planned for. What do you do if the company outing you had been planning for six months is to occur the same day a tornado occurs?
  5. Think long term as well as short term. Often projects, programs, and changes may get delayed, tabled or even cancelled in the short term. What can you do to foster your long term plans until a more favorable set of circumstances occurs?
  6. Dream productively. This is your vision. But is not just fantasizing. Great explorers are doers. As Cornish says “For the great explorers, dreaming was not idle reverie but research- a mental exploration of what lay ahead. By fantasizing about future events, they could explore alternative goals and strategies and thus develop and select worthwhile and achievable goals, as well as imaginative but realistic strategies for reaching the goals they selected.”
  7. Learn from your predecessors. Read what you can that has been published by others who have attempted what you want to attempt. It is doubtful that you will be the first that has ever attempted what you want to do. (Most of us are not that brave.) But even if you are there may still be someone who may have done something similar that your can learn from. Remember the saying “those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.”

There you go. Seven Steps to being proactive. Lessons we have learned from the great explorers. Follow their lead and you may lead your company to great things.

Be sure to document along the way so others may follow your foot steps as some point.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Anonymous April 30, 2010 at 10:16 am

3 years ago, tornado the week before our picnic. 300 trees down, damage to pavillion, and the park closed. So, we changed the date to a later time and went to a minor league baseball game instead, with dinner served and prizes given by drawing instead of playing bingo, which we always did. Forced us into a new experience, and it worked out great.

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