Do you ever yourself in a slump, mired in corporate politics, overwhelmed, or disenchanted? If you ever get in an unproductive state of mind, remind yourself of the five basic principles below.
1. Mind the fundamentals. Especially if we have been doing something over and over again, we grow bored with things. We hit a slump. In a slump, we just go through the motions, but fail to perform to our true potential. The solution is – go back to the fundamentals, just like a team of athletes does when it starts delivering ho-hum performances.
For more junior managers, fundamentals are about making sure that you have a good annotated outline, you didn’t put off a compliance matrix till the proposal end, you are tracking status daily and know exactly where each section or deliverable is at any given moment, and you have built some “slippage” time into your schedule for the unforeseen emergencies.
For more senior proposal managers, all of the above should boil down to a set of standard operating procedures and checklists, to avoid getting mired in administrivia. It all boils down to focus on proposal team leadership and content of the proposal document. You have to make sure that you lead the team by inspiring them to perform better, by training them in the skills they need for each task, and by providing timely feedback to course-correct. Read every part of your proposal numerous times to ensure that your proposal has a winning content that you will be able to polish and shrink-wrap by the submission deadline.
2. Focus on the end result, not the obstacles. Few capture and proposal managers claim they have enough resources to do what they need to do. In the times of austerity, it’s not getting any better. I love the fact that the United States Marines train to see the goal and not the obstacles. I think everyone could benefit from a boot camp or a similar experience.
I once went to a motivational seminar to work up the courage to quit my corporate job and start a consulting business. As an exercise, I had to break a wooden inch-and-a-half thick board karate-style to learn the resolve and the art of focusing on the end result. A person held a board in their arms in front of their chest, and I had to break the board with my bare hand.
I shattered a solid board into three pieces on a first try because I made the board transparent in my mind’s eye. The secret was to aim at the person’s chest, not at the board – as if the board were never there. Ever since then, when I get daunted by all the obstacles, I go back to my experience and use it as the source of strength. Perhaps you could try going back to your own memories of when you overcame obstacles by focusing on an end result to reach your own goals, to give you strength dealing with lack of resources and less-than-perfect circumstances, and win each and every time.
3. Commit to see the pursuit through, no matter what. For many of us, our jobs are a marathon made up of sprints, one after another. Many of us work long hours, especially as our companies are trying to do more with less. Indifference may set in as you burn out.
Break through the indifference and overwhelm. Draw a line in the sand. Gather up the courage to do a stupendous job with this pursuit, put into it everything you’ve got and then some, and do an amazing job. After you are done, get the courage to negotiate a time off. Even if you are your own boss, stand up to your inner slave driver and reward yourself with a break after you reach your goal.
4. Play to win. Don’t focus on submitting a complete and compliant response. Instead, focus on making your response stellar. Go for the gold in every part of the proposal. If a section is mediocre, assign it to someone to rewrite it, or rewrite it yourself. Pour over every letter and leave nothing to chance. Forget the principles of good management and doing work through others. You won’t get an award for great manager, but you will get an award if you write a winning proposal.
Even though there may rarely be enough resources, don’t let your management get ridiculous with unrealistic expectations of what it takes to develop a winning proposal. Remind them that you are not in the business of writing proposals – you are in the business of winning. Know what it takes to resource a proposal to win – and inform your and your teammates’ management that if you don’t have enough resources, your heroics will only get a proposal so far.
Remind everyone on your team that you are all playing to win, so that they deliver their absolute best performance.
5. Enjoy your work. Life is too short to be stuck in a job that you dread. Hopefully you love what you do, or at least you love it most of the time. As things get intense, still remember to try to enjoy yourself as much as you can. No one will refund you this time of your life – and life is but a blink. Might as well smile, laugh, joke, play, share your stories and listen to others, and otherwise interact with the fellow intelligent people who tend to work on proposals.
Balance lightness with intensity. I don’t advocate socializing so much that the quality of your work suffers, or you get too distracted and get nothing done – but also don’t get in a place where people take themselves too seriously, and just get in the spirit of getting by, and hoping the torture ends soon. There have been proposals when I would get home and my face would hurt from smiling. Consequently, I wasn’t even tired after a 10-12 hour day. Every single one of these proposals was a winner. Hope you find a way to enjoy yourself as much as I did – as it makes all the difference.
Let me know what are other techniques you find useful when you hit a slump.