Don’t Hold Out for a Hero

By Paul Deighton

Our industry loves heroes. We’ve all noticed them because they always seem to be perpetually in the middle of a crisis, “putting out fires” or “wrestling alligators”. They regularly work late into the night and may even show their superior dedication by sleeping in the office to as not to waste valuable time going home to see their family. 

How could we survive without them? In my experience, however, it’s often a minor miracle that the places where these heroes work actually survive at all. 

An organization that promotes a hero culture is likely to:  

  • Have high levels of employee stress and absence 
  • See regular burnouts and have a high staff turnover 
  • Rarely innovate, and not learn from success or failure 
  • Produce lower-quality bids and proposals 
  • Spend more to win less 

In Capability-Maturity terms, these are Level 1 organizations.  

So unless we are permanently addicted to adrenaline, how do we drag ourselves out of the swamp?  

Don’t wait for the starting gun

Whilst it may be a thrill to open and try to respond to an unexpected ITT in a ridiculously short timescale, it’s not a recipe for success. Sure, if we respond to tens or hundreds of these a month, then we will eventually get lucky, but at what cost? 

Level 2s wait for the gun, Level 3s load the gun, and Level 4s take it one stage further by sometimes being able to remove the need for a race at all. 

Just think about that last one for a moment please. 

It’s ok to say no (really it is) 

Decision-making is a key part of leadership. What to do, but also what not to do. Level 1s bid everything. Higher maturity organizations have decision-points (or gates) where they consider how best to deploy their people for maximum return and minimum risk.  

 If you have ever worked on a bid where everyone just knows that you cannot win, then you will know the damage this does to morale, as well as being a huge waste of money! 

Competency beats heroics 

Beyond the hero mindset, Level 3s, 4s, and 5s are much better able to collaborate, leverage their diversity, and work together in a high-performing team towards winning good business.  

 Their organizations support the development of professional competencies and behaviours. 

 Being able to work 18-hour days is a symptom of failure, it isn’t a competency. Recruit for behaviours, develop competencies, and reward success (not effort). 

Have a common way of working 

Sales and BD are not generally known for their love of process, and with some justification. Too much process can stifle innovation and creativity. Too little brings chaos. Level 2s have bidding processes, Level 3s and above also have capture processes and tools. Find the balance that works for you.  

 But whatever you do, make the process work for you, not the other way round. 

Create once, use many 

If we were to analyse our hero’s typical day, we might find they are spending around half their time creating new content that a co-worker had already created (and potentially spending the other half fixing problems they had themselves caused).  

Level 2s have basic working environments, Level 3s provide a knowledge infrastructure whilst Level 4s and above join up business winning with product and service delivery, so the whole customer experience is accessible.  

From bid to customer feedback, and back to bid again. 

If you want to know more about reducing your dependency on alligator wrestlers, contact