By Bob Burnett, Vice President of Business Development
In this third installment of the four-part series on Stoicism in Government Contracting, we focus on three more themes identified by The Daily Stoic that typify stoicism, namely: Duty, Pragmatism, and Resiliency. These traits are especially useful in the world of government contracting. Any government contractor doing their job well understands the importance of Duty. Even if they don’t always consider how their function supports the larger picture. Any government contractor who has yet to go mad trying to keep up with the fickle and capricious nature of our federal government must possess some modicum of Pragmatism. And if you continue to respond to solicitation after solicitation for services with a win rate of somewhere in the 30% neighborhood, then you likely possess a healthy level of Resiliency.
Duty is defined as doing those things that you are bound to do based on your role, beliefs, or gifts/talents. A father has a duty to be a role model for his children. An employee has a duty to put in an honest day’s work for the agreed-upon compensation. A security guard has a duty to establish and promote a safe and secure environment in accordance with established rules and regulations. As a federal government contractor, I acknowledge my role in support of various agency and customer requirements, and I recognize that once on contract, our company is bound to meet those specific requirements. My duty as a business development professional is to evaluate requirements and potential opportunities before we are on contract to position VectorCSP and our customer for success.
A key aspect of this responsibility is to ensure we pursue requirements that we are actually capable of supporting upon award; if this concept sounds foreign, then you likely live by the old saying…“win it and then worry about it.” This is a risky place to live. If you win a contract that you cannot effectively support, then you are failing in your duty to meet the requirements. This likely means you are failing in your duty to support the end user recipient of services, which is unacceptable, of course. If this happened at VectorCSP, then I would have failed in my duty of properly vetting an opportunity. As business development professionals, we have a duty to meet or exceed the strategic and financial goals of our firm. But we have a far greater duty to set up our firms to effectively meet contract requirements and expectations.
Pragmatism is a mindset that wields tremendous power. Viewing situations for what they really are, being practical in your approach to matters you face, and adjusting your tact whenever necessary is at the heart of pragmatism. Viewing matters this way will allow you to always move forward and overcome whatever obstacle…even loss or failure; both of which are simply obstacles, not the end state. In order to be pragmatic, one must often detach emotionally from the situation, view it in very objective terms, and take the course of action that has the greatest chance of achieving the desired effect. Jocko Willink has some great perspective here regarding detachment; if you don’t know who Jocko is, you definitely need to check this out…Pragmatism may seem cold and calculating (it often is), but it results in rapid and logical action that typically leads to the desired goal.
A common occurrence in the world of government contracting business development is losing a bid; oftentimes this occurs due to your higher price. A pragmatic response to this type of loss would be to ask for a debrief from the government and learn as much as possible about the pricing aspects of the evaluation. The next step would be to evaluate how you derived your price and analyze all the data to determine your ability to revise the approach for the next similar bid in that market. If you make the best adjustment you can, and still continue to be unsuccessful, then you may want to re-evaluate the viability of winning work with that customer. This approach enables you to learn, adjust, move forward, repeat…and to do so with a detached mindset.
Resiliency is that inner voice and stamina that allows you to move forward in the face of adversity. When the road ahead is long, but you keep going…that is resiliency. When you lose a contract bid, but regroup and go after another one…that is resiliency. True resiliency requires training and practice. It is like building up callouses on your hands after years of hard manual work; those callouses do not appear after your first bout of labor. In government contracting business development, resiliency stems from competing and winning and losing work over an extended period of time. Resiliency is absent if competition does not exist; i.e., if most of your revenue and work has been sole-sourced to you or acquired as a result of a less-than-competitive set-aside. This can translate to an entitlement mentality and sheer panic when something does not go your way.
Duty-bound, pragmatic, resilient business development professionals typically land on their feet when faced with adversity, and they are generally willing to put in the necessary work to get the desired result. Consequently, they are more effective and useful in general. This attitude and manner of conducting oneself may also permeate throughout the organization in which one works, and breed a culture of action and creativity. At VectorCSP, we employ a “cut through the noise” way of doing business. We put our sights on target, adjust as needed, and get the job done. This culture translates into a fun and highly effective place to work, not to mention we get to do our part in support of our federal government.
See you next time for the final installment of Stoicism in Government Contracting, where we will discuss Kindness, Amor Fati, and Memento Mori.