Proposal Land

Handling Harsh Feedback

As always, Seth has a succinct explanation, this time for harsh feedback.

It often comes from one of two kinds of people:

    • People who give themselves feedback in the same heartless tone.
    • Folks who honestly believe that their work is flawless.

As someone who has suffered through harsh feedback from Red TeamsAnd given my share? — I think Seth is onto something here, although in practical terms it might not help much. While there’s always hope for people to learn not to be harsh with themselves, the personal insight and growth required are usually outside the scope of Proposal Land management. And there’s nothing we can do about people who think their own work is flawless.

But his closing comment is even more interesting.

When in doubt, look for the fear.

Fear of what?

  • Fear of losing the business.
  • Fear of winning the business and losing money.
  • Fear of looking bad to a boss.
  • Fear of others thinking that the work you do under schedule pressure is the best you can do.
  • Fear of you thinking that the work you do under schedule pressure is the best you can do.

If you look for the fear in others — if you can understand or even predict it — it opens up new possibilities.

For one, expecting harsh feedback makes it easier to take. OK, sort of.

For another, understanding the fear might allow you to address its drivers:

  • You might take more care with presentation quality.
  • You might interview executives ahead of time or in quiet times to get their preferences and priorities and concerns.
  • You might add a proactive, pre-emptive risk briefing.
  • You might explicitly address a problem from earlier proposals and show how you’ve fixed it this time.
  • You might find a way to push status information so that people who are responsible for the outcome but who lack direct management control can track your progress without having to ask.

If you look for the fear in yourself, you can translate that insight into the personal growth needed to overcome it.

And less harshness in the world is a good thing, yes?



Enough is Enough

Given that the list of things to do is intentionally endless,
it’s on each of us to decide what ‘enough’ looks like.
Because more time isn’t always the answer.

Today Seth is talking about this general problem of limiting the length of our shift. It’s not unique to Proposal Land but it’s pervasive there.

It’s up to each of us to decide what “enough” looks like:

  • It’s on executives to decide what standard of presentation they will demand and to give clear direction on the relative priorities of all the work that *could* be done, because it can’t all *be* done.
  • It’s on team managers to communicate the priorities and to set and enforce reasonable work-day and work-week limits.
  • It’s on team members to address the executives’ top priorities first, rather than the easiest work or their own priorities/obsessions, within the established work limits. And to stop working when the shift is over.

And it’s on everyone to ask the folks above them in the proposal food-chain to do their part.

The work is intentionally endless. More time is not the answer. In that environment, what *does* “enough” look like?

You tell me: It’s not a discovery, it’s a decision.


Better RFPs: Are They Mythical Beasts?

Today, Seth tackles fuzzy-wuzzy specifications. Arguing that a clear spec is clearly (hah!) the best way to get what you want, he asks why so many specs are not clear: vague, murky, and even contradictory.

If you write a great spec,
we get to blame you if it doesn’t work out.

Maybe that’s why so many SOWs and even proposal instructions are, to quote the master, “vague, murky, and even contradictory.” Maybe it’s fear of blame and/or accountability.

Maybe it’s also because, to quote George W. Bush, it’s hard.

It’s hard to clearly specify the work we want. We must first know it well enough to define the outcomes we want and then distinguish those from the methodology used. We must be able to fairly evaluate methodologies that are not the same-old way we’ve always done things. It requires a high level of domain knowledge and some ability to think outside the box.

It’s hard to sensibly specify the response we want. We must first know how we’re going to distinguish between proponents: what we need to know about them or their plans to help us make a high-confidence selection. Otherwise, we’ll just keep asking for the same-old plans that drive immense work for bidders and that our in-house evaluators might not even be able to assess or to differentiate.

Professionally risky + hard = ???

It doesn’t look like an equation that would add up to success, does it? Usually it doesn’t. Recognizing that fact is the place to start on doing better.