Not Everything in Wonderland is Healthy

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“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”


It’s my view that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of history’s most charming and beautiful stories. In bidding, however, we must adopt neither Alice’s nor the cat’s approach.

For effective performance management, it’s important to know what success looks like: to start with the destination in mind so we can work as a team with an expectation of achieving sub-goals and, of course, the end goal of winning.

A great question to ask ourselves is: “How will you know you’ve achieved [SUB-GOAL]?” That question always sparks deeper thought about process and actions. The sub-goals are best defined with all elements of SMART, but they’re no less important if that’s not the case. Some examples:

  • Desired outcomes from a meeting (e.g., actions and allocated owners, with deadlines)
  • Level of detail to enable a meaningful writing plan review
  • Layout and design of a page of technical material to ensure easy ‘digestion’ for the reader

These can flex to suit circumstances, but knowing what we want from them means we’re working towards a performance destination. Unlike Alice and the cat, we don’t have the time, resources or energy to chase uncertainty.

I consider my early conversations on a new bid to be successful for my client and me if we’ve clarified:

  • The client’s ‘big picture’: why they’re bidding and how the bid fits into their and the end client’s business strategies
  • What I’m expected to do (write, edit, review, or a combination)
  • By when (including interim deliverables)
  • For whom (there are usually multiple stakeholders in my client’s team)
  • With whom (there are usually multiple subject matter experts (SMEs))
  • My plan for achieving the requirements, even if just an outline initially

I often need to write about my clients’ performance management systems, which exist as mechanisms to mitigate the risks of sub-optimal delivery in terms of quality, skills, achieving programme milestones, and various other factors. As bid professionals, we can view our own performance management in terms of risk mitigation. For example, when developing bid responses we must mitigate risks including:

  • Seeking SMEs’ inputs too late, leaving SMEs unclear about what we need from them, and not gaining the most from SMEs’ expertise in each conversation
  • Not having responses ready for review milestones
  • Writing less concisely and clearly than possible
  • Not answering every element of a question
  • Omitting aspects of the proposal strategy’s win themes
  • Not addressing the end client’s and stakeholders’ critical success factors
  • Not adhering to response format instructions

Taking the first of those as an example, response planning requires SMEs’ inputs to help develop the writing plans with the benefit of the SMEs’ expertise. By structuring the response outline (headings and initial key points) before involving SMEs in detailed response planning, we (writers) help them to help us because we don’t approach them with a blank page. The outline serves as an aide-memoire to help show where we need specialist expertise and to guide thinking about technical aspects and case examples. It also enables SMEs to tell us what they think is missing. By transferring actions to the writing plans from the kick-off meeting, and from even earlier in the bid cycle if relevant, we avoid forgetting to discuss important ideas in detail with SMEs. These aspects of preparation are to make SME meetings more time-efficient – a sign of improved performance when engaging the support of already-busy people. SMEs have told me over the years that a key performance indicator for them is to be engaged for each bid on as few occasions as possible. I don’t interpret that remark as a sign of apathy, but instead as the need to make best use of time, our most important commodity.

By understanding performance expectations and how to mitigate the risks of not meeting them – or, even better, identifying how to exceed them – we’re able to monitor progress, receive and provide feedback, and identify areas for our own and others’ improvement in the bid and for future bids. The continuous improvement loop is essential because we cohabit the bid environment and our performance depends on our shared (and accurate) understanding of the conditions for success.


As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said:

“Almost all of the world-class athletes and other peak performers are visualisers. They see it, they feel it, they experience it before they actually do it. They begin with the end in mind.”

That’s what we do in bids when we plan how to show the end client why they need to appoint us. It’s our way of making sure we don’t fall with Alice into the rabbit hole.

This article was written by Holger Garden.

Holger is a bid manager and writer, and a personal/ team performance coach. He spends most of his time supporting construction clients bidding for civil infrastructure and building projects, but his transferable skills have led to his work in the medical, charity and security arenas also. He works with businesses of all sizes to help them win more work.

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