Guest Blogger – Michelle Thompson

You’re an organisation letting out a large tender for services. You go through the traditional tender process, asking interested companies to respond to a set of evaluation criteria you have deemed internally to be most important for this piece of work. You ask companies to demonstrate how well they have done this in the past. Surely this will give you a good indication of whether this company is the best for the job and will deliver great outcomes, right?

Hmm. We’ll come back to that. Let me first give you another example.

Imagine you are hiring a new recruit. You are undertaking an interview to see how well they fit with what you’re looking for and require from a key role. You ask them ‘Are you a good team player? Can you give me an example in the past of where you have demonstrated this?’

Regardless of whether this person is actually a good team player or not, do you think that they’d ever say ‘No, I’m not particularly good working in a team and I can’t provide you an example’. Of course not. They will say that they are and the story they give to back it up may be true, but it could just as easily be completely fictitious or only provide their perspective on events. It may be somewhere in the middle, or a limited example of when things happened to go well. In any event when interviewing a new recruit you often find yourself looking behind the words they are saying for evidence that they can deliver what they are promising to your organisation.

So, how are tender responses any different? You’re asking companies how good they are at doing various things. If they want the work, the natural response in their submission is to strongly point towards where they have done outstanding projects.  Further, they are going to give you examples of when things have gone very smoothly and without too many complications. Very rarely (if ever) will companies give you the examples of when they haven’t been outstanding with their service. However in a lot of respects this is vitally important to understand, because the manner in which companies deal with and turn around these challenging situations is often a true testament to where their strengths lie as an organisation.

So how do organisations procuring these services work out who is the ‘real deal’ and who is just giving them ‘tender talk’?   How do you drill down below the words to identify whether the actions, outcomes and services they are highlighting as their strengths are a true reflection of the company and their ability to deliver, or whether they are just words on a page without a lot of substance?

When evaluating large tenders, there are often submissions that can be easily culled; those that are obviously non-compliant, for example. The trick is then to use some ‘out of the box’ thinking with the short listed tenderers to determine who is the preferred candidate.

To do this:

  • Consider your hot spots – what is most important to you in this engagement? What are your biggest risks?  What are your key result areas?
    (For example, this engagement may be time critical, or stakeholder sensitive. It may call for innovative design. Possibly the most important factor is how well you feel you can work with the successful candidate, particularly if it is a long term engagement)
  • Innovate your process – structure a process to identify how well the companies can demonstrate these factors. Don’t be constrained by traditional ‘question and answer’ or interviews.
    (For example, if ‘team fit’ is most important, consider an interactive workshop with tenderers, where you work together through real examples. Make it time critical to see how they work under pressure.  Remove key personnel and see how the team responds to challenges.  This will give you a far better idea of how they work than what they tell you in a tender response.)
  • Call referees – see what they say the companies are like to work with.  Ask the challenging questions when things went wrong.  How did the service provider respond to this?  Did they still achieve the required outcomes in spite of this?
  • Talk to the team – see if the team back-up what was said in the tender response. If there are contradictions, you should be hearing warning bells or seek further clarification as to why.

At the end of the day, the ideal outcome is that you engage a service provider that will work with you through a mutually beneficial relationship to deliver the outcomes you require. Taking the time upfront to make sure you’ve got the right company to do this can save you a lot of pain in the long term. Thinking outside of traditional ways to select this company can greatly increase your odds of finding someone truly capable of delivering what you need and not just adept in the art of writing tenders.