Have you ever had your proposal thrown out for non-compliance? (What a question, I know… Worst experience ever if it has happened to you…)

For example: have you forgotten or failed to include something that was required? Or have you ever submitted late and been disqualified?

In my 18-year career I’ve seen or heard about it happening several times. Thank goodness I have not done it, but I’ve had some scares before. Once, early in my career we were really pushing the submittal deadline. We had just pulled over 48 hours straight (yes 2 all-nighters) and we JUST made the deadline. I remember my nerves while driving 80 mph to the airport with a trunk full of binders. It sucked so bad… When I returned one of the guys opened a case of beers and started drinking. (It was early morning…) I vowed to never let that happen again. In your body it feels very much like getting in big trouble with your parents as a kid… Thankfully we won that contract, but please don’t take that as an endorsement of the approach. 😂

​But what if we hadn’t submitted on time and we lost the contract? Should I have been fired?

​As I mentioned, I’ve seen and heard about companies being thrown out of a competition for non-compliance many times. And I’ve also heard of companies firing employees for submitting non-compliant proposals.

​Firing an employee over submitting a non-compliant proposal IMHO is usually not the right answer. If you’re trying to make sure you never submit a non-compliant proposal again, your culprits are more likely your processes, assigned roles and responsibilities, or your corporate culture.

Why do I say these 3 specific areas are the culprits? Federal procurements are complex, detailed and frequently have ambiguos requirements. Adding to that, it’s a team sport. It’s not like there’s just one individual that’s accountable. There are many people responsible for various components of the finished proposal… Those people need to understand who is responsible for what, and by when. They need processes, checklists, schedules, reviews, and back-up plans to confirm compliance many times along the way. And finally, they need to be in a psychologically-safe culture in which asking questions is OK… getting second and third opinions on ambiguous requirements is OK…giving a staunch “no” to executives that want to re-write the whole proposal a day or 2 before the proposal is due is OK…

​Look, I’m not suggesting that there is no accountability or responsibility taken after being removed from competition for non-compliance. You should absolutely get to the bottom of how and why it happened, and who was responsible and hold people accountable. However I am suggesting that after a traumatic event like that, the person who was “responsible” would learn a huge lesson and probably be one of the biggest proponents of proposal complaince from that point forward…

​I’m curious, what are your thoughts about firing someone for non-compliance after reading this? Am I too soft? Would you do it or go back and fix one of the other 3 culprits?