In some geographic markets, this may be a relatively easy task, but in Ottawa, Canada it’s a challenge. As Senior Proposal Writers and Senior Proposal Managers get more experience, they obviously become more valuable, and know their worth. They can see it in the number and value of contract awards, win ratios, volumes of subject-matters they are confident tackling, and in how many up and coming resources they have helped train and grow their careers. The resource knows this, but so do their employers.
While it is true that a smart employer recognizes when they have a valuable employee, some employers just accept churn and will watch substantial talent walk away. The latter is poor business acumen at best. Any employer is only as good as the work produced by its employees. Not fighting to keep them is giving up, or at least accepting mediocrity. Cliché or not, employees are your greatest asset. Don’t believe me? If every single one of them went on strike for a month tomorrow, tell me how well your company would do.
Given this, how does a company find a Senior resource? In most cases, your candidate pool will already be gainfully employed and even happy with their company and place within it. Therefore displacing them has to become more thoughtful.
Senior resources carry the title “Senior” because they’ve been around the block a few extra times. They’ve worked the long days, and lost more weekends than they can remember to meet deadlines with minimal thanks for sacrificing their own life and family time for a company that would only seek to replace them if they burned out. As a Senior resource, they are older. The older we get, the less we are able to pull all-nighters. That’s the purview of the young. Some of us Senior resources see the long hours as a right of passage that got us to where we are. Here’s a very simple plan that companies should implement. Your junior resources are young, energetic and enthusiastic to grow themselves. It’s simple to see that they are more able to work late nights, all-night, and multiple hours over the weekend. Since Senior resources are so hard to find, why on earth would you ever want your “corporate culture” to burn them out? It doesn’t make sense. That being said, I don’t believe anyone, junior through senior, should harm themselves with an insane amount of working hours.
My brother worked in Finance & Insurance at a car dealership many years ago. Aside from another friend who owned/operated a pizza shop, he was one of the hardest working people I knew, but at what expense? His employer had him work 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 5pm Saturdays. That’s a 68-hour week all year long! When he told me that I actually laughed and said, “That’s crazy!” I couldn’t get over that an employer would require an additional 28 hours a week from an employee when there’s a better, more cost effective, and simply more effective way to do it. What employer wants a tired sluggish person trying to help the company make money? But how can they expect energy and enthusiasm when attempting to kill you with extra hours is the expectation? This employer would have greatly benefited from hiring another resource that started later in the day, even an experienced part-time resource who could take the evening or weekend hours. Simple. Better. Didn’t happen. My brother left the role, and has never gone back to it with the tenacity he once had.
In my own work history, one employer said that the team had to work overtime in December in advance of the holidays to “earn” the additional time off that the office was providing. Given that over the course of the entire year, I’d already worked an additional 70+ days, not hours, days, I expected to just take the time. One overzealous manager sent me a snot-gram level email asking me to demonstrate my overtime. Would any of us call that managerial skill of which this person should be proud?
Think about the number of countries in the world that are moving to a 4-day work week, and the companies permitting remote work which removes commute time. Not commuting puts a productive hour back in my day, which leads to my next point.
Another grossly antiquated managerial notion is that if someone’s butt isn’t warming a chair in your physical office space, they aren’t working. I will concede that as a Senior Proposal Writer / Manager, if you are mentoring junior resources, it is better to be in the office face-to-face with them. I’ve never found proposal mentoring or training works as well over Zoom or MS Teams. You need to be there to take questions, and to assess their level of comprehension and stress. Does remote work make me less productive? Not at all. Working remotely with over 30 clients for the past 3 years has demonstrated that I continue to be as productive and achieve the same level of success as when planted in an office. If your Senior resource doesn’t have a distinct need to physically be in the office, you should strongly consider making remote work part of their contract. I go into my client’s offices for meetings, very occasionally to draft content, and to provide training sessions, but my home office is where the work gets done.
Offer them 4 to 5 (preferably 5) weeks of vacation annually. Why so much up-front? Proposal writing/management, especially when writing/managing multiple concurrent deadlines is RAW STRESS. It all too frequently requires late nights, all-nighters, and losing your weekend. This comes at the expense of eating right, getting enough sleep, and spending quality time with your family. You know, the things that really mean something in life. No one should ever lose their health or family over a company or a proposal. Too many companies too often will say long hours are just the nature of the role or part of our corporate culture. Those companies are operating on an antiquated mentality, and confuse “corporate culture” with encouraging staff burn-out. This can be true of small firms, but I’ve personally experienced it with some of the largest consulting firms in the world. I was actually asked to sign two additional contracts with one firm. One stated that I’d accept working more than a 60 hour work week, and the second that I’d accept working more than an 80 hour work week. Just they fact that this is part of their contract offer tells you that this company has some serious problems, and some antiquated managerial impotency.
Make no mistake, someone who has had the tenacity to make a 20+ year career of proposal writing has earned their stripes (if they can prove their contract values won, volume of submissions submitted, etc.). They are a 6-figure player. Offering them less can be quite an insult. It certainly is for me. I’ve had companies contact me and throw low-ball offers (up to 60% less) at me laughing and saying “C’mon Perry, take a big pay cut and come work for us! Free parking!”. Side note to employers/recruiters, never say “work for us”. Say “Work WITH us”.
Lastly, make sure the company is a warm welcoming environment, and everyone knows how they fit into the greater picture. Squash internal toxicity whenever it rears its ugly head.
Perry Simpson, PMP, CF-APMP lives near Ottawa, Canada. He owns and operates www.proposalwriter.ca and has been in proposals since 2003. He holds degrees in Political Science and Law. He’s worked on over 1,850 proposals resulting in over $250 million in consulting revenue and $7.5 billion in construction awards. Connect at https://www.linkedin.com/in/perrydsimpson/