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.
Sometimes, procurement teams are seen, if not as the outright enemy, at least as an unwanted complicating factor or obstacle in awarding contracts. ‘I suppose this will have to go through Procurement’ is often accompanied by rolling of the eyes.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the frustration when relationships with operational staff are good and when there is clear common ground on the technical aspects of the project; ‘then along came the procurement team and it all went pear-shaped.’
It’s all too easy for a bid team to slip into thinking that Procurement is there to create problems, particularly when they’ve just missed out on an important project. But is it helpful?
Procurement May See a Bigger Picture
Procurement teams have a job to do. They may have to take broader business issues into account and, above all, they have to ensure there is fair competition (which is actually to your advantage). You can’t wish away the role of the procurement team so it’s better to understand it as well as you can and work with it.
You need to appreciate the following:
Sometimes the procurement team may not have the most up to date information on what the scheme is for, how it is to be used, and specific requirements for it. In some cases the end-users don’t have a clearly defined vision of the needs of the project either. And the best possible solutions may or may not be known to the client if they have only been used outside of their sector of business or knowledge.
Know Where to Start the Discussion
If you want to properly represent the value of your proposed solution you should invest some time in exploring the level of understanding the procurement team has about the desired project outcomes. Assuming anything is a ‘given’ could mean you miss vital steps in the logic that builds your business case.
Procurement people try their best to interpret what their clients want and need. This may be more or less easy depending on how close the procurement and customer teams are, and how different this current procurement is from previous ones.
How Will Bids be Evaluated?
The criteria used for evaluation should be clearly stated (especially for public procurement). For each of these there will be sub-criteria that explain how the assessors will score the submissions they receive. There should be few surprises.
As with all of us, procurement teams don’t always say what they mean or mean quite what they say. What seems obvious to them may not be quite so plain to an audience who is reading the information or ITT for the first time. Their jargon and terminology used may also have subtly different meanings to that of the reader. Checking there is a common understanding early on is helpful.
Procurement teams usually try to write as ‘neutrally’ as possible. One of their objectives is to ensure a fair contest so that their organisation is protected against criticism and possibly legal action.
All of this may seem like a complication, but really it’s there to ensure that the decisions made are in the best interests of the client and support their broader business objectives. Try to understand this agenda rather than see it as an obstacle.
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.