Public procurement will play an important role in reviving the economy and communities in the aftermath of Covid-19. This is already increasing the importance of social value in the way that contracts are tendered and bids are scored. The best advice is to embrace this trend rather than see it as an added complication or hurdle.
Twelve or so months ago Covid-19 was an unclassified illness that had broken out in a part of China. None of us could have forecast the devastating impact it would have - and is still having - on lives and businesses around the globe. But the human spirit is resilient - economies and communities will be remade.
Outside of the world of materials and services procured specifically to combat the virus (which is territory I have no intention of venturing into) the Government seems determined that future contracts procured with public funds should help the process of recovery. Social value is very much on the agenda, with an emphasis on how projects can deliver additional outcomes that will help communities and people affected by Covid-19.
Build on the Positive Experiences
While the pandemic brought out the worst in a few people, it also brought out the best in many. It has caused countless people to reappraise their relationships with their neighbours and the places where they live. There’s a tremendous opportunity to build on this community spirit and redouble our efforts to help each other get through difficult times.
Many businesses are part of this and, despite the economic challenges, are doing what they can to help local charities and community organisations. It won’t be their primary motivation, but proving their sincere commitment to delivering social value will hardly be a difficult task when it comes to the next tender.
The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 already places a requirement on relevant contract authorities to consider social value. The recent Social Value in Government Procurement consultation white paper seeks to go further, requiring central government to formally take account of social impact as part of the contract award criteria. There is an explicit link being made between government funded projects and helping the post-Covid recovery.
How to Respond
Will simply fulfilling the minimum criteria now be sufficient? Or should firms pro-actively seek out ways of going above and beyond?
The actions I’d be taking right now are these:
I don’t think we’ve yet seen the full extent of how social value will be added to the award criteria. Increasingly, firms will find it desirable and necessary to be both creative and expansive in how they demonstrate and measure the social value they add to projects.
The options are almost endless: from genuine equal opportunities for employment and training, greater use of very local supply chains, involvement in community schemes and so on. What you won’t be able to do is pay lip service or ignore it.
As I write this, we have few clues as to how long travel and social contact restrictions will last. Much of what we take for granted as normal living will remain on hold for the foreseeable future. But it’s all for a reason. And we’re mostly learning to make the best of the situation and carry on.
Covid-19 is throwing the kitchen sink at business leaders in terms of personal and leadership challenges. One of the biggest will be communication skills. Many of our normal interactions with colleagues, clients, suppliers and partners are off the agenda. Yet, at the same time, people crave reassurance. Or, if that isn’t possible, a bit of understanding and clarity.
Personal, face-to-face communication is where we tend to look when there is uncertainty and anxiety - but that isn’t open to us right now. So we have to choose our communication media carefully. We have to make a conscious effort to be even more empathetic and sensitive to how people are feeling when we communicate. We have to be hyper-aware of the potential impact of our message and how it is delivered.
There are plenty of online channels, forums and communication tools that you can use to carry your message, keep your team motivated, keep in touch with clients and remain visible. LinkedIn, Twitter, your company blog, email, YouTube, Zoom and webinar platforms - you have so many options. Use them carefully, but above all, use them.
Well Chosen Words
For leaders it’s a question of understanding what needs to be communicated, to whom, and how. Tone and careful choice of words are critical. ‘Is this the right time?’ should be at the forefront of your mind. Always aim to add value to your audience.
Covid-19 brings a raft of big, urgent problems that need to be resolved. But the crisis will end. Communicating a clear and positive vision for the future to employees and clients is important for everyone’s wellbeing, and that of your business.
For most, there are opportunities as well as problems. The businesses that are poised for success when the crisis recedes will be spending more energy on the former. Grasp any extra time you have and use it to learn, work on your brand communications, or even just improve your bid writing skills.
And if you want to do something as straightforward as honing your presentation skills, send me an email and we’ll work out a way of doing this remotely.
There are many things that your business does that could have been done more efficiently or effectively - including communication. Now’s the time to plan how you’re going to change all of that. You’ve probably had to make drastic changes to how you work and communicate already - how can you build on that for the future?
My final thought is this: anyone who can work through the current difficult circumstances spreading positivity and helpful ideas will be remembered for all the right reasons. So the question is: How do you want to be remembered?
Time pressure is something all business leaders experience. Pressures of the day job eat into the time available for more important issues, like strategy, thinking about where you want to take your business, building team skills to boost long-term competitiveness, or developing smarter and more efficient ways to work.
Well, we may not have asked for it, but many of us now have time on our hands - or will once the immediate steps to ensure survival are in place. How will we all use it?
As the old saying goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Difficult times pass and the businesses that emerge strongest will be the ones that are best able to adapt.
But remember this: things will never go back to exactly the way they were before Covid-19. Your market place will be different.
No Going Back?
Having proved that it’s possible to be productive working remotely and flexibly, are we really going to subject our teams to long commutes and rigid working hours? Only time will tell. Once we are used to collaborating with clients remotely and using virtual teams, why would we change?
We don’t know how long travel and social contact restrictions will last. But at some point contracts will still have to be tendered. How will this work when social isolation means you can’t physically get bid teams together? Will the quality and relevance of written tender submissions and supporting evidence become even more significant?
Build for a Stronger Future
The upturn in economic activity will come at some point and may well be rapid. What will you be doing in the meantime to build a positive image of your brand and your business that will place you in a stronger position to win future work?
This isn’t a good time for your business to go into its shell. Unless you are selling something highly relevant that will help people in the current crisis you certainly don’t want to be overtly selling. But you can still be visible, supportive and maybe helping your clients and prospects to plan for ‘the new normal.’
You can’t meet prospects or potential supply chain partners in person but you can connect and communicate through LinkedIn (which was possibly something else you always intended to get around to) or through webinars and platforms like Zoom. You can publish blogs and be active on Twitter (as long as you block the bots, trolls and idiots).
Communication, with your team, clients and suppliers, is vital at times like these when there is so much uncertainty around. I’ll be saying more about this in a future article.
Situations are situations. How they affect you in the longer term is often a case of the story you tell yourself - and whether you are open to seeing the opportunities.
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.