August 20, 2012
Biz Books

Facts win P3 contracts but stories win clients

"Collaboration Nation — How Public-Private Ventures are Revolutionizing the Business of Government" by Mary Scott Nabers (Platform Press, $19.95).

Public-private partnerships (P3s) include outsourcing, privatizing and cooperative procurement programs. From the public standpoint, P3s work because of private sector expertise and/or lower labor cost. Budget shortfalls created by the housing-value-related drop in property taxes spurred public sector interest in recent years.

For companies interested in doing business with public entities, Scott Nabers identifies several challenges: "Public officials are risk-averse decision makers who look for experience, references, credibility and solutions that appear safe." Those safe solutions go beyond project completion.

Safe takes politics into account. You're not only dealing with the administrators; most public institutions have unionized staff whose input into decision-making shouldn't be underestimated — especially when it involves privatizing services. Contract approval also requires navigating through various departmental approval levels.

The source of public funds comes into play, too. When funding ties to state or federal sources, the contract structure requires the awardee to comply with additional administration and compliance reporting requirements which increases cost. The source of funds can also affect timeliness of contract payments because invoices may require layers of approval.

When it comes to negotiating terms, public officials have little latitude. The liquidated damages clause in most public contracts keeps corporate risk managers up at night. Failure to comply/perform on time and within budget can trigger it.

Do your homework before you respond to a bid request. The more information you have about the award and administration processes and how to deal with the stakeholders, the better the odds of a contract award.

When you get to Round 2 interview stage, Scott Nabers offers this advice: Heed the time allotted for the meeting and allow time for Q&A. Use handouts (not PowerPoint slides) that speak to cost estimates, cost controls, outcomes and why your solution works. Ask about the next steps in the process.

P3s offer the public and private sectors the opportunity to "build it together."

• • •

"Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince and Inspire" by Paul Smith (AMACOM, $24.95).

Have you ever heard anyone say: "That chart really inspired me." But you always hear people retelling stories about experiences, vision, motivation and inspiration. Stories stick with us because they convey context that facts and figures can't. By weaving facts and figures into the why behind a story, listeners are more likely to remember the data. Telling a story explains what needs to be done without saying "do it."

They get an audience to pay attention. To keep that attention, the audience needs to see itself in the future you describe. By mentally inserting themselves into the story, they connect to their roles in its moral.

Stories appeal to the various ways people learn, too. Visual learners create mental pictures. Auditory learners listen to the words and the inflection and emphasis of the storyteller's voice. Those who learn by doing relate the emotional connections and feelings from the story to things they've done. Regardless of how the audience learns, it passes on the story to others — which creates informal learning for their colleagues.

Each chapter provides corporate stories and the backstory behind them. Topics covered include: envisioning success, creating a winning culture, energizing teams, educating and empowering. The author encourages business storytellers to adapt these stories to their firm's circumstance.

Chapter 10, "Encourage collaboration and build relationships," stands out. It leads with a story about a corporate team that told their life stories to each other through pictures representing their past, present and future. They learned how much they had in common and how they could work better together.

The moral of Smith's stories: Engage your audience with words, not data.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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