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Many practitioner-oriented publications argue that managers should be more proactive on the job, and that proactive behavior is an increasingly important component of job performance. Organizational research on the antecedents and consequences of proactive behavior has appeared in several different literatures and has taken different approaches toward defining, measuring, and understanding proactivity. In this article, I review a diverse set of literatures that directly address proactive behavior in organizational contexts. I describe four constructs related to proactive behavior: proactive personality, personal initiative, role breadth self-efficacy, and taking charge. Next, I review six research domains that have explicitly addressed proactive behaviors: socialization, feedback seeking, issue selling,, innovation, career management, and certain kinds of stress management. After considering findings from these research streams, I offer an analysis of the different approaches to the study of proactive behavi or and provide a set of suggestions for future research. (c) 2000 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
As work becomes more dynamic and decentralized, proactive behavior and initiative become even more critical determinants of organizational success. For example, as new forms of management are introduced that minimize the surveillance function, companies will increasingly rely on employees' personal initiative to identify and solve problems (Frese, Fay, Hilburger, Leng, & Tag, 1997). Proactive behavior can be a high-leverage concept rather than just another management fad, and can result in increased organizational effectiveness (Bateman & Crant, 1999). Companies must focus on identifying and correcting policies and systems that minimize and mitigate individual initiative (Frohman, 1997).
Proactive behavior at work has received considerable scholarly research attention over the past fifteen years. It has not, however, emerged as an integrated research stream in the organizational behavior literature. There is no single definition, theory, or measure driving this body of work; rather, researchers have adopted a number of different approaches toward identifying the antecedents and consequences of proactive behavior, and they have examined them in a number of seemingly disconnected literatures. Potential and actual job performance (e.g., Ashford & Northcraft, 1992; Crant, 1995), leadership (e.g., Grant & Bateman, 2000; Deluga, 1998), careers (e.g., Claes & Ruiz-Quintanilla, 1998; Bell & Staw, 1989), entrepreneurship (e.g., Becherer & Maurer, 1999; Crant, 1996), work teams (Kirkman & Rosen, 1999), socialization (e.g., Morrison, 1993a, 1993b), feedback (e.g., Ashford & Cummings, 1985; VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997), and even the reputation of American presidents (Deluga, 1998) have all been examined through the lens of proactivity and initiative. However, there are not yet any published reviews of the proactive behavior literature. The purpose of the present article is to synthesize findings from these diverse areas of inquiry and draw some conclusions about proactive behavior in the work environment. Toward that end, I will highlight the theoretical underpinnings of research on proactivity and initiative, describe various approaches to its conceptualization and measurement, review empirical findings, and offer some summary observations and suggestions for future research.
Because proactive behavior has been conceptualized and measured in a variety of ways, a definition of proactive behavior that captures the essence of the various approaches must be coarse grained. I define proactive behavior as taking initiative in improving current circumstances or creating new ones; it involves challenging the status quo rather than passively adapting to present conditions. Employees can engage in proactive activities as part of their in-role behavior in which they fulfill basic job requirements. For example, sales agents might proactively seek feedback on their techniques for closing a sale with an ultimate goal of improving job performance. Extra-role behaviors can also be proactive, such as efforts to redefine one's role in the organization. For example, employees might engage in career management activities by identifying and acting on opportunities to change the scope of their jobs or move to more desirable divisions of the business.
This article is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all published literature that could be interpreted as containing elements of proactive behavior. For example, I do not review impression management research (see Gardner & Martinko, 1988, for a review of this literature), even though it could be argued that aggressive tactics like self-promotion and ingratiation are examples of proactive behaviors. To establish a content domain for the present review, I conducted an electronic search of the PsychINFO database on the keywords "proactive" and "initiative" for the period from January 1967 to June 1999. Based on this search, I decided to focus on 1) various conceptualizations and measures of proactive behavior, and 2) six research streams that explicitly incorporate the idea of proactive behavior and have received considerable research attention. While I have attempted to review a representative set of articles in the six areas, this should not be considered an exhaustive review of the specific behavio rs.
A common thread binding the various approaches to the study of proactivity and initiative is an action orientation toward organizational behaviors. Under this perspective, employees take an active role in their approach toward work; they initiate situations and create favorable conditions. This is in contrast to a more passive, reactive pattern of behavior. Proactive people actively seek information and opportunities for improving things; they don't passively wait for information and opportunities to come to them. For example, Frese et al. (1997) described the concept of personal initiative as involving an active and self-starting approach to work. Bateman and Crant (1993) argued that proactive individuals actively create environmental change, while less proactive people take a more reactive approach toward their jobs. One theme of Ashford and her colleagues' research on proactive feedback seeking (e.g., Ashford & Cummings, 1983, 1985) is that many people are not simply passive recipients of information at w ork; rather, they actively seek it. Similarly, the concept of issue selling (e.g., Dutton & Ashford, 1993; Ashford, Rothbard, Piderit, & Dutton, 1998) involves middle managers actively shaping the strategic planning process by calling attention to particular areas of interest.
Despite this shared emphasis on active rather than passive behaviors at work, there is not uniform agreement on how to best conceptualize and measure proactivity at work. Some researchers have emphasized personal dispositions toward proactivity (e.g., Bateman & Crant, 1993; Frese, Kring, Soose, & Zempel, 1996), while others maintain that proactive behavior is more a function of situational cues (e.g., Morrison & Phelps, 1999). Furthermore, some researchers have examined the general concept of proactivity across a wide array of organizational behaviors, such as work on the proactive personality and its effects on outcomes including job performance, perceptions of leadership, career outcomes, and team effectiveness (e.g., Crant & Bateman, 2000; Crant, 1995; Deluga, 1998; Seibert, Crant, & Kraimer, 1999; Kirkman & Rosen, 1999). In contrast, other researchers have focused on specific proactive behaviors that occur in a particular context. For example, research on proactive socialization has focused on newcomers' initiative in gathering information in the context of their first six months on the job (e.g., Miller & Jablin, 1991; Morrison, 1993a, 1993b).
Drawing from both general and context-specific conceptualizations of proactive behavior, Figure 1 depicts an integrative framework of the antecedents and consequences of proactive behavior. The model is intended to help researchers interested in various proactive behaviors identify the types of variables that have been studied. In addition, the model demonstrates that proactive behaviors have been characterized in different ways and studied in an array of literatures, which might spur organizational scholars whose primary research interests lie in other domains to consider how proactive behaviors may inform their own research.
Two broad categories of antecedents are included in the model: individual differences and contextual factors. One set of individual differences is composed of constructs specifically designed to capture one's disposition toward or potential to perform proactive behaviors, such as proactive personality and role breadth self-efficacy. The other set of individual differences included in the model consists of variables associated with specific proactive behaviors, such as desire for feedback and job involvement. Contextual factors, such as uncertainty and organizational norms toward proactive behavior, appear in the model as antecedents because they also are associated with the decision to behave in a proactive fashion. The central portion of the model depicts two classes of proactive behaviors. General actions--for example, challenging the status quo and creating favorable conditions--refer to broad categories of proactive behaviors that might occur in any number of work-related situations. Context-specific beh aviors, such as proactive socialization and feedback seeking, capture particular proactive behaviors that occur in a limited domain. Finally, the ultimate outcome of the model is the consequences of proactive behavior, such as improved job performance and career success.
The next section of this review considers the theoretical and empirical support for the components of the model. I organize the discussion around four general constructs designed to broadly capture elements of proactive behavior (proactive personality, personal initiative, role breadth self-efficacy, and taking charge) and six context-specific proactive behaviors (socialization, feedback seeking, issue selling, innovation, career management, and stress coping).
Proactive Behavior Constructs
As a starting point toward examining extant work on proactive behavior on the job, I will review four constructs that take a general approach toward the conceptualization and measurement of proactive behavior. While other constructs and measures exist that tap particular, context-specific proactive behaviors (e.g., feedback seeking, socialization), these are the only constructs I am aware of that specifically capture the broad concepts of proactive behavior and initiative. These constructs will be reviewed in the order in which they appeared in the literature.
People are not always passive recipients of environmental constraints on their behavior; rather, they can intentionally and directly change their current circumstances (e.g., Buss, 1987; Diener, Larsen, & Emmons, 1984). Bateman and Crant (1993) introduced the proactive disposition as a construct that identifies differences among people in the extent to which they take action to influence their environments. They defined the prototypical proactive personality as someone who is relatively unconstrained by situational forces and who effects environmental change. Proactive people identify opportunities and act on them, show initiative, take action, and persevere until meaningful change occurs. In contrast, people who are not proactive exhibit the opposite patterns: they fail to identify, let alone seize, opportunities to change things. Less proactive individuals are passive and reactive, preferring to adapt to circumstances rather than change them.
The proactive personality scale (PPS; Bateman & Crant, 1993) measures this construct. Bateman and Crant (1993) presented the results of three studies demonstrating the scale's convergent, discriminant, and predictive validity. Factor analyses and reliability estimates suggest that the scale is unidimensional. Test-retest reliability over a three-month period was .72, providing some evidence for the measure's stability. The PPS has been incorporated into a number of studies assessing an array of potential outcomes of proactive behavior at work. Research has established relationships between proactive personality and individual job performance (Crant, 1995), career outcomes (Seibert, Crant, & Kraimer, 1999), leadership (Bateman & Crant, 1993; Crant & Bateman, 2000; Deluga, 1998), organizational innovation (Parker, 1998), team performance (Kirkman & Rosen, 1999), and entrepreneurship (Becherer & Maurer, 1999; Crant, 1996).
Individual job performance. The relationship between a sales professional's PPS score and his or her job performance was examined in a longitudinal study of real estate agents (Crant, 1995). Using an index of job performance composed of the number of homes sold, listing agreements obtained, and commission income earned during a 9-month performance period subsequent to the collection of the predictor variables, proactive personality had a criterion validity coefficient of .23. This was second in magnitude only to the number of years of real estate experience (r = .28) and similar to the validity coefficient for general mental ability (r = .21). After controlling for experience, general mental ability, conscientiousness, extraversion, and social desirability, proactive personality explained an additional 8% of the variance in job performance. Proactive personality was presumed to trigger higher job performance through its effects on selecting and changing the sales environment, such as agents' focusing on the high-end market and actively soliciting new clients.