Going the Extra Mile October 2, 2015 at 10:50 am

As a Bid Director I have been interested for a long time in what it is that motivates bid team members to work extended hours (sometimes 24 hours and longer without a break). Despite being under high pressure they perform willingly, enthusiastically and, usually, for no financial reward above their normal salary. This does not occur in every case. However, as any Bid Manager knows, it happens surprisingly often. It can be accompanied by a grumbling about the poor performance of others who have created the “situation” – but it is usually not as a result of poor performance on their part. However, it seems that the individual feels that they have a personal responsibility to put the situation right and get the bid completed, no matter what level of effort is needed from them.

Representatives of partner and sub-contractor companies, seconded in to the bid team, show this characteristic as well. They will “go the extra mile” to make sure their element of the bid response is as good as they can get it. Their contribution will often contrast with the minimalist response of some staff of the bidding company who are required to provide bid text (because of their specialist role, e.g. HR, Legal or Quality Management) but who are not part of the core bid team.

Take these extraordinary people away from the bid and they can revert to type. They will frequently give an adequate performance but not shine. So what is it in this environment that motivates them to give exceptional levels of contribution? And what can we learn from this which might be harnessed to increase productivity across other environments?

I don’t have all the answers. Nevertheless, I have uncovered some pointers which seem to underlie the boost in engagement levels a bid situation creates:

Finite Problem

A bid has a very clear deliverable, both in content and in quality. One without the other will cause the bid to be lost and the entire team effort wasted. So, members of the bid team usually have a clear understanding of the top level objectives they must respond to from the outset.

This clarity of contribution required and the knowledge that the individual’s bid content really matters seems to generate a high level of individual engagement. If we can provide such clear direction and precision in the value of their contribution in the bid, it ought to create the same motivation if used elsewhere?

Defined Timescales

A bid has a real (and usually short timescale) deadline. Miss the deadline and you have thrown away all the bid work that has been done. Everyone understands that there is little chance of an extension of the response time so makes plans accordingly.

Of course, we are all used to working to deadlines and we know that setting deadlines can improve productivity. However, all too often we also know if the timescales are not met, we will get away with it. We can use an excuse that something else was more important and we know that it will be accepted by our peers and superiors. Knowing that missing the deadline will be a disaster for everyone can provide the impetus we need, particularly as the bid deadline approaches.

I believe that deadlines should only be set if they are truly deadlines. If we set deadlines arbitrarily of without giving the justification for them, the motivation deadlines can create is diminished. So perhaps more contribution will be achieved by stating and explaining deadlines, and then not allowing them to be missed?

Measurement

Only one bid from the competing companies will result in a contract. Every element of each bid will be contrasted against the other bids and the best overall submission will be selected. The bid team are not being measured internally within the business; they are being measured against the best “out there”.

For some people, being the best is important and winning the bid proves they are the best. I believe that if we can give people the opportunity and the support to prove that they “are the best” elsewhere, we will improve their motivation and commitment. I think that for some people, this ability to prove themselves is what drives them to become involved in more bids so that they can repeat the demonstration. If we can tap into this motivation, enhanced contribution must surely follow?

Part of the Team

In the final hours before a bid is handed over to the courier or is uploaded on to some secure web site the pace can become frantic and everyone “mucks in” to do whatever is needed to get the submission completed. When it is all over, there is a real sense of “team” and tired elation. This bonding can continue as enhanced relationships long after the work is finished.

Teams formed at short notice to tackle difficult problems can bring out the best in some (but not all) people. I think if we want more from our employees we should weigh the advantages of task orientated teams over function orientation more carefully.

Of course many people cannot be placed in the environment a bid team creates and nor would they want to be. However, I have seen exceptional performance from otherwise average individuals so many times when they have been place in a bid team there has got to be something special going on. I wonder if anyone else has similar experiences?