Why is employee engagement such a big deal for proposals?

Proposals rely on people. And not just ‘proposal people’. They also rely on people from other parts of your business, to willingly contribute their knowledge, insights and discretionary effort.

These ‘other people’ include leaders, managers, commercial people, legal people, and technical subject matter experts.

And they are getting harder and harder to engage.

In my most recent public Master Class in Writing Winning Tenders and Proposals, I noticed a big shift in the problems and issues that proposal people were bringing into the room – particularly those with significant (5 years or more) experience.

All of them cited employee engagement as their biggest challenge.

I’d summarise this as ‘getting the input I need, from the people I need, but who don’t report to me’.

They spoke about having to fight to get attention and buy-in; how hard it was to get people to think strategically, and the challenge of getting good quality content they could use, as opposed to recycled rubbish that gets dropped into their in-box at the last minute.

It sounded like ‘other people’ had forgotten that winning business is everyone’s business, and that a small proposal team, particularly in a large organisation with hundreds or thousands of people, cannot possibly hope to do this alone.

This is a significant shift.

Not too long ago, proposal teams would have been talking about win rates, productivity, and managing deadlines as their primary concerns.

Now, it’s all about managing other people – usually people elsewhere in the business, who have other managers, and other priorities, and who need to be bribed, begged, or pleaded with to contribute their expertise to proposals.

So what has changed, and what can we do about it?

When you work inside an organisation, your level of motivation for particular types of work depends on three things:

  • Personal motivation – whether you have the skills, confidence and enthusiasm to do the work;
  • Structural motivation – whether the work is enshrined in your job description, and comes with clear guidelines and KPIs; and
  • Cultural motivation – whether the work is supported, valued, and celebrated by your colleagues and the organisation itself.

When any one of these motivations is missing, there is a problem.

Without personal motivation, you’ll have low satisfaction (and probably high stress) when doing the work.

Without structural motivation, you’ll have low expectation that the work should actually be done.

And without cultural motivation, you’ll have low support for the work, and colleagues will lack understanding about what it really contributes to the organisation.


With the increasing professionalisation of proposals, and the rise of specialist proposal teams, fewer people now have ‘contribution to proposals’ enshrined in their job description or KPIs. This undermines structural motivation.

Proposals are a very quick way to burn out people who are trying to fit them in around their day job, with no training or confidence in their ability to write or contribute. This undermines personal motivation.

Proposals also tend to be invisible, back-office, ‘sweatshop’ work that attracts little recognition and reward. Instead of being publicly thanked and praised for their efforts, or given time off to rest and recuperate, those who do contribute their discretionary effort to proposals are expected to dive straight back in to their day job to tackle a backlog of work. This undermines cultural motivation.

Unfortunately, most organisations undermine their proposal effort more than they support it.

Are you seeing these challenges in your organisation? And what have you done to overcome them?

Love to hear your thoughts.