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  • Writer's pictureWhitney Kippes

The Worst Case Scenario

This past spring, I was working on a proposal team when my life pretty dramatically changed overnight. My mom called to tell me that her heart surgery was scheduled shortly after the semi-complete proposal draft went to the Pink Team Review. Limited resources and being the only child without children of my own, I had planned to drop everything, fly cross country and serve as her live-in support for at least a month. Only, we had expected it to be scheduled three months later.

I suppose health issues may be the only thing worse than USAID when it comes to dropping things when you least expect them...

This scenario - in which a major section writer is pulled out unexpectedly - should be every proposal manager's worst case scenario.

Over my tenure on proposal teams for the past fifteen years, I have seen:

  • Visa issues left undiscovered until the day before (or day of) departure for an in-country design workshop

  • Babies who opt to arrive a week (or two days) before submission

  • Mid-design workshop medical evacuations due to everything from miscarriages to dog bites

  • Run-of-the-mill childcare issues disrupting scheduled reviews

  • Last minute cross-country moves

No one can predict what it is that's going to disrupt any given bid, but we can confidently predict that the proposal team and calendar that we start out with will only stay accurate through submission with a lot of preparation, plus a little luck. Assuming that everything will go to plan never works out.

Preparing for the worst case scenario isn't easy, but it is necessary.

Every week I talk to new business team leads and proposal team leads who struggle to staff the core proposal team roles. I realize that asking proposal managers to staff a proposal team and also plan back-up options for key proposal team roles would be even more to ask.

Yet, knowing what you will do when a crisis hits makes it much easier to navigate. Most people aren't particularly great in a crisis.

Coming up with a last minute replacement writer to step in when your writer has a house fire, finding an extra set of hands to support back chapters when your coordinator gets sick, identifying a reviewer who can step in when your MEL expert loses childcare - all of these things can add to the stress of a proposal.

In these moments, when proposal team member's personal lives do (and should) take priority over the proposal itself, how you handle the situation can have a huge impact. When I had to tell my proposal lead earlier this year that I'd be hopping on a plane to Seattle in less than a week and be more or less out of commission the week leading up to our Red Team Review, I was worried. I was worried about the right things - whether my mom had a support system in place, whether the surgery would go well, who would take care of my mom's puppy while we were staying in the hospital - but I also worried about all the wrong things too - whether I could fit in revisions on the plane, whether I was dropping too much on my team members' plates, whether my limited availability would affect the outcome of the bid.

Sure, worrying about your work life in a personal crisis is natural. But, if we're living our values and supporting other team members as whole human beings, the last thing that we want is for them to be prioritizing work more than they do any other areas of their life, especially in a crisis. As proposal managers, we need to have enough to a plan and mental space to have our immediate reaction to someone's personal crisis be unconditional support for them to do whatever it is that they need to do.

Life isn't getting any less complicated and support systems for people aren't going to be built out of nothing.

If you are a proposal manager, we want to know - how do you plan for disaster?

Hop over to the (recently new and improved) Clubhouse to join the conversation!

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