The ability to take initiative is becoming increasingly important in today’s workplace. Defined by organisational behaviour researchers Michael Frese and Doris Fay, initiative is “work behaviour characterised by its self-starting nature, its proactive approach, and by being persistent in overcoming difficulties that arise in pursuit of a goal”.
We often observe qualities like proactiveness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity listed on hiring posts. Why is that? These characteristics can demonstrate a willingness to grow, natural leadership, and encourage innovation in the workplace. There are various ways to show initiative: volunteering, taking up new responsibilities, and helping coworkers. Whether you’re an individual contributor or manager, there is no shortage of avenues for you to punch above your weight.
1. Go beyond your job scope
Being able to complete your given tasks shows that you’re effective at doing your job, but the key to standing out lies beyond your daily responsibilities. The mailman doesn’t get a raise for delivering mail successfully, but completing all deliveries in a short amount of time could be an accomplishment worth noting.
Going above and beyond your job scope without ruffling any feathers is key to moving up the ladder. You can approach this by performing the job you were hired for well and identifying areas where you can confidently convey your capabilities and skills viable to get you recognition.
For a start, you can address a problem the team is facing, learn new skills by networking with other departments, or simply request for additional responsibilities.
2. Ask for feedback and actively work on it
Taking initiative doesn’t stop at accepting more responsibilities. It stems from a desire to excel in your work, so asking for feedback and actively working on your weaknesses signals willingness to improve.
Acting on your weaknesses can offer your manager a new benchmark to compare your progress against. When requesting feedback from coworkers or managers, it’s vital that you remember not to take negative comments personally. Keep in mind that these comments are not meant to question your skills or knowledge, but rather to drive you towards reaching your full potential.
3. Tackle problems without being instructed to
Oftentimes, we may feel like voicing our opinion or highlighting a problem might not be in our best interest or place to do so. However, when you notice a process isn’t working or can be improved, speaking up to management can be a way of demonstrating proactiveness. Consider your role, audience, time and place, as well as consequences pertaining to the matter of contention. Schedule a one-on-one with your manager to discuss the issue in private and ensure that you’ve picked the best possible timing to do so.
Go one step further by assessing if this is a problem you can fix yourself. Put your problem-solving skills to test and come up with several solutions to present to relevant stakeholders. Tackling an issue without being requested to show motivation without fear of failure.
4. Be a team player
Instead of only focusing on your own accomplishments, consider the needs of your team members. No matter how good you are, you are still a part of a bigger team. Shifting your perspective to view wins as a team as opposed to individual achievements shows your willingness to go the extra mile for the company.
Find out how you can complement the strengths of your co-workers with yours. Start by asking around if they need help, offer emotional support, and offer support in areas that you have demonstrated the ability to do so. This can range from data analysis to facilitating an event.
5. Bond with co-workers from other departments
Although the benefit may not seem obvious at once, go one step further by socialising with co-workers from other departments.
Bonding with your colleagues will alleviate anxiety around public speaking and they can act as support anchors during challenging times. It also gives you an opportunity to gain access to knowledge and skills you may otherwise not come across in your field. Building this relationship will serve as a two-way street: they will be there when you need help and you have opportunities to try new cross-departmental projects.
If taking initiative is new to you, go slow. Take the time to get familiar with your job, observe your co-workers, and ask as many questions as you need. Clarify when in doubt and assess each situation carefully. Approach initiative-taking step by step and it’ll become muscle memory in time.