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Helping people to ‘make things happen’: A framework for proactivity at work

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Abstract

Proactivity, which involves self-initiated change in oneself or change in the environment to bring about a better future, is an increasingly important behaviour at workplace. This paper summarises a model of proactivity at work. We first discuss the importance of proactivity, presenting empirical evidence about its benefits for individual and organisational performance. We then discuss current perspectives on proactivity, explaining it as a goal-directed process that involves, first, the setting of a proactive goal (proactive goal generation), and second, striving to achieve that proactive goal (proactive goal striving). We then present three motivational pathways of proactivity and the related ‘can do,’ ‘reason to,’ and ‘energised to’ motivational states that prompt proactive goal generation and goal striving. Next we present distal antecedents of proactivity that influence the proactive motivational states and thereby lead to proactive behaviours, including contextual variations in work design, leadership, and group climate, as well as individual characteristics such as personality and learning styles. We consider the potential dark side of proactivity and propose the expanded concept of wise proactivity to articulate the type of proactivity that is likely to be truly desirable within the workplace. We conclude the paper by discussing the applications of proactivity in the coaching context.
THE WORLD OF WORK has changed.
While in the past it was sufficient for
individuals to merely focus on
completing their core tasks as assigned by
the organisation, in an uncertain and fast-
changing environment this compliance-
oriented approach is no longer enough.
Employees are increasingly required to deal
with complex and unexpected issues that are
often not prescribed in job descriptions.
A positive type of work behaviour – pro-
activity – is important given this change.
Proactivity involves actively taking control of
oneself and one’s environment to ‘make
things happen’. It involves aspiring and
striving to bring about positive change to
achieve a different and more desirable
future.
Much evidence shows that proactivity
matters for individuals, organisations, and
even societies. For instance, Deluga (1998)
conducted research on 39 past US presidents
from Washington to Reagan. By analysing
their proactivity profile as rated by subject
matter experts, and examining their pro-
activity against a large number of historians’
rating of presidential performance, Deluga
found that presidents who were more pro-
active were perceived as greater leaders for
the country; they were also more likely to
make great decisions and to avoid war. These
results were held after controlling for presi-
dents’ cognitive ability and various person-
ality attributes. Proactivity also has important
implications for individuals’ work perform-
ance and career success (for a meta-analysis
see Fuller & Marler, 2009; for a review see
Bindl & Parker, 2010). A study of real estate
agents suggested that proactive agents sold
more properties, generated more listings,
and obtained higher commission income.
This effect was potent even after controlled
for a number of other individual characteris-
tics including personality (Crant, 1995).
Proactivity contributes not only to individ-
uals’ work performance but also to their
62 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015
© The British Psychological Society – ISSN: 1750-2764
Paper
Helping people to ‘make things happen’:
A framework for proactivity at work
Sharon K. Parker & Ying Wang
Proactivity, which involves self-initiated change in oneself or change in the environment to bring about a
better future, is an increasingly important behaviour at workplace. This paper summarises a model of
proactivity at work. We first discuss the importance of proactivity, presenting empirical evidence about its
benefits for individual and organisational performance. We then discuss current perspectives on proactivity,
explaining it as a goal-directed process that involves, first, the setting of a proactive goal (proactive goal
generation), and second, striving to achieve that proactive goal (proactive goal striving). We then present
three motivational pathways of proactivity and the related ‘can do,’ ‘reason to,’ and ‘energised to’
motivational states that prompt proactive goal generation and goal striving. Next we present distal
antecedents of proactivity that influence the proactive motivational states and thereby lead to proactive
behaviours, including contextual variations in work design, leadership, and group climate, as well as
individual characteristics such as personality and learning styles. We consider the potential dark side of
proactivity and propose the expanded concept of wise proactivity to articulate the type of proactivity that is
likely to be truly desirable within the workplace. We conclude the paper by discussing the applications of
proactivity in the coaching context.
Keywords: proactive; goal-directed; motivation; wise proactivity; work behaviour.
career outcomes. In a longitudinal study,
proactive people were found to take more
initiative with their careers, have more ideas,
and develop better knowledge about organi-
sational politics, all of which accordingly
lead to better salary progression and more
promotions within a two-year time period.
These proactive employees also enjoyed
greater career satisfaction (Seibert, Kraimer
& Crant, 2001). When placed in a job-
searching context, proactive individuals tend
to obtain employment more successfully
than those less proactive (Kanfer, Wanberg
& Kantrowitz, 2001).
Proactive also matters for change-related
outcomes such as innovation, entrepreneur-
ship, and intrapreneurship (the type of
entrepreneurship that is within firms). First,
leaders’ proactivity is important. For
instance, small business owners’ proactivity
predicted developing new and improved
products for the market, using new methods
to improve organisational systems, and inte-
grating new finance and IT methods into
organisations (Kickul & Gundry, 2002).
Small company presidents who had higher
proactivity were also found to be more entre-
preneurial, starting more businesses, taking
more ownership of the businesses and being
more heavily involved in day-to-day business
decisions (Bercherer & Maurer, 1999). But it
is not just leaders’ proactivity that matters.
Employees who are more proactive at work
tend to demonstrate more innovation
behaviours such as generating creative ideas
and promoting ideas to others (Parker &
Collins, 2010) as well as engaging in
intrapreneurship (Boon & Van der Klink
(2013). Such proactivity from individual
employees has the potential to engender
broader organisational and societal impact.
In the words of Helen Keller: ‘The world is
moved along, not only by the mighty shoved of its
heroes but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes
of each honest worker.’
Given evidence that proactivity matters, it
is important to understand in more depth
what this behaviour is, and how it might be
fostered in the workplace. In this paper, we
first discuss the importance of proactivity
and how it has been conceptualised theo-
retically. We then present a model articu-
lating how proactivity can be enabled by
different types of motivation. After that, we
discuss how proactivity can be shaped by
work context as well as individual character-
istics. Towards the end, we consider the ques-
tion ‘whether proactivity is always good’ and
discuss what type of proactivity is truly desir-
able. We conclude the paper with implica-
tions of applying proactivity principles in
coaching practices.
What is proactivity?
Historically, within the fields of organisa-
tional behaviour and work psychology,
employees tended to be considered as
passive, reactive respondents to their work
context. Much scholarly attention was given
to how employees achieve the goals allocated
to them as desired by their organisations.
However, it was increasingly noted that,
rather than simply accepting goals from
organisations, employees can actively shape
their jobs and their work environment. For
instance, they can negotiate and redefine
assigned goals, and they can come up with
more challenging goals for themselves.
Recognition of these active’ work
behaviours saw the emergence of various
proactive concepts, such as personal initiative,
taking charge behaviour, and change-oriented
citizenship. At the same time, proactive person-
ality, a trait that captures individuals’ stable
tendencies to enact changes in the environ-
ment (Bateman & Crant, 1993) was intro-
duced and became popular.
Proactivity as a way of behaving
Our approach has been to move away from a
personality-based approach and to consider
proactivity as a way of behaving which can
vary according to the situation. An implica-
tion of conceptualising proactivity in this way
is that it recognises that, rather than being a
fixed individual attribute, organisations,
leaders and coaches are able to facilitate and
shape individuals’ proactivity within a partic-
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015 63
Helping people to ‘make things happen’: A framework for proactivity at work
ular situation. Specifically, we define pro-
activity as self-directed and future-focused
behaviour in which an individual aims to
bring about change, including change to the
situation and/or change within oneself
(Bindl & Parker, 2010; Parker, Bindl &
Strauss, 2010). This definition highlights
three defining elements of proactivity: it is
self-starting, change-oriented and future-
focused. Self-starting means that the action is
self-initiated as opposed to required,
coerced or enforced by management. Pro-
activity is also aimed at enacting and driving
change rather than adapting to a situation.
Finally proactivity is future-focused: it
involves anticipating and thinking ahead,
rather than merely reacting.
Proactivity as a goal-driven process
A further refinement to the idea that pro-
activity is a way of behaving is to recognise
that it is a goal-directed way of behaving or a
process (Bindl et al., 2012; Parker et al.,
2010). From this perspective, proactivity
involves two broad elements: proactive goal
generation and proactive goal striving. The
proactive goal generation stage involves
setting, under one’s own direction, a change
goal. Researchers have suggested that there
are at least two processes underpinning the
proactive goal generation stage: envisioning
and planning (Bindl et al., 2012). Envisioning
is about perceiving and identifying a current
or future problem or opportunity, and
picturing a different future that can be
achieved if the problem is resolved or the
opportunity capitalised. Then, the next
process, planning, is about working out
actions plans in order to achieve this desired
future state. The action plans for change can
be targeted either at oneself, such as devel-
oping one’s skills and building social
networks; or targeted at the situation, such as
influencing one’s boss to negotiate roles and
responsibilities. Either way, the changes
need to be self-initiated such that individuals
envision and plan the changes out of their
own will rather than being directed by
someone else. However, it should be pointed
out that the degree of self-initiation will vary.
Some proactive goals can be completely self-
driven (e.g. coming up with a new goal for
one’s work) while in some other contexts,
the goal may not be entirely self-driven yet
the way it is enacted may contain proactivity
(e.g. introducing a new product as requested
by the boss but envisioning and planning it
in a way that is proactive).
Proactive goal striving is the stage where
the proactive goal is implemented. The goal
striving stage is critical as it enables real
change to be achieved. Researchers have
suggested that this stage is also underpinned
by at least two important processes, enacting
and reflecting (Bindl et al., 2012). Enacting
concerns the overt action individuals engage
in achieving their proactive goal. For
instance, an employee wishing to introduce a
new work method will likely engage in gath-
ering information that demonstrates the
inefficiency of the current method and the
advantage of the new method, and also
persuading and influencing colleagues so
that they are on board with this change. In
the enacting process, individuals’ self regula-
tion is critical as it would allow individuals to
stay focused on tasks, manage potential
negative emotions from self and others, and
remain resilient and flexible to accommo-
date unexpected setbacks and challenges.
Reflecting concerns investing the time and
effort to reflect what has happened so far,
identifying the successes, failures, and conse-
quences of one’s proactive behaviour. Given
proactivity involves creating something new
that can be uncertain and ambiguous, reflec-
tion is an important step in helping individ-
uals decide if they should sustain or modify
the proactive goals that have been set, or the
approach that have been adopted in
achieving those proactive goals.
Different forms of proactivity
People at work can be proactive to achieve
different ends, resulting in different forms of
proactivity. Over the past few decades, much
research focused on one or a few specific
types of proactivity such as taking charge,
64 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015
Sharon K. Parker & Ying Wang
innovation, job crafting, voicing, among
others. Parker and Collins (2010) integrated
the different forms of proactive behaviours
that have been investigated in literature and
argued that these behaviours can be
subsumed under three broad categories
including: proactive person-environment fit
behaviour, proactive work behaviour and
proactive strategic behaviour. Proactive person-
environment fit behaviour includes those
behaviours that are aimed at achieving a
better fit between one’s own attributes and
those of one’s work environment. For
instance, an employee may negotiate and
craft his/her job so that it fits better with
his/her knowledge, skills or interests. Pro-
active work behaviour refers to setting pro-
active goals and taking actions to improve
organisations’ internal environment. For
instance, an employee may find ways to
improve the efficiency of his/her work by
adopting a new technology. Proactive strategic
behaviour involves taking charge and
bringing changes to improve organisations’
strategy so that it fits with the external envi-
ronment. For example, a manager may
notice an important issue that affects the
positioning of the organisation in the market
and actively sell it to the key decision makers.
Empirical evidence supports the distinction
of these three broad categories of proactive
behaviour (Parker & Collins, 2010).
What motivates proactivity?
Having discussed the conceptualisation of
proactivity, it is useful to understand what
makes an individual proactive and taking the
risks of implementing something new. In
other words, what is the motivational process
that leads to a proactive behaviour? We
present a model of proactivity, developed by
Parker et al. (2010), to delineate how pro-
active behaviours are shaped by proximal
motivational states, which are in turn influ-
enced by more distal attributes such as indi-
vidual differences, work context and the
interaction of these two (Figure 1). We
discuss the proximal motivational states in
this section. Parker et al. (2010) proposed
three important motivational pathways that
lead to proactivity and each of these path-
ways are supported by a unique type of moti-
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015 65
Helping people to ‘make things happen’: A framework for proactivity at work
Figure 1: Model of Proactive Motivation Process and Antecedents
(adapted from Parker et al., 2010).
vational state: ‘can do’ motivation (Can I do
this?), ‘reason to’ motivation (Why should I do
this?) and ‘energised to’ motivation (Am I
energised by this?). We elaborate each of these
paths next.
‘Can Do’ motivation
A critical part of the ‘can do’ motivation
state is the belief in oneself that one can be
proactive, such as represented by self-efficacy
perceptions. Being proactive is potentially
uncertain and risky. For instance, proposing
new organisational structure may be subject
to resistance and scepticism from others;
voicing one’s opinions against an existing
work procedure might hurt the feelings of
those who implemented that procedure; and
actively seeking for feedback from others
risks one’s ego and self-image. Therefore,
individuals need to have the self-confidence
to initiate proactive goals and deal with
potential negative consequences induced by
such proactivity. Indeed, many studies have
supported the importance of self-efficacy for
proactivity. Individuals’ self-efficacy was
found to be positively related to commonly
measured proactive behaviours such as
taking charge (Morrison & Phelps, 1999)
and personal initiative (Frese, Garst & Fay,
2007). Furthermore, in a meta-analysis
conducted by Kanfer et al. (2001), individ-
uals’ self-efficacy was found to positively
relate to proactive job search behaviours,
which subsequently led to better employ-
ment outcomes such as getting employment
sooner and receiving more job offers.
One form of self-efficacy, ‘role-breadth
self-efficacy’ which addresses one’s perceived
capability of carrying out a broader and
more proactive role beyond prescribed tech-
nical requirements (Parker, 1998), appears
to be particularly important for proactivity.
For instance, role-breadth self-efficacy was
positively related to proactive problem
solving and proactive idea implementation
(Parker, Williams & Turner, 2006). Ohly and
Fritz (2007) further found that when general
job self-efficacy and role-breadth self-efficacy
were both considered, it was the latter that
showed a unique effect in predicting proac-
tive behaviour.
In addition to self-efficacy perceptions,
‘can do’ motivation also includes the belief
that one can control the situation and
will produce desired outcomes (control
appraisals), as well as perceptions about the
negative aspects of engaging in a task, such as
fear of failure and worry about lacking the
required resources (perceived cost of action).
‘Reason To’ motivation
If people feel confident about their ability to
generate and implement something new
(having ‘can do’ motivation), yet there is no
compelling reason for them to do so
(lacking a ‘reason to’ motivation), it is
unlikely they will engage in proactivity. The
second important motivational state that
instigates proactive behaviours is the ‘reason
to’ motivation. Unlike prescribed tasks
where a reason is already given as part of
one’s job, proactive activities are self-initi-
ated and thus the reason to engage in these
activities cannot be assumed. Considering
also the risk and uncertainty associated with
proactivity, there needs to be a strong
rationale that drives an individual to make
new things happen.
A useful theory to help understand one’s
reason to motivation to proactivity is self-
determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000).
The self-determination theory posits that
one’s reason to engage in certain behaviours
stands on continuum of controlled versus
autonomous motivation. On the autono-
mous end of the continuum, the individual
is driven by intrinsic interest and values that
originate from oneself. On the controlled
end of the continuum, the individual is
driven by external contingencies outside of
the person, such as rewards. Proactive
behaviours should most often be
autonomous as they originate from the indi-
viduals themselves (self-initiated). Drawing
on the self-determination theory, Parker et
al. (2010) proposed that there are three
different forms of autonomous motivations
that can potentially drive proactivity.
66 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015
Sharon K. Parker & Ying Wang
First, individuals can engage in proactive
activities because they find such tasks inter-
esting and enjoyable. For instance, an IT
specialist may voluntarily invest in extra time
and efforts to develop open-source software
because he/she finds it intellectually stimu-
lating. This intrinsic motivation is the most
autonomous form of motivation. Second,
individuals can engage in proactivity activi-
ties as they feel being proactive will help
fulfil their life goals or express values that
are central to them. For instance, individuals
who integrate work as part of who they will
be (e.g. their future work self-identity) tend
to engage in more proactive career
behaviours such as networking, career plan-
ning and career consultations (Strauss,
Griffin & Parker, 2012). This is the integrated
form of motivation. Third, individuals can
engage in proactive behaviours because they
feel the proactive goal they set is important
and they assume a personal responsibility for
achieving it. For instance, a university faculty
might initiate a new course because he/she
sees this new course as important in
providing students necessary knowledge and
skills. Research has indicated that those
employees who feel stronger personal obli-
gations to make positive changes are more
likely to engage in proactive voice
behaviours that are aimed at improving
current work practices to benefit the organi-
sation (Liang, Farh & Farh, 2012). This is the
identified form of motivation where one
consciously values a goal, accepting and
owning it as one’s own responsibility.
The three forms of autonomous motiva-
tion, including intrinsic, integrated, and
identified motivations, provide a strong
reason for individuals to be proactive. As to
which motivational form is most powerful,
Koestner and Losier (2002) suggested that
when tasks are interesting, intrinsic motiva-
tion resulted in better performance; when
tasks are not so interesting but important,
the other two forms of motivations yielded
better performance. In fact, it might be the
case that multiple forms of motivations func-
tion together to stimulate proactive goals
and sustain an individual’s efforts in seeing
things through.
‘Energised To’ motivation
A third motivational state for proactivity is
affect-related. How people feel can provide
an ‘energising’ fuel that motivates individ-
uals to engage in proactive behaviour.
Compared to the other two ‘cold’ motiva-
tions that are cognitively bound, this
emotion-laden motivation is more of a ‘hot’
psychological force for proactivity.
Individuals’ core affects are usually
considered to be represented by an integral
blend of two primary dimensions: pleasure –
whether an affect is positive/pleasant or
negative/unpleasant in its affective valence,
and arousal – whether an affect is highly acti-
vated or lowly activated (Russell, 2003) in its
arousal. It has been suggested that positive
affect is important for proactivity as it acts as
a resource to broaden people’s momentary
thought-action repertoires (e.g. exploring,
learning, creating) while negative affect
would narrow the repertoires by urging
people to behave defensively (Fredrickson,
2001). Accordingly, under the influence of
positive affect people are more likely to
reach out and set proactive goals, as well as
remain open-minded and flexible when
pursuing their proactive goals. This argu-
ment has received empirical support. In a
diary study, Fritz and Sonnentag (2009)
revealed that positive affect promotes taking
charge behaviours on the same day; positive
affect also produced a positive spill-over
effect on taking charge behaviours on the
following day.
Warr et al. (2014; see also Bindl et al.,
2012) further discovered that it is the high
activated positive affect (e.g. feeling enthusi-
astic, inspired) rather than the low activated
positive affect (e.g. feeling calm, content)
that stimulates proactive behaviour. This is
because highly activated positive affect has
more energising potential to facilitate
approach-oriented behaviours such as proac-
tivity, while lowly activated positive emotions
such as feeling content may suggest a lack of
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015 67
Helping people to ‘make things happen’: A framework for proactivity at work
impetus for action, and is thus more induc-
tive to reflective behaviours rather than
proactive behaviours.
Thus far, we have articulated the three
motivation states that enable proactivity.
Although the three motivations affect pro-
active behaviour, to what extent they will
directly activate proactivity to happen will
depend on organisational context. For
instance, Parker et al. (2010) have argued
that an organisational context that provides
employees higher levels of job control and
perceived justice is more likely to facilitate
the translation of proactive motivation into
proactive behaviours.
Is proactivity born or made?
Now that we have discussed the proximal
factors that motivate people to be proactive,
it is useful to understand the distal
antecedents of proactivity, for instance,
whether proactivity comes from an innate set
of characteristic that some people but not
others are born with, or is instead something
that can be shaped over time through delib-
erate interventions or changing of the situa-
tion. We propose that like all other work
behaviours, proactivity is both born and
made, that is, it is both determined by who we
are (e.g. our personality, values, knowledge,
skills, abilities, among others) and by our
work context (e.g. job design, leadership,
organisational culture, among others). Next
we discuss several ways that the work context
can shape proactivity, as these are the areas
that organisations can focus its attention on
to shape and enhance employees’ proactivity.
We will then unpack the personal attributes
of those more proactive individuals.
Proactivity is made: Work context as
distal antecedents
Some work contexts are more conducive to
proactivity than others. Here we focus on
how organisations can shape employees’
proactivity by designing enriched jobs, devel-
oping managers’ transformational leader-
ship capability, and creating a supportive
work environment.
Work design
First, proactivity can be promoted by effec-
tive design of employees’ jobs. The most
important aspect of work design that enables
proactivity is job enrichment, which focuses on
increasing the autonomy and complexity of
the job. Job enrichment can facilitate proac-
tivity through all three motivational path-
ways, namely, the ‘can do’, ‘reason to’ and
‘energised to’ motivations. First, job enrich-
ment provides employees the opportunity to
acquire new skills and master new responsi-
bilities; furthermore, the autonomy aspect of
job enrichment can increase employees’
perception of controllability over their work.
Both the enhanced mastery and improved
controllability would raise employees’ self-
efficacy (‘can do’ motivation), and subse-
quently leading to proactive behaviours such
as generating new ideas and proactively
solving problems (Parker et al., 2006).
Second, job enrichment is likely to facilitate
employees’ ‘reason to motivation. With
enriched jobs, employees may feel more
challenged and experience more enjoyment,
and are thus intrinsically motivated to be
proactive. Enriched jobs can also allow
employees to see the broader picture and
understand the meaningfulness of their job,
thereby creating integrated and identified
motivations to be proactive. Third, job
enrichment can also create ‘energised to’
motivation among employees. It was found
that having more enriched jobs (e.g. job
control, job variety) can lead to positive,
energetic and inspired feelings, which subse-
quently generate proactive behaviours
(Salanova & Schaufeli, 2008).
Other aspects of work design can also
affect employees’ proactivity. Job stressors such
as time pressure and situational constrains
can potentially promote, rather than inhibit
proactivity, as such constraints represent
challenge stressors that motivate employees
to find new ways to complete work on time.
For instance, it has been found that when
employees are under time pressure, they are
more likely to innovate; this is especially true
for those with high need for cognition, who
68 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015
Sharon K. Parker & Ying Wang
may feel stimulated by the challenge (Wu,
Parker & de Jong, 2014).
Leadership
The second area that organisations can
shape proactivity is through effective leader-
ship. Transformational leadership, the leader-
ship style that effects effective change
through creating vision as well as supporting,
stimulating and inspiring subordinates, can
lead to subordinates’ proactive behaviours
such as innovation (Rank et al., 2010) and
taking initiative to help the organisation
(Den Hartog & Belschak, 2012). This is
because transformational leadership can
enable both the ‘can do’, ‘reason to’ and
‘energised to’ motivations among subordi-
nates. First, transformational leaders solicit
subordinates’ ideas, stimulate their innova-
tion, and support them to be self-directed.
These behaviours can foster subordinates’
self-efficacy, such as their role-breadth self-
efficacy (‘can do’ motivation), which subse-
quently leads to proactive behaviours
towards team effectiveness (Strauss, Griffin
& Rafferty, 2009). Second, transformational
leaders link group mission to collective
values and enhance subordinates’ identifica-
tion with the organisation. Therefore, they
can enable subordinates’ commitment to
their organisation (‘reason to’ motivation),
which subsequently leads to more proactive
behaviours towards the improvement of the
organisation (ditto). Third, transformational
leadership has an intense emotional compo-
nent and transformational leaders usually
use positive emotions to convey their vision
and influence subordinates. Such positive
emotions are contagious in the workgroup,
leading to positive affect being aroused
among subordinates (‘energised to’ motiva-
tion); this could potentially generate positive
work behaviours such as proactivity (Bono &
Illies, 2006).
A specific aspect of transformational
leadership, leader vision, has been found
especially important in enhancing
employees’ proactivity over time. A longitu-
dinal study suggested that leaders’ vision
predicted the increase of proactive
behaviours among employees in 12 months’
time, although this effect was only present
for employees that have higher role-breadth
self efficacy (Griffin, Parker & Mason, 2010).
In other words, when shaping and devel-
oping employees’ proactivity, both leader-
ship styles and individual differences need to
be taken into account. The interaction
between contextual and individual
antecedents will be briefly discussed later.
Group climate
The third area of contextual factors can
shape proactivity is group culture and
climate, especially at the local team level.
Because proactivity is a risky behaviour, one
needs to feel psychologically safe in their
immediate work environment in order to
initiate and implement something new.
For this reason, a supportive work environment
is critical for proactive behaviours to emerge,
especially through the ‘reason to’ motiva-
tional pathway. Parker et al. (2006) found
that trust in co-workers affects proactivity as
this trust enables employees to feel more
ownership of their job (‘flexible role orien-
tation’), thus providing enhanced integrated
motivation – a reason for them to be proac-
tive. The positive effect of supportive envi-
ronment is also confirmed in other studies.
For instance, initiating changes to improve
team effectiveness is more likely to happen
when in supportive teams where the team’s
work processes are openly discussed and
reviewed (Griffin, Neal & Parker, 2007); and
voice behaviours tend to be present in work-
groups that have more positive relationships
among the members (LePine & Van Dyne,
1998).
Proactivity is born: Individual characteristics
as distal antecedents
Proactivity is also determined by who we are.
Individual characteristics such as personality,
values, thinking styles, among others, can
influence one’s level of proactivity. Due to
space limit here we choose to focus on a few
selected individual attributes; interested
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015 69
Helping people to ‘make things happen’: A framework for proactivity at work
readers are recommended to refer to Parker
et al. (2010) for a more comprehensive
review.
Personality
Personality has perhaps been the most
frequently investigated aspect of individual
characteristics in relation to proactivity. In
particular, proactive personality, which depicts
an individual’s tendency to take control of
the situation and to effect change, is most
often studied due to its conceptual linkage
with proactive behaviours. Numerous studies
have demonstrated that proactive person-
ality predicts both proactive person-environ-
ment fit behaviours such as building
network, taking career initiatives, proactive
socialisation, as well as proactive work
behaviours such as taking charge, voicing
one’s opinions, preventing problems, among
others (Fuller & Marler, 2009; Parker &
Collins, 2010). Additionally, it has been
confirmed that proactive personality can
exert its effect on proactive behaviours via
proactive motivational states, for instance,
via the ‘can do’ motivation (e.g. role-breadth
self-efficacy, Parker et al., 2006), as well as
the ‘reason to’ motivation (e.g. motivation to
learn, Major, Turner & Fletcher, 2006).
In addition to proactive personality,
other personality traits may also have an
important and unique contribution to proac-
tive behaviours. For instance, conscientious-
ness, one of the Big Five personality
dimensions, was found to predict proactive
feedback-seeking, one form of proactive
person-environment fit behaviour, over and
above proactive personality (Parker &
Collins, 2010). This may be because consci-
entious individuals are more driven to
perform their jobs well by obtaining
performance feedback, and to achieve a
good fit with their organisation.
Learning and thinking styles
Goal orientation depicts whether an indi-
vidual is inclined to have a learning mindset
and is willing to take risks and learn from
mistakes, or whether he/she is more
concerned about own performance and
competence (Dweck, 1986). Given pro-
activity is a risky and uncertain behaviour,
individuals with a high learning goal orienta-
tion are more willing to reach out of their
comfort zones and try something new as a
way to learn and improve. Indeed, such indi-
viduals were found to engage in more proac-
tive behaviours, such as taking charge,
innovating, and seeking for feedback
(Parker & Collins, 2010).
Another aspect of thinking styles that was
found to be important for proactivity is indi-
viduals’ tendency in engaging in future-
oriented thinking. By enabling an individual to
put a strong focus on the future and to
consider potential consequences, this
attribute is meaningful for the future-
focused behaviour of proactivity. Indeed,
individuals who are more future-oriented
tend to perform better on proactive strategic
behaviours such as scanning environment
and selling strategic issues to decision
makers; they are also more likely to engage
in proactive behaviours that improve the fit
between themselves and their environment
(Parker & Collins, 2010).
Furthermore, individuals’ need for cogni-
tion, a tendency to engage in and enjoy
thinking, is likely to elicit curiosity to seek for
new information and opportunities, and
would produce elaborate and flexible
thoughts and ideas that are important for
creating something new. As a result, it was
found that need for cognition positively
predicts individual innovation, a form of
proactive work behaviour, after controlling
for personality differences (Wu et al., 2014).
Summary
In sum, we have discussed the contextual
and individual antecedents for proactive
behaviours at work. Although presented
separately, these two broad categories of
antecedents do not operate in isolation but
instead dynamically interact with each other
in shaping proactivity. Indeed, there have
been several studies that take this interac-
tionistic perspective. For instance, even if
70 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015
Sharon K. Parker & Ying Wang
employees may lack relevant dispositional
characteristics to be proactive, this can be
compensated by positive work context that is
inductive to proactivity. LePine and Van
Dyan (1998) showed that although individ-
uals with low self-esteem were less likely to
voice their opinions, this can be compen-
sated by favourable situational characteristics
such as high levels of group autonomy. Simi-
larly, Wu et al. (2014) showed that employees
who have less strong need for cognition are
generally less likely to innovate, yet this can
be compensated by increasing their job
autonomy. Such dynamic interplays between
individual and contextual characteristics
provide important implications for organisa-
tions to design intervention strategies in
shaping employees’ proactivity.
Is proactivity always good?
At the beginning of this paper we presented
research findings in supportive of the bene-
fits of proactivity in that it is likely to bring
positive outcomes for individuals, organisa-
tions and societies. Despite this solid
research evidence, one may naturally ask
whether proactivity is always desirable. Could
there be some types of proactive behaviours
that do more harm than good to the self or
to their organisations?
The answer is yes. In fact, scholars have
recognised that proactivity does not always
lead to positive consequences. For instance,
it has been found that when employees lack
the motive to benefit others or the ability to
appropriately judge work situations, their
proactivity does not lead to positive perform-
ance outcomes (Chan, 2006; Grant, Parker &
Collins, 2009). Proactivity may also harm
individuals’ psychological well-being. As pro-
activity is a resource-consuming behaviour,
proactivity may deplete individuals’ psycho-
logical resources, leading to job stress, role
overload, and work family conflict. Further-
more, proactivity may bring tensions
between the more proactive employees and
the less proactive employees, as the latter
may feel threatened by proactive employees’
acquisition of resources and may perceive
their proactivity as self-serving (for a compre-
hensive summary of such potential negative
impacts of proactivity, see Bolino, Valcea &
Harvey, 2010). In sum, there is evidence
suggesting that proactivity is not always desir-
able; it is thus important to focus not just on
the quantity of proactivity behaviour but also
its quality.
Although it has been recognised that
proactivity can vary in its quality and its effec-
tiveness, there lacks an integrating theo-
retical framework to provide clearer
guidance as to what forms of proactivity are
truly desirable. To address this issue, Parker,
Liao and Wang (2015) drew on the concept
of wisdom to propose the concept of ‘wise
proactivity’. Wise proactivity is defined as
enacting and implementing self-initiated
and future-focused change that is contextu-
ally-sound, personally-sound, and other-
focused. Like proactivity, wise proactivity is
change-oriented, yet what makes a proactive
behaviour wise depends on three elements.
The first element concerns whether a proac-
tive behaviour is appropriate for the broad
context (contextually sound). A manager who
seeks to impress the boss might introduce a
new technology that is not appropriate for
his/her organisation, thus this proactivity is
not considered wise. The second element
concerns whether a proactive behaviour is
the right thing to do for the initiator and will
benefit the initiator’s personal growth
(personally sound). A proactive behaviour that
depletes personal resources and leads to
burnout is not considered wise. The third
element concerns whether a proactive
behaviour will benefit others and serve
others’ needs (other focused). An employee
that puts oneself forward for leading a
change yet resulting in his work being allo-
cated to already overburdened colleagues is
not considered wise.
Although still at the early stage of this
research, our preliminary analysis has
demonstrated that wise proactivity is indeed
distinct from proactivity. Wise proactivity was
found to be underpinned by different indi-
vidual antecedents such as social astuteness
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015 71
Helping people to ‘make things happen’: A framework for proactivity at work
and humility, and it predicted individuals’
overall work performance over and above
proactivity (Parker & Wang, 2014). More
empirical studies are currently underway to
further unpack the psychological process
that leads to wise proactive behaviours and
the implications of this behaviour on a wider
range of work and career outcomes.
Summary and implications for coaching
Thus far, we have articulated that proactivity
is important for individuals themselves, their
teams, organisations and beyond, and it can
lead to a wide range of positive outcomes.
Proactivity should be understood as a self-
initiated, future-oriented behavioural process
that is aimed at bringing about future
change. Furthermore, we discussed what
makes individuals proactive, presenting both
the proximal motivational enablers of pro-
activity, and distal organisational and indi-
vidual factors that jointly shape proactivity.
We also discussed the potential dark side of
proactivity, and presented a new concept,
wise proactivity, which provides a theoretical
framework to conceptualise the nature of
those truly desired proactive behaviours. In
this concluding section, we will briefly discuss
how the proactivity concept and some of the
existing theories and empirical findings can
inform coaching practices. In light of what
has been discussed, we will focus on three
implications.
First, the positive impact of proactivity
suggests that it is useful to help coachees
develop a proactive mindset to take charge
of their life and work. Coaches can
encourage coachees to actively reflect on
areas where they could have more control,
proactively anticipate future problems, and
brainstorm for options to resolve potential
issues. For example, coaches could measure
coachees’ proactive work behaviour, pro-
active strategic behaviour, and proactive
career behaviour (Parker & Collins, 2010)
and compare themselves against bench-
marks1. Because proactivity can be targeted
both at oneself and at situations, it is also
useful to facilitate coachees’ reflection about
when is the best time to change themselves
and when is the best time to change their
situation. Often, it is the strategic decision
between these two options that determines
whether a proactive behaviour is effective.
For instance, it has been found that when
there is not enough personal control at the
workplace, it is more effective to engage in
proactive behaviours aimed at changing
oneself, such as by seeking for feedback to
improve own work, rather than taking
charge and changing one’s environment
(Tangirala et al., 2014).
Second, understanding the motivational
factors that enable proactivity suggests that
coaches can delve into coachees’ self-evalua-
tions, interests, values, emotions, among
others, to understand whether they have the
‘can do’, ‘reason to’ and ‘energised to’ moti-
vations for proactivity to occur. Our frame-
work suggests that individuals need to first
feel confident that they have the ability to
make a change. Thus if a coachee feels
lacking of ‘can do’ motivation, we can iden-
tify ways to boost their self-confidence, such
as discussing a psychologically safe way
where their innovative ideas can be heard by
a trusted colleague, before presented to the
boss. Our framework also suggests that indi-
viduals need to have a reason for them to be
proactive, for instance, the change needs to
be perceived as either intrinsically inter-
esting, or part of their identity, or important
for their work and their career. Therefore,
by facilitating coachees’ reflection on their
values and interests, we can help them iden-
tify and take control of the areas that are
personally meaningful to them. This is in
line with what we proposed for wise proac-
tivity, which specifically emphasises that
changes need to be meaningful for the indi-
viduals and to fulfil their needs of personal
growth. Furthermore, our model suggests
72 International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015
Sharon K. Parker & Ying Wang
1Further information on assessing proactivity can be found at:
https://sites.google.com/site/profsharonparker/proactivity-research/measuring-proactive-behaviour
that having positive affect is an important
impetus for proactivity as it broadens one’s
cognition. Therefore, if we encourage
coachees to identify areas of changes where
they find energised and inspired by, they will
be more likely to engage in those proactive
behaviours.
Third, by unpacking the organisational
and individual factors that are inductive to
proactivity, our proposed framework lends
insights to both individual coachees who
intend to improve their own effectiveness,
and to leaders and managers who seek to
enhance their employees’ proactivity. For
individual employees, it is useful that they
understand whether their innate psycholog-
ical attributes are likely to lead to proactivity,
and if not, if this may be compensated by
working in the right environment. For
instance, an individual with less confidence
in voicing one’s opinions and initiating
something new may still be proactive when
being placed in an environment where there
is high level of trust and support from team
members. For managers and leaders who
seek to create and sustain proactivity
amongst their workforce, they can be
encouraged to consider engaging in various
levels of organisational interventions. They
can consider designing and re-designing
employees’ jobs so that people have more
autonomy and control over their work. They
can select and develop frontline managers
and supervisors so that those managers have
more transformational leadership styles in
stimulating, motivating and inspiring
employees. They can also work on creating
an organisational climate where individuals’
voices are valued and encouraged, risk-
taking behaviours with the aim to improve
work process and outcomes are allowed, and
innovation and positive change is acknowl-
edged and rewarded. As coaches, if we can
allow executive coachees to understand the
value of proactivity and use research
evidence to inform their intervention strate-
gies, we can potentially help them build
more effective teams and achieve better
work outcomes.
Individuals are not passive respondents
to situations. Rather than just waiting to be
told what to do or respond only when prob-
lems occur, they can take charge, anticipate
problems and opportunities, and actively
change themselves or their situation to bring
about a different, more desirable future. By
understanding proactivity and actively
promoting this behaviour, coaches can make
a positive difference not only to their
coachees, but also to work places, organisa-
tions and societies as a whole.
The Authors
Sharon K. Parker
Business School & Accelerated Learning
Laboratory,
University of Western Australia.
Email: parkersharonk@gmail.com
Ying Wang
Accelerated Learning Laboratory &
School of Psychology,
University of Western Australia.
Email: wangyinglena@gmail.com
International Coaching Psychology Review lVol. 10 No. 1 March 2015 73
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Helping people to ‘make things happen’: A framework for proactivity at work
... personality) and contextual (e.g. work design) factors (Marinova et al., 2015;Parker and Wang, 2015). Concerning contextual factors, the social context, in particular, has received increased scholarly interest (El Baroudi et al., 2019). ...
... This means that potential qualitative differences in the effects of different combinations of motivational states remain unexplained. For example, trust was found to effect reason to (Parker and Wang, 2015) and can do (Ng and Lucianetti, 2016) motivation, but it is unclear whether both states would amplify their effects (Cai et al., 2019). ...
... reactance or scepticism (Urbach et al., 2021;Parker et al., 2019). Reason to motivation describes that proactivity is self-initiated (Parker and Wang, 2015), mirroring the concept of intrinsic TPM motivation (Valero and Hirschi, 2016). As proactivity is per definition self-started, autonomous goals are a motivational prerequisite (Parker et al., 2010). ...
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Purpose This study aims to investigate cross-level influences of team cohesion, trust and conflicts on team member’s proactive motivational profiles and outcomes of profile membership over time. Design/methodology/approach Data was collected in a four-month longitudinal field study with 47 teams (N = 202). Findings Latent profile analysis derived four proactive motivational profiles. The higher motivated profiles reported better study outcomes, higher levels of team trust and cohesion and fewer conflicts over time. Team trust and interpersonal conflicts emerged as significant predictors of profile membership. Practical implications Recommendations are derived on how to best manage teams and the members comprising it when trust in teams is low or interpersonal conflicts are high. Originality/value Applying a person-centred approach in a team context advances multi-level theories of team motivation by mapping the cross-level effects of team processes on different kinds of motivational states.
... As employees who are high in LGO prefer to learning new skills and abilities through seeking out challenges (Dweck 1986), they will also be more willing to engage in proactive behaviors. Employees high in LGO are also more likely to stay committed to tasks, constantly improve their work approaches, and be robust and agile in handling challenges (Noordzij et al. 2013;Parker and Wang 2015). Such employees may also be more willing to step out from their comfort zones to bring about changes even if such actions involve specific risks (Parker and Wang 2015). ...
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... As the topic of this study is at the intersection of different research domains, i.e. job design, work adjustment and workplace learning, this study contributes to theory and research in all these areas. In the job design theory, adjusting work to improve its learning potential is often viewed as a management responsibility with workers as rather passive recipients (Parker and Wang, 2015). In the workplace learning and human resource development (HRD) literature, much research focuses on the policies and practices that organizations can develop and apply to promote learning (e.g. ...
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... As competitiveness in the modern business world rises globally, organizations have become more attentive to proactive behavior of their personnel. Many recent studies have found that the current knowledge-based economy which is associated with knowledge intensive operations has determined that both organizations and their members were required to embrace more demands for empowerment, self-determination, opportunity awareness, initiative personality, collaboration (Parker and Wang, 2015;Strauss et al., 2015;Wihler et al., 2017), in order to attain success. Organizations favor employees with proactive manners for the purpose of developing initiation, creative ideas, innovativeness, and advancements in the job tasks. ...
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This study aims to develop a theoretical model of how a supervisor's cultural differences moderate the relationship between the proactive behavior of employees and the supervisor's favorable evaluations. We first review the literature and define the constructs. Then, we describe how the relationship between proactive behavior of an employee and the supervisor's favorable assessment level could be moderated by the differences between the models of independent or individualistic culture vs. interdependent or collectivistic culture and the cultural tightness-looseness of the supervisor. The conceptual framework and theoretical models of this relationship and moderating effects are proposed. The theoretical model of this study contributes to the organizational and strategic management literature by proposing the moderating effects of supervisor's cultural differences in assessing different aspects of employee's proactive behavior.
... Therefore, contemporary organizations are facing the rapid rise of innovation pressure which has an important impact on their original management mode. Companies are compelled to think about how employees can spontaneously innovate methods and procedures at work (Parker, 2015). Given this widespread push for employees to take proactive innovation behavior at work (Khessina et al., 2018), management research should reveal contextual factors and process mediators that can promote employees' proactive innovation behavior. ...
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Drawing upon self-determination theory, this study aimed to explore the mechanisms underlying the impact of perceived organizational support on proactive innovation behavior and reveal the serial mediation effects of basic psychological needs. We collected time-lagged data of 481 employees from research institutions in China, and structural equation modeling analyses were carried out to test the hypotheses. The results indicate that perceived organizational support is significantly and positively related to proactive innovation behavior, and this relationship was mediated by the need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These findings contribute new knowledge to proactive innovation behavior by providing a new perspective of the satisfaction of psychological needs. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
... 7 Organizational socialization theory suggests that both organizational and individual factors contribute to newcomers' socialization as they transition to new environments. [8][9][10] In medical education, these organizational factors could include formal socialization strategies like transition courses. 11 Although transition courses increase students' confidence and reduce anxiety, some students still struggle with socialization. ...
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... İşletmeler değişime ayak uydurabilmek ve rekabet üstünlüğü sağlayabilmek için problemlere çözümler üretebilen, örgütde alınan kararlara katılan, aldığı kararlara ilişkin inisiyatif kullanabilen ve sorumluluk alabilen yüksek nitelikli çalışanlara ihtiyaç duymaktadır. Çünkü örgütlerin başarısı büyük oranda yüksek nitelikli çalışanlara sahip olmak ve bu çalışanların beklentilerine önem vererek onların iş tatminini arttırmakla bağlantılıdır (Parker & Wang, 2015;Çalışkan & Hazır, 2012). İş tatmini, "kişinin bir işten ne istediği ile onun sunduğu şey arasındaki algılanan ilişkinin bir fonksiyonu olan zevkli veya olumlu bir duygusal durum"dur (Wang, 2009). ...
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A sample of 131 real estate agents was used to examine the criterion validity of the Proactive Personality Scale (T. S. Bateman & J. M. Crant, 1993). A job performance index was computed for each agent from archival records of the number of houses sold, number of listings obtained, and commission income over a 9-month period. Experience, social desirability, general mental ability, and 2 of the Big Five factors-Conscientiousness and Extraversion-were controlled for, and the Proactive Personality Scale explained an additional 8% of the variance in the objective measure of agents' job performance. These results provide additional evidence for the criterion validity of the Proactive Personality Scale and suggest that specific personality measures can have incremental validity over the Big Five factors.
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In this article, the author describes a new theoretical perspective on positive emotions and situates this new perspective within the emerging field of positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory posits that experiences of positive emotions broaden people's momentary thought-action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources. Preliminary empirical evidence supporting the broaden-and-build theory is reviewed, and open empirical questions that remain to be tested are identified. The theory and findings suggest that the capacity to experience positive emotions may be a fundamental human strength central to the study of human flourishing.