By: Bob Burnett, Vice President of Business Development
In this second installment of the four-part series on Stoicism In Government Contracting, we focus on three more themes identified by The Daily Stoic that typify stoicism: Unbiased Thought, Right Action, and Problem Solving. Each of these themes has carry-over to everyday life. But we will focus specifically on how these themes benefit business development professionals attempting to win work with the federal government. While the examples used pertain to the government-contracting world, the thoughts cited in this series pertain to business development and sales in general, and let’s face it, we have all played the “salesperson” role at one time or another.
Unbiased Thought is the ability to view things objectively and without influence of your, or someone else’s, personal beliefs. We all collect experiences throughout our lifetime that influence the way we see and interact with the world. These experiences help us to learn and improve over time, but they also shape our view of the world, and likely introduce bias into our decision-making. Overlaying this bias across all situations we encounter is a recipe for poor decision-making.
As business development professionals, we engage with government contracting personnel on a regular basis. Some of these interactions are productive and valuable, while others are seemingly fruitless. Regardless, one must enter into every interaction objectively and without bias in order to have an open mind and increase the likelihood of achieving the desired goal. We should always reserve judgment until after the interaction has taken place.
Another area in which unbiased thought is critical is when evaluating a government solicitation for services; this includes the Statement of Work, the proposal instructions, and evaluation criteria. It is not wise to read too much into a requirement or attempt to reverse-engineer what you think the author of the requirement meant when they wrote the page. The problem is compounded when you think you know what the customer “really wants” and you attempt to force this narrative into a response that ends up not complying with the solicitation instructions or evaluation criteria.
This is not to say that you should ignore your experiences, instincts, or information available to you, or disregard trends or leading indicators of potential outcomes; this information is useful, but it is not the end-all, be-all of sound decision-making. We must also view events, activities, outcomes, and instructions/requirements without the weight of personal bias. Considering things objectively is a more fair-minded approach founded on reality versus what we might contrive in our mind.
Right Action occurs when you do not just think about what you should do. But you actually do what you know you should do. Nike sums it up pretty well in their famous tagline: Just Do It. Once you know what needs to be done, do it. Do not just read about what you should do, do it. Do not spend an inordinate amount of time talking about it, do it.
I am not advocating that you simply take action without clear thought and consideration of options, but that once you know what must be done, then you should not delay in taking that action…for it is the right action. This call to action assumes that your actions are just and good, and ethical and sound in principle…and that you will be able to sleep comfortably at night after you take the necessary action.
A key component of winning and supporting government contracts is teaming. At VectorCSP, we seek teaming partners that help us provide a compelling solution to our clients. Attributes of compelling teammates include complementary capabilities, excellent past performance and reputation, in-depth market knowledge, and competitive pricing, among others.
Once we decide to pursue an opportunity and we realize we need a teammate, we do the necessary vetting to identify suitable candidates. This is the easy part. Now it is time for action; it is time to cold-call or cold-email if necessary. Now it is time to find a connection you may have in common and ask for an introduction. Knowing you need a teaming partner is good; identifying the right teaming partner is better; but getting that right partner to a signed exclusive teaming agreement is best. Know what you need to do and simply do it…acting ethically all along the way.
Problem Solving is a theme very similar to right action, as it requires action and is often a difficult endeavor. Essentially, this stoic trait means tackling problems and not letting them get the best of you. This is not to say that you should be capable of single-handedly overcoming every problem that comes your way with ease and speed. But it does mean that you do not shy away from addressing a problem and working as hard as you can to solve the problem.
Some everyday problems in business development include combing through copious amounts of data to identify and evaluate opportunities, or scheduling and supporting multiple proposal review sessions, or communicating with multiple teaming partners concurrently. It can be easy for the abundance of information combined with the sometimes overwhelming scheduling demands to simply be too much. However, if you prioritize and really determine what must get done versus what you think should get done, then perhaps these everyday problems become easier to address.
For problems that are more complex, I like the analogy of eating an elephant. How does one eat an elephant? Well, one bite at a time of course. When confronted with a big or complex problem, simply make progress toward solving it; slowly if need be, but always striving to make progress. A relevant example of this for me is when faced with an upcoming contract recompete, and we find out that the government is likely to solicit the requirement in such a way that prevents us from pursuing the work as the prime/lead contractor. This may occur due to government socio-economic goals. Or perhaps the customer is mandated to use a specific strategic sourcing contract vehicle which VectorCSP does not have access to. Or it could be any number of reasons for the change in acquisition strategy.
Well, I am not going to sit by and be overcome by this problem…I consider the options and start working to solve the problem. One of the first things I do is pull other stakeholders into the process; we are stronger together and collaboration and communication is valuable in these circumstances. From here the options vary, and could include speaking directly with the program technical lead, contracting specialist, contract officer, or local small business advocate to discuss the situation. Other options include evaluating teaming options that would allow us to subcontract to another firm for the recompete. Another option could be to shift our personnel to other contracts and prepare to lose the work altogether. But retain our highly skilled staff in the process to support other important efforts. Either way, there are always options available to address a problem. Even if you do not achieve the most desirable resolution.
Bottom line – do not let a problem defeat you without doing everything in your power to solve the problem.
So, in summary: enter situations with no personal bias and reserve judgment for outcomes and results; take action once you determine the right action to take; and tackle the problems that come your way…do not let them fester.
For stoic thoughts and relevant business development examples pertaining to Clarity, Equanimity, and Awareness, please read Part One of this series. Stay tuned for an upcoming Part Three installment where I will discuss stoic thoughts regarding Duty, Pragmatism (my personal favorite), and Resiliency.