“In God we trust, all others bring data”

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Our industry lends itself to measures of performance. Success and failure. Win and loss. There isn’t much in-between. But what else should we track beyond the traditional, rearview measures for the quarterly report if we want to build a solid platform for bidding success?

Bidding is primarily a people and knowledge business. Two organisations with near identical capabilities can have wildly differing results just because of how their people perform.

Daniel H. Pink’s research(1) tells us Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the three key motivators driving people performing work requiring a modest level of cognitive skill:

  • Autonomy: once given a problem, people like to have control over the direction of their work and how they set about finding solutions and creating output
  • Mastery: people enjoy doing things well, and getting better at what they do with opportunities to grow and develop
  • Purpose: people like to feel their work has a point and can provide wider social value, so they will invest more energy in tasks that they consider worthwhile

The same research found that once people in cognitive, creative jobs feel like their financial compensation meets their expectations and needs, additional pay incentives do little to drive performance.

In fact, where creativity was required and multiple solutions were possible, such incentives had the effect of narrowing thinking, potentially closing out other, possibly better solutions.

Apart from not relying on performance pay incentives, what is the implication of these findings for the bidding industry?

Autonomy: be clear on the objective, then get out of the way.

You have employed smart Bid Managers and Bid Writers, so let them get on and do their job. If you try to tell them how to do something that you haven’t done yourself for five years, don’t expect a great result. Give them the tools and the training to know what a winning bid looks like, and they will recognise high quality when they see it and demand it where it is missing.

Gene Kranz is a retired NASA Flight Director (portrayed by Ed Harris in the film Apollo 13). His best known quote is “Failure is not an option”. He once related a story about having overruled a junior Flight Controller during a training simulation preceding live space missions. It became obvious in the debriefs that Kranz’s decision during a live mission would have killed the astronauts. From this he learned a valuable lesson about not doing someone’s job for them.

Senior leadership on a bid should be tracked in early direction setting which will reduce red team comments in the final stages. If you only bring them in at the end of the project, they will meddle. Set the direction and let the team do their job.

Mastery: provide opportunities to learn and grow in bidding

Mastery and expertise requires continual learning and growth. One path to growth is exposing the team to new situations (and new problems and new people). This could be working on a bid in a new sector, or on their first international bid, or perhaps with a new partner. As we create the conditions for growth, it’s also important  to provide a safety net. We all need a little latitude to mess up without it denting our confidence forever.

Recognise we all have different learning styles and comfort zones, and may learn at a different pace (which can be highlighted using psychometric profiling tools). Identify mentors to help people to establish their own internal networks and enhance different aspects of their development. Who should they work with to improve presentation skills, write better summaries or answer questions concisely? Ask yourself how often you are providing development opportunities to your team. Could someone else lead that meeting, or present to that customer?

Provide learning and growth opportunities by allocating a development budget for each member of the team and track their progress. Measure their talents and motivations through personality trait testing (for new and existing employees alike).

Purpose: show the real impact of winning the bid

Did you hear the story of the two contractors who were each building an identical length of wall? Both were similarly skilled and experienced but one was working much faster than the other. When the first was asked what he was doing, he said he was building a wall. The second said he was helping to save lives by building a new fire station.

Tell the team what winning the bid will do for your organisation, the client, and (if it’s a public sector bid)  about the impact on the wider community. This puts “winning” into a larger, more meaningful context than simply a win-loss tally at the end of the quarter.

More than ever, the platform for measurable success in our industry is a sustainable, intrinsically motivated team, preparing winning bids in regular working hours. If everything else is in decent shape, then the monthly report might just take care of itself.

Encourage and track your team’s engagement with the end customer so they will recognise and understand the full  impact of their work if your bid is successful.

(1) Pink, D H (2011) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Canongate, Edinburgh

This article was written by Paul Deighton.

Paul is the Strategic Services Director for Shipley UK and the Executive Director of the Business Winning Institute for Shipley US. He has 30+ years of experience in engineering, programme management, change management, and business winning. He co-authored the Capability Maturity Model® for Business Development and will be releasing version 3.0 in early 2024 focusing on “people”. His consulting practice helps client organisations to transform and stepchange how they win good business.

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