When our clients seek to fill key leadership roles, they turn to us to help them define what success in a given role looks like – and then how to best find the person aligned with that success profile. Through this work, we are continually refining our understanding of success in leadership and our ability to hone in on those capabilities.

One indicator of success that has been popular for some years now is proactivity. Sounds straightforward, but how do we incorporate it in our recruitment efforts?

First, what is proactivity…really?

Google offers 478,000 references to proactivity. The classic Merriam-Webster Dictionary gave what I thought was the most fitting – ‘controlling a situation by making things happen or by preparing’. Of course, this one idea of proactivity can take many faces. In our article, ‘Attributes of success: Views from 11 thought leaders’, proactivity featured strongly via a number of forms such as:

  • Motivation – Daniel Goleman
  • Modelling the way – Kouzes and Posner
  • An unquenchable penchant for action – Verne Harnish (of Rockefeller Habits fame)
  • A focus on self-improvement – Brad Smart (Top Grading founder)
  • Loves helping others – Richard Branson (typical Richard)
  • Energy – Warren Buffet and Jack Welch.

In your organisation, you first need to define proactivity as a behaviour that will bring success in your company and the specific role, aligned with your values. For example, a proactive sales manager could be defined as:

  • Always working a list of strategically important clients that fit the ideal client profile for the company by engaging and developing relationships, or
  • Always working in the field to build the strengths of sales staff by coaching them in real customer situations.

Second, how do we identify it?

Having established the behaviour, you then look for a repeating pattern of that behaviour in your interviewing and subsequent referencing. I remember talking with a referee about a particular sales manager. What they really admired was the way they would always, by the third Wednesday of every month, ensure they had at least six visits with their key strategic targets confirmed for the next month.

In another situation, while interviewing a candidate for a chief financial officer (CFO) role, it came out that they had a passion for presenting facts in a more impactful way to better engage the executive leadership team. The behaviour for ‘proactive’ in this instance was ‘brings information to the leadership team that is meaningful and able to be easily used for making decisions’.

In another case, ‘proactive’ for a general manager was defined as ‘actively develops staff’. One candidate I interviewed made a point of taking at least one of his direct reports each fortnight to meet a strategic customer. This proved beneficial, particularly for non-sales staff who were able to build a clearer understanding of the key issues facing their customers. It also became a coaching session for dealing and interacting with senior client contacts.

Third, can we measure proactivity?

In short, yes. We’ve now developed a test to measure the attributes that make up proactivity. This is a good way to support what you have discovered through your interviewing. We used a combination of literature research, reviews of past successful candidates and consultation with Psytech, our psychological assessment provider. We divided proactivity into three criteria – extraversion, pragmatism and energy – with supporting sub-criteria:

  • Extraversion
    • Empathy
    • Enthusiasm
    • Social boldness
    • Group orientation
  • Pragmatism
    • Hard-headed
    • Concrete
    • Conventional
    • Traditional
  • Energy
    • Enthusiasm
    • Drive
    • Passion

These become measurable indicators in a psychological test and another way to assess this competency and support recruitment in identifying the best cultural fit for a business.

I welcome hearing your views on proactivity and how you identify it in others. If you would like to discuss how you can incorporate our proactivity test in your recruitment, please get in touch with me. If you are simply interested in taking a further look at the test, I would be happy to walk you through it.

Happy recruiting.