Professional etiquette: I don't want to step on toes
August 25, 2013 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I've been invited to sub-contract on a proposal by a friend/colleague who works for a larger firm that's putting in the bid. While my role would only be related to one specific piece of the overall project, I'm reading the draft of the whole proposal, and I think the document needs significant polishing. Can I tell my friend/colleague? How to approach it? Snowflakes ->

My colleague and I attended school together, and both worked for the agency that put out this call for proposals, I much more recently (she left 2-ish years ago, I only left very recently). I know the general field this proposal covers, but have particular skill with one subset, and that is the piece she invited me to work on as a sub-contractor.

She sent me the draft proposal on Friday. In addition to my area, I've been reviewing the overall proposal just to get a feel for what they're proposing and how my piece fits into it. I know the people who will be reviewing the proposals very well (ie I used to work for them specifically). The content of the proposal is fine, but the presentation...the best way to put it is that the writing comes off as in-experienced, which is not something you want in a proposal for a six figure, multi-stakeholder contract. To be blunt, it reads like it was written by a junior writer.

I reviewed proposals for this agency a few times, and reading it with my agency hat on, this would jump out at me as needing more polish. It's also not clear to me how much input into the proposal her superiors have had at this stage.

I feel like it could be mostly fixed by choosing some different words at key points. I suppose these jump out me because the jargon the agency uses is still fresh in my head. My sense is that my friend/colleague is putting the proposal together to present to her superiors at the firm. She's relatively new there and trying to establish herself there.

Anyhoo, my dilemma is that I want to give the project the best chance to succeed, and my familiarity with the agency is part of why they've invited me to participate, but I don't want to embarrass my friend or overstep my bounds in talking about pieces outside of my focus. This firm does proposals like this all the time, and this is pretty much my first go at it, at least on the submitting end.

Should I say something to her offline? Do I assume her superiors in her firm know what they're doing when it comes to submitting proposals and leave it be? Should I make detailed suggestions?

Advice appreciated!

P.S. I checked about any conflict of interest issues with my bidding on work from a former employer and its kosher.
posted by dry white toast to Work & Money (5 answers total)
Are you gunning to get hired? If they dont get the gig because they came off as inexperienced, will the financial toll be significant? If no, I say let them do it how they want. This is how people learn.
posted by softlord at 8:31 PM on August 25, 2013

If I were you, I'd send the friend a succinct email saying something like, "As you know, I used to review proposals for Agency, and I have a few suggestions for tweaking the language of your proposal to better signal to the reviewers that this project is a match for their interests. If you think your bosses would be interested in my input, feel free to pass along my name." Then let them make the next move (or not).

If you are invited to share your input, you should consistently frame it in terms like "showing how your proposal aligns with Agency's goals," "talking to Agency in their own language," "matching the language of Agency's communications," etc. Absolutely avoid saying anything about the authors of the proposal being "inexperienced" or "junior writers" whose work "needs more polish."
posted by Orinda at 8:40 PM on August 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Uh of course offer to tighten the language for her. A second pair of eyes is always useful even if they don't bring such expertise. Everyone in the working world has worked on something that wasn't close to perfect but that they just didn't have time or ability to improve. She should love the suggestions as lung as you don't preface it with too much about how expert you are- that risks coming off the wrong way although you should definitely tell her about it
posted by cacao at 9:34 PM on August 25, 2013

Use "Track Changes" in Word so she can accept/reject your edits as she sees fit. Then present them as suggestions.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:01 PM on August 25, 2013

2nd'ing the idea of contacting your friend directly, and letting her handle the interaction with others.
posted by StrawberryPie at 10:49 AM on August 26, 2013

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