“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is widely attributed to Peter Drucker, the Austrian-American consultant, teacher and writer1.
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.
Work up an appetite: define the need for culture change
You can define the need for culture change by categorising behaviours and understanding your “why” and “why now”.
1. Categorise behaviours
Consider the current culture at organisation (macro) and team (micro) levels. Conduct a “pulse check” by discussing the behaviours your team wants to stop, start, and continue. Examples include:
- Stop: “We’ll limit sending emails outside of our working hours (and those of our team members in other time zones) or add a note that we don’t expect an immediate response”. Or “We’ll avoid using jargon, slang and idioms as it could exclude those with different personal and professional backgrounds.”
- Start: “When providing feedback, we’ll use Radical CandorTM 2 by caring personally and challenging directly”. Or “We’ll ask how to pronounce someone’s name and take the time to remember the correct pronunciation.”
- Continue: “On bid calls, we’ll encourage everyone to share their opinion (rather than only the most senior or vocal colleagues).” Or “We’ll arrange meetings at a time that works for most time zones and understand that there will always be an element of compromise needed.”
If you’ve deemed a culture change is necessary, determine your motivation. Is it a ‘push’ away from attitudes and behaviours that no longer serve you and your team, a ‘pull’ towards your aspirations, or a mixture of the two?
3. Why now?
Perhaps you have several new hires across different countries. You may be preparing for a multivendor bid. Different team members may be returning to the office, continuing to work remotely, or adopting a hybrid working arrangement. Colleagues may be returning from a leave of absence (e.g., parental leave, the UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, etc).
Create a recipe for success: implement the culture change
You can implement the culture change by creating a team charter, building the infrastructure, and gaining sponsorship.
1. Create a team charter
Team charters generally include a shared vision and purpose, guiding principles and desired behaviours. Executed successfully, they can be far more personal and engaging than organisational-level mission and value statements and strategic plans.
The most effective charters are those that everyone has contributed to, rather than ones pre-baked by leadership for others to review. In his article Using Team Charters to Unify Your Team3, Jon Darby goes one step further, suggesting the use of an independent facilitator to direct the discussion and let everyone participate in the development of the charter. Begin the session by recapping and prioritising your “start, stop, continue” behaviours.
2. Build (or re-build) the infrastructure
Make sure your culture is embedded in your:
- Organisational structure: If your team prides itself on being entrepreneurial, a traditional hierarchy (based on each person’s years of experience/years of service with your organisation) is unlikely to work. Make job titles for the same role consistent across geographies. Provide pay equity and transparency.
- Processes: Minimise unconscious bias in your hiring and promotion processes. Incorporate your team’s desired behaviours into interview questions and promotion criteria. Make sure your onboarding and training sessions enable team members to understand and meet cultural expectations.
- Technology: Use video calls as appropriate to minimise the likelihood of misunderstanding. Tone is not always apparent in email. Eye contact, facial expressions and body language are not visible on voice calls. Use collaborative tools to enable asynchronous communication in multinational bid teams that work across time zones.
3. Gain sponsorship
While bid teams have a certain level of autonomy, some changes will likely require approval from senior leadership. Gain sponsorship from the outset by building a business case for culture change that includes tangible proof points. Examples include reduced hiring costs due to minimised churn; higher revenue/improved win rates on high value bids through cultural integration with subcontractors; and increased productivity (person hours) through improved employee engagement.
Avoid heartburn: sustain the culture change
You can sustain the culture change by driving accountability, evolving, and seeking inspiration.
1. Drive accountability
Reward and recognise those team members whose behaviours demonstrate your culture and challenge those behaviours that do not. Consider aligning your individual and team performance metrics with your vision, guiding principles and desired behaviours.
You can expect your team culture to evolve due to a variety of internal and external factors. Make sure you seek regular informal and formal feedback from your team members. It’s advisable to review your team charter and infrastructure at least annually.
3. Seek inspiration
Look outside your organisation for ideas that you can scale, adapt and trial. For example, Vested® 4 is “a business model, methodology, mindset and movement for creating outcome-based contracts that enable win-win partnerships in which both parties are equally committed to each other’s success.” I have first-hand experience of Vested within a bid process (bidder/buyer), and it’s also used for labour union contracts, governmental Non-Government Organisation (NGO) partnerships, and joint ventures.
In my opinion, culture eats strategy for breakfast… and for lunch…and for dinner. It goes far deeper than the veneer of “Best Companies to Work For” lists and carefully curated press releases. It is far broader than the anonymous snapshots in Glassdoor reviews and Fishbowl discussions. Bid teams (and the organisations they are part of) must embrace culture now or risk being left behind.
- Drucker Institute. 2021. About Peter Drucker. [online] Available at: https://www.drucker.institute/perspective/about-peter-drucker [Accessed 26 November 2021].
- Radical Candor. 2021. Radical Candor | About Our Company’s Kind & Clear Mission. [online] Available at: https://www.radicalcandor.com/our-company [Accessed 26 November 2021].
- Darby, J., 2021. Using Team Charters to Unify Your Team | Winning the Business. [online] Winningthebusiness.com. Available at: https://winningthebusiness.com/using-team-charters-to-unify-your-team [Accessed 26 November 2021].
- 2021. What Is Vested? [online] Available at: https://www.vestedway.com/what-is-vested [Accessed 26 November 2021].
This article was written by Ceri Mescall.
Ceri has 15 years of progressive experience in bids and proposals in the UK and Canada. She holds APMP Professional level certification (2019), is an APMP 40 Under 40 Award recipient (2019) and an APMP Fellows recipient (2020).
Ceri has worked as part of bid and proposal teams in the UK and Canada; with teaming partners in the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and across Europe; and collaborated with colleagues in India and the Philippines.