The Good News and Bad News About Uncooperative Proposal Contributors

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This is a guest post by Carl Dickson of and PropLIBRARY. Here he shares 29 techniques for dealing with uncooperative proposal contributors.

One of the joys of managing proposals is that none of the people who are drafted to contribute to the proposal actually report to the proposal “manager.” And frequently they are expected to contribute to the proposal after all of their other responsibilities are taken care of. It can be like working two jobs. So even when they want to help out, they often aren’t the most enthusiastic and cooperative people to depend on.

I recently had a discussion about this with a friend of mine, Chris Ryan. He’s an expert in organizational improvement and management consulting and brings a different perspective to the proposal arena. He clued me in to some studies regarding human performance improvement.

Apparently Thomas Gilbert is often credited with inventing the whole thing. He showed that some of the things that drive behavior are individual, but some of them are organizational. For example, each individual has their own knowledge, capacities, and motives, but environmental factors like information, resources, and incentives can actually play a larger role in their ability to contribute to something like a proposal.

Proposal managers are great at solving things at their own level. But you can’t maximize your win rate without also addressing the organizational level.

Techniques at the proposal level

Here are some of the techniques that we can use on our own, without involving The Powers That Be:

  1. Manage expectations. Also known as “proactive scolding.” I prefer to think of it as a preventative. This should be your standard opening.
  2. Just-in-time training, in all its forms. A major reason why people don’t cooperate is that they don’t know how to do what you’ve asked. Building in training, often without calling it “training,” is a great way to get past the hurdle.
  3. Job aids. What can people reference or use that will make completing their assignments easier
  4. Anticipate information dependencies. When people don’t have the information they need to do what you’ve asked, things grind to a halt. Anticipating that and proactively providing that information smooths cooperation. If you don’t have the information yourself, then providing the workaround or source to get it is the best you can do.
  5. Persuasion. Sometimes we beg and plead. Sometimes we threaten. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all technique that works in all circumstances.
  6. Work the chain of command. Sometimes you go over people’s heads. Sometimes you persuade The Powers That Be to publicly support you. Sometimes you get them to shuffle resources in your favor or reduce the workload of proposal contributors. Sometimes The Powers That Be are not available and you’re on your own.
  7. Conflict resolution. Advanced techniques for conflict resolution can help you get everyone on the same side and balance the competing priorities.
  8. Make it easier for them to do what you need than it is for them to fake it on their own. If you ask people to put effort into following “the process” because it will “pay off later,” you’ve already lost half of them. But if the steps in your process make it easier for them to complete their assignment and get back to their “real” job, you might just get some cooperation out of them. Think tools, checklists, recipes, and guidance instead of process, steps, and mandates.
  9. Oversight. No one likes someone hovering over them while they work. But if you can structure frequent checks, especially ones that aren’t obviously checking up on people, you’ll get more cooperation. Some people procrastinate. So give them more deadlines. Instead of two weeks to complete writing a section, give them two days to plan it, a day to write the introduction paragraph, etc.
  10. Self-assessment tools. Enable people to know when they are on the right track without having to ask. Equally important, you also enable them to see when they are not on the right track.
  11. Alternatives. The more alternatives you have, the fewer points of failure. Can you replace people? Can you switch them to another task or role?
  12. Automation. If we can’t force them to cooperate, maybe we can get the computer to do it for us!
  13. Team building. Don’t just think of team building as morale boosting and cheerleading. Think of it as collaboration. Can you change the collaboration model to reduce the amount of friction that’s leading to a lack of cooperation?
  14. Peer pressure. Sometimes you don’t need the chain of command to apply pressure.

And now for the bad news

All of these techniques have their limits. Collectively they amount to a smaller chance of improving cooperation than any one of the organizational approaches below can achieve. They amount to keeping honest people honest and enabling people who want to cooperate to do so.

Getting The Powers That Be onboard regarding the organizational issues ultimately decides your success and the organization’s win rate and growth. But you can usually get a proposal out the door without their explicit support when you have to.

This is what should motivate The Powers That Be to lend a hand. Getting by will not maximize your win or your ROI. Most already realize this, though, and are trapped in an ROI dilemma and negative incentives of their own that exaggerate the chances of winning and minimize the resource requirements to do so.

In Part Two of this post, Carl will reveal some organizational improvement techniques that can have a profound impact on how well people cooperate during a proposal.

This article originally appeared at PropLIBRARY at and was reprinted with permission.

Carl Dickson is the founder and president of and PropLIBRARY. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.