Travel Managers, Choose Your Career Path

Compass in hand, fork in trailYou travel managers have very challenging jobs.  You also have two very stark career paths in front of you. Let’s start with where you’re at today:

You’re managing a complicated and ever-changing mix of problems.  One hour it’s all about traveler service issues, the next it’s a rash of technology speed bumps, followed by constant demands for reporting cost savings.

You get sucked into endless supplier meetings, do your best to reconcile messy data points, and pray that the new travel policy proposal gets past the latest stakeholder review checkpoint –  all while trying to stay on top of 200 e-mails a day.   There’s more, but this makes the point.

A big tip of the hat, folks – you’re doing important work across a variety of disciplines, with many stakeholders ready and willing to critique your results.  It’s a pretty unique job in many ways, and chances are good that you enjoy most of it.

But you need to ask what’s the future for a travel manager.  What type of role will you hold in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years?  Will ever-more automation and ever-better analytics put your current job to pasture?

Not to worry. You manage too much complexity over too many issues that need too much interpersonal skill.  So it’s not a threat of job displacement.

Instead, it’s a question of job value – the type of value you’ll add.  Will you be adding tactical value, which is what you’re doing today?

Or will it be strategic value that you’ll add, to a senior management team appreciative of your insights and expertise?

Of the two choices, there’s no doubt which role adds greater value.  The strategic role trumps a tactical role  most every time.  These are harder shoes to fill.  More room for impact, for better or worse, and so more risk – and reward.

So how can today’s tactical travel manager add that strategic plank to her career platform?

How do you expand and elevate your role in a way that doesn’t bring unwanted conflict and politics into play? How do you find a clear runway that lets you launch your ability to make strategic contributions?

The answer is simple.  Seize a strategically important issue that plays to your expertise, and is an issue being ignored in most firms. That issue?

Retention of your firm’s road warriors.

Retaining road warriors is a strategic issue for two big, macro-driven reasons.  1) Labor markets are getting tighter thanks to a stronger global economy, and 2) many countries’ workforces are aging out much faster than their replacements are entering.  It’s called the “Silver Tsunami”, and it has HR execs sweating in their sleep.

So if your firm isn’t facing a retention problem today, it soon will be.  And there’s no doubt that your road warriors are among your most valuable – and hard to replace – employees.

You say this sounds like an HR problem?  Maybe it should be – but ten to one,  no one in HR is looking at road warrior retention.  HR probably doesn’t know who your road warriors are, and even if they do, HR has bigger workforce issues to worry about. Which is great news for you.

So this is your strategically important issue to seize with both hands.  Yes, you’ll collaborate with HR, but the key is that you’ll lead this effort.  You need some of HR’s data, but the real opportunity to add strategic value is yours.  Why?

Because you have the insights about what changes can be made to travel policies, and at what cost. You understand the range of options that can be brought to bear to make a travel program more traveler-centric, if you like being buzzwordy.

Here’s the real key:  HR is not your customer.  The travel budget owners are.  You need to connect with them on this one issue in a very focused way.  Here’s how:

Find the travel budget owner responsible for a lot of road warriors.  Let’s say it’s Sal, SVP of Sales.

You: “So Sal, how happy are you with the turnover among your road warriors?”

Sal: “It’s killing me.  These guys spend two years just getting to know our business, then they leave with all their contacts.  It takes HR at least 4 months to find a good replacement, and then the new guys all want big signing bonuses, which means I gotta pay my other guys more just to keep the peace.”

You: “I checked with HR, and over the last three years, your road warrior turnover averaged 12% a year.  I have some cost-effective ideas for bringing that down.”

Sal: “You mean putting them in business class and letting them stay at the Ritz?  No way –  I can’t afford that.”

You: “Actually, I think you could, but that’s just one type of option you have.  Let’s look at a range of ideas, and see which ones might make help you increase revenue and decrease road warrior attrition.

“The other big way I can help you is by predicting which of your road warriors are at the highest risk of burning out on travel.  It won’t cost much, and we can probably save a few road warriors from quitting this year. We can save a bunch more from quitting next year”

This is the type of discussion you need to have if you aspire to add strategic value.  Connect with senior execs on a strategically important issue, and light the way to a better long-term result.

The other choice is to be locked into a tactical role, fighting a bunch of short-term fires, hemmed in by the duties of a traditional travel manager.

Which path will you choose?

NB: My firm provides traveler retention plans to travel managers and their travel budget owners.

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1 thought on “Travel Managers, Choose Your Career Path

  1. Pingback: A Big Win No One Is Talking About | Gillespie's Guide to Travel+Procurement

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