Doing proposals with other people

Creating a proposal is easy. Working with other people is hard.

Creating a proposal is easy. Working with other people is hard. Combine the two and you’ve got trouble.

A big part of the problem is that other people have opinions. They have their own ways of doing things. When you’re trying to do your proposal a certain way or say things in a certain way, it often doesn't work out that way when other people are involved.

It would be great if you could just tell them how you want things done and have them do it that way. Unfortunately, other people don’t work that way.

How good you are at resolving issues involving other people is a major determinant of the success of your proposal.

You need those other people. But they are such a pain. Working with other people on a proposal can be like herding cats.

How good you are at resolving issues involving other people has three components:

Inspiration, authority, and personality all play a part. But you can make a huge difference just by focusing on tangible things and building them into your proposal process.

How well you surface the issues. When working with other people, they may not even tell you there’s an issue. Maybe they’re avoiding conflict. Maybe they don’t even realize it. But what they’re not doing is what you think they should. That’s an issue. And if you don't surface the issue, it will come up when it’s too late, or it will keep coming back.

To work with other people, you have to create opportunities to surface issues. You need disagreements and other opinions to come up to the surface where they can be resolved. When this doesn’t happen on a proposal, you see people turn in their assignments late and without following directions. You get a tug-of-war over what the strategies should be. You see proposal teams undermining their reviews because they disagree with the reviewers. You get last minute surprises. Or worse, you get a proposal that is the lowest common denominator because it avoided the controversies.

You can create opportunities to surface issues with content planning and proposal reviews. When you think people have other opinions, give them a voice, whether written or spoken. Sometimes you can disagree but still move forward together.

How well you resolve the issues. Once an issue has been surfaced, you have a chance to resolve it. How you do this depends on your organizational culture, decisiveness, and politics. Differences in strategy or approach must be resolved if you are to achieve them. It’s vital to get everyone on the same page. But doing this and keeping them there has to be a shared goal. You shouldn’t move forward until everyone agrees to the same path. But if you force them, what you’ll get is a passive/aggressive agreement that won’t stick.

Often the first step in resolving an issue is to agree on the approach to resolution instead of the outcome. In the same way you can build opportunities to surface issues into your proposal process, you can build in approaches to resolving them in as well. When your proposal process is seen as giving everyone a voice, a path to resolution, and a way for everyone to work together in spite of all the other people, your proposal process will be seen as delivering value beyond what people can do for themselves. That can be a tremendous help in getting people to accept and follow the process.

How well you monitor the results. Other people are not always consistent. Sometimes they say one thing and do another. They tend to change their minds. Or get distracted. Or forget. You need ways to monitor issues to make sure they don’t come back and that resolutions stick. This is something you should build into your quality assurance or review processes. The more you can do to enable them to check their own work, the more likely they are to achieve consistent results.

None of this addresses the real problem with working with other people on proposals

The real problem with other people is that you have to depend on them. It can be really tempting to cut them out and just do it all yourself. But you can’t win proposals that are bigger than yourself that way. You depend on them to win big.

You’ll get better results if you make your process about working with other people by making it serve other people. Ask yourself what people need to work together. If you want your proposals to reflect the best that all the participants have to offer, what can you do for them to facilitate their contributions? Giving other people a voice for their opinions and a path to working together that avoids endless struggle might be a good place to start.

But it’s so hard. It does make proposal writing look easy in comparison.



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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

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.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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