Dear Proposal Doctor,
My proposal has become a hornet’s nest. The capture manager is intensely unpopular. She makes arbitrary and often unwise decisions with zero transparency. People have to go behind her back to get her decisions reversed because she will not engage in discussion.
Although this could be a unifying force, instead the proposal team has broken up into factions, each trying to curry favor with senior management in an effort to get the capture manager replaced with a candidate of choice. The amount of politicking is mind-boggling. It is no wonder that no one is able to meet any proposal deadlines—they are all too busy plotting and scheming.
It’s a demoralizing atmosphere, needless to say, all the more so because the behavior makes it less and less likely that we can win. As a proposal manager, my power is limited. Yet I am dying to do something to change the atmosphere and get people working productively. What do you suggest?
-Fed Up With Politics
Dear Fed Up,
I would be disgusted and demoralized myself in such a situation. And it is true that as the proposal manager, your power is limited. In theory. In practice, for the team to win, you have to be able to do your job. That means you have leverage.
Right now, there are impediments getting in the way of you doing your job. Don’t try to fix the behavior of all the people plotting the palace coup—go to the underlying cause: the capture manager.
You didn’t say what your relationship with the capture manager is, so I wonder if you can have a discussion with her in which you point this out. She probably already knows what is going on, but if she doesn’t, it might knock some sense into her. Even if you don’t have a good relationship with her, you need to have some kind of discussion with her before proceeding to my next recommended step, which is to escalate.
I cannot tell you whom to escalate to because I don’t know your organization. You must find someone who will understand how destructive her behavior is and someone who has the power to do something about it. Approach this person as someone who wants to win, which means getting the proposal back on course, which is only possible if the team is united behind an effective leader. Keep the tone objective and professional.
It can be daunting to go over someone’s head, but if you have already talked to her, what do you have to lose? By your own admission, you cannot win by continuing the current course of action. Screw up your courage, and do what is right, even if it isn’t easy.
Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor