“We will cross the bridge when it comes”. Often we have heard this phrase from the Senior Executives in industries, from business Leaders, Educationists who plan strategies, Captains and Coaches of the sporting teams, Managers, In-charges etc when pushed to the wall by relentless questioning about what shall they do under certain problematic circumstances.
Expressing this famous phrase (‘we will cross the bridge when it comes’) indicates that the decision maker either does not want to divulge his strategy any further to the person wanting to enquire or he does not have one and would decide at the nick of the time as and what the situation demands. On most occasions it is the latter which is true and that can be ascertained quite easily through the face expressions and, or body language of the person making the statement. It is quite fair to say so when the strategist appears to have resigned to fate and said this as the last option when the series of his/her plans could not actually deliver as desired. But it is not always quite fair if there is no particular strategy, no specific procedure, no time bound scheme at all and the thought kept in mind is that we shall do what the situation demands at that moment.
For most people this itself is a strategy, a method of management, a procedure they would like to follow under all circumstances by which they react to the problem on seeing it, formulate an instant solution, get into all sorts of hurry and implement it quickly. This is what we all call as Reactive Management style. When someone is reactive he/she behaves in response to what happens at that particular moment. On most occasions in life outside our offices we all do so repeatedly. We react to situations, we respond to prevailing conditions, we act on the spot, we operate as per the setting or we function depending upon the state of affairs. In other words when we follow reactive management method we wait for the event to show its ugly face and then we jump at the situation, invent a solution and then try to bury the event as it props up.
There is little doubt that this requires speed, agility, suppleness and a compulsion if not desire to win the situation under all conditions. People following the style of reactive management often develop the ability to think ‘out of box’, decide at the spot and get into the act quickly. They become innovative and bring into practice the solutions which have never been heard of before. They hardly worry about the cost factor. They invent solutions at the location. They dig wells when water is required. Truly speaking this is somewhat desirable in today’s Managers. It shows their capability to act on the situation, ability to catch the problem by the scruff of its neck and manage it somehow. But if it becomes a routine, a practice, a methodology to display their skills to handle war like situations then obviously it should become a cause for concern. At the same time reactive management style also carries the risk that the problem buried instantly behaves like a jet of water and erupts somewhere else in greater force and in oblivion to the set of people who grounded it earlier. The ball forced in the other court may boomerang anytime; it may catch the decision maker at the wrong foot. A disorder somehow adjusted instantly might carry some undetected symptoms which initially go away as such, but return with more complex disease. The habit of injecting strong doze of antibiotics (immediate reactive actions) in every small illness (business issues, troubles) can injure the body (business) completely in no time and drain out the finances. A normal business issue should not be allowed to become critical for the sake of displaying reactive management skills to solve it.
Reactive management skill is however sure to make most of the bosses happy, particularly the ones who head businesses not running in a professional manner. Such instant happiness could be a result of the method of upbringing of most of us. Nobody wants complications and most of us refrain from taking interest in the methods our subordinates apply for solving the problems. We believe in ‘All is well that ends well’ and seem to be busy elsewhere when someone tries to explain the hurdles encountered in the process of achieving the desired result. We often tend to be ‘Happy go lucky’ type. In short we ourselves promote reactive management style to our subordinates when we do not sit with them with alternate set of procedures and / or as an option we give them the liberty of doing anything unethical or immoral to get rid of a biting issue. Under such circumstances we often fail to realize the cost implication when a business problem which is assumed to be satisfactorily slaughtered by us in the past, returns with a different face and larger in size.
What should we do then?
There is other side of the each coin. Predictive management style is the other side of the coin here. If Reactive management is a skill which most of us develop automatically with experience, the Predictive management skills needs time, efforts and most importantly practice.
What is Predictive management? It is skill of curtailing the problems which might require Reactive management skills to get rid of them at a later stage. Predictive management involves futuristic thinking and developing strategies to simply prevent occurrence of issues which otherwise could grow strong with time and then require to be slaughtered cruelly rather then wiping them off tenderly without causing distress and pain. Incidentally Predictive management skills require deep study of the Reactive management methods applied earlier on similar issues. It requires root cause analysis even when a problem is solved using reactive management skill. What was the origin of the problem? How was it caused? What could have been done to prevent it altogether? What had to be done to erase it out? Was it expunged finally? Prudent answers to these questions if thought scientifically and discussed proactively with the actual sufferers of that problem can help us in developing solutions which will atleast impede that problem if not totally prevent it from occurring again.
Predictive management is a style of management with scientific approach. It combines the procedures used in the past, gives an outline for modus operandi, prepares the plot for action, indicates about our past shortcomings in dealing with that situation, enables us to judge the entire scenario logically and then provides us with set of alternative solutions for the changed circumstances.
This style of management has to be evolved with experience. It has to be developed like a habit. Deep rooted thinking is a necessity for developing the habit of Predictive management style. It is quite easy in hindsight to say what could have been done to avoid a situation which had to be subjected to a reactive management method in absence of a relevant scheme to handle it. Predictive management style is as necessary as Reactive management style, rather more important than it to run a business successfully for a long term.
Why do we have to wait for an unpleasant situation where applying reactive management skill remains the only solution? When this question begins to gyrate in our minds during our ‘Thinking Periods’, we can say we are gradually moving towards attaining the habit of Predictive thinking. When we sincerely want to avoid panicky situations, when we start recognizing the ‘wake up calls’ easily, when we are able to see the warnings behind the actual scene it means we are slowly getting into the mould of predictive management approach.
Predictive management skills are always better but definitely not at the cost of loosing all your skills of Reactive management. The importance of Reactive Management skills cannot be ruled out completely. Businesses will falter more, if reactive management skills are given a back seat but at the same time business might cease to flourish if Predictive management skills are not applied intelligently. A virgin situation can be tackled through Reactive management skills but to prevent its repetition in any form Predictive management skills are essential. Both are necessary in business but practicing Predictive management skills is more important than using Reactive management skills as they enable businesses to sustain success successfully for much longer time. Business owners and leaders should avoid encouraging the use of Reactive management skills and at the same time should welcome and applaud the Predictive management skills.