Many of our readers have attended a training course (or courses) that Jon or I presented. Those who have attended one of our workshops may recall that we usually ask participants to share what they have learned during the session.
We typically hear such things as, “I now understand the roles and responsibilities of the various individuals involved and why it is critical that we all understand and respect our respective roles and responsibilities.” Or “I have a much greater appreciation for the importance of an Executive summary and the role it plays in influencing the person review my proposal.”
On a recent workshop, when I asked if someone had a significant learning that they wished to share, a young man excitedly raised his hand and waved it to get my attention. I asked him to share what he had learned he said, “The coolest thing. I found out that you don’t have to drag the cursor over a word or sentence to highlight it, you can just click on it and it automatically highlights the word or sentence. That is SO much easier and it’s going to save me tons of time.”
Just goes to show that there are a great many levels of expertise with the tools we all rely upon on a daily basis (and varying levels as to what will get any one person excited.)
A fascinating example recently of the need to cut one’s losses and walk away from a deal, even after being selected as the preferred supplier.
The client in question wanted us to run a series of training courses in a far-flung land. Pricing was agreed, terms and conditions discussed, dates provisionally scheduled in diaries. And then… And then: just a few ‘minor’ tweaks to the Ts and Cs were proposed by our client contact. A few highlights might raise your eyebrows as much as they caused us to raise ours.
We’d obviously be happy to provide them with electronic copies of all our materials, and grant them unlimited permission to reproduce and reuse these at no cost. Those travel expenses they’d offered, all along, to pay? Actually, we’d need to cover them after all.
Cancellation terms? See, they’d been thinking about those – and we’d need to take the risk: fly our team half way around the world at our own cost, and the client could cancel the event up to the night before it was due to start, with no penalty.
It raised a couple of issues for us, as a business. We always aim to be open, honest, fair and trustworthy in our dealings. In this case, the potential client didn’t seem to uphold the same honourable standards. How could we trust them? And could we do business – no matter how lucrative the potential contract – on an entirely unreasonable commercial basis?
Sadly, dear reader, the project’s not going ahead. There reaches a point when enough has to be enough. And our little escapade illustrates the dangers of measuring proposal centres on win rates alone, when the negotiation phase can cause even a sole bidder to walk away from the table.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I suppose I should have been quite flattered to be in the audience when someone used one of my exercises at a conference at which I was presenting. I wasn’t.
One of the exercises I’ve used for many years is “Stand Up If”. This exercise is one I learned from Izzy Gesell, author of Playing Along*, and adapted with his permission. When Jon or I use this game, we give credit to Izzy.
I suspect many of our readers will be familiar with this exercise, wherein statements are made and participants are asked to stand up if the statement is true for them. The individuals then remain standing till the next statement is read. If it is also true for them, they remain standing, if it is not, they sit down. This causes an up and down movement in the room that creates great energy. This is typically used for introduction purposes in workshops or presentation and Jon and I have delivered this many times at APMP events and used it to kick-off workshops we’ve presented.
At this recent conference, someone attempted to use this exercise. I say attempted because the exercise was so poorly delivered and so corrupted that it bore little resemblance to the original exercise, save for the name, which was displayed on this person’s presentation slide (with no credit given).
The person delivering this exercise didn’t explain the rules of the game and it was obvious people weren’t sure what was going on. He began by just saying, “Stand up if you are attending this conference for the first time.” He then said, “Okay, sit down if you are a new member of APMP. What? Confusion rained and it continued to go downhill from there.
During one statement, while people were standing, this person spoke at some length about the conference and during this time those participants who had been standing sat down. He then said “Okay, now raise your hand if…” Excuse me? Raise your hand? In Stand Up If? That’s not how the game is played…and it certainly caused some confusion among the participants.
Suffice to say, the exercise did not go very well and I was not happy to see the exercise used and abused in this manner.
So, am I writing this just to complain? No. I’m writing this to point out a few important things related to the reuse of content.
Whether you’re using an exercise that you’ve participated in or, as is more often the case in the proposal world, re-using content, ALWAYS:
- Always get permission when using someone else’s intellectual property.
- Give appropriate credit.
- Last but not least (and in fact perhaps most importantly) don’t change the content in such a way as to diminish its quality and associated impact.
*Stand Up If and other great improve exercises can be found in the book Playing Along by Izzy Gesell (available through Amazon.com or from www.izzyg.com)
Early on when running a proposal, I ask members of the team to visualise success. If they all have a clear and consistent picture in mind of “what good would look like”, then the chances of them “doing good stuff” will be that much higher. The process should be less painful, too, as they work with a common goal to which they’ve each committed.
One team I worked with recently was struggling to get their minds in gear on this topic. We’d tried the usual tricks: we’d brainstormed, we’d used post-its, we’d visualised the evaluators reading the document, we’d drawn pictures – but to no avail: nothing really clicked.
So I tried an alternative approach the following morning. I copied the back covers of a selection of paperback books – novels and non-fiction. I asked the team to look through them and study their composition. A headline to catch the eye, a plot synopsis, an author profile and a few gushing quotes seemed to be the common features.
And then I invited the team to write their own perfect back cover for the proposal they were about to write. And it worked like a dream!
Yet I was minded to push the concept a step further. Most evaluation teams will produce some form of internal briefing note about each bidder’s proposal. That summary, it struck me, is broadly akin to a book review.
So, what if we asked proposal contributors to write a ‘review’ of the ‘book’ they’re about to produce – specifically, the review they’d hope would be written by the customer’s chief evaluator? That’d make them think about structure, style and story of the proposal they were about to develop – and might well unlock some fascinating insights.
Discussing strategy development with a team recently, I found that two course participants had both recently peer-reviewed the same proposal, a couple of days before the event.An easy demonstration of powerful strategies came to mind. I asked one of the pair to leave the room for a few moments, and asked the other to use the flipchart to list the key messages that he could remember from the proposal. We then brought his colleague back in and asked the same question.
Not surprisingly, their lists differed somewhat – each of the readers having come up with differing lists of half-a-dozen or more themes. It wasn’t a huge leap to imagine the evaluation team having been left with similarly muddled messages as to the reasons why they should have selected this supplier. And as an illustration of the need for a proposal to focus clearly on three or four key messages, and to present these in a memorable way, the exercise couldn’t have been more powerful.
My experience has been that those who need to make improvements most, are the least open to admitting the need or seeking help.
A recent experience with workshops that Jon and I delivered highlights this.
Within this particular company there are two divisions, and we delivered the same workshop to both.
One of these divisions produces proposals of a fair to good quality (based on an audit using standardized criteria), and has a win rate of about 40%. The other division produces proposals that are very poor (based on the same audit and criteria), and their win rate is below 10%.
The group with the higher quality and win rate saw the value of conducting the workshop, had a positive attitude and an open mind, and actively participated.
And the other group? Well, you know already, right?
From the head of the group on down, they failed to recognize the need to improve the quality or win rate, questioned the need for conducting any training, and did everything possible in an attempt to not have to attend. Then, once in the workshop (yes, the powers that be got them in their seats), they were extremely negative, refused to participate, and behaved in a rude and arrogant manner.
Of course, as one would expect, the feedback from the first group stated that they got a lot out of the workshop, and early indicators show that the changes they are making are resulting in higher quality and improved win rates. And, of course, the inverse is true for the second group. They’ve done nothing, and if anything, things have declined further.
And the reasons for this? They are many and varied, and I dare say, not the important question. For me the more important question, and it’s applicable to many situations, is how do you make sure that you are in the first group, and that you have a realistic view as to what you’re doing and looking for ways to improve.
As one who has been at the game for quite some time now (never mind Jon, they know how much older than you I am without you pointing it out!), I am acutely aware of the potential for falling into the “but that’s the way we’ve always done it” trap, and Jon and I coach each other to always be looking at what we’re doing, how we do it, and how it can be improved (no matter how good it might already be!) :)
Hopefully, your thinking and actions put you in the first group too.
I ask participants at the start of my workshops what comes to mind when I say the word “proposals”. I then ask the question again at the end of the workshop. I did this during a workshop in Baltimore this past week. It’s interesting to me to see the shift in thinking that can take place when someone has an opportunity to be introduced to and explore the core concepts and the ‘best practices’ related to proposals. Here’s the list from this past workshop.
BEFORE THE WORKSHOP –
I Think - I Feel
This is going to be very difficult – Anxious, nervous
I have no support, No one will help me – Frustrated, angry
I don’t know how to do this - Intimidated
I hate doing this - Annoyed
No one understands what I do - Abandoned
AFTER THE WORKSHOP –
I Think - I Feel
This is an opportunity - Excited
I understand my role - Eager to assist
There’s a logical process to follow - Competent, equipped
I know why we’re doing this - Energized, psyched
This is important - Valued.
This is after a 1 day workshop. So, I guess that might explain why I am so “Passionate About Proposals”. After all, I’ve been exploring, working with and discussing proposals for how many years now? :-)