Over the years I handled several categories as Procurement Manager, and Business Travel has always had a special place in my heart.
I reckon most procurement managers do not have matching feelings.
The drawbacks of the profession are a many: phone calls from angry travellers, people trying to cheat on policies, never-ending requests for exceptions and custom solutions. Not to forget Nature and the outside world playing their part: volcanoes erupting in Iceland and causing significant disruption on airline traffic over three continents, heat waves and snow storms; strikes and bustling towns during trade show periods.
And then the most dreaded moment in a procurement manager’s life: the yearly budget! “We’re spending too much! How can we save money on Business Travel?” were among the most repeated signals of desperation.
And now, when I tell people about my job as consultant advising companies in the area of Business Travel, the reactions are all the same. They start telling their stories about how Business Travel (doesn’t) work in their companies, how much time they’re spending searching what they need for their trips because their Travel Company is not performing, or how Business Travel affects their personal life. And finally how busy their companies are thinking only about cutting costs, and they –the travellers- end up rushing at the airport trying to catch a connecting flight or sleeping in poor quality hotels.
There’re slight variations, of course, but the central themes don’t change.
It’s a challenging task to organise the Business Travel for a company: so many different needs and objectives, so many factors to take into considerations, so many players.
Despite that I feel a sense of contentment when I handle a Travel Program for my clients because I know I can help, I know it’s possible to do better, even in larger organisations.
I still clearly remember the project that changed my approach to Business Travel forever.
I used to work for a Telco company at that time. It was 2008, and we were facing one of the toughest economic crises of the last 50 years.
In that difficult context, the leadership team approved a significant plan to contain & streamline all the costs.
Travel expenses were one of the first items to be analysed as they were showing a steep growing trend. Overall travel costs, in fact, had surged by 38% over a year period reaching unprecedented levels, generating extra expenses for about Eur 1,5 Mio in just two months!!!
It became urgent to revert the trend and get the travel expenses back under control. Timeliness was extremely critical, as any delay in the action would further aggravate the situation. A robust plan was needed!
With a decisive impulse from the Company Executive Committee, a cross-functional team was quickly created with representatives of various departments. Procurement (i.e. me as Manager in charge of Business Travel), Planning & Control, Internal communication, and HR were all part of the team. The team started analysing all the relevant data, providing valuable insights on how to save money. Each of the team participants gave his/her contribution based on their competence and experience.
The team also prepared an appropriate implementation plan and a communication plan to ensure that any approved action would reach the relevant people and that all the tools were updated and ready.
Once the Executive Committee approved the whole plan, the team started with the implementation.
The elapsed time from the moment the team was formed at the start of the planned deployment was just 1,5 months.
The plan delivered the desired results, and by the end of the Financial Year, the cost trend was completely reversed.
The goal, which appeared unattainable at the beginning, was reached thanks to action undertaken by the company’s leadership prompted by quality data about the spending. The clear ownership given to the team and involvement of the entire relevant internal stakeholder throughout the process gave the it the adequate structure and authority to move on with the plan. But the spasmodic attention to the need of the travellers and those of the business coupled with a clear communication plan made the real difference and allowed a plan which could be practically achieved.
I remember that project as one of the most rewarding of my career, not only for the role I had in it but because I felt that something important was happening right in front of me. I appreciated how the very different elements were combining with each other creating THE PERFECT PLAN, and I felt I was exactly where I’d always wanted to be.
My perspective has grown over the years; I’ve added other pieces to the puzzle. My framework has shaped up, but its core goes back to the success factors of that project:
- Attention to the travellers’ needs
- Attention to the business needs
- Leadership commitment
- Clear ownership of the activities
- Comprehensive information
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Communication and change management
These are the keys to a successful Business Travel Program!