Six years ago I started coaching my first Australian Rules Football team in the small town of Roxby Downs. The season started well, we recruited well and we had a solid preseason. We showed signs we were a competitive team and had a reasonable chance of winning the premiership. I loved the coaching but in parallel my levels of pressure and stress at work were growing each day as I was a Finance Manager at Olympic Dam during the period during which BHP Billiton was deciding to proceed with one of the world’s largest capital expenditure projects approximating $40 billion. The pressure from work distracted me from my role as a coach and the pressure meant I was becoming aggressive, disorganised and frustrated.
About mid-way through the season I lost my cool with the players. Rightly this placed doubt in the clubs mind that I was the right fit for the role. I had done what I often do, and that is overcommit myself and spread myself too thin. I was politely sacked as the coach, which is rather humiliating in a small country town of 5000 people where everyone talks and knows each other’s business. For two weeks I sulked and took it quite personally. But then I realised I needed to show some backbone, be positive and move on. I continued to help out the team for the remainder of the season and we went on to win the premiership. I learnt many things from the experience, most of which was playing to my strengths and also ensuring I focus on fewer things and do them well.
A year later I had the chance to coach again. I coached the B Grade in the Mighty Mitcham Hawks, the team I played for in my twenties. I loved this club and was committed to helping them rebuild as they had finished bottom on the ladder for a number of years. Whilst we started to show signs of improvement we finished at the bottom of the ladder again that year. I was making so many mistakes but I was learning so fast which was important in my learning journey.
The next year I had the opportunity to be a leadership coach at West Adelaide Football Club in the SANFL. It was a lesser role but at the elite level. We won the premiership that year in what is considered one of the greatest turn around’s for a team in SANFL history. I only played a small part in the achievement, but what it taught me personally was the importance of failing before you realise success and ensuring you learn and apply these lessons to the future activities.
Daniel Coyle discussed this very point in his book “The Talent Code”, which argues that we learn when we make mistakes particularly for coaches and leaders. He said coaching or leading is about keeping the team on the edge of their challenge point (not to hard but not too easy) so that they make mistakes to learn and grow, but don’t lose confidence in their belief to perform.
I have found the same approach applies to winning major bids which is also a competitive sport and a high stakes game. To win bids you must be prepared to lose bids and learn from your losses. Realistically you will only win 20 to 30 % of bids you participate in, so expecting to win every job is just going to damage the confidence of your team every time they lose unless they understand the bigger picture and the importance of learning and growing to continue to get better for the next opportunity. The goal is not to win every bid, but to increase your win percentage over the longer term and improve our organisations capability and capacity to deliver major projects. Great work winning and bidding teams embrace a learning and growth mindset. They look to learn from every loss, and never take a win for granted. They share learnings internally, never blame or criticise but always challenge to be better. They apply these lessons to future bids.
They achieve this continual improvement mindset in a number of ways:
- Building a supportive and learning culture in the work winning team (not a blame or finger pointing culture);
- They recognise that winning requires the work winning team and the delivery part of the business to work together and be joined up with their thinking and approach;
- They take ownership – they don’t look for a coach to plug their gaps but rather use coaches to strengthen their offer and ensure they play to their strengths through the interactive procurement and bidding process;
- They learn from when they lose and apply these lessons to future bids and other parts of the organisation;
- They plan in advance, build client relationships over time and start working on bids early;
- They put their client’s customers first in their thinking, design, solutions and delivery which ensures they drive great outcomes for their clients;
- They systemise and template their intellectual property so they are not re-inventing the wheel every time they bid which ensures the bid and winning work teams are efficient and effective;
- Senior management are accessible and provide full support to the work winning team including resources, government, decision making and authority; and
- They have a disciplined GO/NO GO process. They don’t bid for everything but only invest time where they have a realistic chance of winning.
This embracing of lessons learnt to win the long game is a critical mindset for bid and winning work teams. One bid is not a transaction but a stepping stone to current and future successes, the building of better teams and capability in the organisation and a mindset that is focused on bidding to win through learnings rather than participating in a process that is seen as a transaction. It requires a commitment to the long game with patience to reap the rewards that come from this.