On Proactivity and Proactive Way
How often have You typed or read that word: “proactive”? It is a really common one, but I do not feel it is correctly understood. Let us review it in job descriptions. Here is the first text right from Google:
The Proactive Engineer is responsible for proactively providing remote monitoring and management (RMM) of client IT infrastructure’s while providing prompt, courteous support service.
So, what does “proactive” mean here and what is the difference between “proactive monitoring” and usual one?
If I were the one to write down such sentence, I would mean something like:
If your monitoring shows something, do not wait till I notice that same thing and push you to fix it or take whatever action required. You should know what to do — and do it.
It is like imagining that the thing you monitor is your own one, and you would never want it to be down, unresponsive or in any other bad condition.
So, what should proactive engineer do, to be truly proactive? Well, at first I would expect a whole lot of questions to be asked:
— What does this yellow circle mean?
— Can we put a timer here?
— What if I restart just this one thing?
I call this period “diving deep”. The fun thing is, that for many people, there are weeks or even years, until “diving deep” even starts. Alternatively, in some places, you never “dive deep”. You just ask nice questions, do a thing or two and get another working area.
The next thing
The next thing is, he sholud get into the business:
— We would need a new disk drive in around a week here. I’ve sent an email.
— This thing is not backed up. We lost some data last week and last month already. I am asking for new backup service.
— If only I had this thing logged, I could see a real reason for an issue.
All in all, do you think we are still “proactive”? I would say, yes.
Here is what happens after the “deep dive”: its outcomes turn into pure experience, that we posess. Now, in most cases, it depends on person’s internal (guess what?) proactivity—to go with you or to stay. I have seen numerous times people being in “post-deep-dive depression”, which, displays itself as a state of mood, when you know what to do, but just keep calm, since you have done that a thousand of times and have already been in, virtually, any possible situation, that might happen:
— Just call Mike, he’s the only one who can do it.
— Cheapest drives are here. Buy three, just in case.
— The won’t increase backup storage space. Don’t bother knocking their emails.
This is definitely not “proactive”. On the other hand, your internal proactivity might lead to giving up such an occupation and find out some other place, where you could “get into the business” and “dive deep”. What could be the proactive way? It turns to me, that a person should once again “get to know”, but this time on a whole new level:
— That junior, John, could I ask him to buy some drives? I could improve X during that time.
— We could get add the following requirement. A and B could probably even pay for it.
Does this look proactive enough? I would say a big “yes”.
Try to always figure out: are you in “get to know” or “dive deep” position? Should you ask questions or provide ideas? And, at any time, should you stay calm for at least an hour — that is not proactive.
Also, a simple-stupid side note: all real and important things happen in-between you taking those proactive decisions. It happens, while you actually do those proactive things. You may sometimes miss but you will hit at least once, which is a big win. So, do not spend much time on being proactive, just pick the best thing and do it.
Higher Level Takeout
Are you the one, who asked for a proactive engineer? The one who typed that word, without actually figuring out, what you expect? Here is a Wikipedia definition for you:
Proactivity or proactive behavior by individuals refers to anticipatory, change-oriented and self-initiated behavior in situations. Proactive behavior involves acting in advance of a future situation, rather than just reacting. It means taking control and making things happen rather than just adjusting to a situation or waiting for something to happen. Proactive employees generally do not need to be asked to act, nor do they require detailed instructions.
— Looks good, just hire some proactive people and they will get things done!
You are responsible for making sure, each one you asked to be proactive, has a chance to be proactive. You received that responsibility, when you typed the word. You should transfer your understanding and vision to them, make sure all “get to know” questions are answered and all ideas from “deep diving” are reviewed. You should also know, what to do with them in “post-deep-dive” period (no advice here). And keep in mind: they are not proactive for you, they are generally proactive, they want and will be.