For many people, May is a month of holidays: Mother’s Day and Memorial Day for Americans, Victoria Day for Canadians, two bank holidays for U.K. citizens. But for proposal professionals, the big day this year was May 15: day one of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals’ (APMP) annual Bid & Proposal Con.
Hundreds of bid, proposal, tender, capture, business development, and graphics professionals from all corners of the globe convened for three days in San Diego, California to get the latest and hear from the greatest in the industry. After the event, we caught up with Upland Qvidian’s Manager of Customer Success Steve Coles, who represented the Upland Qvidian team as a thought leader on two panels at the event — the first on finding ways to be efficient with repeatable processes, the second on the qualities of a team-first culture.
Steve’s exuberance about the APMP event during our chat was contagious. “The overall tone of the conference was really exciting, particularly as with over 1,000 delegates, the association set a new attendance record,” he shared. “There was a great buzz in the air this year, underpinned by some very upbeat and thought-provoking sessions!”
Among the most exciting trends that stood out to Steve this year were:
- Diversity – Bid Con 2018 not only attracted globetrotters from destinations like the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Canada, India, and South America, but in a discipline that is predominately female staffed, approaching half of the speaker and moderator slots for 2018 were female-led. Every year, APMP chapter members nominate 40 individuals under 40 who are young but have already made a noticeable impact in their organizations and the profession. This year, three-quarters of the 40 under 40 award winners are women. Having women in leadership – and thought leadership – roles is vital to the growth and success of our association, and our industry.
- A new format – As a bid and proposal professional with over 21 years of experience under his belt, Steve has had the opportunity to see first-hand how APMP’s international conference program has grown and matured over the years. In the past, the conference was primarily lecture-oriented, but this year Steve noticed a dramatic increase in the number of panel sessions (keep reading for a deeper dive on Steve’s panels!). The panel sessions were widely attended by more seasoned professionals, while younger attendees appeared to gravitate instead towards the conference’s lecture sessions. While there’s no hard science behind this split demographic, this can most likely be attributed to the growing curiosity of up-and-comers who are primarily focused on ways to build their careers.
An APMP member since 2002, Steve has the unique perspective of having a front-row seat to the evolution of the bid and proposal industry. With processes constantly evolving to stay relevant, Steve has mastered repeatable processes by adhering to a few simple guidelines. For instance, in his “Be Efficient – and Effective – with Repeatable Processes” panel, Steve responded to a question posed about when you’re left with little alternative but to “abandon your process and ‘wing it.’” His thoughts?
“Efficiency without effectiveness is an exercise in futility, and with time being the bid and proposal professional’s most precious resource, pragmatic and repeatable processes are absolutely vital for extracting every ounce of value from shrinking response timelines,” Steve said.
“If you find yourself ‘winging it’ often, then, you have to ask yourself if your process is indeed fit-for-purpose. Has ‘winging it’ become the new norm? And if it has, why? What do you need to do to address that new reality? Change your process? Finesse and tune ‘winging it’ to become your new process?”
According to Steve, good processes often rely on a blend of the following:
- People: does your team have the capacity and capability – the appetite – to drive, tune, defend and evangelize your process?
- Technology: tech is an enabler; use it as a catalyst for process transformation. Don’t simply shoehorn antiquated processes into tech, or tech quickly becomes an inhibitor.
- Sponsorship: secure the enduring sponsorship of your senior responsible owners to help you obtain and sustain strong functional interlocks to help avoid process for process sake. Above all, be sure to highlight what’s in it for them!
While each of these components are critical for creating efficient, effective, and repeatable processes, the people aspect stands or falls on the strength of the team – and a strong leader. Notice, we didn’t say “manager.” In practice, Steve places a huge emphasis on the importance of leader vs manager.
In his second panel, “Qualities of a Team-First Culture,” Steve spoke about the effectiveness of implementing and maintaining a harmonious, efficient team. “My job as a leader is to enable my team to do their job to the best of their abilities,” he said. “If there are challenges, I’m right behind them. But, crucially, they exude the capacity and capability to discharge their duties with the highest degree of autonomy and professionalism. Upland Qvidian cultivates leaders, not managers, and that’s an important difference.”
Throughout his panel session, Steve also spoke on the importance of empowering your team members to accomplish what they need to do. In the larger picture, this doesn’t solely apply to a team member’s professional development, but their personal growth, too.
“Professional development and personal growth aren’t mutually exclusive,” he said. “They are both vital for keeping teams motivated and healthy beyond the tactical, day-to-day activities.”
In his team-first panel session, Steve highlighted that for professional development and personal growth to occur hand-in-hand, leaders need to partner with team members to identify opportunities for nourishment within and outside of the organization. While these can align with professional goals, it’s healthy to understand and support team members’ personal growth targets to complement their professional development activities.
“Though every organization has different mechanisms for fostering a positive culture, whatever approach you take, it must be authentic to be successful. That authenticity must permeate throughout the organization’s hierarchy. A lack of authentic culture can be more damaging than a culture vacuum!”
And how did Steve close off his panels? Of course, with a nod to AC/DC’s anthemic ‘For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)’ … “Stand up and be counted for the RFP you are about to receive!”
Rock on, Steve, and thank you to everyone who attended the conference panel sessions, visited us at the Upland Qvidian booth, or attended our customer networking event at Quinn’s Ale House. On to the next big show!