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…and banish he hidden cost of disempowerment

I often find it interesting to hear the arguments for traditional sliced up processes against modern self service processes. Most notably when it comes to travel planning and booking, where the traditional argument suggests “hidden costs” in empowering employees. I firmly believe that these are far outweighed by the hidden savings, if you are using a state of the art solution like Concur Travel.

And who wouldn’t prefer hidden savings for a change, when everybody is always complaining about hidden cost everywhere?

The “hidden costs” myth

But let’s start at the beginning. What are these alleged “hidden costs” which count as an argument against using an integrated booking engine like Concur Travel in a process where;

  • Employees can pick their own travel arrangements guided by a tool that “knows” the travel policy.
  • Workflows can decide when approval is required and makes sure the necessary people are informed.
  • Travel booking is fully integrated with expense analytics, making the whole process transparent and efficient.
  • Integration with vendors and further services drives further efficiencies in the admin process and makes traveling easier for employees.

We don’t want highly paid employees to surf airline websites all days for the best offers”

That’s the first line that you usually hear for all kind of self services, and in travel management especially I learn that employees can’t deal with the complexity of picking flights and hotels, then spending far more time on various websites than assistants or travel teams would. Often followed by complaints about travelers;

  • not being responsible regarding their choices, because they make them based on their frequent traveler programmes
  • not understanding why booking inflexible flights can be far more expensive
  • … you name it

Disempowered_Employee_iStock_000015201782_SmallI usually do not ask the question I have in my mind at that time: “So these are the engineers you are sending out to advise your customers on multi million projects, your sales managers designing 6 and 7 digit deals, and your C-level team?”. Instead, I contemplate the poster on the wall of the meeting room which reads “Leadership Means Empowering People“, suppress a chuckle and think of a softer response.  After all, these behaviours have been ingrained for a long time and there are real fears for job losses involved. We also must appreciate that travel managers or assistants saying that have been taught that way and probably take great pride in doing a really good job within the organisational and technical framework they’ve been given.

Driving out the “hidden cost”

So, is there a hidden cost? Well, the time travelers spend to plan their own trips is not for free. However, if you give them the right tools, it is by far more effective than anyone caught up in old world thinking can imagine:

  • The Concur booking engine allows travelers to access all allowed airlines, hotels and many ground transport providers in one portal – no need to navigate various websites to search and compare.
  • Policies and workflows make sure that the selection they make is within policy and actually possible, avoiding a game of ping pong between traveler and arranger with the approving line manager caught between the 2 fronts.
  • The tool makes it very clear not only to the traveler, but also to the approver and anybody using the analytics, if the cheapest option is not chosen. Up to the point where picking relatively too expensive options can be blocked.
  • The system as well as travel team (on reduced size – sorry) can educate travelers to make smart choices rather than working based on the assumption that they are stupid or irresponsible.
  • For those few cases where the traveler needs help with more complex trips, they can still call the travel agent or the internal travel arranger. In the majority of cases they probably won’t need it, and in many cases they will even know the options better than anybody else because they make the same trip quite often.

Disempowered employee

Example

I have a customer in the South of Germany where I don't have an airport close by, but a choice of 4 airports in the region, where I can take a rental car and be there within 2 hours or less. Apart from cost, the best choice depends on:

  • time I have to arrive at / can leave customer site
  • rental car foreign-country return fees, if I fly into Switzerland and out of Germany
  • expected traffic situation (rush hour, likelihood of snow)
  • whether a colleague from our German office joins me, as he's driving and can pick me up at only one of these airports
  • which London airport I have to leave from

I daresay after a few trips plus the benefit of local knowledge I get through tips from the customer, I can make better choices than most UK based travel agents could and with Concur Travel I'm also very efficient.

So the hidden cost of empowerment may have been there in the past, but if it’s still around in your organisation, well, your system and processes are just not up to date.

The hidden cost of disempowerment is always there: disempowered people who get a clear message that taking responsibility and independent thinking are not encouraged.

Myth busted. Now to the hidden savings

But I was suggesting that using self service through a solution like Concur even has hidden savings. How’s that? It’s the power of context plus the power of getting it right first time.

Usually you are the one who knows the context of your own trip best. You know amongst other things:

  • which are the best options for starting and ending the trip (home, office, other meeting) and the flexibility you have
  • the importance of the meeting and therefore the contingency you’d like to plan with to make sure you are in time
  • the flexibility in the timing and location of the meeting to accommodate cheaper or faster travel options
  • the flexibility you have with with timing of start and end of your journey
  • options to combine your trip with other activities

If you just make a typical trip request ending up with a travel agent or internal arranger, you set reasonably narrow boundaries and unless it’s not possible within policy, that’s what will be booked (and if it’s out of policy or the arranger does point out other options, then you have a very inefficient back and forth possibly bothering your approving line manager as well as yourself and the arranger).

The Power of Contextual Knowledge

So, this is the opportunity for savings that no report would point out to you after the event. Unless you go for the empowered approach, the central travel arrangers will always claim they saved you time searching and got the best deals. Neither they nor the analytics tools will ever know that they will often have created extra cost and extra travel time for you.

There’s quite a bunch of opportunities for hidden savings;

  • You spot a very cheap flight from a more convenient airport and you call the person you meet to check, whether the meeting could be moved forward by an hour.
  • You realise that using a different airport on your way back allows you to meet a colleague from another office saving time on several ends.
  • Landing at 1pm on your return would usually mean you go back to the office and would use the airport closest to that. However, you spot a much cheaper flight to an airport further out and decide you can pick that one and go straight home from there, because you have work you can do from home just as well.
  • You call the person you meet asking to move back for an hour, because available flights would otherwise force you to travel the night before and get a hotel.
  • You see a much cheaper flight that takes you to your conference an hour late and you think “Is that key note speech really worth 300 pounds?”.
  • … the options are almost endless, but will only become apparent in each case if you are in the driver’s seat.

Be pro-active

You can easily take it one step further: be proactive about it, achieve even more hidden savings – and call it ‘integrated planning’, if you like a fancy name.

When I arrange a meeting, I often check the travel options in Concur while or before arranging the meeting time. This means I can already try to agree an appointment that minimises waste of travel time and cost without having to call later to move the meeting around. Sure, some meetings can’t be changed, but believe me: many can. And the savings you miss here because of your centralised process, will never come up in a report. That’s why they are “hidden”.

Management Decision needed

hidden_treasure_iStock_000015704786_Medium.png

So, you’ve got the treasure map on your screen now – are you setting of to find it?

It needs a real management decision to go after these hidden savings and to become a 21st century organisation with an empowered workforce on top of the obvious savings (agency booking fees, travel team, integration, analytics). Looking at it from a different perspective: all those missed savings are hidden cost of dis-empowerment.

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