In the relatively small world of government contracting, it pays not to be a jerk

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Forget about the idea of ​​six degrees of separation. In the world of government contracting people are no more than a hopper two away from one another. That’s why with a pressured end-of-the-year fiscal coming, my next guest says it’s a good time to remember a few of them human relations ground rules. Federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin for more insight.

Tom Timin: And basically, Larry, you’re saying that people need to remember that they’re going to interact, not just now but again in the future. So you better just be basically nice to people, even the annoying ones.

Larry Allen: Tom that’s exactly right. It’s a little bit like in the background of your mind, you should always hear Disney’s “It’s A Small World After All,” because that’s really the type of world we work in here. And government acquisition, particularly if you’re in the IDIQ space, professional services, IT, commercial items a little bit more broadly, there are people who you’re going to be keeping, running into over and over again. Sometimes they’re going to be with a competitor company. You might find out one day that your company has hired that person to come and work with you on a common project. Or you might find that that person is now over you, or in a government agency where they’re in a position to direct business to your company or not. I’ve talked before about the importance of personal relationships. What I’m talking about in this article, Tom, is just one specific indication of what that really means – You have to be nice to people, you have to be able to get along with people because you’re going to keep seeing them over and over again. And if you burn a bridge, that’s gonna hurt both your company but also you personally. And you need to be careful and keep in mind that we’re all in the same stadium, or we’re all playing the same game for a specified period of time.

Tom Timin: Do you have knowledge of a recent incident involving someone that maybe learned that lesson the hard way?

Larry Allen: Nobody who’s learned the lesson the hard way, Tom, recently, but somebody, a couple of people I’ve seen lately who are coming close. It’s great to come into a new market with a ton of energy and some good ideas. Every market, including this one needs people to come in with new ideas, new philosophies, new ways of looking at things. But you also have to temper that with the fact that there are reasons why people in this market do things a certain way. It’s not necessarily because they’re high bound to a process, although some are. But the reason you do certain things is because you can’t do them another way, law or regulation says you can’t do that. And when you come in new, you probably don’t know that some of the things that you think are brilliant ideas have been tried before. But they can’t be done, because the rules and regulations would either get your customer or your company in trouble. So finding a way for those people who are coming in with new ideas, to use that energy appropriately, direct it properly, get it done, so that we actually can get some neat stuff done and government acquisition because we don’t want to just sit around here, doing the same type of stuff every year. But doing it in such a way that is respectful and mindful of the rules so that nobody gets in trouble for being innovative, which was you and I know would have the net effect of people being even less innovative than they are now.

Tom Timin: Yes, and you should be good to subcontractors, because the business guy and the subcontractor that you’re dealing with could end up being the manager of relationships at some larger company that you may want to do business with at some point. And if you treated her well as a sub, then it could come back to help you later on when suddenly you need that person’s help for your business.

Larry Allen: Well, that really is true Tom. Inside industry, and I want to emphasize just inside industry, keeping away from the government part of this, that it really is kind of the game of musical chairs that goes on. People change jobs, people change companies, and they change roles and responsibilities. Everybody has to be aware of that. Just because the person that kind of annoyed you in one position, moved on to another company does not mean you’ll never see that person again. In fact, the odds are that you will see that person and you will see that person in a more critical role for you or your company than they were in previously.

Tom Timin: We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. And on the other topic you’re writing about recently is GSA’s leadership focus might be a little bit on some of the non-core issues and not enough on the big projects they have going for GSA’s core mission of contracting, buildings and vehicles. What’s going on, lack of people?

Larry Allen: Well, lack of people is certainly part of it, Tom, specifically in the contracting officer organization, GSA and government people understand that as the 1102 group. And there’s a real shortage of contracting officers at GSA, which is potentially something pretty critical for the government’s largest civilian acquisition agency. So you would imagine that GSA will be trying to bring in acquisition people and acquisition talent to fill those roles and work on the multiple projects they have coming up. A Polaris project, the services MAC that will replace the OASIS contract, the new contracts that GSA wants to stand up inside the Schedules program with new terms and conditions. And not to mention keeping an eye on existing contract programs like Alliant 2 and what happens when that becomes Alliant 3, as well as some of the smaller socioeconomic identified small contracts like VETS 2 and 8(a) STARS. So these are things that are core missions to GSA, and it’s important to focus on them. Certainly sustainability and some of the other political goals that came in with this administration have their place. And I don’t mean to suggest that they don’t. But what I do mean to suggest is that you have to be able to walk before you can run. And walking in this case means hitting your marks on the basic contract and customer service programs that you’ve got in place. And if you’ve got that down, when you’ve got that down, then it’s great to go out and run and do sustainability and all of the other things that you want to do. But right now, GSA I don’t think is there yet, Tom, you got to nail the basics down before you can go out and add new things onto your agenda.

Tom Timin: Plus, with some of the things that are central to them, like these big IDIQs, they as well as other agencies trying to establish them have a real problem of on their hands. And that means you need a lot of brainpower on these things just to make sure they become protest proof. And you’re listening to industry.

Larry Allen: Well right and that really is a big issue. One of the other things I’m concerned about right now is the number of protesters we’re getting on these IDIQ vehicles, particularly as they’re being put in place. We had a program killed, Alliant 2 Small Business because of protests. Right now, NITAAC over at NIH has had some significant delays just when they thought they were out of the protest woods, not so fast. And GSA is already starting to see that in the Polaris area. The protests have their place in government acquisition. But you don’t want to protest to the extent that companies and government agencies wake up one morning and say, these large multiple award indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts are more trouble than they’re worth. Sure they’re graded once we get them in place. But we successfully have to find more and higher hills to get them in place. And it’s not too far fetched, Tom, to imagine them saying, “We’re gonna go use our limited acquisition resources to do acquisition and another way.” And I think that’s significant for a couple of reasons. One is, it certainly increases overhead for government and attendance and industry making acquisition more expensive. And ironically, it’s going to make life harder for a number of small businesses, those businesses that have really excelled under today’s IDIQ contracts, whether as a prime contractor or a major player on a sub contracting program. So I think we have to think hard and long about protests, and just what it is we really hope to gain. But keep in mind the damage that we can do to that type of contracting if there’s an endless march of protests.

Tom Timin: Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners. As always, thanks so much.

Larry Allen: Thank you, and I wish your listeners happy selling.

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