Best Practice 101: Effective Communication for Bid and Proposal Managers

At the risk of stating the obvious: bids and proposals can be very stressful. In fact, the profession has garnered quite the reputation – amongst those in the know at least – for its fast-paced and deadline-driven nature that can leave its professionals vulnerable to stress and burnout.

For many bid and proposal teams, the workload that comes with being a primary driver of revenue in their organizations can be incredibly burdensome. In a recent poll of 346 professionals on APMP’s LinkedIn, 65% reported feeling regularly overwhelmed by their workload – 41% ‘periodically’ and 24% ‘continuously’.

This kind of overwhelm is often a direct result of short turnaround times. In a similar poll – this time with 821 respondents – 48% reported that they’ve been given as little as one to three days’ notice to complete a proposal, and a staggering 32% reported they have been given less than a day’s notice before.

Naturally, some of this stress is outside of a proposal team’s sphere of control, given the client-centric nature of the work. However, it seems that avoidable internal bottlenecks in an organization’s bid and proposal process are also heaping significant additional stress on to already-overwhelmed teams.

Among 282 bid and proposal professionals, 41% said that their most burdensome internal bottleneck was the amount of time they spend waiting for decisions or approvals from leadership, and 30% said that communication and information-sharing breakdowns between teams and levels in the organizational hierarchy were a significant issue.

The importance of communication for leaders

Effective leadership and process management is, unfortunately, unlikely to completely eradicate stress in the bid and proposal profession. However, it plays a crucial role in mitigating overwhelming amounts of stress. According to 53% of another poll’s 529 respondents, 53% deemed effective communication skills to be the most critical leadership quality.

Good communication within a team is vital for a proposal manager leading and coordinating the proposal effort.

So, what does APMP’s Body of Knowledge (BoK) say about communication?

Effective communication

At its core, communication is the process of exchanging information to achieve a common understanding. Again, this may seem obvious. But we can often get stuck on that common understanding part of the definition.

Understanding the principles and components of communication is crucial when we’re looking at improving this. Take David Berlo’s SMCR model, for example. Berlo’s model offers a framework that simplifies communication by reducing it to four basic components:

  • Source – the individual from whom the information originates.
  • Message – this is the content of the communication, both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Channel – the medium through which the message is conveyed, e.g. face-to-face, email, Teams chat, or a megaphone across the office (not recommended).
  • Receiver – the individual(s) who receive the message.

Sounds simple. right? In reality, there are many possible disruptions that can happen amongst these four stages of the communication process, and it’s rare that each stage passes off without a hitch.

Things can go wrong from the jump if the sender doesn’t communicate the message in a way that is crystal clear. And it’s not always generally poor communication skills on the part of the sender that causes a lack of clarity. Their background, attributes, or even just current environment can significantly impact how they communicate the message. Maybe they’re juggling multiple tasks at once, maybe English isn’t their first language, maybe they’ve been up since 3am soothing their crying newborn and are struggling to string words together.

This can all be true of the receiver as well – processing even the most clearly-communicated information can be difficult when the conditions aren’t ideal. And if your ‘channel’ involves the message being passed through multiple people in order to arrive at its final recipient, the risk of important information being distorted along the way increases with every messenger – think the ‘telephone game’.

But there are ways that we can reduce the risk of distortion and miscommunication throughout the process.

Crafting your communication for the intended audience

When you’re communicating with your team, you need to remember that everything you’re saying to them – from a task you’re setting, to an idea you’ve come up with – constitutes a message.

To communicate it effectively, think about the recipient of the message. Is the message intended for an individual or a group? Do they have all of the same contextual knowledge of the message as you or each other? Will they understand the jargon?

Your message has to be tailored to the recipient’s understanding rather than your own, and different team members may need different communication styles. An SME may respond well to jargon that leaves your proposal writer scouring the internet for an explanation and tearing their hair out. A to-the-point team member might require more direct assertions of your expectations than someone who somehow instinctively knows that ‘just checking in on your progress’ is code for ‘I needed that project yesterday’.

Make sure you give your teams the opportunity to clarify their understanding of what you’ve said. This can help mitigate the miscommunications that can often go hand-in-hand with the natural fluctuations in mental readiness that comes with being a human (like sleep deprivation at the hands of a crying newborn).

Communicating your message using multiple channels

Using a mix of verbal and written communication can help ensure that messages are not lost. With verbal communication, a number of disruptors can get in the way of your message being clearly understood – a faulty internet connection disrupting a video call, a noisy room full of distractions, or just the unfortunate human tendency to mishear or misremember.

Similarly, a written message can be misread, misinterpreted due to the lack of tone and non-verbal human cues, or even just get lost in someone’s spam folder. For complex messages, diversifying your communication can help you ensure your message is as clear as possible.

For example, a verbal explanation followed up by a summary email so the recipient can supplement their understanding, refer back if they forget things, and take the opportunity to clarify anything that seems contradictory or confusing to them.

Encouraging teamwork and the pursuit of a common goal

What differentiates a team from just a group of people who happen to be existing in the same space is a collective commitment to shared goals. The proposal development environment is often temporary – teams are formed to achieve specific objectives and disbanded afterwords. This means that we need to ensure we can adapt the way we are communicating to foster teamwork in a way that suits different teams and different phases of the proposal lifecycle.

Bruce Tuckman outlined five stages of team development. They’re easy to remember because they rhyme – how about that!

  1. The forming stage is where team members get to know each other and establish roles and ground rules.
  2. The storming stage is where teams may experience conflict as they assert their personalities.
  3. The norming stage is where the team starts to resolve those conflicts and build a cohesive working relationship.
  4. The performing stage is where the team operates efficiently towards common goals.
  5. The adjourning stage is where the team disbands and the project concludes, often leaving team members with a sense of loss.

It’s important to recognize the stage of team development you’re in at any given moment and communicate accordingly. The forming stage may coincide with the adjourning stage of your team members’ previous project, so being sensitive to the fact your team may be mourning (because we have to keep it rhyming) their previous team dynamic, and thus may be resistant to a new dynamic, is important.

Conflicts in the storming stage need to be resolved, and compromises need to be reached in order to reach the performing stage where all the magic happens, so facilitating intrateam communication as the proposal manager – rather than trying to shove it under the rug – is vital to ensuring solid team communication going forward (see the next paragraph).

Anticipating and managing conflict

While conflict is often perceived as a negative, it is often inevitable, and can actually be positive in the long run! As a proposal manager, you should leverage the positives of conflict, seek to resolve the negatives, and try to minimize the impact of that conflict on your objectives.

Easier said than done, of course, but luckily for you, scholars of communication love their handy five-step processes, and there’s one for conflict management too!

Conflict is profoundly human, and so are you! You know what’s rubbed you up the wrong way in the past and you’ve probably had conflicts and communication failures in your past projects. Reflecting on what could have been done better in those situations can help you to get ahead of derailing conflicts before they start.

It’s important that you don’t seek to avoid all conflict, though. Healthy disagreement can actually help avoid bigger, more apocalyptic conflicts down the line. Encouraging people to respectfully share their thoughts, while ensuring that such disagreements focus on the issues at hand and not the individual personalities and relationships of the people involved, can bring about learning opportunities and team growth.

Encouraging everyone to keep their eyes on the final objective is important to make sure people don’t get too lost in hashing out the details.

Transparency is key

Of course, for proposal managers, the operational chain of command may make communication difficult. If you’re stuck waiting on decisions and approval from different departments, there’s not much you can do to move your team forward on your own.

Communicating transparently about the status of the decision-making process as you receive updates can build trust and reduce anxiety around the unknown. Setting short-team goals for the tasks you do have control over while you’re waiting for longer-term decisions can keep the team engaged and give them a sense of accomplishment as they complete smaller tasks.

Read more about communication in the BoK

Getting communication down is a far more complex a topic than can be covered in a Friday blog post. For more about this, check out the APMP Body of Knowledge. If you’re a member, you can access this from the Member Center on the APMP website. If you’re not a member, visit our Join APMP page to find out why you should be.

Happy Friday!



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