Preface: Written by our CEO, this topic has been explored endlessly, and more hours have presumably been put into the theory and commentary of recruitment compared to the actual “building” parts. Instead of adding to the seasonal revisiting of teams in general, I wanted to look at the prospect/opportunity of building great bidding teams right now.
I wrote “The government contracting arena is tough as nails” to my 11K followers back in May (see full LinkedIn article here), but not for the obvious reasons.
It’s tough because team building under this climate is made extremely difficult when competitiveness is the name of the game, when many are already working under less-than-ideal conditions with resource constraints, expecting purchasers to suddenly act a certain way for their procurement or proposal.
There’s hope though.
If we can teach rare metals in our phones to perform complex mathematics, we can train anyone to be successful in the world of government contracting.
I have experience hiring and cultivating the talents of hundreds of people with just enough initial interest to visualize themselves in the writing, designing, or management position we needed to fill. With so much misinformation and mythology surrounding contracting for large institutions, this openness was appreciated at the time, and I’m still grateful for those moments.
I think of those pulled from academic positions or straight from college, SAH motherhood, engineering, digitization duties, selling insurance, waitressing, and front desk support. Each environment had their own shortcuts and scenarios that I, as their hiring manager and trainer, had to know for leveraging come training time. It just seemed to work better when abstractions like pre-contract phases could be repackaged into things they understood already.
But this energy and patience simply doesn’t have the same ROI as it once did. And with remote employment, many hiring managers have less of an understanding of people’s outside or lived lives than before. Faced with more optionality, there is less friction between a candidate/new hire and their ideal scenario than ever before too.
I’ve spoken to dozens of ex-purchasers from the public procurement side of the fence and they’re not my ideal pool for maximizing edge and launching into RFPs from a competitive position. Yes, it might sound nice. Yes, it might look good on someone’s resume.
There are more important metrics and indicators of success than these. The brutal and complex realities of the marketplace (and purchasing today) do not care about yesterday.
It’s 100 percent the people who see it from the vendor angle, working those 2,080 hours per year on differentiation and moving the operational hubbub of whatever service category is paying into something awe-inspiring, inspirational, and desirable even given non-urgency.
Placing myself in this exploratory mindset with a new team or company is rarely done nowadays with my Director handling these first contacts. Even so, I stand in a privileged position being able to reflect on the last 15 years.
A couple of things hold this second-layer industry (service provisioning for government agencies or their vendors/partners) back:
- While this may not be true for core technology or product-based firms, we’re not first-layer solutions, many times. Meaning, we’re not building the roads or other essential infrastructure to enable work to happen, and therefore, the work fights to find meaning most of the time. Second-layer or third-layer markets are dependent on the innovation happening below, are less attractive to top talent, and usually have fewer resources.
- Burnout, lengthier procurements, an aging workforce delaying retirement, and a short-staffed purchaser make the work less creative, less attractive, and place huge drains on productivity.
- Movement towards a first invoice, purchase order, deployment, contract, etc. heavily depends on soft-skill factors that are outmoded in a world of AI quickness, near-instant rendering, and efficiencies beyond the scale of legacy computer systems. We have separate speech and etiquette for government-related work, with little incentives to adopt this manner of speaking or performing.
- Meanwhile, specialists from another generation, born after many cities mandated online RFPs, are often sent backwards on a wild goose chase using voicemail tactics, FOIA mining, and other strategies used in the 1980s and 90s.
- Often, public purchasers don’t understand the service getting sourced, nor do they have time to get “caught up.” This knowledge dissonance is enough to drive a wedge between well intentioned people new to the profession and everything else.
Honesty about the above points would be great for the culture preview day, and should happen before the candidate accepts his/her position, but what other industry is held to this standard? Possibly healthcare suppliers.
The central tenet here is that we can teach anyone. Anyone willing to learn given a reasonable expectation and vision for the future.
Do we want just anyone though? Would our competitors accept anyone off the street? These are organizational questions that should be asked.
Perhaps it’s best to jump into a consultant conversation and get steered on Day One towards a contracting goal with a pre-existing team, versus making the universe first before baking your apple pie from scratch. Your competition has a head start anyway, and purchasers have seen every breed and form of cutting corners (not recommended).
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