Bid Training

Learning with impact – disrupting the 70-20-10 rule

In the early days of developing the bid toolkit concept – when we were thinking through how to not just raise win rates in an organisation for a short period or to drill a team for a specific bid, but to create sustained whole organisation impact through widespread adoption of best practice – we studied the 70-20-10 rule.  

We knew we could build a successful bids and proposals live training proposition. The market was a mixed picture with few established quality players. We didn’t have our APMP authorised training accreditation back then, or even a daydream that it could be possible. But we knew we could be disruptive and differentiate on quality and innovation, for instance with our ‘top tip’ videos by some of the best bidding professionals around the world interspersed throughout our content.

But how to you make it stick? How do you boil the ocean of raising win rates across a whole business?

The 70-20-10 model for learning and development (L&D) is a commonly used formula within the training profession.

The model was created in the 1980’s by three researchers and authors working with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro in the US. The model outlined the optimum split of learning consumption, suggesting that individuals obtain knowledge, skills and abilities in their roles through the following mixture of sources:

  • 70 percent from on-the-job experience
  • 20 percent from social sources such as interactions with others
  • 10 percent from formal structured training

They observed that hands-on experience (the 70 percent) is the most beneficial for employees. It enables them to learn from mistakes, discover and refine their job-related skills, make decisions, address challenges and interact with people in their organisation. Employees learn second best from others (the 20 percent) through encouragement and feedback, including social learning, coaching, mentoring, and collaborative learning. The most surprising element is that their research showed that only 10 percent of successful professional development comes from formal traditional live in person training.

We thought this concept was fascinating and really steered the development of our approach for the bid toolkit. We knew we needed to provide a collection of services and tools that injected improved performance across that spectrum, building momentum to create a dramatic rise in win rates bigger than the sum of our parts.

How has the approach moved on and how have online, virtual techniques and digital assets changed the game?

Helpfully around the same time we were preparing to launch the bid toolkit in early 2018 Training Industry Inc released an insights report, based on data from nearly 1,500 working professionals, to update the focus and efforts in accomplishing training impact. The updated on-the-job, social, formal (OSF) learning blend observed an increased role of social and formal learning. The overall blend is now closer to what might be called a 55-25-20 model. With higher quality and more impactful methods in live training, huge consumption and availability of online structured content and improved understanding of mentoring and social learning there has been a dramatic shift in the dynamic.

In the context of bidding

Previously I held a bid leadership role and was responsible for the leadership of the capability development and training of their 50+ people bid global function.

We saw APMP Foundation as a quick win, a fairly simplistic baseline qualification to recognise staff performance. There wasn’t a great deal of online content to speak of, certainly that wasn’t American market focused, when the rest of the world largely operates to a variant of UK practices, and that wasn’t dramatically over or under engineered for everyday needs.

Yes, we wanted to reward our staff with a qualification and to raise standards, but actually it wasn’t our bidding staff where the real capability improvement was required and where value could be driven – it was their stakeholders – their bid leaders and SME’s / content contributors.

Quite a common predicament. But you can’t pay for everyone in your whole business to go on a course. And if you did you would suffer from erosion of that upside quite quickly with 15-20% staff turnover and apparently it only having a 20% impact that dissipates over time.

The 55-25-20 model

We think we’ve cracked it. In the last 12 months we have found that leveraging the 55-25-20 model with a mixed economy of learning methods and interactions, organised to build and drive momentum, delivers the greatest long term impact and value.

With clients such as Quod, we’ve found that mobilising with live training (or webinars) for bidding ‘champions’ creates the initial upsweep in understanding and motivation, the 20.

We then support that wave with ongoing mentoring and coaching of key individuals and deliver ongoing modules as part of their apprentice, graduate and leadership development programmes – enabling social learning and embedding bidding good practice in their DNA. The 25.

Lastly we land an enterprise bid toolkit site in their intranet as their constant online digital mandated bid process and textbook, providing their consistent roadmap and governance to follow and embedded microlearning to refresh or upskill bid teams right when they need it, on live bids. The 55.

Our clients are averaging more than a 20% increase in win rates and finding the experience of their new measured methodical bidding far less stressful and draining on the business.

“Jeremy and the team have been immensely helpful, both in providing training for our technical staff and in building a robust bid process. We have already received some very positive client feedback on the quality of our submissions – all achieved with reduced stress levels generated from the efficiency of the approach.”

Chris Wheaton, Director – Quod

Bid writing, Roles & Responsibilities

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity

Guest blog post by Jack Strickland

I recently offered to assist a project director in drafting sections of his content for a bid submission. I have worked in construction for over 20 years, and whilst I may not be able to lay a brick wall, I can write a compelling explanation of how you go about it, given even a scant explanation from somebody with a bit of technical expertise.

The PD in my story, however, looked at me as though I’d just confidently advised him that the Earth was flat. It struck me that the role of bidding people in many organisations is more confused than ever. Our work crosses over with that of so many others, and yet we often find our work constricted by fear, rooted in a lack of understanding of what we do. We’re asked consistently to do more in order to get our projects over the line, but also simultaneously to do less as our organisations backfill bid teams with dodgy consultants and ill-suited operations staff.

Bidding professionals must carefully define our identity and purpose. In many cases we cannot control or suitably influence what those around us are doing, and it then becomes critical to clearly understand who we are, and what we do.

This will largely be achieved by development of strong and capable teams, and understanding what leadership really means in the context of a bid process. These two elements, in equal measure, can have massive impact. They are also major contributors in fortifying the position of the bid team, and offering protection when dealing with challenging situations. The impact of the stresses of our roles should never be underestimated, and the more effectively we mitigate these through a bid process, the better the service we can offer.

So, a few things to think about as you go into battle. These are by no means exhaustive, but represent some of the more important concepts that I’ve tried to imbue in those I’ve managed over the years.

Be the best that you can, before expecting it of others

Something that bidders and non-bidders alike will know, is that the sector is awash with people doing the job, but by no means excelling. The profession is fun and exciting, and is well-paid for relatively junior people lacking in experience.

To identify yourself as outstanding, there is a real need to set great examples and achieve. Winning is paramount, of course, but a rigorous and structured approach to management of process helps enormously in governing the way your stakeholders will behave. The same is true of a wide assortment of other traits – clear, open and honest communication, all the way through to maintaining and metronomically distributing updates to your bid plan. By asking more of ourselves, we can expect more of others.

This statement has become especially critical to success of late, in relation to a creeping realisation of the criticality of assessing the service of our suppliers – particularly recruiters. Offering the best service means doing so by sourcing the best people. All too often I find that recruiters ask us to accept mediocre, or to interview a candidate with spelling errors in the opening line of their CV, because that’s the one to hand (rather than the one that’s right for me). I truly believe that standards are raised by a collective push to do better, which has to start with us.

Bidding and the associated outliers – consultant writers / managers, repro firms, 3d printers, 4D visualisers, graphic designers et al. – Need to be made to work harder for their (often considerable) money.

There’s a strong and clear reason that your employer offered you a contract…

Businesses need bidding people for an array of reasons, but principally it is because we offer something that nobody else can. The combination of strong project management twinned with creativity, plus sheer grunt when absolutely required, is a mix that is rarely found in any sector.

Always remember that you can offer many valuable things to a delivery team, no matter what industry. The ability of bidding people to apply logic, process and concept to somebody else’s ideas should never be underestimated.

… And it’s not because they needed another administrator!

In construction, particularly, our offices are awash with administrative staff fulfilling ill-defined roles – businesses do not actively seek bidding people because they need another to add to their ranks.

In any business, however, we all need to remember that the specialist knowledge provided to us as the components of an offer are often simply not that complex. Our contributors would like us to believe that their words are tantamount to complex works of genius, but it is our task not to be cowed by this. Having the courage to speak with confidence, with the aim of achieving the best outcomes for the working group, is a key component in establishing a bidder as being credible.

Whilst everybody should be treated fairly and not have to prove themselves, we all also know that it can be necessary. Remember your value to the process, and leverage it within your team.

“Why am I here, and what am I doing?!”

Jeremy will love the fact that I’m saying this, but it’s increasingly becoming a problem in construction – the roles and responsibilities of each person working on the bid must be clear to them, and moreover must consist of things that they can achieve.

For instance, on a massive recent bid we had upwards of 30 people contributing. A clear definition of what each of them needed to do is the very thing that would have assisted us in reaching a successful conclusion. However, we had a commercial director giving feedback on artwork; a design manager who believed his only task was to fill pages; a project director wasting meeting time complaining that he was too busy (although also not then contributing the bits required of him); an operations director being asked to complete sections of content even though we all knew he wouldn’t do it…

Lots of the contributors we all face don’t work on bids all the time, and in fact it may have been a long time since they last did so. Helping them to understand what they need to do will go a long way to limiting your frustration. Moreover, by properly briefing everybody at the start, it removes their ability to renege on fulfilment of their tasks.

Define the outcomes for yourself, nobody will do it for you

Usually referred to as ‘being the master of your own destiny’, the point is the same. Bidding as a profession, in terms of the elaborate and complicated form it takes presently, has not existed for a very long time. 15 years ago in my industry, a tendering exercise involved a sheet of paper featuring some numbers, placed inside a brown envelope.

In this sense, a lot of what we’re doing is entirely new. The ‘best’ or ‘right’ way in the eyes of one person is not always suitable for somebody else. Bright and capable young people get into this profession because there’s the opportunity to develop new and innovative ways of working which can have real impact.

I’m not a fan of the APMP personally, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work wonderfully for many people around the world. The point in its value is that a group of people took a chance on its development, and the validity of a set of tools. There are not many types of work where just a few people (or even one) can have that sort of impact, but ours is just that.

If we think we can do better – understand the problem, devise a solution, and then make it work. Never be afraid to challenge the accepted norm.

Conclusion

The title is a quote from Tsun Tzu’s Art of War, which a friend of mine recently gave to me as a birthday gift. The sentiments contained within it are hundreds of years old, but have stood the test of considerable time to now be used as a guide to effective business practice. This has stood the test of time because it was created to test the boundaries of what was possible, and to look to define an entirely new way of thinking.

As bidding folk, if we can be effective in the use of everyday methods whilst simultaneously innovating and exposing others to new and untested practice, we can lead our teams to victory.

Bid Training

The unspoken problem in the bid training world

In their career, most business leaders and senior bid professionals face the same problem.

No matter how good your relationship with the client and no matter how good your proposition and win themes are… get the wrong technical input and you’re not going to win your next pursuit.

The problem many bid team face is the reliance on subject matter experts who also have a day job. This is a particular challenge for those in the professional services world as you might end up with a wide pool of SMEs who may only do one or two bids a year, balancing utilisation targets to try and maximise their billable hours.

Creating a bid training programme

I have to admit that I, like a lot of senior bid people I know, have had a go at creating a training programme. In a previous role, I developed and rolled out a bid training programme, snappily titled Bid Smarter, Win More.  We spent hours training technical teams on bid writing, management and theory, and gave them big hefty training guides that captured everything we wanted them to know.

This all sounds great… but…

By the time people were allocated back onto a bid, they had forgotten their training. We had trained people who were bad at bidding, and whilst the training had moved them in the right direction a little, they were still just… bad!

People left the business,  new people had joined and the training was quickly lost.

Overall, in hindsight, my first foray into bid training wasn’t successful because it wasn’t sustainable. We had focused too much on the textbook and not enough on behaviours, process and culture.

Since Bid Smarter, Win More, bid training has moved on.  If I tried it again my approach would be a tad different. (I might even look at the Bid Toolkit as a shortcut, but don’t tell Jeremy!)

Bid Even Smarter, Win Even More

After the initial rollout of Bid Smarter, Win More I was able to refine and develop the approach further, giving me some valuable learning and insights. If I had to run a training programme again,  these are the three things I would make sure I focus on:

Be selective

We need to be much more selective over who gets training. We need to help the best improve, rather than trying to force those who hate bidding to love it.  Rather than bidding becoming something everyone does, we need to focus on small groups, enabling us to build teams which support one another and learn and develop together.

Embed bidding in business processes

Bidding is business critical, so we need to make sure its part of the business fabric, from the staff induction process right up to reporting win rates by a business unit at the Senior Management Group meeting. This, in turn, helps to get people to want to commit to training and learning, it fires up new starters who’ve never been introduced to bidding and makes improving the process, not just celebrating wins, important for our senior management team.

Break the training down

Staff in professional services businesses aren’t any busier than those in other industries, but the scrutiny on utilisation is a big factor we need to consider. This statement will make my bid training colleagues shake their head, but I think we need to condense and break up training into smaller chunks, using a quarter to half-day workshops. This gives the benefit of providing more tailored training and enables people to be more selective over what they are focused on.

Where will bid training go in the future?

With the emergence of new automation tools, improved content library platforms and increasing competence and capability of the best bid teams, bid training needs should focus more on capture and strategy, teaching teams to think creatively and develop solutions which genuinely differ from their competitors. There will always be a place for practical training on writing, reviews and management but focusing on the element which will make the difference between first and second place will become more prevalent in the best teams.

By Mike Reader

Roles & Responsibilities

How to create a great bid team

A team can only function at peak if egos are left at the door, and each member of the team is 100% committed to the defined objective.

This is true for any team, but especially when we’re talking about bid teams. Guest blogger, Sam Shilton has listed the steps to follow to help you create the best bid team.

STEP 1: Demonstrate Buy-in from the Top

Setting expectations around how important a bid is to you starts with the bid lead and sponsor. Nothing says ‘we mean business’ like a strong and confident leader at the helm, with the backing of someone from the upper levels of management. Getting these two appointments right is critical for success.

STEP 2: Define Clear Roles and Responsibilities 

There are few things more frustrating than people and/or teams working at cross-purposes or unwittingly working on the same thing. Avoid this by sitting down with your bid lead and sponsor to agree a strategy for your bid, and then define roles and responsibilities for the people you need to help get your bid over the line – including all stakeholders, contributors, writers, designers etc.

STEP 3: Promote Collaborative Thinking 

Once you’ve identified a team, invite all members to a kick-off workshop (in-person is best, but it can be a conference call at a push) to get everyone on the same page with what you’re trying to achieve. This is your chance to provide them with clarity on the role they will play, get a feel for their enthusiasm levels and assess the dynamics of the team.

STEP 4: Create a Team Ethos 

This initial workshop is also your chance to demonstrate and communicate the positive behaviours you expect everyone on the team to embody – such as an openness to sharing information, and respecting other people’s opinions and contributions regardless of seniority. Mutually agreeing deadlines, and what will happen if people miss deadlines, is also a good idea to support a successful outcome for your bid.

Procurement Regulations

Post-Brexit procurement regs; an SME’s view.

We’re starting off 2019 with a guest blog from Bid Manager Steph Hague, which looks at procurement regulations in a post-Brexit world … 

Whether or not the UK will leave the EU on 29th March or at some point thereafter is still very much open to (heated) debate but, in the meantime, the far-reaching implications of Brexit are being considered across the public and private sectors to ensure readiness for a leave scenario, deal or no deal.  For those of us in the bidding world, the most significant issue will be any changes to the EU procurement regulations, which are currently aimed at ensuring that the purchasing of goods and services by public bodies in each EU Member State is open to EU-wide advertising and competition, creating an EU “single market” for public procurement.

It is safe to assume that the UK Government has no desire to move away from rules which support the core principles of transparency and competitive procurement.  Nonetheless, there have been calls for the rules to be simplified and made more flexible, including from the Local Government Association (LGA) which, in an August 2017 press release, proclaimed the benefits of a “lighter touch” system which simplifies procurement. 

The LGA claims that under the current rules the process can take twice as long as typical private sector procurements and that only 20% of English councils receive EU expressions of interest from companies based in other EU countries and only 1.6% of public contracts are awarded to companies in other member states. Both issues clearly reflect the frustration of those of us working for SMEs where, in reality, access to wider EU opportunities is of little interest and the bidding requirements for even low value, non-complex opportunities involve a significant resource, time and cost investment.

Of course, some regulation of public procurement will remain necessary post-Brexit in order to ensure that councils, and other public-sector bodies, continue to demonstrate best value for money and ensure effective and fair competition.  However, as the current processes and entry requirements rule out many SMEs, therefore supressing rather than encouraging competition, the post-Brexit world may offer an opportunity to really enable the Davids to compete against the Goliaths.

In reality, the scope for the UK to make substantial modifications to the UK Procurement Regulations is likely to be constrained, post-Brexit; the UK will most likely remain obliged to keep most of the core features of the current procurement rules, including prior advertising of above-threshold contracts, minimum time periods for certain stages of the process, the application of transparent, pre-disclosed criteria at the selection and award stages and, perhaps most crucially, non-discrimination against tenderers from other EU or GPA countries.

Watch this space…..