Avoiding the own goal

Euro 2016 may now be a distant memory but watching the different styles of football managers – from Didier Deschamps and Joachim Löw to Antonio Conte – was strangely reminiscent of travel management.

There are different objectives in football management – avoiding relegation, promotion, financial health. The same is true in corporate travel management. Just like travel managers, football managers must adjust their strategies to achieve their owners’ – or countries – priorities.

Avoiding the own goal

Football managers set KPIs – reaching the next round of a Cup competition, European qualification, clean sheets. So do travel managers.

But how many times have football fans and finance directors witnessed all the conventional rules of best practice being observed but the ultimate goal still not being achieved? The key to identifying the right management strategy is understanding the priorities and identifying the desired outcomes.

The tactics will follow.

What determines the appropriate travel management strategy?

1. Company culture

Some companies think of travel as a commodity and therefore the travel manager’s priority will be to manage, i.e. lower, its cost. Others see travel as an investment, an essential input to further the business. In the former case, travel is often treated more operationally and the objective is to ensure efficient and cost-effective booking and delivery. In the latter case, travel is looked at more holistically and traveller productivity and welfare come into the decision-making mix. The holistic approach is less likely to have a single procurement or operational person in charge but more likely to include cross-departmental input from, say, HR or risk teams.

2. Company cycle

The objective may change not just from company to company but from time to time within the same company. For example, a procurement specialist may be required during supplier RFP season or when a new TMC (Travel Management Company) is being sourced. But there will also be times when contracts are all in place and a different person and approach are needed – perhaps a chief booker who empathises with the needs and concerns of travellers. Few companies can dedicate someone in procurement to work full-time on travel so most follow a hybrid approach.

3. Company health

Just as with a string of losses which can leave a football club in the relegation zone, there is nothing like falling profits to make finance directors focus on results – and costs. When cost control becomes paramount traveller welfare starts to sound like a ‘nice-to-have’ and management begins to focus more on cost saving measures from advance booking to policy compliance. A TMC with extensive online capabilities such as Egencia can be invaluable if a travel manager needs to adopt a new strategy to achieve cost savings. Not only can it provide easy-to-access and comprehensive travel spend data to help corporates identify potential savings but it offers extensive hotel content which maximises the opportunity to book accommodation that suits both the traveller and the travel budget.

4. Company focus

Company culture and/or strategy may very well evolve enough to warrant someone with different skills or experience. For example, in these politically uncertain times, a knowledge of risk management can be highly prized. Likewise, in larger companies, the value of knowing and understanding the specifics of the travel market is yielding to the knowledge of data and IT developments.

5. External factors

Barbara Cole, an Egencia Corporate Account Manager, cites the example of the oil and gas industry to illustrate how travel needs can change. She says, “A year ago the oil and gas industry [was characterised by] very loose and liberal policies. Travel policies now have to be much more restrictive and managers are looking much more at numbers. And rather than looking yearly or even half-yearly, they’re looking quarterly and looking at hotel and air deals much more because money really matters to them now.”

The tactics

Just as is the case with football managers, the scope of the challenge will affect the style of management needed.

Some management tools, such as a structure which will be viable in the long-term and a positive attitude, will always be needed.

A management structure should also take into account the needs of different interest groups within an organisation. Finance directors may focus on the numbers but travellers will be aware of service levels and the effect of different travel and booking options on their productivity and well-being. HR will be interested in safety, IT in the platforms employed.

In the end, England’s Roy Hodgson failed because he was unable to manage the expectations and needs of different interest groups.

All managers, whether of football or business, need to have a passion to do the job and do it well. And travel is no different.