Across the transport and infrastructure sectors, there is always a continuous flow of projects and tendering for contracts. Right now, we’re beginning to see movement on the HS2 Rail Systems bidding process with the shortlisted suppliers for Track and M&E being announced last month.
Another ongoing major bid is the £1.7bn A303 Stonehenge road tunnel project. The three shortlisted JV’s were announced last year, and we can expect to see the preferred bidder being announced later this year. An announcement on the Lower Thames Crossing Delivery Partner is expected next week.
With the continuous cycle of bidding and delivery, it is crucial to ensure you have a strong bidding team and sometimes this means having to bring in new talent with a certain type of expertise to lead the bid team to success.
Bid recruitment can be tough, trying to predict what type of candidate might work well with the potential client and when to start recruiting. Luckily, we have experience recruiting in this area and can help break down some of the ways you can tackle this dilemma.
Let’s explore some of the different ways you can approach your bid recruitment and what you should be looking for in a candidate…
4 ways to approach your bid recruitment
1. Proactive upfront recruitment
Recruiting in key members of staff permanently before the bid outcome is clear is a risk, but one that may be worth taking.
Essentially, what you need to determine is, “do we need this new person to win the bid?” and “do they need to be a permanent staff member?”
If timescales are tight, and the client wants to know who the Project Director will be, then yes, you will probably need this person to secure a win. Equally, if scarcity is an issue and the project is so specialised that only five people in the country have the skills to deliver it, it’s pretty critical to have one of those people signed up from the outset.
The downside to this tactic is that you could potentially end up with an employee that you don’t have a job for if your bid doesn’t succeed.
It is also harder to get a candidate on board for a project that you haven’t secured yet. From a candidate’s perspective, they will want to understand the company’s ambitions for the projects being bid for, and what the plan B will be should the bid lose.
One of our previous assignments for a civil engineering contractor tackled this approach by recruiting a Project Director to work across several major bids. The projects were specialised enough that they required the skillset to stand a decent chance of winning, but they minimised the risk by bringing someone to bid for multiple projects. The Director can then lead mobilisation and delivery of the successful bids.
Recruiting in freelance interims for the bid phase is an alternative option.
It can be a high cost during bidding but if you don’t win you can demobilise the team at a weeks’ notice. A disadvantage of this approach is that the interims likely won’t be around after to deliver the bid if successful, so it can lead to problems further down the line.
3. Conditional Offer Recruitment
Sometimes companies prefer to recruit in advance and make an offer before the contract award on the basis that they join if the company wins. The recruitment process is started before the bid is submitted and the candidate resigns from their current role if the bid is successful.
This approach requires trust from both parties.
From the company, you will need to share some sensitive details about your bid to ensure that the candidate is aligned with the strategies and direction you have committed to. And from the candidate’s side, they need to honour the commitment to the company – perhaps by agreeing to have their name published in the bid.
A financial offer will need to be negotiated and agreed and everything lined up, deal done, with the offer accepted conditional on the bid win. So, the obvious downside to this is that, if you don’t win, you’ve wasted a few weeks recruiting and managing the offer.
Another point to remember is that you will also have to factor in notice periods. So again, if you know the project will commence imminently after the award, then a long notice period isn’t going to be ideal.
4. Recruit if you win
Waiting to get the result of the bid first will make the recruitment process more straight forward but this could reduce your chances of winning in the first place. You will have a concrete role to sell to candidates, you won’t need a plan B and you won’t have to entrust sensitive information pre-bid.
However, when you consider that the search process could easily take a couple of months (potentially more if the role is highly niche) and add on to that a 3-month notice period, you could be looking at 5-6 months from the contract being awarded to the candidate starting.
If you know that you’ve got the time for this process, then this approach makes sense. But if this might be cutting it fine or would jeopardise the chance of winning the contract entirely, then one of the other options will be better suited.
Bid Directors often come from one of three backgrounds:
The professional Bid Director
Some people specialise and excel in leading purely the bid phase of projects; they love the thrill of bidding but like to pass the project over to someone else to deliver. An experienced Bid Director with a track record in winning major bids can be worth their weight in gold.
They may not have in depth technical knowledge of every type of work package involved but they know how to motivate a bid team, engage with a client and lead the development of a winning solution at the right price.
Another advantage an experienced Bid Director is they may have experience of leading joint venture (JV) bids. The ability to lead a team made up of people from diverse company cultures and manage upwards to align JV shareholders with differing priorities is an impressive skill and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The experienced Project Director in the specialism
Another desirable background to recruit from is a Project Director with particular expertise in that specific type of project. They may not be an expect in bidding but they will bring credibility with the client, have personal expertise on what the best technical solution will be and understanding of the risks, as well as offering continuity of leadership (if the tender is successful) from bid phase into project delivery.
Recruiting someone from this background is a no-brainer when you are bidding for a contract in a specialised area that your company is not renowned for.
The well-known client
The other background you should consider when recruiting for your bid team is someone who has experience overseeing relevant programmes from the client side.
This type of candidate will bring great understanding of the client and their needs, as well as bringing credibility and gravitas to your bid. Providing they can be supported by plenty of good people with experience in your business this solution can also work well.