I enjoyed reading Debra Fryar’s blog post, B2G Communication Mismatch. She is right to say that communication is not only about your message; it’s also about how you convey it. Communication 101: in order for communication to occur a sender, a message, a medium and a receiver must be present. Leave out even one link in the chain and the process fails. Contractors and federal government employees both must focus on communications media to ensure we meet in the right places.
So where are the right places? Debra mentions that, “68% of contractors said they would try to do more face to face visits and only 19% of government said they planned to.” Austere economic times, uncertain futures, shut downs and sequestration are creating a somewhat prickly environment, but I am wondering if this statistic has a very high variation from the norm. In my experience, government employees can have some odd notions about talking to contractors. I do not think there is anything new with the notion of government employees planning on fewer face-to-face communications.
But the nagging question remains: from where does this reluctance stem? Certainly during source selection sensitive periods the integrity of the acquisition process must be protected. Source selection officials must be very careful to avoid even the appearance of favoritism or technical leveling. Even being seen in public with a company representative that is competing for government business that is currently up for grabs can compromise the government employee.
But there are other times when talking to contractors is not only recommended, it’s smart. For example, in the acquisition planning stage and the post award stage. Having been both a government employee and a contractor I can assure you, we’re all just people with a variety of knowledge, skills, and experiences working together. Engaging in conversations about what you are trying to buy both when framing the acquisition (see FAR 10.002(b)(2) for recommended techniques to use in Market Research) and once the contract is awarded will yield a gold mine of useful information.
And I do mean conversation. Communication can be a one way street. Using the Sender > Message > Medium > Receiver model, communication occurs successfully when intake by the Receiver happens. One factor not mentioned in this model, however, is the quality of the communication. How well was the message understood? Unless communication flows both ways, there is not a good way to gauge the quality of the conversation. “Conversation” implies multiple iterations of two parties exchanging the roles of Sender and Receiver and verification on each party’s part that there is a meeting of the minds over what the exchanged messages mean.
It’s hard to imagine that there could be reluctance to explore the possibilities for a project or product with others who have direct knowledge and expertise and yet, getting that conversation started seems to be the hardest part of doing business with the government. I’ll dive into this topic further in Part 2, but in the mean time, tell us your B2G communication story.