Mark Amtower


7 habits of highly defective contractors

If you practice these habits, you are doomed to failure

This year will be extremely tough for government contractors. One result will be that many of the marginal companies will be leaving the market, voluntarily or otherwise. It is my observation that some of these companies are marginal by choice.

We all know some of these companies, the one's that make minimal investment in learning the market, no investment in staff training, the one's seeking a "level playing field" by whining loudly to anyone who will listen.

These are the companies that came into the market assuming that a business status of any "small" designation would attract contractual dollars by merely stating "I am here." Or they entered the market because they have the absolute greatest new technology or app without which the government cannot survive.

Most people have heard of Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The book went viral in hardcopy, and it truly remains a great book 23 years later. Covey’s seven habits are: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, first things first, think win-win, first seek to understand then understood, synergize, and sharpen the saw.

After years of research and field observation, here are the results of my totally unscientific study of the seven habits of those destined to lose in government contracting.

Be reactive: Send out a press release with the announcement of your grand opening, new GSA Schedule, your availability as a sub for any and all new GWACs. Because of your business status, really cool new technology or other “unique” offering, the world will beat a path to your door.

Begin with my end in mind: Think near term, quick payoff. What can I get out of this quickly? Machiavelli said the ends justify the means, and I say the ends should have significant near term payoff, or I will get mean.

Whatever comes up first: Whatever comes up first must be most important, because, well. It’s here. There may be other things on my desk but if there is something new, I better be the first to talk about it, respond to it, or shout it down.

Think what’s in it for me: I am my own partner when it comes to win-win and we would like the cash up front. If there is nothing in it for me, why is this even a topic? Or, if there is nothing in it for me, can I weasel my way in with some hot buzz words?

First seek to be heard: It is always best to be heard first and frequently regardless of how much I know about the topic I am addressing. So shoot from the hip/lip and to heck with the consequences. Being first is always more important than being right.

Synergize when you can leverage it to come out on top, or when you have an angle to cut your partner out of the deal.

Sharpen the shiv: You are always behind someone and....

These habits are those not just of companies, but of some people in the market as well. Here are some of the telltale signs:

  • The phone message picks up on the first ring and reminds you of just how important you are to the company, but our menu has changed so please listen carefully.
  • The new marketing plan is to come up with a new slogan.
  •  Web site is full of platitudes and adjectives- no beef, no executive bios, no current contracts except maybe a GSA Schedule with $0 sales.
  • LinkedIn profile less informative than company web site.
  • Employees offer no consistent company message via phone, web or face-to-face.

We have all seen them, we all know a few (though perhaps not voluntarily) and perhaps this will be the year when many of them disappear into the mist.


About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at

Reader Comments

Fri, Mar 1, 2013 Amtower

MMP- thnx! ABR- right on target! EME- the concept of fear based mgmt has been around for a while and could be a big contributor. Jaime - given enough bids, even the inept may fall into a deal on occasion. Alex- thnx!

Tue, Feb 26, 2013 Alex Rockville, MD

Mark, spot on. Self help is less about teaching you something you do not know, but more about reminding us what we know but just do not put into practice anymore. Thank you for the reminder!

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

Although a firm that practices some or all of these traits may get lucky and win some business, it will often not be sustainable. If you find yourself in this organization, leave. Although my question is always, "How do these jokers win contracts?"

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 EME

Mark, JRP - What I've seen is a growth of what I'll call fear-based management (bullying). Managers 'manage' based in closely-held 'secrets' and 'insight' not shared with underlings, for fear of replacement... Underlings operate hoping not to be noticed, for fear of appearing to be upstaging. Sr. managers & Directors cultivate fear - to keep the rabble in line - and share nothing with each other for fear of being shivved at the next staff meeting. Even executives both cultivate and exhibit fear in the way meetings are conducted, assignments are broken-down, reporting is structured, and blame is assigned. When the music looks like it's stopping, when what worked before ceases to work (or looks like it won't much longer), when the pie is clearly shrinking, the best of human nature seems the first casualty - and the dysfunctional textbook results abound.

Sat, Feb 23, 2013 ABR DC

If you don't invest in your people, you can't be anything but marginal.

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