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The human cost of bidding and tendering

October 19, 2018

Blog - the human cost of bidding and tendering

Bidding and tendering is a critical activity across many industries, with contract primes spending up to 2% of the total contract value on the bidding process (and up to 6% revenue for small to medium businesses).

It’s an ultra-competitive function that is critical to winning new work and keeping existing contracts. But what is the real human cost?

Not since the industrial revolution has the world seen such exponential spend on public procurement. It has been largely driven by the world’s ageing infrastructure, ageing population and stronger corporate governance regimes that demand greater transparency and accountability for expenses paid for by the public purse.

Bidding and tendering has now made its way into the private sector as a means of driving innovation and competition. It has also become an economic lever – winners can realise their business expansion goals while the losers can potentially face workforce downsizing or worse – corporate demise.

It’s a high stakes but high reward function for companies that are lured by opportunities within their reach by virtue of limited competition – for only those companies with available resources, proven track record and sheer mastery of the discipline need apply.

But what is the true cost of tendering? As a veteran of bid management over a 25 year period, here is my honest account of the personal costs that are not captured in that 2%.

Cost of retention

Bid and Pursuit Manager roles promise ‘dynamic careers of excitement, complexity and challenging environments’. Bid Managers combine rare traits of creativity and a love of structure; they thrive in networked roles under pressure to deadlines, and are strong people managers with commercial acumen.

The reality isn’t as rosy. Over the course of one employment tenure, eight Bid Managers came and went above me (average was less than 8 months). Burnout and frustration of being ‘on call’ 24/7 and under-appreciated by demanding (or at times complacent) executives were the main reasons for this constant revolving door.

The cost of recruitment and short-term onboarding was only a fraction of the cost compared to the knowledge and IP that was forever being built up and lost each time. Stress-triggered negative behaviours (shedding of the polite alter ego) can and does put team dynamics at risk, with detrimental effects on team cohesion, morale and absenteeism.

Cost of health

There’s no prize for coming second in the bid and tender race. Bid Managers are essential for company survival, and workforce security.

It’s highly appealing for people who thrive on the thrill of the chase, or who feel compelled or obligated to be the corporate breadwinner….but there is a tremendous amount of personal pressure to bring the trophy home when people are depending on you.

In one major bid office I worked in, B12 injections, copious amounts of caffeine and high sugar energy drinks were the only way to get the team through the 7 day a week, 15 – 20 hour days (and many all-nighters) that they pulled in the final weeks and days before the bid was submitted.

Over time, this kind of workload becomes unsustainable. Adrenal fatigue, high cortisol levels, and physical and psychological breakdowns are now being more openly discussed.

In our hey-day we took immense pride in being the adrenalin junkies high on tender benders – we basked in our glory as the unsung heroes of business development and saving companies from corporate implosion.  As we get older we now nurse the wounds scarred by being in constant flight or fight mode.

In our hey-day we took immense pride in being the adrenalin junkies high on tender benders – we basked in our glory as the unsung heroes of business development and saving companies from corporate implosion.

Cost on families and friends

If the personal toil of burning the midnight oil as a deadline approaches isn’t enough, add the emotional guilt that bid managers constantly feel when they’re expected to prioritise the bid and the looming deadline ahead of family and friends.

Cancelled holidays, missed social events, latch key kids, weekend page turns and reviews, and constant checking of emails just to keep up with the workflow, documents and instructions become the norm.

Bid Managers may be home in body, but often not there in mind or spirit during peak bid activity, and it can truly drive a wedge between professional and private life.

Work becomes an addiction more than engaging, and because manic, multitasking activity becomes the normal, solace and sleep become the preferred past-time.

Oh, the irony

By way of contrast, as Bid Managers we’re tasked with differentiating our company’s offerings. Best value for money, next-generation solutions are promised to be implemented responsibly.

By this I mean compliance with codes of practice in safety management systems; the upholding of anti-slavery laws; and a corporate environment that embraces broader workplace health and wellbeing programs which are resourced, monitored and evaluated.

While the company might value these codes from a company-wide perspective, bid teams notoriously break nearly every workplace health and safety practice while management look the other way. Non-negotiable deadlines and team resourcing usually result in long days and nights, pizza deliveries, and a sedentary life behind a computer screen.

So what is the real human cost of tendering? According to the World Health Organisation, global failure to address worker health and wellbeing costs 4-5% of a country’s GDP. Stress also has collateral damage on marriages, co-workers, and the long list of health disorders that comes with it.

In 2017 I made a conscious decision to step out of the day to day bid management role to follow my dreams to make a real difference to our profession. My goal: to automate the bid process to make it easier, less stressful, and give people back time.

At Bidhive, we believe that the superhuman prowess should be left to the technology, not at the expense of humans. We’re building into our system a health and wellbeing tracking and reporting function which will be especially important for managing bid teams through peak stress periods.

If we can’t change the system we can at least give people back their lives and their sanity.

It’s ok to not be ok with how things are. We’d love to welcome you on our journey to help make the change and create a different kind of normal.

About the author

Nyree McKenzie is the co-founder and CEO of Bidhive. With more than 25+ years’ experience as a Bid Manager and Management Consultant, Nyree has gained significant international experience leading bid teams through complex, high value contract pursuits as well leading enterprise process improvement and change initiatives. Having worked in the bid management industry for many years, Nyree was motivated to help companies scale and transform their painful manual bid processes to achieve more through automation.

About Bidhive

Bidhive helps companies plan, manage and track their bid activity with an end-to-end platform that follows the key stages of the bid lifecycle. From capture planning to proposal development and post-submission analysis, Bidhive provides the framework, critical path and collaboration tools that executives, bid teams and individuals need for improved productivity and bidding success.

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