Can Candor Help Change Your Proposals for the Better?

This is an article about an idea from Jack Welsh, the former CEO of General Electric, which might change your proposals for the better. But because Welsh wants people in the business world to speak with more candor, I will start by being very honest and straightforward.

I think Jack Welsh has silly political ideas. I also think that General Electric is not a very admirable company. Like too many large American companies, it has moved many of its jobs overseas and has prospered partly by corrupting Washington, DC with bribes (i.e., political campaign contributions) to distort the marketplace for its benefit.

Nonetheless, I also think that Welsh has at least one good idea, and that is the value of candor in the world of business. In his words, “I would call the lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business. What a huge problem it is. Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.”

By candor, Welsh does not mean what he calls “malevolent dishonesty.” Instead, he is talking about people not speaking straightforwardly or not proposing ideas to stimulate debate.

Welsh recommends that candor can improve business operations in three important ways:
• Candor gets more people involved in the conversation and as a result more ideas surface, get discussed, and get improved.
• Candor generates speed. When ideas are openly discussed, they can be acted upon.
• Candor cuts costs by shortening meetings, eliminating overly long, sugarcoated reports, and mind-numbing conversations in favor of real, substantive discussions.

Welsh recommends candor because it is more likely than other approaches to lead to this sequence of events: surface, debate, improve, decide. However, Welsh is well aware that candor is difficult. It unnerves people and “it is hard and time-consuming to instill in any group, no matter what size.”

To promote candor in proposal teams, I recommend that proposal professionals read Cass Sunstein’s stimulating Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge (2006). Based on Welsh’s idea and Sunstein’s book, there are simple but effective ways that proposal managers can use candor to improve their proposals:
• Make information widely available to everyone. Tools like SharePoint make this easy to do.
• Discuss the information widely without taking an official or authoritative position.
• Encourage many voices and different points of view among team members.
• Narrow the ideas down to what is most useful and likely to work.
• Implement the idea and then begin the process all over again.

There are many elements in proposal development that are not worth much discussion. However, the win themes, technical solutions, and content of your proposal should be openly discussed with candor.

Being candid does not mean being impolite, dishonest, or vicious. And it does depend on civility, trust, and respect. You can have disagreements and spirited debates and still enjoy lunch with your proposal team.

Used wisely, candor can help you identify issues and problems and resolve them before it is too late. We need to combine the “wisdom of crowds,” the intelligence of our colleagues, and candor. Try this approach and you may produce better proposals.

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