Salt and Pepper Knowledge

Gray Beards have advice worth “coin”


If you are a Government contractor, and you can remember visiting your customers, partners or peers’ offices, you have definitely seen them; challenge coins. While not medals in the purest essence of the word, they tell stories about the experiences their recipients have gained, and sometimes bear witness to their accomplishments. Usually, the more challenge coins you see on the recipient’s racks, the more “salt and pepper” they sport – and that in turn usually means “knowledge to tap”.

Think back to your first deployment, to your first job in Corporate America. Think back to that first seemingly unsurmountable problem that your team was going to tackle. Now think back to the “gray beard” that came into the production floor, gently tapped the jammed winch in a peculiar location only to see it perform as if brand new. Or the “Yoda” that came into the rack-room, pressed the front panel controls of a modem in a formulaic sequence and restored communications to the network.

While there is always a pinch of luck involved in problem solving, the experience and knowledge these sage advisors possess is GOLD to Capture and Proposal Mangers.

You see, there is a gap between knowing what the right answer is, and knowing how to accomplish it. There is a chasm between that and knowing what the BEST answer is amongst a field of “good enough”. That is what “gray beards” do, they bring life experience and realism into the perfect world of proposal answers, helping both proposer and evaluator to identify the best value / lowest risk to the Government.

While there is nothing wrong with having a capture team that has done its due diligence and has crossed every “T” and dotted every “I”, winning Captures need more than a good proposal write up. They must capture the voice of the customer and show understanding that can’t be neither bought nor conjured, only obtained through experience.

As well, some ideas and plans may sound or in fact be perfect for 99% of customers out there; but not to the 1% you are presenting your proposal. If only you have had the opportunity to discuss the proposed solution with someone who had done similar work in the past with THAT customer.

Having the right “gray beards” in your team will not only make your proposal better, but it will also elevate the knowledge level of your proposal team. Call it osmosis if you may, but these individuals will forget more in a day than we’ll ever learn.

In addition to knowledge and experience, here are other benefits that “gray beards” contribute to your Captures:

· Risk management

They have been around the block once or twice. They recognize the difference between aggressive and reckless; and that is a very fine line you don’t want to cross. As such they can equip you and your team to make decisions that are aggressive, but will not freak out the evaluating board.

· External Influence

They are still dialed in and are part of the club. They can help in the Capture process by coaching or by opening doors to you and your team. Sometimes a project they have led in the past, or their recommendations to explore an idea or option will be the difference on how your team is seen by the evaluation board. Yes – the only thing that matters is what’s written. Right.

· Inside baseball / future in context

They know the history of programs because in some instances, they were the boots on the ground or deck plate creating the program. They know what has been tried before and know what can work in the future. They can put your solution in context, and from that you can evaluate Pwin and the positive impact your solution can have for your customer.

· They have the coconut telegraph in speed dial

Back to being dialed in, the coconut telegraph works. Most “gray beards” are inseparable members of the community, so they know and can help you convert “Commander’s Intent” to actionable plans that you can write to and better; execute.

They may not be in “Insta”, and in secret some still long for their Blackberry (youngsters may have to Google this one), but trust me when I say, “gray beards” are the real deal. Not taking away anything from young teams, It is great to have new blood and fresh perspectives in your Capture teams as these folks are the “gray beards” of tomorrow and have ideas that have merit, “no cap”. So bring them into your team as a W2 or 1099 and watch your Pwin increase.

They have earned their challenge coins, and joining your bench, they can help your team “make COIN.”

Remember, years of business development effort and thousands of corporate hours and dollars can be wasted by overlooking a detail only seen through the lenses of experience. Give your BD and Capture teams the best opportunity to win!


Need a "gray beard" to help you? Go HERE

Recent Posts

See All