Everyone Makes Mistakes

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I found myself sitting in a room of very clever peers, aged 17, with no real idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. I’d managed to talk my way onto the Year In Industry (YINI) programme run by the Royal Academy of Engineering and now found myself at the inauguration event.

Twenty years ago, the YINI programme was only available to the best of the best. I was definitely an imposter in a room full of people heading to Oxford, Cambridge and Durham. The programme team had pulled in some serious heavy hitters to talk to our group of high performers. Whilst I can’t say I remember many of them, one talk has always stuck with me.

An impeccably dressed, ex-chairman of a major global energy company stood in front of us and talked about his life. His experiences. What he brought to the businesses he worked with. And then after impressing everyone with his extra-long CV, he asked a question.

“If I went for an interview to secure a C-suite job today, what would stop me getting it?”.

Responses from the room were all batted away.

“Too experienced” was met with “experience is what employers need.”

“Not based in the right location” was responded to with “I’ll move for the job. I’ve always moved in my career.”

“Don’t fit in with the business culture” was answered with a very succinct summary of how he was perfectly aligned with the culture of this imaginary business.

But there was a reason, he told us, as to why he might not get the job.


People make mistakes.

Despite being the most qualified and best suited for the job, he still may not be selected because the recruiters make a mistake. We make mistakes all the time. In decisions about our lives and our work. And, in procurement, clients make mistakes all the time in their assessment of our submissions.

Despite what APMP or any consultant will tell you, there is no perfect formula for a winning bid. We do all we can to put ourselves in the best possible position, using intuitive and efficient processes, calling on the industry’s leading subject matter experts and crafting a response so compelling that Jon Williams would be proud. But in my experience, the roll of the dice that is the assessment process of any bid means you can never be 100% certain.

This means whilst we may look fondly at the great bids we’ve produced, the ones we’d be happy to share around the business and use as an exemplar in training or knowledge shares, the truth is the bad and the ugly can still win.

I’ve had many bids which I’ve hated after they’ve been submitted. They’ve been rushed, they’ve been too generic, they’ve not had the attention I would love to have given them. But they’ve still won. And I’ve had bids that I’m completely in love with, that I’ve slaved over for months, only to come short when the scores are laid bare in our feedback letter.

I do firmly believe that whilst we should strive for best practice, consistency and “good” every time, we cannot miss the element of luck that always exists in bidding. And in judging ourselves, we need to reflect on how luck impacts on the perfect win rate or the perception of colleagues in our businesses.

I wanted to contribute this article to BQ14 because I’ve stopped judging myself more and more on individual wins and losses. After 15 years in the industry I can list the bids I never should have won and the bids that got away – but I’ve come to realise the pursuit of improvement is a much better focus of my time than worrying about individual wins and losses. As an industry we need to be much more focused on the journey of improvement, rather than meeting an arbitrary “best practice” standard, and enjoy that journey through the good, the bad and the ugly.

This article was written by Mike Reader.

Mike Reader is one of the UK’s leading work winning professionals, helping senior leaders navigate the bidding and sales world. He leads a specialist team at Mace who work across all continents pursuing mega built environment and infrastructure projects. He also loves cold water swimming, politics and good food.

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