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The World Cup – an international football tournament eagerly contested every four years by well-coached teams of highly skilled sporting professionals and England – provides many valuable lessons for students of business management and communication. Try this test.
Leadership style: Discuss options. Choose either (a) an autocratic approach that includes infantilising team members by restricting personal freedoms and withholding task allocation until two hours before major teamwork-dependent activities, or (b) jubilant co-operative goal-achievement based on the Maradona Principle.
Use of technology: Consider recent evidence and justify either (a) adopting well-tried 21st century technologies that increase both the accuracy and impartiality of critical decision-making at work, or (b) sitting on your fat backside jabbering sentimental crap (Blatter Theory) about errors of judgement always leading to a good discussion.
Skills training: Conduct a Pareto Analysis, selecting either (a) to assess individual team members’ skills against a set of proven world-class KPIs following the South American Dunga paradigm, or (b) to decide that abilities crudely honed in a scally scouse alley will do despite regular evidence to the contrary in international meetings situations with representatives of so-called minor subsidiaries.
Praise as incentivisation: Produce a cost/benefit analysis of both (a) ladling approbation on undeserving employees while cranking up the expectation of interested stakeholders to impossible levels, and (b) introducing the same employees to the stark truth by puncturing their overblown, overpaid hubris.
If you answered (c) to most questions, turn your paper over, wipe your tears and try again.
NOTE: If the imbalance between work performance and remuneration, as applied to both managers and team members, continues to stretch the bounds of credulity, candidates may resolve to choose another activity to observe. Like rugby.
Ok, thank God that’s all over and we can now watch some decent football without finding our hearts in our shoes. We can also concentrate on our jobs again and get back to the business of winning work. On which note, here is the next tip in my series on successful bidding.
TIP #5/8 Give them benefit, not information
Check your sentences pass the So what? test. If they don’t, rewrite with added benefit. A bid document must project benefit to have a chance of winning, because clients don’t buy information – they only buy benefit.
In other words, tell them how time, money or stress you’ll save them – and try to quantify how much. The phrase That means is a useful fulcrum point between the information and the benefit. Putting the benefit in a sentence on its own focuses the reader on your offer.
In evidence statements, quantify how much time, money or stress you saved the client on similar projects.
business messages people remember
Everyone has gone crazy. Car horns punch the air. A mood of delirious expectation and hope has filled the streets and the tiny kitchens of the country. People nod at strangers and gather round massive screens in public squares that transmit rapid flickering images against a relentless soundtrack of drum and bass. This is just the build-up. And we are already overwhelmed, willingly, by World Cup Fever.
Of course, someone in Darlington will claim they prefer watching Bargain Hunt, but the rest of the population… we will do nothing to resist the wave of collective fanaticism that a football tournament allows us, three times a decade at most.
It doesn’t matter who wins. It’s the chance to come together that we crave. This is the function that sport performs, the opportunity to act out a collectivist culture, instead of the individualism that marks our usual days.
Come on En-ger-land!
If England go out in the quarter-finals, we don’t really care – just as long as we can stand together, with flabby booze-streaked faces, arms round each other’s shoulders, sobbing in unison as our penalties go pinging over the bar and Germany’s dent the net. The reason we want to get to the Final on 11 July is not particularly to lift the trophy, it’s just to keep the moment going.
They are rare, these moments of mutual understanding, when we are certain of our communal identity. We haven’t this good a time since Diana died.
As far as the media are concerned, it doesn’t matter at all which event draws us together. Consider the mawkish perpetuation of the Cumbria tragedy ten days after the event. There’s no actual news to report any more. Hasn’t been since day two. So what we get instead from the journos and cameras still desperately camped in the town is intrusion into people’s personal grief. Despite the polite requests of the locals to be left alone, what our breakfast news relentlessly supplies is voyeuristic, prurient non-news and banal interviews in search of a reason for us all to cry.
Content is secondary. The priority is to engineer a collective emotion and then milk it for days on end.
How does this relate to winning work in business?
Well, it’s a good reminder of what not to do. Competitive pitching and bidding requires content that’s specific and full of quantifiable benefit, not generalities and gestural puff. The fourth of my eight tips on winning bids is one of the most important. It’s the need to prove your firm commitment to the project the client has put to tender, not the one you didn’t win last month.
Customise and personalise
Clients are offering you a business opportunity. If the best you can be bothered to offer them in return is a generic response because it’s quicker than investing time in thinking about their job, don’t be surprised when you lose. Everyone can smell a cut and paste a mile off.
Name names. Be project-specific. Say you not the client. Talk about them before you blah on about yourselves. Be personal. Prove you care.
Not like this:
We provide our clients with the highest standards of quality on all our projects. We have a strong track record of working with existing design teams in an integrated manner, to predict and mitigate quality issues. Processes of consultation will be undertaken with the client’s consultants and involve key stakeholders on this current scheme.
West Frampton is a scheme that Pike City Council needs to be proud of. Working with your design team of Ashfield and Dyke – and also local stakeholders such as the West Frampton Residents’ Association and the Butterfield Cooperative – will let us respond to your local issues, with a clear understanding of what quality means to you.
business messages people remember
It was on a recent flying visit to Lisbon that I discovered the world was flat. This may counter the suggestion put forward by NASA and other quangos, but would Magellan and Vasco da Gama have left the Portuguese coast behind them for the pleasures of plunder and the troving of treasures if they’d imagined going round in circles somewhere near Cadiz? Straight-ahead thinking was their game.
As I flew south through sunshine above the Pyrenees with white clouds puffing by below, a strange thing began to happen. The snowy caps gave way to paths carved out of the foothills, tracks began to meander in out of the dark topography, and soon these markings merged and twisted down to the first huts and fields that signified the edges of a village. Who chooses to live here in the middle of nowhere? Then the road from the village begins to cascade towards another village and then another. And, further on, the villages burgeon and sprawl into a town.
This is why the world is flat. Those paths and tracks indicate intention. Decisions, resolute and simple. A desire to press on towards sought-after contact. The gravitational pull of humans to hunker up to other humans – so clearly observed from the air, while on the ground it is mainly our differences we concentrate on – describes a process of thinking so innately straightforward that it seems to preclude anything as complex as a world that exists in 3D.
At the Lisbon conference, I briefly introduced an international audience of 120 salespeople to the research of Geert Hofstede, the Dutch anthropologist who has categorised the predominant attitudes and therefore the behaviours that differentiate one culture from another. Hofstede’s work is fascinating (see www.geert-hofstede.com). He illuminates the degree, for example, to which different cultures embrace risk. His research shows which nationalities prize teamwork over individualism and which don’t. Such knowledge offers a chance to improve the way we interact internationally.
The audience loved this stuff, and it was fun for them to predict where their own cultures came on Hofstede’s scales. And yet, if forced to choose, I wonder which is the more practical business tool: defining how we differ or reminding ourselves of how universal and simple are the truths that drive the things we do.
Do we communicate better by learning about the uniqueness of each other’s village feast days, or by contemplating what it means that both our villages have feast days at all?
One of the universal truths is the phenomenal power of emotion in making persuasion and purchase occur. Extensive behavioural science confirms the one thing that all successful salespeople have in common: they spend 20% more time than average salespeople (average, note, not poor) on proving to their customers that they’ve listened to and fully understood their individual needs.
Everything important is dead simple. Complicated is interesting, but strip behaviour down to its basic human essentials and you understand what makes people make the choices that they do.
So the world is flat. Which leads me quite naturally to the third dose of the eight distilled truths I’ve been offering on what makes winning bid documents win.
3 Put your main message at the start
Consider yourself a journalist not a writer of mystery tales. The first sentence of every news story tells the entire story. That’s how people read. So that’s how you should write bids.
Use the messages you created when planning. Make them the first sentence of each section. Consider putting all your messages upfront in a shaded box at the start of your response. This lets skim readers get your point upfront.
business messages people remember
You know why Clegg won the debate last night. We all know. Even the sparrows coughing in the trees and the slow-worms frazzled in Iceland know why Clegg wiped the floor with Cameron and Brown last night in front of 9m people. The Principle of Likeability, sir. Coupled with substance, madame.
It’s what I bang on about in every interview coaching session, every presentations workshop. The persuasive power of smiling (as opposed to the rictus grin). The genuine eye contact. The use of people’s names. The relaxation that comes from knowing your message is the message the audience needs to hear. The confidence that emanates from relaxation.
What about “the other two”, as Clegg cleverly called them? Phenomenally poor. Brown, the redoubtable statistician, trying too hard to be liked. Cameron as transparently thin on policy as a tissue from the make-up box.
They’re like the tortoise and the hare, them two.
You said it. These days of frantic electioneering, try pressing mute on the box. With the sound off, apart from the grinning in A&E wards and the way they terrify playgroups by insisting on shaking the hands of tiny startled children in Wigan, Cameron and Brown can seem like human beings. But just try listening to the sentences they utter when they speak.
Dull beseeching speeches mouthed from cut-out faces, convenient soundbites manufactured by technicians of spin spooling out at us like a virus.
That’s right, mate, keep going.
Brown refuses to deny that he might increase VAT by “promising” that Labour has never put VAT up before. Making a promise about the past is illogical drivel. He’s desperate to be our mate.
Cameron preaches that Tories prize equality by vowing to cap the pay of public sector chiefs, a move that would affect precisely 105 people in the UK. This is prime snake oil. He thinks he is our mate.
Neither is able to project a shred of credibility in the face of simple, persistent questions from journalists that reflect the concerns of simple, persistent people like you and me.
That’s right, mate, keep going.
Forgive my naivety, but you might have thought that the expenses scandal was the nadir that would ignite a volte-face in British politics. Instead what we got was self-interested liars like Byers and ham-fisted goons like Hoon continuing to ridicule the people who voted them into power. And what we are now receiving from the great party leaders themselves day after day is false argumentation that a half-bright four-year old could demolish. No wonder politicians visit playgroups to crush little hands.
One’s as bad as the other.
It’s not random acts of contrition that matter. If you’re Tory, you can ban duck-houses and back-fill moats in Sherryshire all you like. If you’re Labour, you can haul Elliott Morley into court and truss him up like the turkey he is. None of that matters. None of the hypocritical, abject pandering to public outrage. What matters – when trustability is your only collateral – is that the language you choose to use day after day conveys honesty, transparency and integrity and doesn’t insult the collective intelligence of the population.
Which brings me to part 2/8 of my series on writing bid documents that win. Because the Principle of Likeability isn’t everything. You need content that stands up. Argumentation that doesn’t discount logic.
Last time I advised reading the ITT carefully and answering the questions it asks, not the questions you want to answer. This time my advice is:
Be logical and give evidence
Check your logic stands up. Help the reader to believe your story by using logical connectors like so, therefore, as a result, the next step, finally. Back up your claims and promises with verifiable evidence of how you’ve delivered similar things on similar projects before. Testimonials from others are more persuasive than the sound of your own trumpet.
Competitive bids are just like elections: your submission is your manifesto, and the assessing panel aren’t idiots. They don’t want empty marshmallow claims. They like a persuasive phrase that crystallises your meaning, but they don’t like hollow soundbites from Head Office. If you want your assessing panel to put the X in your box, give them the plain logic they deserve.
business messages people remember
As we move from a pleasingly frozen winter to a refreshingly balmy spring – and as the UK descends into a quagmire of nostalgic national strikes – there is much to enjoy in this return to the certainties of the past.
We now see that climate change was an elaborate fabrication, and that the grit of social strife remains our perpetual oyster.
There’s no denying that when Unite grounds your plane and the RMT cancels your train for Easter, it’s hard to throw your hat in the air with joy. Yet at least in the West we can contest authority, a privilege not known everywhere.
It’s a privilege we exercise remarkably little. Milgram’s electric shock experiment (recently revamped on French TV to much scandale, the original Yale account is worth googling) is only one of many demonstrations of how we happily kowtow to anything in a white coat.
Voices of authority corral us constantly. Not least on public transport every morning, as Matron scrubs our ears with a hefty carbolic of patronising announcements – “Do try to keep all personal items with you at all times” – as if we’re simpletons whose conkers keep falling out of our pockets. We hear it ten times an hour, and we don’t complain.
Well, it’s official, innit? We got to listen.
Not always. A friend recently told me how he’d attended a course where “some consultant yakked for hours like bullshit bingo was going out of fashion.” The consultant in the role of authority figure informed my friend, who is a surveyor, that he wasn’t a surveyor but an agent of change. How did you respond? I asked. “I punched him in the throat.”
I wish. Consultants who wrap expensive advice in a flannel of second-hand management-speak should be set upon a ducking stool above a vat of vinegar.
So here to redress the balance on behalf of the rest of my profession is the first of an eight-part series that tells you some commonsense stuff you already know about winning work. First: why it pays to just answer the question.
If a client is asking how you will control quality on their project, they’re not asking for a ten-page treatise on the philosophy of procurement methodology. They just want to know how you’ll guarantee quality for them.
Resist the temptation to answer the question you want to answer, instead of the one in front of you. Don’t talk around the topic of the question. Just answer the bloody question.
Sorry, was that too obvious? You knew that, didn’t you? Voltaire, that complicated mind, that great authority, got it wrong: commonsense is in common supply.
business messages that people remember
When I started this blog, I promised never to make it too personal. Never to spout from my sock drawer and pretend my personal issues were public issues. Or indeed that my tissues were your tissues. And now that swine flu has been proved just another version of political clover (duh, who didn’t see that coming?), I have no need for tissues at all.
So, on the lookout for issues this week, and mindful that the Canadian blonde and I are in danger of moving flat just in order to stop bumping into each other in every miniature room here in bijou W9 when the washing’s on the rack or you both want to sit on the sofa at the same time, I got in touch with Sarah Beeny.
Oh, come on. The Property Ladder woman off Channel 4. She knows a lot about sofa and racks. She’s some business brain, she is. Not only does she promulgate the contemporary pattern of finding love online (which will only be news to you if you still look forward to church hall beetle drives) via her mysinglefriend website. She is also in the vanguard of the global annihilation of estate agents. Can you hear the cheering?
Yeah, them estate agents need a good rottweiller up their particulars, don’t they?
Bit harsh maybe? In fact, estate agents’ sins of the 90s – when all their rampant humping and gazumping gave birth to the evil love child they called Foxtons – have been largely replaced on the hate charts by bankers and politicians as the latterday mutilators of your personal trust fund.
However, hiring an estate agent today still means deleting a minimum of 2% off your capital gain, even before the taxman rises with a smile in the morning. At least, that’s the figure down here in the soft belly of London. And we accept it because, unlike proper men from Yorkshire, we’re too frightened to slam tradesmen against the lock-up garage and threaten to send them down’t pit-bull if they don’t offer a concessionary commission.
Giving 2% of your dosh away can be hard to stomach. Especially when the Property Sales Consultant taking potential purchasers round your cherished home that you’ve enticingly sprayed with just-baked cookie scent is a boychild in a Mr Dazzle suit with last night’s glue in his pocket.
And so it came to pass that Saint Sarah Beeny had another good idea.
She has created a website where you can sell your gaff for free. When www.tepilo.com began last June, all you did was take some blurry snaps of your property on your Motorola Katona and lob them online. Now it has 3,700 followers on Twitter and million quid penthouses lit by Rankin.
And how this relates to business is…
This is hardly cutting-edge anarchism. It’s just using the tool that millions of us turn to every day. Picture those estate agents in their shabby offices in Clerkenwell, shivering like a bunch of chalk-knuckled Cratchitts waiting to see if the internet might be a passing fad.
What Tepilo has done is take on the unthinking, the lazy comfort of the status quo. Goodbye estate agents as we have known you. Turn your market Breitlings to 2010.
Like Beeny’s dating site, where you big up the charms of your best mate to an audience of potential amours, Tepilo takes a different slant at an old problem. Like, for example? Oh, I don’t know… Apple? Satnav? Napster? Bluetooth? Even M&S.
What that lot did was to recognise a need for change and address it. Does this match your experience in business? Can you name a company you’ve ever worked for where the determination to make things better got actioned every day?
Inertia isn’t inspiring. If your place of work could do with a rocket in the thought department, I suggest you supply it and reap the reward of commercial gratitude. Or take your brilliance elsewhere. Nowhere has rights of indolence any more.
Everyone needs to fly like Beenys to a honey pot.
business messages people remember