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How the Executive Sponsor Contributes to the Proposal
The Executive Sponsor is the business unit manager with profit and loss responsibility who owns the proposal and the project that results if it wins. The Executive Sponsor's hands-on involvement with the proposal may be extensive or could be very little, depending on his or her interests and priorities. If you are the Executive Sponsor for a proposal, even if you never touch the proposal itself, you can have a major impact on the success or failure of the overall effort.
With all the distractions you face, it's easy to let the Proposal Manager run the effort and stay blissfully unaware of the details. Yet, there are things that you can do to make a big difference on the proposal that do not require a lot of your time or require you to get down into the weeds and micromanage things.
Open Doors to Resources
For starters, as the Executive Sponsor, you control the resources. Instead of the best staff being assigned to a proposal, most proposals are done by the staff who happen to be available. This often means staff who have never done any proposal writing before. The number one thing that you can do to help a proposal is to make sure the best resources are assigned to the proposal. Often proposals do not need a lot of people participating; what they really need are people with experience who are good at proposal writing. These people tend to come at a premium and are often highly in demand and swamped with requests for support. The Executive Sponsor has the clout to get their time, where the Capture Manager and Proposal Manager may not.
If you want to win, you should push resources on the proposal team instead of waiting for them to ask for resources. Most staff have had managing to a budget drilled into them for their entire career. They are used to compromising and working with the limited resources available. They won't even think about using staff on priority projects or that report to other business units. They may be too quick to accept the resources made available to them instead of getting the right resources.
If the proposal is important enough, an Executive Sponsor can tap the right resources. In addition, you will usually have more experience and know more people in the organization. In addition to staff, you can suggest things that might not normally be considered, like training or the use of consultants. If you want to win, you will make sure that your staff are not pulling their punches regarding resources and opening doors that normally wouldn't be open to them.
Set The Tone
Most, if not all, of the staff contributing to the proposal will not report to the Proposal Manager. The Proposal Manager will need your support in order to drive the staff working on the proposal. Don't wait for an issue to develop before providing that support. Instead, set the right tone from the beginning. If the proposal may require an all-out effort, then tell your staff that is what you expect. Tell them what the stakes are and how the organization will benefit if you win. Tell them that you expect them to work late or on weekends if they need to in order to meet their deadlines. A good Proposal Manager will work to avoid this, but if it becomes necessary, it's so much easier when staff expect it and have heard it from their supervisor first. It means something different when it comes from you. When it comes from the Proposal Manager it may mean a power struggle or passive resistance (which can be even worse).
One of the things that hurts many proposals is indecision. Proposals get started late because people can't decide whether to bid. They also have trouble completing their writing assignments because they have trouble making trade-off decisions regarding what to bid. When decisions are made, they are often revisited when people have second thoughts or others get involved. As the Executive Sponsor you can help force decisions and make it hard for people to revisit a decision once it's been made. Sometimes all you have to do is say from the outset that you want people to draw a line in the sand if they need to in order to make a decision, and that once made they should stick to it. If you want them to bring decisions to you, then tell them. If you want them to make the decisions on their own, then tell them that (and avoid the temptation to second guess once they are made). It helps to make your expectations clear.
Oversight and Involvement
Do you want to participate in reviews? If so, how many? Do you want to be the last person to read it and make comments before it goes out the door? Unanticipated change cycles can be a major problem in a deadline-driven situation. Your level of involvement may depend on whether you just need to be comfortable that they are doing a good job or whether you expect to read every word and do personally everything you can to improve the document. You need to be upfront about your expectations so that the team can anticipate and accommodate them. As the Executive Sponsor, you also need to provide some level of oversight to make sure that the team is working in a way that will produce the level of quality you expect. As the Executive Sponsor, you define the standards for quality and performance. If you want the team to take the review process seriously, you need to communicate to them that you take it seriously.
Sometimes the team will anticipate an Executive Sponsor's involvement in a review, only to find that the Executive Sponsor doesn't have time to commit to it. Executive Sponsors often show up to review meetings without having read the RFP or even the proposal itself! If you don't have hours to dedicate to a review, then let the Proposal Manager know so they can assign someone else to that spot on the review team. They can still provide you with a copy so that you can look at it when you have time.
Set the tone and declare your expectations so that the team can anticipate and accommodate them. Support the Proposal Manager by publicly addressing commitment, level of effort, decisiveness, quality, and process.
Stay on the lookout for indecision and help them team get past it. Quickly.
Make sure that the team isn't pulling their punches with regards to resources. Make sure they get the best resources and aren't settling for whoever is available. Open doors for them to resources they might not normally consider.
By Carl Dickson, Founder of CapturePlanning.com
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