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Leading Your Troops

Much has been written about management versus leadership.  There are many overly shared images about what characteristic leaders have versus those who are considered ‘just’ being a boss. Many books have been written on the subject yet we still find an abundance of poor leadership.

But what does it mean to be a leader in the GovCon world?

How can you lead a team of folks who mainly work on the government site and tend to identify with their customers (i.e. going native)?
How do you lead when your re-compete is up and you’ve got to reduce your team’s salaried personnel by 25% to win?
How do you enforce the rules and compliance in an overly regulated industry that doesn’t always make sense?
How do you continue to motivate and push your staff when you are beholden to 2% cost of living raises and a focus on keeping the multiplier down?

As you can already tell, there are a variety of situations that compound the already overwhelmed concept of leadership in GovCon. I believe there are many theories out there, but two common themes that have resonated with me are communication and authenticity.  At the heart of practically every conflict or issue in this world is communication.  If you cannot effectively communicate as a leader, even with the best intentions, you will fail.

What is effective communication?  Saying what you mean, leaving nothing for wild interpretation and being authentic in your message.  Hollow sentiments or glossing over issues will only come back to bite you.  Having hard conversations is never easy, but it’s part of the job.  If you must cut salaries to be competitive on a bid, say it.  Say it clearly and unequivocally.  Provide your rationale and allow for feedback, but make it clear that you are responsible for this decision. Take ownership and allow those looking to move on, an opportunity to volunteer if possible. Communication is vital but so is being authentic.

What is authenticity? Providing and promoting an image that is sincere and true to your character as a leader or a company.  Employees, stakeholders, partners and clients can all spot a fake.  You can fake it for a bit, but eventually your true colors come out and the damage will be near-impossible to correct.  Instead of hiding your personality, embrace your strengths, and be yourself. The effort that it takes to hide or cover your personality can be better spend on leadership decisions and building a reputation on trust and authority. It is much easier to act on the truth than it is to remember and perform on a fallacy.

Regardless of your journey to leadership once you find yourself in a position of authority focus on solid communication and reputation based authenticity. Most companies that find themselves consistently winning awards and crushing the re-compete are those that excel in communication and authenticity. To effectively lead your troops into the GovCon space you must be clear and focused, always.

Proposal Hell

As we wind down the major proposal season in GovCon, it is time to take a step back and reflect on our current process.  Did it work?  Do you feel like it was as well executed as it should be?  Did you have a plan for what you bid on and did it align with your strategy for your company?  Did you go after ‘just anything or everything’ to see what stuck on the wall?

As organizations mature, their proposal strategy evolves.  Let’s face it, in the beginning, we’re just happy to be invited to the dance, even as a sub.  So, we’ll bid on blue birds; we’ll stretch our rates, our margins, our past performance and occasionally our credibility.  How many go/no-go meetings have you been in where the phase “loss-leader” or just enough for “past performance” are mentioned?  The theory being that you’ll grow the business organically, you’ll have a leg up on the competition for any additional scope/work, you’ll have a past performance that you can cite in other bids and the idea that it adds to the direct labor base.

Too many times, this “win” becomes the anchor of the organization.  All of management’s time is spent on the contract, which turns into a dog that no one wants to work.  No raises are accounted for, the indirect rates won’t allow any extra costs, recruiting and retention become a nightmare.  Generally, it takes just one of these contracts to learn the hard lesson on being strategic in what you pursue.

Organizations eventually evolve into work that fits more in their niche.  The struggle then is that they become very comfortable with their current clients and niche.  Then more questions arise. Do you continue to push your organization to go after new clients and additional skill sets?  Do you suffer from incumbent-itis?  How do you motivate your team to approach the re-compete with the same vigor as new work, when quite frankly, all we want to do is dust off the old bid and update it?

In summary, everyone is essentially in proposal hell, no matter where you are in the lifecycle.  The important piece is realizing it, addressing the issues and turning them into an advantage over your competition.  What can you do to be better or to be heard in a crowded field?

If you’re seeking proposal assistance or back-office support visit BOOST LLC or send an email to Stephanie Alexander at [email protected]

Gut

“Have faith in your intuition and listen to your gut feeling.” Ann Cotton

Ask any CEO, and 90%+ will tell you that their biggest hurdle is people. Hiring the right team, making sure they play well together in the sandbox, work together to meet the mission, and generally push the company forward. The dynamics of a strong, diverse team are invaluable in the progression of your company. So how do you hire the right person? Do you rely on proven experience, or do you go with your gut?

There is plenty of written work around the topic of hiring. Some companies have it down to a science (think alphabet or apple). Most small businesses are lucky to have a standard process, much less something that is consistent and does a good job of screening candidates. Many folks at this stage “go with your gut” and hire specifically based on personality and how the candidate did in the interview.

How effective is this and how detrimental can it be to your company should your gut be off? Depending on your policies, you may be required to excessively retrain, mentor and closely monitor a subpar new hire. The damage to your established team could be expensive regarding time, mindset and resources.

For me, some of my best hires have been based on a combination of experience and/or the right personality traits. The right balance between the two is paramount. For example, is your accounting candidate detailed oriented? Do they have typos on their resume? If so, not a good indicator. I’ve hired folks without any specific industry experience, but they had the right personality and were willing to learn. Personality is just as important as any experience, especially when joining a small team. How well candidates can play with others is one of the key factors, and in my opinion, should be weighed more heavily than experience.

With that said, another key factor when considering a new hire is diversity, specifically, diversity of thought and opinion. If you surround yourself with folks who have the exact same background and exact same experience as you, you’ll wind up with total agreement, and stagnation. Total agreement doesn’t challenge you as a CEO, nor does it advance your company.  You need people on your team who will appropriately question your path, question the standard and most importantly, take issue with the soul-wrenching, “but we’ve always done it this way.” Hire folks that push you to be a stronger business leader, and your company will be much improved as a result.

Your gut is an important part of your hiring process as we often notice red flags subconsciously. Yet it behooves us to remember to include careful consideration of experience, personality, and diversity. While you’re refining your hiring process, you may want to consider a hiring audition to uncover some candidate characteristics often unseen in an interview. If you’re interested in revamping your policy on hiring, seek out the advice experts in your field as what may work for Apple may not work for you.

For expertise in GovCon regarding hiring, recruiting and human resources, contact BOOST LLC. www.BOOSTLLC.net

GovCon Voices: A Culture of Compliance

As seen on SmallGovCon.com

When we talk about the federal contracting industry, one of the first things that comes to mind is compliance. We are an overly regulated industry with a ton of laws to abide by, FAR changes to keep up with, legislation of which we need to stay on top. None of it is particularly easy or straightforward, and it sometimes takes experts to keep your organization in compliance. In short, no one can claim they are 100% compliant, nor can they claim to know everything with regards to this industry, especially a GovCon CEO. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that no one expects this of the CEO. However, your attitude towards compliance goes a long way within the organization. The example you set at the top will filter throughout the organization and will go a long way towards establishing and maintaining a company culture that follows the rules of this industry. We all talk about making sure that the company is not on the front page of the Washington Post for getting into hot water with the law or for debarment.

How can you contribute to that as a CEO?
How can you build your organization to take it seriously?
How do you keep from bogging down the wheels of progress and allow the mission goals for you and your clients to be met?

Lead by Example. It sounds so easy, is in every leadership book, and is touted on every trending article on LinkedIn. But ask yourself, who fills out your timesheet? Do you throw 8 hours of your time into G&A and call it a day? Do you have your admin fill out your timesheet? Do you approve your direct reports? Every GovCon has a timekeeping system that requires daily input and ultimately, signature submission and approval of direct reports time.
Do you travel according to JTRs and/or within the per diem rates? Do you expect your folks to abide accordingly? As a GovCon, you just don’t travel extravagantly. Ever.

Put your Money where your Mouth is.  How many emails from the Timekeeping Goon have you received? Do you ever take the time to find out who the repeat offenders are and to speak with them about these transgressions? Ever told your top sales person that they could have their pay docked or lose their jobs if they continue to be non-compliant? It’s that type of discussion (and action) that shows that the company values compliance and takes it seriously.

Have you had your HR folks scrub through your labor categories and the folks associated with them…proactively? Have you righted any salary discrepancies to ensure that your workforce is fairly and consistently paid according to skill set and experience? These suggestions all are dictated by FAR compliance and laws, but in general, they emulate good advice.

Be the leader that the GovCon industry needs and keep your company on the front pages for the work you are contributing to this country; not for running afoul of the rules.

See the original article: http://smallgovcon.com/govcon-voices/govcon-voices-a-culture-of-compliance/#sthash.4Ahp75Xd.dpuf

Resilience

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
-Jamais Cascio

Change is inevitable, and the GovCon industry is no exception. We’re all scrambling to see what changes will come with the new administration, where funding will go, what the impact on our government clients will be, etc.  We’re also an industry of M&A (although some of the M&A shops may say it’s been slow as of late).  When our company grows to a decent size, the big boys come knocking. If we’ve got a strong client relationship or unique product/niche, they come knocking even earlier in the lifecycle. We’re also an industry of movement. Senior executives shuffle from GovCon to GovCon applying their tricks to each company, some for the better, some to their detriment but all for the sake of the process.

So how do you handle the on-going changes that come from this territory?
How do you remain valuable to the new executive, new company, new client?
I submit the following considerations:

Value. Can you prove your value to both your client and your company? Can you quantify it? If you can’t readily spew off what you’ve brought to the table…RECENTLY…then perhaps you had better dust off that resume. Also note, “having a great client relationship” is not enough. That’s bare minimum. Don’t confuse your value and your recognition. Often times our most valued attributes are those that go without being publicly recognized.

Buy In. Do you scoff at the idea of new leadership, new management, or new directions? Right or wrong, that lack of buy-in (no matter how justified) will get you noticed, and not in a good way. When change initiatives are in place, early buy-in and promotion will help your team advance. This is not to say that you have to drink to Kool-Aide every time, but after some healthy discussion, there is always a fork in the road. At that junction, you’ll need to get on board or get out. Be steadfast when you find yourself in that position.

Ownership. People are drawn to those who are accountable and who take responsibility for their actions. New management will notice these attributes quickly, as their presence is rare. When something is your fault, own it. Figure out how to do better, learn from the mistake and move on. No dwelling or wallowing, and definitely don’t make the same mistake again.

Humor. Remember that everything goes in cycles. If you can’t find the humor in your position, change either your attitude or your situation.
In deciphering the avenues of transition, it is often necessary to utilize the knowledge of experts that have your back. You’re not in it alone, nor do you have to feel that way. Go back to those with whom you have a rapport and can trust to navigate their zones of genius. Doing so will allow you the opportunity to make clear-headed decisions.

Change is inevitable.
How you engage it, is not.
It’s ultimately up to you as to how you respond to change.

Green

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
-Mark Twain

In today’s environment of competition, LPTA, race to the bottom (insert any other overused term we throw around in the GovCon world), we all talk about “greening the staff” as a way to cut our costs on proposals. But who really does it and more importantly, who does it successfully?

Typically, we say that in the execution of a 5-year contract, we can move the more seasoned employees to other contracts and replace them with more junior employees who will learn from the best, and do their jobs more efficiently and at less cost. In reality, this means we replace seasoned and expensive employees with less expensive employees under the guise of “career advancement.”

Contractors bet that a year into execution, the government will absolutely LOVE their seasoned SME’s, and therefore will cough up more funding in the out years not requiring the transition of staff.

What happens if that isn’t the case? 

Contractors tell their seasoned SME that they have to take a 20%+ hit on their base salary or they yank them to a more profitable contract and backfill to the minimum labor category requirements with little to no transition or cross-training. The result? A bad taste in everyone’s mouths, most importantly the government.

What if we did what we claimed we would do in our management plans?

What if we told our SMEs in contract kick-off that we were going to start grooming their replacements and incentivized them to help train them successfully?

What if we spent the time to recruit the right person for the transition? A person wanting to work with the agency and grow professionally. What if we made our government customer part of the transition plan and they knew all along that there would be new teammates in the out years?

Imagine if we actually provided the career growth for our SMEs, built our workforce with energized, well-trained folks who could help win the re-compete and, topping it off, actually *gasp* saved the government money?

Yes, it means forethought and planning. Yes, it is harder than just asking for more funding. If you want to grow your company and your team successfully and thoughtfully – try greening the staff.

Just do it the right way, the first time.

Goals

New year, new you?  Yup, been there, done that.  How many GovCon business owners start with the best of intentions for the new year?  Any of these sound familiar?

  • This is the year I’m going to break $XM in revenue!
  • This is the year we’re going to follow a formal BD process.  No more bluebird bids!
  • This is the year we’re going after (huge IDIQ).  We’ll have our team solidified 30 days before the bid.
  • This is the year we’re going to invest in our employees.  We’ll do brown bag sessions and offer training courses.
  • This is the year we’re going to have and follow a strategic plan.  We’ll review it quarterly and assess our progress.

I’d venture to say every CEO in this industry has thought at least one of the above in the past week, with the best of intent.  Before this becomes another boring blog on goals and how to attain them, let’s stop and get real.   One of my mantras is that small business owners don’t have time or money to waste.  I know I don’t.  Achieving all of these goals this year would be great.  But in a world of tactical day to day operations, it’s hard to come out from the emails, status meetings, business development, and management of our people.  Let’s face it, running a company is not for the lazy!

So let’s focus on one goal.  One little goal.

Here it is – one goal every business owner should make (and actually do) is to THINK.  This sounds so simple.  I know.  But when was the last time you actually made time in your schedule to think about your company and its future?  When did you last turn off your phone/email/life and spend some time with your thoughts and plans?  Do you remember why you got into your field?  What your end game is?  Are you moving toward your goals?

As owner/CEO it’s on you to have a direction and focus toward which your company is moving.  How can you provide leadership and oversight if you don’t know yourself?

Imagine what a few hours a week or even a couple days a month would do for your company if you took a step back and actually spent time thinking.  You’d know where you were on your goals.  You’d have time to think about the future, competitive landscape, trends, growth potential.  You would also feel like you had a better grasp on the company’s direction.  With a roadmap in front of you, you can spend the other time leading and executing effectively.  Who knows, you may even finally get to those training sessions.

Business owners spend too much time focusing on portions of their to-do lists that can be delegated to others. Every CEO wants to be an expert on all things, but let’s face it, sometimes we need a bit of guidance. Luckily some of us seek to assist leaders in creating plans and moving forward to reach their goals. In fact, if you have questions, I’m happy to offer support.

Need help building your corporate strategy in the federal GovCon space?  Feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected]