If you think you need more authority to force people to follow your proposal process, you’re doing something wrong

Balancing authority and collaboration

Some companies are built on formal hierarchies, with decisions made by someone in charge. Other companies are consensus driven and work through collaboration. Neither is right or wrong. Depending on the circumstances, one can be a better fit. Picking an approach that does not match the culture of the company is doomed to failure.

If you have to ask, then you don’t have the authority.

But rather than deliberate over how to determine which approach will work in a given environment, there is a much simpler approach. If you have to ask, then you don’t have the authority. If you don’t have the authority, you have to manage by other means. If you can’t use the stick, then get good at using carrots. 

To the people you have to work with, fighting for control that you don’t have is both uncooperative and unsupportive. Not only does it not add value, but when it distracts you from adding enough value to make your approach easier than the alternative of ignoring it, control dramas can actually make your efforts a net negative.

I have never seen fighting for control work. Ever. Even in authoritative companies. Either a person is the authority or they are not. You do not become the authority by gaining a title or by the blessing of The Powers That Be. If you are in a culture that is driven by authority, you will have it. Trying to be the authority when you are not is just annoying. And a little sad.

If you can’t force people to do what you think they should, you should try getting them to want to do what you need. 

How do you do that when nobody wants to work on a proposal?

Start by thinking about what they do want. Here are 5 things that proposal contributors often desire:

  1. To complete their assignments quickly. Focus on providing inspiration and guidance for how to complete their assignments. Avoid orphaned work (anything that does not go into the delivered proposal). Focus on goals instead of procedures. Make your process easier than figuring things out on their own.
  2. To not get stuck in a situation where they don’t know what to do. Make your process self-explanatory. Help them understand what the RFP means. Help them figure out what to offer. Help them figure out what to write.
  3. To not waste their time and effort. Proposal contributors do not want to reinvent the wheel. This is what they think they are doing when they are asked to start writing from scratch on a topic they think has been addressed in previous proposals. But don’t recycle proposal text. Instead, convert past proposal copy into recipes that will enable writers to go from inventing what to write to applying what has been previously written to what it will take to win this proposal.  Proposal contributors also hate to be told to start over. You should provide expectation management and guidance to prevent this. Providing writers with the same quality criteria that reviewers will use is a good way to achieve this. Proposal Contributors also hate bidding a loser. They’ll go the extra mile for something they feel they can win. But they’ll burn out quickly on something they think shouldn’t be bid. Either make the bid rationale clear, or take it as input that your bid/no bid process filter needs to be changed.
  4. To have control over their own destiny.  Get everyone to agree on the goals. How those goals are achieved is secondary. People want to be able to choose the approach they’ll take and juggle their priorities so long as they achieve the goal. Managing priorities becomes an issue when people know what they need to do but they can’t manage their time. Transparency, coordination, and helpful alternatives work better than pressure.
  5. To create a better future. A proposal creates opportunities for future work. The approaches proposed impact that future work environment. Writing the proposal is writing the future. Also, seeing a continuously improving proposal environment helps people accept today’s challenges if they can trust that tomorrow will be better.

Every instance I can remember of people being resistant to working on a proposal involved one or more of these items. If you feel like people need to be forced it’s probably because your process isn’t meeting their needs.

So flip that around. How can you change your process to address these five things? What if you threw your process out and started over making these five things your top priority? What would that process look like?

This is what we did when we wrote the MustWin Process that is documented on PropLIBRARY. It’s goal driven. It provides options. It anticipates things that lead to wasted effort and seeks to resolve them early. It prevents users from getting stuck by ensuring that the information required to complete each task is delivered to the person performing that task. It manages expectations so people know what they are getting into. It provides new ways to monitor progress. But most importantly of all, it adapts so you can get just the right balance between authority and collaboration for your environment.
 


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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. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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.

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