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The importance of Proactivity, Reactivity and Data

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The word “proactive” seems to be in increasing use within the business world, and “proactivity” is often seen as must-have attribute of any serious business leader.  By being proactive, a leader can foresee potential future problems, avoid them, and be one step ahead of their reactive competitors.  It is often suggested that reactivity is somehow inferior to proactivity, as if the two are at opposite ends of the spectrum with there being absolutely no middle ground.


However, can any business leader be truly proactive?  Can they really foresee every single environmental change that is going to affect their industry, their customers, and their organisation?


For me, the argument shouldn’t be whether an organisation should act proactively or reactively.  I believe the two mind-sets are completely compatible and complimentary, and it is those organisations that manage to marry the two together that can be truly successful.  An organisation needs the ability to be able to look ahead and predict changes to its environment, whilst also effectively and efficiently reacting to unanticipated and unexpected changes, as well as unexpected opportunities.


The importance of data


Woman practicing Tae Kwan Doe kic
It's important to be able to react to the current environment, as well as forecast the future environment

The key starting point for any organisation, irrespective of whether they need to be proactive or reactive, is an accurate and extensive understanding of their current operations and their current (and any future desired) market environment.  In many organisations, this view can be hard to find.  This can lead to delays in decision-making which ultimately are detrimental to the organisation itself.


One key differentiator is data.  Organisations that have carefully defined key metrics and key performance indicators, and that collect the right data as part of their ongoing operations are much more likely to be able to spot strategic opportunities, problems and threats.  By having access to the right data, the organisation can be reactive when necessary, but can also spot future potential trends and act proactively when appropriate.


This is of particular importance to mid-size organisations that are successfully growing.  Perhaps in the past, it hasn’t been necessary to formally collect, store and analyse this type of data, because it has been under the effective control of one or two key individuals.  However, as organisations grow, this type of data becomes more and more important to more and more people, and making it available on demand becomes imperative.


There are many considerations that growing and mid-size businesses will want to take into account.  Three particularly important considerations are listed below.


 1. Collect the right data:  As I outlined in my previous article, collecting the wrong data can give an inaccurate view and drive the wrong behaviours.  Organisations that take time to define their KPIs well will reap benefits.


2. Embed data collection into process:  The best way to collect data is passively.  Whenever an individual operator has to do something above and beyond their normal workload to collect data, you’ll get anomalous results.  Make collecting data as painless as possible.


3. Make meaningful data available to those that need it, when they need it:  Decision makers will need timely access to the “fresh” figures.  Whichever solution you implement (be it manual, light-weight or full-blown) make sure that you’re able to satisfy these needs.



Timely access to relevant data is important for all organisations. Done well, it’ll provide real strategic insight.  Organisations that ignore their data are likely to be heading for trouble!


I hope you’ve found this article useful.  What is your view on proactivity, reactivity and data?  I’d love to hear from you – please add a comment below.



This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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