Initiative is a keyword that appears in many job postings. Companies prefer employees who are self-starters and who can work independently with minimal direction from supervisors. Taking initiative demonstrates valuable skills by showing that you can manage different tasks on your own and work with a variety of different people and departments. In this article, we discuss tips you can use to take initiative at work.
What does it mean to take initiative at work?
Initiative is the ability to assess a situation and independently take action to address it. You can show initiative at work in a variety of ways, including volunteering for leadership roles, helping coworkers and brainstorming ideas to help the company improve. Showing initiative can make your managers feel more comfortable in your ability to work independently and within teams. By mindfully taking initiative at work, you can also increase your value as an employee and broaden your skillset.
Related: What Does Leadership Mean?
How to take initiative at work
Here are nine ways to take initiative at work:
1. Be proactive
You can be proactive by anticipating what work needs to be done and doing it before you are asked to. Use your knowledge of the job to determine whether you have the competencies to make decisions on your own or whether you should present your ideas to your supervisors before proceeding.
For example, if you are working on a project and your supervisor is out sick for the day, you may not have been assigned a project-related task to do. If you can think of a task to work on that needs to be done to move the project forward, they may commend you for taking initiative and being proactive during their absence.
2. Find opportunities for improvement
You can take initiative by looking for opportunities for improvement. For example, if you interact with the public and get consistent feedback from clients, you could look for patterns in issues clients encounter. You can then use this feedback to highlight weak points in current company practices and advocate for positive change within the company. To go even further, you could suggest sending out a survey to gauge public opinion and gather more data.
3. Voice your ideas
Sharing your ideas at meetings or individually with colleagues and supervisors is another way to take initiative at work. Expressing your opinion can help you establish your voice within the company and build your reputation as an employee who actively looks for solutions. If you have difficulty voicing your ideas, you can become more comfortable by offering suggestions to coworkers who are looking for help or advice. You can build your confidence and start sharing your ideas in staff meetings and eventually present more fully-formed ideas in group settings.
4. Be decisive
You may find yourself faced with challenging decisions where there are several courses of action you could take. To show initiative, be decisive and choose the best way to proceed. Come up with a few simple solutions to a problem, weigh the pros and cons of each solution and choose which course of action will work best.
5. Improve systems, procedures and policies
If you notice that a policy is outdated, a great way to take initiative is to review it and make suggestions on how it can be updated. You can assess policies by thinking critically about whether they serve your company’s and clients’ needs, identifying weak points and finding more efficient ways of doing things. To make sure the updated policy is comprehensive, you could draft a new version of the policy and have members of your department review it and give their input before officially implementing it.
6. Address and prevent problems
You can show initiative by recognizing and working to solve problems. By actively addressing issues, you can help improve your workplace and sharpen your problem-solving skills. When confronted with an issue, ask yourself questions to find the root cause of the problem:
- How and when did the problem arise?
- Is this a reoccurring problem? How can we prevent this problem from reoccurring?
- Have we tried different ways to solve it in the past?
- What is the timeframe to solve the problem?
You can brainstorm independently or work collaboratively with colleagues to find the best solution to the problem.
7. Be prepared for meetings
Attending meetings with suggestions and questions prepared demonstrates that you’ve taken the initiative to put time and thought into the meeting’s purpose. For example, if you present an idea at a meeting, such as implementing new software, you could do some research ahead of time on the following:
Cost/benefit analysis: This measures how making a decision will benefit the company and compares it with the cost of implementing the decision in terms of finances and labor.
Risk analysis: This identifies any issues that could adversely affect the company by making this decision. Analyzing these risks helps the company avoid or soften any adverse effects a decision may have on the company.
Impact analysis: This identifies the overall effect that making the decision will have on the company.
8. Anticipate questions and prepare answers
You can show initiative in the way you react to situations by being prepared to answer questions. For example, if your team recently missed a deadline on a project, you may be asked to meet with your supervisor for a performance assessment. If you arrive at your meeting having identified where issues occurred and with actionable ways to avoid these issues in the future, you will show that you’re willing to take the initiative to meet challenges and work to prevent them.
9. Set realistic standards
You can set achievable standards by taking initiative only on tasks that you have the time, energy and resources to contribute to. For example, you could help a colleague brainstorm how to improve a policy but allow that colleague to draft and implement the updated policy on their own. If you have an idea for improvement but don’t have the time to lead the initiative, you could present your idea to your team to see if another team member can volunteer to work on it.