I recently listened in as the person at the next desk led a two-hour approvals meeting, 48 hours before their proposal was due with the customer. I wasn’t being nosey – but it’s rather tough not to overhear when someone two feet away is bellowing down the phone line to a cast of thousands on the end of a conference call. It was depressing listening, as they argued about whether their financial model and implementation plan were too risky – with nary a mention of the customer or competition.At the end of the call, she put down the phone in frustration, and turned to a colleague: “They didn’t approve it. I’m going to have to cancel my dinner appointment tonight. We need to schedule another approvals board session tomorrow.” And then, to my amazement, she shrugged her shoulders and added: “Then again, I didn’t expect them to say ‘yes’.”
The whole episode served as a microcosm of what’s wrong with so many bid approvals processes:
- Why so late? A robust process secures in-principle approval early, so that the stakeholders understand the opportunity and their final decision is easy (”are we within the variables we agreed initially?”). Amending the proposal as the result of a late disagreement should be the very, very rare exception – not the rule.
- Why so internally-focused? If we’re testing whether the offer should be amended, doesn’t this need to work both ways: are we doing enough to win, as well as whether we’d be happy with the deal as it stands?
- Why so many people? “Hey, we’ve got nothing better to do: let’s go and make mischief on a bid”. You *do* want all those who’ll be accountable for delivering to stand up and be counted – “we’ll make this happen successfully when we win” – but surely there’s a cleverer way? Delegated authorities, anyone?
- Why so long? Two hours? To sign-off a simple, low-value deal for a standard product?
- Why so unsure? The bid team’s so lacking in confidence that it’s not sure its own management will support them. But the proposal will be fantastic and their bid presentation will ooze clarity and conviction, right?
So here’s the deal. If your final approvals process regularly results in you having to rework your proposal in the final 72 hours, forget what you were planning on doing next, and head straight for your Chief Executive’s office once you’ve finished reading. And don’t leave until they’ve empowered you to change the fundamentally flawed way in which you’re having to work.