Culture is defined and interpreted in countless ways. It may be as simple as a preferred music genre or as complex as a total sense of personal identity. In the workplace, it may be a “Work Hard – Play Hard” sign above the entrance or an open plan office celebrating the approachability of management. Cultural influences can dominate people’s entire lives. Some acknowledge or selectively embrace favoured elements. And others (rightly or wrongly) can find themselves fighting them.
With The Culture Club, I wanted to explore the geographical differences, local influences and workplace variations within the bidding profession. I was keen for our Experts to explore how a country’s or region’s unique culture creates different approaches to bidding and the related impacts on the bid team. Building strong relationships is a key theme throughout BQ12; in bidding, they are your best friend.
Covid has changed the way most of us manage bids. Prior to its emergence, international travel and meeting our peers face-to-face was often the preserve of senior members of the bid and sales team. Today, all levels of an organisation are interacting with their peers around the world via Zoom or Teams. There has never been a more important time to understand our own cultural preferences and their potential impact (positive and negative) on the motivation of the wider bid and sales team, and on our ability to win.
It’s essential to get the basics right in the workplace, whatever your way of life. Do you have a ‘Cultural Bid Calendar’? Do you plan for Chinese New Year, the Islamic New Year, Tamil New Year, and the Jewish New Year? India, Nepal and various other countries celebrate New Year on dates according to their own calendars – are these accounted for? There was a significant social media backlash recently against procurement professionals issuing tenders over Christmas but I haven’t witnessed a similar furore when other cultural events are affected. Rita Mascia’s brilliant article discusses the impact of such ‘cultural myopia’ and suggests strategies for managing a mix of cultures.
Larissa Cornelius talks about power outages as a key part of cultural life in South Africa and the need to plan for these in her bids. It’s an alien concept to me in London, and a brilliant example of the need to understand the challenges our colleagues are facing.
We also mustn’t forget the working week is not the same for everyone. Karen Croshaw shares her experience of working in the Middle East and the importance of aligning to the work patterns of those you are supporting.
I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively and work with bid teams across five continents. Yet as Jon Williams rightly points out in his article, holidaying somewhere doesn’t make me an expert in local culture. I was starkly reminded of this recently when I failed to take account of Diwali in my bid plan on a major opportunity.
As a proud Yorkshireman, I’m very aware of my ‘direct’ communication style. It’s a style that has previously got me fired but also helps me run Bid Solutions. I’ve learnt the hard way (and have by no means perfected) the importance of ‘communication culture’ – adapting my style to match the candidate, client, or supplier rather than expecting them to adapt to mine. Rick Harris highlights this in his excellent article.
Nigel Dennis takes this a step further. In his article, he introduces a brilliant new concept – International Bidding Culture (IBC) – focussed on professional behaviours and values such as respect, timeliness, quality, honesty and empathy.
I hope you take as much as I have from the 15 insightful articles in this issue of BQ. Regrettably, several people declined the opportunity to participate in BQ12 – not for lack of opinion or perspective but for fear of recrimination from cultural strongholds in various parts of the world.
Adopting a global perspective is vital for success. As Michael Brown alludes to in his article, now is the time to embrace cultural diversity if you really want to gain a competitive advantage. And if in doubt, you can always take Sarah Hinchliffe’s advice – when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
In this issue
South African culture at its best is collaborative, creative and charismatic. The rich culture and drive to build a better life sit at the heart of South Africans. South African culture is as diverse as our wildlife. With 11 official languages, we are not called the “Rainbow Nation” for nothing.
A colleague recently reminded me about Esperanto, a planned universal but artificial language. Polish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof created it in 1887 to facilitate communication between people of different languages, countries and cultures in the ultimate hope that it would bring about world peace.
Our brains are wired to recognise patterns and to spot what feels familiar. That’s why we feel comfortable when we belong to a group as we know the rules of engagement.
The battle to connect my laptop to the antiquated projector had finally been won. The tables had been set; handouts, book, pen, paper neatly waiting for each participant. The clock ticked slowly towards the 9am start time. And I sat back and waited for the participants to arrive.
The pandemic has taught us we can run successful bids with a geographically dispersed bid team. I have no doubt this trend will continue, with “You’re on mute, mate!” winning the award for “Most Frequently Used Phrase of 2022” as it has done for the previous two years.
In an industry where time is a scarce commodity, the idea of establishing a global bid team can be very attractive to a time-poor bid leader. I’m sure many of you have thought about 24 hour working, with a connected and collaborative team around the globe. The potential benefits that could be gained from having a team who work whilst you sleep, and who share workload, skills and experience across time zones, could well be the ultimate productivity hack. What could go wrong?
When Martin first announced the Culture Club title, I thought, “Oh no, what do I know about that!” Then I thought again, and a term from a recent Italian movie came to mind: “Una faccia, una razza” – one face, one race. It got me thinking.
During the past 15 years I have worked in 42 countries across five continents. I’ve trained, coached or provided live deal support to more than 5,000 people. That’s a lot of individuals, teams, air miles and preaching of the bidders’ gospel. Does this make me an expert in international bidding culture? Hardly. Only once have I attempted to speak the local language, asking a waitress at a Hungarian restaurant for kis somlói galuska (the bill). Rather embarrassingly, I was told by my hosts (an amazing bid team in Budapest) that I had asked the young lady if she knew where I could get my hands on some small creamy dumplings. Euphemisms and unfortunate new reputation intact, the Budapest team has never allowed me to forget the experience.
You may be thinking, what’s the relevance to bid professionals? Trends such as multinational and multivendor bid teams, flexible working and “The Great Resignation” mean that culture is more important than ever. A healthy culture can enable you to recruit and retain the best people, and function as a high-performing team. How does your team’s culture compare to that of other departments within your organisation, or with your competitors and clients? This article describes the actions you can take to define the need for culture change, then implement and sustain it.
We are in the middle of something that will be written about decades from now. Our children’s children will be telling their grandchildren about it. While some view it as the scourge of modern man, the Digital Revolution is great for business. Industries globally are accelerating, including our ability to produce high-quality bids and proposals to win and retain new business.
When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) first came into force in May 2018, it sent shockwaves across the web that is our digitally connected, globalised economy.
It’s not that GDPR came as a surprise. In fact, it had been in the works for some time and was adopted by the EU in 2016, giving organisations a whole two years to prepare.
I have sat in numerous presentations at APMP conferences where the presenter, in one form or another, states that working on proposals will always require those involved to work extensive overtime, give up their weekends and holidays, cancel vacation plans, and react to whatever demands sales puts upon them. When I’m in the audience for such presentations, I usually hold my tongue as long as I possibly can, but I inevitably end up taking the floor and stating that professionals work a reasonable number of hours per week, take weekends off and go on vacations as planned. They don’t work whatever hours are necessary just because the requestor of the services gave them little to no notice or they weren’t given a reasonable amount of time to develop a high-quality, high-impact response.
In my career as a bid and proposal consultant and trainer, I have been in an extremely privileged position to help all sorts of customers. And when I say ‘all sorts’, I mean all sorts of shapes, sizes, nationalities, industries and languages.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as “The beliefs, customs, arts, etc, of a particular society, group, place, or time”. What then is the best metaphor to use when discussing the impact of different cultures working on the same proposal or project? The melting pot? The salad bowl? The stew where it all mixes up and blends into one delicious fusion dish?
As National Bids and Presentations Manager for the UK over the past three years, our team has led on bids which go beyond the UK to support the international footprint of our clients. The opportunity to collaborate with bid professionals from around the world has become much more frequent. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of tools for working closely with people across the world without the need for travel.