One of the more challenging situations for travel buyers is when their organization is growing through a merger or acquisition, which means that suddenly there can be a multitude of different travel policies, programs and suppliers for a buyer to try to consolidate.
“Just because your company has taken over another firm, that doesn’t mean you should just impose your policy and program on the new acquisition and their travelers,” says one travel buyer who’s experienced the takeover scenario. “You need to understand their policy and program, and how it works for them in terms of the suppliers they use and their overall travel patterns.
“These things can take time, but it’s always worth talking to people before making any firm decisions – if you act in haste without proper consultation, you could cause some issues down the road with a program that’s not working across the whole expanded business.”
So how do buyers prepare for such circumstances? Louise Kilgannon, an associate at consultancy Festive Road and former buyer for pharma giant Astrazeneca, advises: “It’s crucial to stay “agile” because “change will come” at some point. She adds: “Develop a rigorous way of prioritizing projects and be quick to reassess if criteria changes. Most travel programs are a balance of employee satisfaction, safety and savings. At any point, the focus can change from one to another so look at how you can plan for future scenarios.”
Yves Galimidi, veteran former travel buyer and now owner of YG Business Travel, Meetings & Mobility Solutions, suggests: “Create a “travel process council” that can meet every three months – either in person or as a ‘virtual’ meeting – to manage any changes that need to be made to travel policies and programs during mergers, acquisitions and other major developments within an organization.
“All main stakeholders should be represented – travel management, procurement, HR, IT, CSR, finance, corporate finance and communications. The council will be very helpful to share respective business plans and relevant information,” he says. “Buyers will also be able to use the council as a buy-in or green-light step for all projects and make sure that financials and resources will always be there.”
While it may be tempting to concentrate mainly on senior management when trying to ensure the travel department is ‘singing from the same hymn book’ as the rest of the organization, there also needs to be a focus on communicating with travelers and travel arrangers individually so they can also ‘buy in’ to the overall corporate strategy.
Beth Sarmiento, travel and HR compliance manager at payment technology provider TSYS, agrees: “It’s important to talk to travelers and have an ongoing conversation with them. Having a discussion helps them to understand why we make changes and it doesn’t just come out of the blue. The conversation gives them some justification for these decisions.”
This range of communication includes internal email updates, drop-in sessions for travelers, and even a ‘mini-expo’ where employees can meet some of the company’s main travel suppliers.
“This helps people to know that travel is a managed business area – it’s not just something people book,” adds Sarmiento. “They know that somebody is looking at it and looking after them. It’s not a forgotten element in the business. Out-of-policy bookings are managed – travellers are approached if they booked out of policy to find out why. Often there are good reasons why they do this and we want to understand that.”
Galimidi believes that the best way to ensure that newly-added travelers follow policy is to make it mandatory for them while illustrating the benefits of booking in-policy, such as receiving extra ‘value contribution’ services from suppliers that make their journeys easier, make them more productive or save them time.
He adds: “We all know this is a very challenging process sometimes. In my opinion, a travel policy must always be mandatory. But buyers and travel managers should identify ways to increase, as much as possible, their traveler satisfaction levels.”
Top tips for aligning travel policies within merging organizations:
- Establish regular lines of communication with major departments and cost centers within both organizations including finance, IT, human resources and communications.
- Try to identify and cultivate an ‘executive sponsor’ within the new partner who can report the travel buyer’s opinions and concerns to their senior management when strategy is evolving.
- Engage travelers and travel arrangers with regular internal communications including email updates and newsletters as well as holding occasional conference calls where they can share concerns or issues about travel policy or suppliers.
- Travel creates a huge amount of rich data that can be used to showcase the impact of changes in company direction – this can be a powerful tool to make a buyer’s case for resources to senior management.
- Data can also be used to show travelers why travel policy has been changed – it may not placate them completely if you have to make an unpopular change, but it can illustrate through hard facts why the organization is making the move.
- Categorize your travelers based on how often they are on the road – communicate more regularly with your “road warriors” as securing their ‘buy in’ is vital during times of corporate change.
A corporate merger or acquisition is a great opportunity for the travel buyer to show their true value to their employer and come out of the shadows of more prominent corporate departments, by successfully managing these transitional periods.
“This is how you move from being your company’s designated ‘travel person’ to being a leader within your organization,” says Kilgannon. “Often travel managers complain that important decisions were made without their input. If you align with company goals, have a strong executive sponsor and have a structured program of stakeholder engagement, this should not happen.”
Teplis Travel has decades of experience providing corporate travel management to firms going through a merger. Our communication experts will help you onboard new travelers and ease their transition to a new program. To find out more about our business travel services call (800) 669-6547 or email us at [email protected].