Getting a non-producer to deliver? Ask the Proposal Doctor

Dear Proposal Doctor,

I have one non-producer on my proposal team. Everyone in the organization has told me that this guy is the absolute right person to craft a 10-page section on a topic that he knows inside out. But, he doesn’t deliver. He keeps saying it is in progress, and I will get something soon.

Others have told me not to worry. However, as a proposal manager, how can I not worry? This person could make or break the entire proposal. Time is ticking. Please tell me what to do before it is too late.

Biting My Fingernails

Dear Biting,

You are right to be worried! This is an archetypal proposal situation, and one that is particularly common in “expert cultures” where people have more knowledge in their heads than they can ever get onto paper—much less into 10 pages.

The good news is that there are ways out of this mess. First, you have to get to the cause of the non-performance. Is this person over-committed? Are there personal issues? Has he really bought into the assignment and accepted ownership and accountability? Does he have a quiet place where he can work uninterrupted? I am sure you can think of other factors that might be keeping him from getting his work done.

If everything else checks out and he still does not perform, then he probably has a writer’s block that he does not know how to address. The important thing is to get him to admit this to you, probably in private, since no one wants to showcase this type of weakness. (Even though almost everyone, including experienced and professional writers, experiences it.)

If he can get past the temptation to deny and come clean, then there are things you can suggest that might help. Which one is going to work depends on the context and the personalities involved, including your own. But, here are some that have worked for me:

  • Ask him to explain his concepts to you in layman’s terms. Often, after talking it through with another person, the writer’s block goes away.
  • See if you can interview him and tape the interview. Then he can write using the recording of the conversation.
  • If you have a graphic artist or someone who can at least sketch and conceptualize, ask him to describe and explain his ideas so that they can be depicted as an image. More likely than not, you will need some graphics anyway. The process of creating one forces people to refine, clarify, and simplify their ideas.
  • Pair him up with a professional writer so that he can talk and someone else can write.
  • Re-examine the premise of your question: is he really the only person who can do this? Often we accept these assertions without challenging them.

Whatever you decide to do, please act now. This is not going to get better. As we know all too well, on a proposal, things do not get better. They get worse. As the French say, courage!

All the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor

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Lohfeld Consulting