First look, then act


One thing that strikes me when trying to make my way through traffic in Addis Ababa is that many drivers make moves without looking first whether it is safe to do so. Only a couple of days ago I witnessed an accident, whereby a car, driving in the right lane of the road, all of a sudden made a sharp turn to the left to make a U-turn. Had he looked into his side mirror first, the driver would have noticed the car just overtaking him on the left and he would have waited. The result was a nasty crash as the reader can imagine. Cars suddenly join the road without seeing whether there is a gap to do so, turn anywhere, anytime. We just don’t seem to be able to anticipate what the consequences of certain and sudden moves may have. Otherwise, we would think twice. I notice the same with many other things we do. Before we look and think, we have already done it and most likely done it wrong or damaged something. I leave it up to the reader to fill in numerous examples. And when the damage is done, we cry wolf! It is always somebody or something else to blame. Not so. Look ahead, think twice and then take action is a good habit instead.
Looking ahead is having a vision, looking around and seeing something that may happen in the future. Having a vision is followed by actions that make us realise that vision. In driving a car during rush hour, this means, constantly checking other traffic around us and steering the vehicle through busy traffic in a safe way, adjusting speed and direction as we move on and without causing danger or damage to other road users. It is a matter of looking ahead and adjusting our actions accordingly. In other words, being pro-active.
In business, all activities we do are also all done to realise the vision of the company. If you have no clear vision for your business, chances are that you will not be successful. In trying to achieve your vision it is also important that certain values are adhered to. Here it becomes now tricky though. Because the corporate values may be clear to the business owner or the board of directors, that does not at all mean that they are understood, let alone internalised by the employees. And where this is not so, performance of workers may be disappointing, not contributing to achieving results and sometimes even be counterproductive. This in its turn will lead to much frustration for the business owner, who just cannot understand the behaviour of the workers and has run out of ideas to motivate them. As a result, the company is not effective in achieving its results. For a company to be effective it is important that the goals and values are shared and internalised by all staff and time and energy needs to be invested in this by management. But this is not all that needs to be done. Subscribing to the corporate values helps but is not enough to become effective. To be effective requires being proactive and that is what most people are not, also not in Ethiopia. Most people here are reactive. They react to what is coming their way. They don’t plan ahead and blame others for things gone wrong. They say: “I don’t have time.” They are busy repairing the damage that has been done and they are constantly in the crisis management mode.
Proactive people on the other hand plan ahead and take responsibility. They say: “How can I help?” They prevent problems from happening and set the right priorities. Reactive people allow circumstances to dictate their agenda while proactive people set the agenda. And they do that using their personal values as a point of departure. To take it a step further, for employees to be effective in their work it is important that there is a match between their personal and the corporate values. Where there is no such match, workers will not make significant contributions to corporate effectiveness.
Yes, somebody with an accounting diploma or degree can work in any company or organization. But whether or not (s)he will make significant effective contributions depends on how excited that accountant is about the products that the company makes and in how far (s)he subscribes to the corporate values. If “high quality” is one of the corporate values then delivering high quality and timely financial reports to management will be expected. If a company says that it esteems its customers, then the sales persons are expected to be polite and give competent advice to the clients.
In conclusion I’d like to suggest that next time you need to hire somebody, you take values and potential to be proactive into consideration. And for those who want to become more proactive in their work, complete the following exercise:
Define your personal values.
Do they match the corporate values?
What can you do to increase the match between your personal and the corporate values?
In which areas of your work can you become more proactive and thus more effective?
Write this down and share with management.
Agree on a time frame to evaluate progress.

Ton Haverkort