Note: this is part two of a two-part series.
As I discussed last month, management
types are Reactive, Inactive, Preactive
or Interactive. Time is an obliging variable
breaking down into Past, Now or
Future. Attitudes toward time are even simpler being
Positive (+) or Negative (-). Defining a manager’s
planning style reflects the manager’s approach to and
tolerance for change.
Preactive management and planning
Preactive managers are obsessed with the
future so much so that they go to great lengths
to accelerate change and exploit opportunities
along the way. They are preoccupied with forecasting
in order to predict and prepare for the
future. Preactivism is the most dominant management
type in the United States.
Preactivists believe that it is more difficult
to predict accurately than it is to prepare effectively
for an accurately predicted future. Of
course, prefect preparations for an inaccurately
predicted future are no value.1
Planning for the preactivist consists of top-down
forecasting of the future, followed by the
development of objectives and strategies for
the entire organization which are then passed
down for implementation. Plans are prepared
to minimize forecasted threats and maximize
After reading a benchmarking report of
his industry’s safety performance, the CEO
decided to declare the coming year â€” “The
Year of Safety.” The CEO called in his VP of
Safety and requested a forecast of what the
VP thought the company could achieve in
improved safety performance in the coming
year. The VP, never once reaching out to the
businesses that would be tasked to achieve
the goal, consulted with his corporate safety
staff and unilaterally decided that the company
could achieve a 40 percent improvement in
safety performance. The only support the corporate
safety staff provided to the business was
a slick spreadsheet to track performance and a
brief injury/illness improvement plan.
The business unit’s response consisted of
pulling their safety pros from their normal
duties and placing them in charge of implementing
the plan. Virtually no training was
provided, while at the same time the business
encountered severe cost-reduction mandates
from management. Even though sales were
deteriorating due to poor manufacturing quality,
the business managers maintained pressure to meet
or beat the 40 percent improvement.
At the plant site level, the plant manager realized
her employees’ attention to safety was diminishing,
her safety pros were distracted by the 40 percent
goal, and her plant was experiencing an uptick in near
misses. She immediately re-directed her safety pros
to focus on plant/employee safety and not to worry
about the corporate goal. She met with her first-line
supervisors and instructed them to concentrate on
having their employees work safely, improve quality,
and that she would take the heat for the corporate
goal. During the course of a routine process hazards
review, a team of operators and two safety pros found
the reason for worsening manufacturing quality
Repairs were undertaken averting what could have
been a catastrophic accident. By year-end, the plant
had achieved a respectable 28 percent improvement in
safety; however, those in management and the CEO
were not impressed. The CEO asked for yet another
safety improvement forecast for the coming year.
Interactive management and planning
Interactive managers focus on improving performance
over time rather than how well one can do at a
particular point in time. In other words, interactivists
believe that the future depends at least as much on
what we, and others like us, do between now and then
as it does on what has happened until now.
Rather than assuming the future is largely out of
our control, the interactive manager ascribes to the
belief that the future is largely subject to creation
derived by the concept of “interactive planning.” The
systems thinking concept of interactive planning is
defined as the design of a desirable future and the
invention of ways to bring it about.
Several years ago, a large company decided to
undertake a cost reduction initiative through an Early
Retirement Program (ERP). At the time, the occupational
safety and health (OSH) staff amounted to 200
professionals. With the announcement of the ERP, 80
OSH pros (40 percent) decided to retire. This group of
“soon to be retired” OSH pros accounted for 65 percent
of the OSH knowledge and experience in the company.
Interestingly, of the remaining 120 OSH pros, 30 of
them were eligible for retirement in five years.
The business climate was intense with ongoing
cost reduction initiatives and continuous pressure to
improve product quality, innovation and overall safety,
health and environmental (SHE) performance.
Realizing the sudden loss in OSH knowledge and
experience, the OSH leader undertook an interactive
planning process to transform the OSH function into
a value-adding asset to the business. By involving all
representative levels of the business and operations, the
OSH group was able to create a business case for an idealized
design of the new, lower staffed OSH function.
After six months, the new OSH function established
a company-wide network of OSH pros and technicians
knowledgeable in topic-specific areas, rather
than just having a general knowledge of all OSH
specialties. Anyone in the company had immediate
access to the OSH function’s knowledge experts and
their online knowledge database.
Detailed costs were maintained throughout the process,
which allowed the OSH leader to demonstrate
to management that the overall implementation had
reduced total SHE fixed costs by 25 percent without
having to add any additional personnel.
Of the four management types and planning styles,
interactive management and planning can lead to a
tectonic shift in how business and operations will
respect and utilize OSH professionals’ expertise and
1 Ackoff, R.L. 1981, 59, Creating the Corporate Future –
Plan or Be Planned For. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.
2 Ackoff, R.L., 1999, 52, Re-Creating the Corporation –
A Design of Organizations for the 21st Century. Oxford
University Press, New York, NY.
3 Ackoff, 1999, 53.
4 Ackoff, 1981, 68, Creating the Corporate Future – Plan or
Be Planned For. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.
5 Ackoff, 1999, 56, Re-Creating the Corporation – A Design
of Organizations for the 21st Century. Oxford University
Press, New York, NY.