Do your people loathe proposals?

Next week I’ll be heading up to Sydney to speak to a group of professionals as part of Consult Australia’s FutureNet program for emerging leaders in the built environment and construction industry.

For the most part, these are young people who are just at the beginning of their career.

My wish for them is that when they eventually look back on their long and successful career in the industry, they will know for certain that they have won - and done - the work they really deserved to do.

Over the course of nearly two decades, I have worked with professional services teams in a wide range of industries, including engineering, environmental and heritage management, project management, market research, management consulting, marketing services, and real estate services.

What professionals in any industry have in common is the desire to actually do the work they set out to do; the kind of engaging, satisfying work that will make all their study, their sacrifices, and their sweat and tears worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the need to first win this work through a bid or competitive tender tends to become a block and a barrier that gets in the way.

As a result, professionals often loathe proposals, or at the very least, have become jaded, frustrated or exhausted by them.

This usually comes down to some combination of these five things:

  1. They lack the time or skills to develop a strategy they know can win the work.
  2. They are bogged down by useless procedures that tick some internal box but add no actual value to the proposal.
  3. Any pre-written proposal content they can get hold of, which should make their life better, does the opposite, because it is patchy, poorly written or completely out of date.
  4. Although they are expected to write proposals to win work, they have never had any training or development to show them how.
  5. They have no reliable, ongoing source of mentoring or support.

Nowhere is employee engagement more important than in professional services firms, who rely on fee earners to generate income.

And as a professional services leader, it’s your responsibility to know when these issues are impacting on your team, and your ability to win the work you want.

A 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study of 116,600 employees across 20 professional services firms made the distinction between drivers of staff retention, which tend to be individual issues like pay and rewards, career development, leadership, stress balance and workload, and drivers of engagement, which are primarily cultural; the firm’s image and reputation, and whether or not it is ‘living its values’.

The study also noted that the level of employee engagement reflects the bond, or attachment, between employee and employer, which determines an employee’s willingness to give discretionary effort – the kind of effort your proposals almost certainly rely on.

Since I first started delivering the Pimp My Proposals program, one of the most gratifying – and consistent – results has been way it re-boots the engagement of teams who previously saw proposals as a brain-draining, mind-numbing chore.

One participant, who had come into a workshop particularly fed-up and disinterested in proposals, had completely changed his tune by the end of the day. Here’s what he had to say:

“I learned that we can challenge the norms we’ve been working to, and evolve and improve our proposals to win business. We need to change!”

At the end of your day, it’s not the proposal itself that really matters – it’s the opportunity that lies waiting for you on the other side.

Don’t let the proposal become the block and the barrier that sits between you, and the work that you and your team really deserve to do.