Most corporate cultures are a mixed bag. No real attention is given to it. As a result, it is defined as much by the personalities of key staff as it is by intent. If you are in charge, the odds are that your corporate culture is not what you think it is. The reality is different from your aspirations.
And yet your corporate culture is as important to your company’s ability to grow as the steps in your business and proposal development processes.
So what do you do about it? How do you go about changing a culture? It’s not just about speeches. It’s not just about how people treat each other. It’s about changing behaviors. But behaviors don’t change just because someone says they should.
It helps to model behaviors. People tend to emulate their leaders. It also helps to synchronize how people do things with the results you want to achieve.
Here are eight examples of things you can do to change the culture in your organization to one that encourages behaviors that support winning:
- Require all levels to focus on ROI. The economics of resource allocation and priority setting should be based on ROI and not cost control. That should become part of the culture, encouraging people to track ROI and make decisions accordingly. Focusing on ROI shifts the debate from what is the least expensive way to win contracts to what is the most effective way to win contracts. This is where I like to start with companies, since understanding their pipeline and how to calculate the ROI of BD and proposal efforts drives so many other decisions. Focusing on ROI helps companies pay more attention to their win rate.
- Require achieving top performance measures. For Federal contractors, having a top past performance score is critical for being competitive. Instead of making "the highest levels of customer satisfaction" a "value," I recommend making it a mandate. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the top score, the company's expectation should be that projects will score a 5. Scoring below a 5 shows a disconnect between the customer and the company, and should require corrective action. This makes project managers advocate for the customer and helps focus them on understanding the customer’s expectations.
- Make evidence based decisions. Bid/no bid decisions should be evidence based, with the burden of proof on why leads are worth bidding based on ROI. Having the evidence means tracking metrics and measurements. Arguments should be over what the data means and how to get more of it, instead of about opinions. A company focused on evidence of performance and quantifying ROI will make better decisions.
- Validate quality. Quality should be validated and not simply claimed. If your company values "the highest levels of quality" no one will pay it any attention. But if it values the validation of quality, then action is required. And validating quality will start by defining it. Making this part of your culture means that everything people do should be checked to make sure it got done in the correct way. It means every assignment should be defined and have a means to verify that it was properly completed. When this is part of your culture, it becomes simply the way people work. And it is a much better way of working than trying to satisfy whims.
- Cherish customer insight. The best competitive advantage is an information advantage. Gaining an information advantage requires customer insight. If growth is your top priority, then every single customer interaction by every single person who has customer contact should be part of a coordinated effort to gain customer insight. This should not simply be a standard operation procedure, it should be part of your culture. Gaining customer insight should be part of what you do, at all levels and in all departments. This is a key step toward ensuring that all of your proposals reflect customer insight. It takes more than a salesperson or a capture manager. Throw the whole organization behind it to become a winning organization.
- Value perspective. Your entire proposal should be written from the customer's perspective and not your own. You need to train the organization to see things through your customer's eyes. When you achieve that, your staff will also be able to see things through each other's eyes, and better understand how to work together. When winning is determined by someone else, perspective becomes a key ingredient. Perspective avoids the stovepipe mentality, departmental walls, and excessive bureaucracy. Perspective facilitates teamwork and collaboration. Perspective across the organization is needed for being a winning organization.
- Advocate creative destruction. You can claim to value "innovation" all day long, but how do you actually make innovation happen within a company? When you advocate creative destruction, you encourage looking for ways to obsolete the status quo. It informs staff looking for what offerings to develop or solutions to propose. It directly contradicts people who have a fear of doing something new that might cannibalize an existing business line. It sets the stage for disruptive marketing. It's about competing by changing the rules, instead of following the pack and trying to work your way to the front.
- Institutionalize clarity of expectations. Failure to manage expectations leads to friction. Sometimes lots of friction. Win rate killing friction. Assignments that shouldn't have been accepted go unfulfilled. People meet deadlines with substandard work. People are asked to complete assignments without being told how or by what definition of quality until they hand in their completed assignment and find out it's wrong. Achieving clarity of expectations works in both directions. Not only must assignments be clear, but availability, capability, and progress must be made clear. Expectations should be discussed, reviewed, verified, and confirmed by all parties. When expectations flow in both directions we get collaboration instead of rework and substandard submissions.
The difference between tasking and culture
Mandating reports to track performance is not the same thing as building a culture based on evidence based decisions. When you mandate reports, people will do what is required. When you have an evidence based culture, people will think differently. Complaining about quality is different from having a culture that prevents quality issues by validating everything out of habit. Making understanding the customer the salesperson’s job puts all your eggs in one basket and doesn’t ensure that insight makes it into the document that closes the sale.
Because you want people to do these things without being told to. Because your corporate culture is as important to increasing your win rate as steps in your process. Because win rate is critical for growth. And growth is the source of all opportunity.
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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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