I know it’s fun to complain about the boss, but if you want to get things done, you need to think like the boss. There are reasons why you are encountering friction. It’s not as simple as they are micro-managers or ignoring you. You can use this list to anticipate their concerns and improve the chances that they’ll listen to your concerns.
Why your executives won’t list to you:
- You’re not thinking in terms of Return on Investment (ROI). Executives spend money and allocate resources in order to achieve certain goals. In business and proposal development those goals are usually related to revenue and profit. Companies will spend more to make more. They usually won’t spend more to make people happy. Appealing to ROI only works when it’s quantified. If you say “we should invest effort in following the process because it will boost our win rate and the company will make more revenue,” then what you are saying will be true but unconvincing. But if you show mathematically the difference between raising win rates by 10% vs. increasing the volume of bids by 10%, it’s a lot more compelling.
- You are not the only stakeholder. You’ve got your needs. So does the subject matter expert who doesn’t want to help with the proposal. So does the CEO. So does everybody who touches or is impacted by the proposal. For executives it can be like having a bunch of noisy kids in the back seat of the car, and they often react accordingly.
- Budget and incentives distort the picture. Nearly all executives are on some kind of incentive plan. So are many business development and even proposal staff. While having people on incentive plans benefits the company, all incentive plans distort behavior and have negative consequences. It is entirely possible that what you are asking makes complete sense but goes against their personal incentives. If they are aware of it and it really makes sense, they may do what you want anyway. But they may not even be aware of it and are just acting on what they feel are the company’s priorities.
- They have goals you are not aware of. Your company may be pursuing financing or an acquisition (maybe of itself). There may be legal issues. Or results of an audit. Or informal agreements between teaming partners. Or other reasons that the company doesn’t want to discuss that impact its decisions for better or worse.
- You’re bringing them problems instead of solutions. If you bring your executive a problem, they have to invest in finding a solution and will probably incur a delay. If they have other fires to fight, yours may not be the highest priority, from their perspective. They’ll get to it when they can. If you bring them a solution, they just have to make a decision (which is painful enough). Bringing them a solution means bringing them the whole cost/benefit analysis and implementation plan so that if they approve it, they can turn their attention elsewhere.
- You are limiting their freedom to act. When you tell them when they must participate and how, you box them in. If they are in fire-fighting mode, they may just ignore your guidance or attempt at restrictions since from their perspective, they need to juggle competing demands for their attention and act when they have time to do so.
- You haven’t set expectations. If an executive doesn’t know what to expect in terms of process or results, they may perceive a need to intervene. Or have their attention focused elsewhere when there is a need for their intervention.
- You’re adding uncertainty instead of clarity. When you speak of issues or risks, you add uncertainty to their considerations. This is true even if you are just the messenger and not the cause of the issues. You are something else that requires attention. If instead you bring clarity to the issues, you focus that attention.
- Sunk costs. It’s hard to walk away from what you’ve already spent or invested in a pursuit. To avoid seeing it as a loss, it has to be framed as an investment.
- Fixed costs. Whenever you have fixed costs, you want to maximize their productivity. A salary is a fixed cost. Dumping more pursuits onto someone on salary seems like maximizing productivity. Arguments about opportunity costs, or the fact that if you put effort into a low probability pursuit, it takes effort away from higher probability pursuits are unpersuasive. If, at that particular moment, there are no other higher probability pursuits, they are completely unpersuasive since there appears to be no added cost to pursuing, but there is a slight chance of a payoff.
If you think like an executive yourself, you’ll do a better job of providing the right information to achieve the outcome you desire. It’s really the same thing as writing a proposal from the customer’s perspective. You’re just applying it to selling within your company instead of to a customer.
The MustWin Process in PropLIBRARY is designed around managing expectations and coordinating the efforts of all the stakeholders, including your executives. It directly addresses most of these considerations, and will help strengthen your position for the rest.
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The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
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