Can you change? Or do you need a nudge?

We Want to Change

Most organizations and individuals agree that they could do better. As a capture and proposal expert, I work with dozens of businesses from small to large to assess their processes; make recommendations for improvement; and train employees on how to create solutions customers value, perform better capture, and write and review proposals more effectively to increase win rates.

My efforts generally result in agreement that the organization needs to change. Whether I deliver training, provide a capture readiness assessment, analyze proposal operations, review a proposal, or facilitate a solutioning session, my audience typically reacts by stating that they realize they must improve their processes (in fact, they already knew this!), they want to improve their processes, and they plan to implement change immediately.

Bad Processes or Bad Habits?

Yet, quite often, when I return to review work products later, these same professionals have fallen back into an ineffective state, whether that means facilitating an incomplete solutioning effort or capture plan, creating poor quality proposal writing, or conducting ineffective proposal reviews. They haven’t changed their processes or, even if the organization has tried to change processes, individuals haven’t changed their habits. How do we know whether we have bad processes or bad habits?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Process: a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result.

Habit: a usual way of behaving: something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way.

We often follow processes – whether for acquiring new business, managing a capture or proposal or retaining customers – that are based on “proven processes.” The particular result we seek varies, but in general we seek a successful outcome in the form of a contract win.

Yet, even when results are empirically poor, why do we continue to do things the same way? For example, perhaps we are chasing new business, and we follow our best practice

How do we know whether we have bad processes or bad habits?
business development processes. The result is a downward trend in win rates. While we may hold a lessons learned session or attend a customer debrief to learn why, often we fail to isolate the root cause of the problem and change our processes and habits accordingly. In many cases, we do not even bother to find out why we failed; we just keep on keeping on!

When we consistently obtain poor results, the bad process is the same as a bad habit. Bad habits are really a combination of laziness and inability to accept change. We can blame the bad habit on the bad processes – “that’s the way we do it” – or we can isolate the root cause of the problem and determine what needs to change.

The Nudge

And that brings me to the topic of “the nudge”. In the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Nobel Prize winner Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein define a nudge as any aspect of the “choice architecture” that steers people’s behavior in a predictable way, without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.

So, if you are not forbidden to use capture or proposal processes proven to be inefficient and/or ineffective, and you are not incentivized financially to change, then why would you elect to change? We all know changing bad processes or bad habits is very difficult. The authors offer ten nudges that can work under different circumstances. Let’s explore five of these.

Use of social norms: Empirically, one of the most effective nudges is to inform people that most of their peers are engaged in certain desired behavior. If you know that everyone is doing it, you may be more likely to join the change. So, if your organization reiterates that everyone, for example, is using a specific writing template to create more effective content and avoid time-consuming rewrites, you are more likely to try the new template as well.

Pre-commitment strategies: If we can get capture and proposal professionals to pre-commit to the desired action, they are more likely to change. Research shows the committing to a

We often think that change must be monumental.
specific action at a precise future moment better motivates change and reduces procrastination. Perhaps we can ask professionals to sign a commitment, for example, to conduct lessons learned after each proposal submission, report results, and take corrective action. We would then need to remind them of their pre-commitment, which brings us to reminders, the next nudge.

Reminders: You attended a briefing on 12 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that drive effective capture. You walk away and forget about it. Typical reasons include inertia, procrastination, competing obligations, and forgetfulness. What if at key capture intervals, you receive emails, voicemails and texts reminding you to apply the 12 KPIs? If the timing of these reminders is right (for example, a week before each gate review), you are more likely to change. Reminders are a simple but effective change agent.

Informing people of the nature and consequences of their own past choices: Let’s say you have lost several critical bids. The reasons for the loss are clear, for example, failure to perform effective competitive analysis and Price to Win because you fell prey to incumbentitis. The theory here is that people often lack information. With the proper information, they will change. Organizations could do better collecting debrief and lessons learned data, analyzing the why behind the win or loss, and sharing this information with all capture and proposal professionals involved in the opportunity.

Eliciting implementation intentions: If we specifically ask professionals if they will adopt the new processes, they are more likely to do so. The tone of the question matters, and it must be specific. For example, we may ask, “As a respected proposal professional, will you implement our improved solutioning process?” Research shows that emphasizing identity helps elicit change. Organizations could implement this easily. After spending valuable overhead money to train employees on a new process, asking pointed questions and following up with targeted individuals can help drive the desired change.

Change is a Series of Nudges

We often think that change must be monumental. However, even if we change processes, bad habits may lead to change resistance which is most often passive rather than active. We may be more effective in driving change if we nudge our colleagues and employees towards desired behaviors rather than demanding rapid adoption.

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