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Flash in the pan or match made in Heaven?

Why values alignment should be critical in the bid process to build partnerships that last.

Divorces and relationship break ups – let’s be honest, they’re not something that anybody enjoys. After we’ve paid the cost emotionally and sometimes financially, we often find ourselves questioning how we got into such a serious relationship with that person in the first place. How is it that the object of our affections who seemed so attractive to us in the beginning ended up being someone that we just couldn’t get along with?

Relationships that seem to flourish over time are often between people with a shared sense of purpose, values and approach to life.

So why didn’t it work out? On reflection we may sometimes think that we were too hasty in our initial decisions to throw ourselves head (and heart) first into this failed relationship. Perhaps we didn’t see beyond the initial attraction to understand that over time the thing that matters the most is the ability to empathise, understand and get on with each other. Relationships that seem to flourish over time are often between people with a shared sense of purpose, values and approach to life – who can trust each other and know that they’re both steering the boat on the same course and pulling the oars together. We vow that next time we put ourselves “out there” we won’t make the same mistakes; we’ll do something different - and the process starts all over again…

Where bidding and dating meet

Having worked within the world of tenders and proposals for more years than I’d like to mention now, I can’t help but feel that there are quite a few parallels that can be drawn between the bids and dating worlds. This has become more apparent since both these processes have become more reliant on automation with the advent of online dating and portal driven e-tendering. Love it or hate it, technology has started to dominate the way we make matches both personally and professionally.

Humankind have been forming relationships since the dawn of time, but it is only over relatively recent years that we have been using technology to help us to make those all-important matches. Often, the way we make these matches can be fairly basic – in essence what boils down to a “tick box exercise”. On a typical dating site we might narrow down what we’re looking for based on a number of basic criteria such as age, height and location before we eventually pick who we want to go on a date with based on what they look like in their photograph. The same could be said for bidding, with pre-qualification and even the proposal process consisting of a series of criteria that need to be matched such as policies, procedures, accreditations and ultimately, the all-important pricing.

Whichever way you look at it, a presentation still gives the opportunity for a human connection.

More recently there has been an evolution to more sophisticated processes that try to assess personality or culture fit more effectively. Dating sites have become more explicit in finding out about people’s interests and motivations over and above standard information and some incorporate algorithms that claim to “match” people to like-minded souls. In the same context, tenders have become more detailed, with questions that are centred around criteria such as approach to innovation. But in essence this can still boil down to no more than a checking process, with highly trained bids and proposals teams able to elicit maximum scores through finely honed responses.

So, if the bid or proposal is no more than a short-listing exercise, what about the crucial “first date” or presentation (in the business world)? It is interesting that this stage of the business tender process is often termed the “beauty parade” – which further emphasises how it can often be used as a tool for decision making based on the façade rather than the reality.

Whichever way you look at it, a presentation still gives the opportunity for a human connection. Like a first date, the presentation team will be eager to make a good impression that’s memorable for all the right reasons. They’ll dress appropriately, smile brightly and enthusiastically answer any questions that you ask them. It’s an opportunity to see if you can click with the people who are presenting and what the team say and how they say it is critical. But a word of warning – make sure that the people who present to you are the same people that you’re going to end up working with. In the world of dating, the practice of using somebody else as bait to lure in an unsuspecting suitor is commonly known as “catfishing”. It’s also not uncommon in the business world for companies to field their A Team for the presentation, who’ll never be seen again once the contract has been signed!

And so, to the final stage. This is where the all-important choice of partner is made. Not taking the analogy so far as to suggest that we’ll end up marrying the person we’ve only been on a single date with, but in business, more often than not, conclusions can be drawn based on our perceptions of the team within the first five minutes of meeting them. The question is, how well do we really know them? And how do we know we’ve made the right choice? Sadly, in business, as in life, we don’t find out we’ve made the wrong decision until we’re fully committed and invested in the partnership.

Values Based Procurement

So, what can we do to prevent this from happening and build a relationship that will last?  That vital match of culture and values is often overlooked during a traditional tender process and yet if it can be recognised, can often be the secret to a long and successful association that evolves and improves over time.

Companies have not only become more altruistic, but they’ve also developed a deeper understanding of the long-term positive impact to their business that can be gained from harnessing diversity.

Reflecting this, the importance of alignment as part of the procurement process has started to take on more weight in recent years, for example in the NHS where Brian Mangan has been in post since April 2019 as the Value Based Procurement project lead. Interestingly, he is quoted as saying “Value Based Procurement is all about whole life costing. This involves facilitating a paradigm shift from traditional buyer supplier relationships, to a position where healthcare and industry operate in an environment based on trust, aligned objectives, mutual benefits and success.”

Taking the time to really get to know your potential business partner and what makes them tick, their attitudes, their core values, their approach to collaboration and their ability to proactively work with you will pay dividends. Not only that, but it’s important to make sure that once you’ve embarked on this relationship, you’re both committed to constantly adapting and evolving the partnership to meet each other’s needs and that of the rapidly changing environment in which we coexist.

This approach has become even more relevant in a post-Covid world where suddenly factors such as community, inclusion and the environment have become hugely significant to the way in which we live our lives and our vision for the future. Companies have not only become more altruistic, but they’ve also developed a deeper understanding of the long-term positive impact to their business that can be gained from harnessing diversity, becoming more sustainable and working to support the communities in which we live. It’s therefore vital to build partnerships with organisations who not only actively reflect and complement your values but can evidence this in their culture and ways of working.

How can this be achieved?

There are several ways that this can be done. Examining how your business partnerships with other companies have evolved is critical and in parallel with this, so is understanding why relationships may have ended. Look at your potential partner’s core values – do they align with yours and, if you scratch the surface, do they and their people walk the walk as well as talk the talk? An organisation that is truly values based will be able to evidence this as well as displaying them in all their interactions. As well as looking at case studies, testimonials and taking references, perhaps the simplest question to ask is – do I actually like this company, their way of doing things and the people that I’m going to be engaging with? On a day to day basis will they be there to support me when I most need them, can I trust them, and will I enjoy working with them? Promises of shiny new innovations or, at the other end of the spectrum, offering the lowest priced solution, are not enough to sustain a relationship in the long term and should never be the overriding basis on which decisions are made.

Finally, whilst it may seem quicker and easier, particularly in the current environment, to skip the presentation stage completely, this part of the process is crucial when you’re trying to assess which company you want to work with. Arranged marriages and sensationalist TV programmes aside, most of us wouldn’t dream of hitching ourselves to someone we’d never met and the same should be said when agreeing a long-term business partnership. Another point to note is that in a world where face to face contact can now usually only be made virtually or by adhering to strict social distancing guidelines, the presentation stage provides an opportunity to see how your potential new associate will navigate these challenges in the real world.

So next time you’re looking for a partner to support your business, take heed from some of the lessons that can be learned from our own experiences of romantic relationships, where one out of every three marriages is destined to fail. If you don’t invest in processes designed to select and engage with a company that has your best interests at heart, aligns with your culture and values and can change and adapt to meet your needs, then you could potentially end up with a messy divorce on your hands – and nobody wants that do they?