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How to prevent proposal failure because of problems getting people to work together

Winning proposals bigger than yourself requires working with other people

I like to think of it as the “other people” problem. Proposals would be so much easier if you didn’t have to work with other people. If they would just do what you need them to do…  

At work we tend to think that working with other people is just a matter of management and leadership. But proposal specialists often (usually?) work with people that they have no direct supervision of. Proposals borrow people. And those people have other priorities. 

If the only techniques you have are management and enforcement, your proposals are going to be full of people problems. The only real people problem you have is yourself. You don’t need to make them change. If you change, then how they will respond will change on its own.

Here are 8 areas where you can change the performance of an entire proposal team simply by changing yourself.

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Successful process implementation
  • Value delivery. All opportunity requires growth. Proposals are the primary source of growth for contractors. People need to get something out of their efforts. It doesn’t always have to be something for them personally. But make them aware that working on proposals creates jobs, promotions, and improvements for the customers and all of the customer’s stakeholders. Working on proposals often delivers more value to more people than people’s normal jobs. Make them aware of it. Allow them to be proud of what they are accomplishing. People shouldn’t have to work on proposals. People should get to work on proposals. 
  • Inspiration. Encourage people to think bigger. You don’t necessarily need a sense of aggression to conquer the competition. A better vision will do. A grand vision of what could be. Thinking out of the box and changing the rules. Going way beyond the routine. And then turning it into something completely feasible and even practical. Help people break out of their routine so they can create a proposal that is far better than what your competitors are capable of.
  • Motivation. Sometimes people need a little extra motivation. Motivation can be tangible, but often intangible motivation works better. But be careful. Too much cheerleading can be worse than none.
  • Lubrication. What are the sources of friction that impede people's ability to complete their proposal assignments? Sometimes it’s competing priorities. Sometimes it’s a lack of clarity regarding how to fulfill the assignment. Sometimes it’s emotional. Friction adds up and makes things grind to a halt. Apply lubrication and make the proposal run smoother by reducing or eliminating all points of friction.
  • Expectations. People show up with expectations. You have expectations. Can they all be met? Maybe. Maybe not. But they do need to be clear. All kinds of problems lurk under the surface when they are not. The good news is that most of the expectations that most people have are at least somewhat flexible. By surfacing expectations you gain the ability to find workarounds that maximize fulfillment for all. If you articulate your expectations as mandates, you immediately reduce the room for compromise and innovative ways to maximize fulfillment.
  • Encourage innovation. I like to tell people that I will gladly steal their good ideas for how to do things better. I want them to find a better way. I’d much rather be debating which way is better with people who only want the best than to be trying to force people to do things my way. 
  • Make it easier for people to be uncomfortable. Winning proposals means leaving your comfort zone behind in order to improve your win probability. Staying in your comfort zone is not competitive. This is true for you as well as your team. This does not mean to take stupid risks, but it does mean you have to rationally assess risks and commit to the ones you decide to take. And you have to do this as a team, because all will be impacted. Embrace it together. Revel in it. Reread the bullet about inspiration.
  • Mitigate conflicts. There are going to be conflicts. Because other people have their own opinions and agendas. Approach each one not as an argument or debate, but as a chance for productive improvement. Mitigate your conflicts by anticipating them, preventing them where you can, and resolving them all. Start by defining the conflict. Then ask yourself if that’s true. You are part of the conflict. So own it by finding a path to resolution that makes the team and the proposal stronger than it would have been without the conflict. Enjoy the process because it is necessary and can be good. 

You do not have to transform yourself into a “people” person or learn how to be emotionally intelligent. I’m not. I’m simply someone who needs to get things done through other people against a deadline. Since I can’t just get rid of them all and do it myself, I have to make them productive. It’s good to understand management. It’s good to understand leadership. But it’s crucial to be able to make a team of strangers you just met of varying skills and personalities productive. 

When you do it all yourself, you can only win opportunities that are within your reach. When you work through other people, you can win opportunities of any size and complexity. And to do that, you have to solve the “other people” problem. 

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Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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