5 ways to take the initiative right now

Being proactive is an increasingly valuable workplace trait.
5 ways to take the initiative right now

It has been a long time since employees could simply carry out the tasks listed on their job descriptions and still be considered great performers. In today’s competitive work environment, financial managers are expected to be proactive and energetic, and to go above and beyond. That is, they take the initiative in determining how to do their jobs better, and how those around them can do the same, in the quest to improve processes and overall performance.

FM magazine asked business coaches around the world for recommendations on how workers can be more proactive.

Suggest new ideas

“It may not be your job to find ways to improve the business, but the mark of a true leader is stepping up and offering ideas,” said Donna Stone, a Brisbane, Australia-based business coach. “If you see something isn’t working well or could work better, rather than staying silent — or worse, complaining — step up and offer some ideas for improvement.”

While that might sound like a tall order, consider your own position. Surely there are processes and systems you work with daily that could use some improvement — operations that could be streamlined or administrative procedures that could be more efficient. Employees with practical experience are often the most knowledgeable about what works and what doesn’t, and that information is valuable. Even if your ideas are not acted on immediately, they will likely be favourably received and noted.

Offer to do more

Rather than chatting with co-workers or browsing the internet when work is slow, consider asking your supervisor how you can assist them. Better yet, make their life still easier by suggesting what you might do to help out or even anticipating their needs. “This may well increase your workload, but it also means you’ll potentially get more interesting tasks,” Stone said.

Be a team player

These days, “team player” is a ubiquitous term for someone who can work well with others. But a genuine team player is like an athlete on a sports squad: He or she is invested in the group’s success, rather than their own. “It’s about being of use to others — having a focus on ‘What can I do for the company I’m in?’” said Raghav Parkash, a London-based coach and consultant. That could mean mentoring a colleague or stepping in to help a struggling co-worker.

To get there, Parkash suggests closely observing the company environment to discern its blind spots. That may force you to flex your interpersonal muscles. “Focus on understanding the people you work with and building relationships,” Parkash said. After all, once you know your colleagues better, you can see their needs — and ways to help them — more clearly.

However, Mariko Saigo, a business coach in Tokyo, cautions workers to be mindful of cultural differences. In some regions, employees are comfortable with motives and plans being stated clearly and vocally, while in other cultures, they may be more reserved and unaccustomed to such direct speaking. For example, she said, “In the UK and the US, leaders are more vocal. In Japan, you need to observe first and read the atmosphere before you take the initiative.”

Ask for feedback

This is not for the faint of heart, but if you really want to do your job better, consider asking a supervisor for feedback about your performance. “You might ask, ‘What are the capabilities and competencies that I need to strengthen?’ You could also say, ‘I might have some blind spots and would love some feedback,’” suggested Brian Newman, a Hong Kong-based business coach.

Those queries take bravery, but they can pay off. Asking for assistance, being open to criticism, and demonstrating that you value a supervisor’s opinion can all help in forging a strong bond. “Good managers will be inspired and delighted at [your] desire to improve,” Newman said.

Upgrade your skills

Once you know where your weak spots lie, figure out how to address them. That could be as specific as learning a new computer program that you have shied away from, or be more amorphous and internal — spending time trying to understand habits and tendencies that undermine your performance, for instance. And frequently it might mean signing up for courses, certifications, or degrees that will bolster your credentials and ability to do your job effectively.

“Being willing to take on training, further education, and skill improvement tells an employer that you believe in yourself and will help them believe in you more,” Stone said. “It says you want to improve, learn, and grow” — and those are traits that just about any good employer will welcome.

Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at