Should proposal professionals redefine the way they think about themselves? Eric Gregory of CACI, Inc., delivered a keynote address at the APMP International Conference that caused some serious audience buzz at the follow-on networking session. He somberly stated that proposal professionals are different from the “normal” folk: we are warriors, the vanguard, the point of the spear, pioneers, adventurers, the legion, the cavalry…

According to him, what we do is a downright war. The true proposal professionals are a warrior class in our organizations – to think anything less is to diminish who we are and what we do. Some folks focused on civilian agencies and commercial proposals in the audience didn’t take to the message too kindly. They complained that Eric’s speech was too full of paramilitary talk, especially as Eric referred to us doing it all as a duty without expecting much rewards or even recognition of our value to the organization.

Defining ourselves functionally as capture managers, proposal managers, business developers, proposal coordinators, writers, and so on, doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Eric. Many can fill a function, but far fewer can become a proposal professional, which according to him is “a state of being.” He rocked the Association’s boat a bit, as he asserted that achieving accreditation doesn’t create or endorse a proposal professional. It was a surprising thing for the keynote speaker to say, for an organization that is trying as hard as APMP is to get everyone accredited. He continued by asserting that skill and competency are necessary but insufficient for the proposal profession. He argued that a proposal professional can only be represented by who we are. It is not a skill – it is an attribute.

Warriors are those who protect society from internal and external threats through defensive and offensive means. Tools of politicians and strategists, don’t control much of the decisions but deliver victories. They are ready, willing, and able to deliver sacrifice for the continued existence of the organization – just the way that proposal professionals have to bid on a proposal they know is a bluebird and that they have no chance of winning. They recognize that they are responsible for the livelihood of 3-4 times the people our organizations employ. Their work directly affects thousands of people – not only the employees, but their wives, children, aging parents, and those others depending on the employees. If they cannot make this critical emotional connection – they should be in another field. It all boils down to a hefty sense of responsibility: “When I fail and lose – people suffer; when I succeed and win – people prosper.”

I personally think that Eric is correct but there is more to the story. The projects that we work on, especially in the Federal arena, affect even more lives. Depending on the nature of the project, the impact of our team executing the work well versus another team doing a poor job may mean much heftier consequences that have to do with our nation’s (or even the world’s) livelihood. After all, good capture and proposal mean a project plan well done, which enables better delivery – and better outcome of the project.

According to Eric, there are 10 essential attributes of a proposal warrior:

  1. Courageous – performs under criticism and doubt, abandons consensus (oh, that didn’t sit well with the civilian agency folks either), endures anger, criticizes honestly and directly, confronts senior management, and gets rid of underperformers.
  2. Committed – selflessly sacrifices what’s necessary to achieve success; keeps ego in check, and is team-focused.
  3. Leader – becomes an example; doesn’t ask anyone to do anything he or she won’t do; takes criticism well; doesn’t eat till the team eats; doesn’t rest till team rests; builds up the depressed team; speaks the truth; demands excellence by example; and reminds the team how easy it is to make changes if we step back and regain perspective. Most importantly, makes it fun and rules by cheer.
  4. Decisive – demands action when action is required; never apologizes for choosing action over inaction; promotes discussion but destroys committee in favor of action and decisions (again, this statement angered many folks from organizations where consensus is a value).
  5. Agile – reacts quickly and embraces momentary change.
  6. Creative – overwhelms competitors with surprise, coming up with solutions that can bring down a mighty giant with a stone.
  7. Disciplined – achieves much with little, and is relentless in taking actions to reach victory against superior force; requires more than process because the process requires artifacts, while discipline requires attitude.
  8. Compassionate – manages the fight without destroying the team; works hard but knows that warriors must replenish their energy before they keep marching on.
  9. Intelligent – defines capture and proposal strategies and leads to victories; uses the intelligence of others to win victories and counter the defeats. Intelligence doesn’t make a warrior but can make a warrior more successful.
  10. Resilient – has the will to carry on under the most adverse conditions that defeat the average human – and true proposal professionals are not average. Will work as hard and as long as necessary.

Eric said that we cannot expect our colleagues, managers, or executives to see what we do and how we do it and see the absolute value we bring every day. To some degree, it’s our burden and we should accept our station gladly without special acknowledgment. But, we have to develop ways to convey the value we deliver as proposal warriors and make the case for ourselves to those who don’t understand.

He asserted that the value we deliver cannot be more tangible than the continued prosperity of our organizations, people who work there, and those who are supported by the organizations.

He called us to recount our deeds for the good of the company. When each battle is done and the war is over, we should celebrate our stories at special events to remind those who prosper of what we did for them. They owe us nothing other than the respect we deserve as a warrior class. (In my mind, a big bonus would do very nicely as well.) We deserve to be examples to be emulated. We become the culture of our organizations. We become the legends as we create the story – it might be our greatest reward and greatest value; culture to survive the recessions and continue to evolve with rampant ferocity.

Eric said that as warriors, we can lead into the most difficult competitive situations. We will defend people and territories and as an offensive, we will take from the competition what they prize the most – their market share. I almost at that point finished his sentence with “their women and children.” This may have been the point when half the audience was ready for a war cry, and another half was ticked. In the break, the buzzing continued – as Eric was pleased that he reached his goal – to get us to talk and stir a nice controversy.

So, what do you think – are we proposal warriors, often under-appreciated but clear in our sense of duty to fight an exhausting battle that makes a difference between our companies’ life and death? (It made perfect sense to me personally and rang true). Are we peaceful writers, artists, managers, process gurus, or are we soldiers on a battlefield? Are there more ways to define ourselves than warriors? How do you feel like a proposal professional deep inside? Are you part of a warrior class?


Olessia Smotrova-Taylor

OST Global Solutions, Inc.

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