No one grows up dreaming of being a proposal manager. Well, maybe some people do, but I didn’t. Most of us stumble into proposal management because we have a diverse set of soft skills. We can assemble stakeholders, see different viewpoints, and understand the communication dots that need to be connected. The best proposal managers can get proposal teams to the submission finish line, all while juggling different communication styles, competing priorities, and complicated donor requirements.
I was a social worker in my previous professional life. One concept I learned as a social worker that has served me well as a proposal manager is meeting an individual where they are–the concept that we cannot give a “one-size-fits-all” approach to working with individuals. And as I see each day in proposal management, each person is unique. We all have different methods for communication, absorbing information, and decision-making. Therefore, when working with individuals, what may resonate for one person will not necessarily work for another. And just as each person is unique, it is important to remember each proposal is unique. Funder requirements, technical approaches, and proposal team composition all make for the perfect confluence of different considerations to juggle as a proposal manager.
As a proposal manager, understanding what motivates your team members and how to communicate with one another enables us to ensure efficiency and reduce frustrations. This adaptive style is exactly how to meet your team where they are. This could ultimately look like:
Different communication tools: Many country teams juggle program implementation with proposal development, often in fragile settings with limited internet connectivity. Using WhatsApp in addition to coordination emails can be a useful method to ensure team members are plugged into the proposal development progress, even if they have problems uploading their Outlook.
Daily huddles with your technical lead or cost lead: Quick 1:1 chats for 15 minutes to walk through the deliverable calendar can go a long way in checking in on potential hiccups that may not be identified in all-team coordination meetings.
Informal touch bases with team members: Notice a team member staying silent in your coordination call? A quick call or an informal chat at their desk to see how they feel about the process can be an insightful way of learning the nuances to your team. It’s not easy to speak up in a group setting, but given the opportunity, an informal chat with the Proposal Manager can lead to valuable insights into challenges and potential solutions.
Modifying how feedback is provided: Color reviews are difficult, especially for those receiving the feedback. (What do you mean you don’t like my design!?) As a Proposal Manager, we can manage how feedback is received by facilitating a discussion rather than sharing written feedback. Or assembling the feedback into a more digestible form for the team, such as in a table to reduce redundant comments or to showcase the proposed solutions.
This is certainly not a call to bring substantial changes to sound business development tools and processes for each proposal. That would be a nightmare! But by slightly modifying how we interact with our teams - adapting to what will resonate and work for each individual, rather than expecting each person to work the same way - can go a long way in setting both you and your team up for success.