Missing Out on the Magic?

A few years ago, APMP’s global conference took place at the Sheraton Walt Disney World resort. I flew to the States; presented; we sponsored the event. It really was a great week, packed full each day from the early breakfasts to the late nights in the bar.

Back home, a friend asked a few days later: “Did you enjoy Disney World?”

Cue a pause. A moment of reflection. And the sad realisation that I’d spent a week for work at the gates of one of the world’s most famous theme parks, and hadn’t taken the time to go inside. Indeed, it hadn’t even occurred to me to do so.

These days, running a successful business, I spend 150 nights a year in hotels. In a good year. In some, it’s more. In the government’s last census, it asked if you had a second home, defined as somewhere you’d slept for more than 50 nights the previous year. I had to answer: “The Sheraton Skyline Hotel, Heathrow.”

So you might argue that I’m not the best person to preach about work / life balance – or, as I prefer to call it, life/work balance. But I’ve seen too many of my fellow professionals struggle or suffer for this not to be an issue dear to my heart.

You know, what we do has a degree of pressure, inevitably. A fixed deadline. Complex documents to develop. Square-peg solutions to align to round-hole customer requirements.

The consequences of losing high. Competitors hungry for the business. Senior execs watching and meddling, with high expectations.

Other bids to juggle in parallel.

A team thrown together for the bid, many of whom have never worked together before – and never will again. Their day jobs to be done at the same time. Their appetite and aptitude for proposal work limited.

And that’s why proposals are such fun. We do incredible stuff, as a profession. We produce brilliant documents that win work and create (and protect) jobs in our organisations.

And we do it against the odds.

We’re brilliant people. Amazing.

But if you don’t find it fun? If you don’t thrive in this sort of environment? It’s less Bid Solutions you need to talk to, than recruitment consultants for other roles. Don’t drive yourself into the ground if this profession really isn’t you.

And for those of us who do? We need to be kind to ourselves. And find people to work with who’ll be kind to us.

There are strategies for managing one’s own well-being that others will share here far better than I could ever do. For all the meditation and the days off that help me, I remain the guy who went to Disney and didn’t make time to go to Disney.

But I do recognise this as an area in which leadership is key. Soon after I’d launched the first bid centre I ever built, nearly twenty years ago, I arrived at work on a Monday morning to find a note on my desk from one of my team. “We were in all weekend on the bid to X. We got it sorted. I’m going to come into the office a bit later today.”

My comments when she arrived? “Thank you. And sorry.”

“Sorry?”

Sorry. Because I’d designed the team. I’d been responsible for building the process from qualification onwards. The engagement model. The capacity plan. For communicating, evangelising to the business.

And if a deal had needed weekend work? Yes, I was sorry. Because, for all we bid and proposal people want to go the extra mile, I was the one who mustn’t have got it quite right.

Two tips, then. Create the right culture in your organisation around proposals, from the top down, so doing the right things right are in the DNA of every deal.

And build the right capacity model to bring the right skills to the right deals, with absolute clarity as to what support your team is sized to offer in a given month, quarter, year. “Just another wafer-thin proposal, sir or madam…?”

Without those fundamentals in place, bid and proposal professionals are destined to be forever on the back foot, forever fighting the tide, forever forgetting to take time to go to the funfair. And it doesn’t have to be like that. My heart goes out to those who are struggling, as we all sometimes do.

Winning is wonderful: let’s just not let it be at all costs.

This article was written by Jon Williams.

Jon Williams is Managing Director of Strategic Proposals, and a Fellow of both APMP and the Royal Society of Arts. He did get to visit Disney eventually, some years later while on holiday in Japan!

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