When implementing a new travel management company (TMC) there needs to be engagement from all sides, from internal and external stakeholders and from buyers and suppliers. However, for many, the tender process is the start and finish of a change management process — the change from one supplier to another; after that it is often seen as the responsibility of the newly appointed TMC to implement the agreed solution which can vary hugely from the previous solution by including new online booking solutions, a new travel policy, approval process and even new payment terms all of which impact both internal and external stakeholders. I would argue that this approach is set for failure.
The tender process should be seen as just one of many steps in the process of change management. Working within a global environment, I have seen the full spectrum from best case to worst case scenarios. I remember being awarded the contract for a new client, only to be told the next step was for us, as the TMC, to go on a round the world road show and communicate the decision to their offices and explain why they should change. No prizes for guessing how that ended.
I am passionate about change management and I wanted to share my experience and learnings to make the process easier for everyone.
Whether you're considering a small change to your local TMC, the introduction of a regional programme or a global change of TMC it is common to face resistance from different levels and in turn as the driver of change, you may feel uneasy and intimidated by the scale of the challenge.
You know that the change needs to happen, but you don't really know how to go about delivering it. Where do you start? Who do you involve? How do you see it through to the end?
An organisational change
Stripped back to the bones a TMC implementation is an organisational change and any organisational change require a change management process. This process must be thought through strategically and all stakeholders must be considered and included as necessary. The process must also have a defined and measurable target whether that is savings achieved, an increased online adoption rate or even simply improved traveller satisfaction.
There are many theories of change management ranging from simplistic to hugely complex; however, they all have one thing in common — communication.
In 1995, John Kotter released an eight-step change management plan, covering the initial planning stages of creating a need, through delivering the solution, all the way to reinforcing the change. The key message from the model was that 'clear and consistent communication is essential at every one of the eight steps to guarantee effective change management'.
So, what does this mean? Who, how and what do you need to communicate to?
Broadly speaking there are two key groups in the equation — internal stakeholders and external stakeholders. Internal stakeholders include employees (travellers, bookers, road warriors), managers, political influencers, owners and board of directors. External stakeholders include suppliers, customers, shareholders, society, creditors and government. Each of the stakeholders have their own needs and each require a different form of communication.
For external stakeholders there is certainly a need to communicate to the TMC during stage one and two of the change management process to ensure they understand your objectives and then through the remaining stages to ensure your vision is realised. Other suppliers such at hotels and airlines need to be communicated to when the change is being made. However, for deep penetration within the organisation and for change to be enduring, the focus needs to be on effective communication with internal stakeholders.
The first step in managing change is to build awareness around the 'need for change' and creating a desire for this change among internal stakeholders. Therefore, initial communications need to create awareness around the business reasons for change and the risk of not changing. Likewise, at each step in the process, communications should be designed to share the right messages at the right time. In a regional or global change this means communication and engagement on a country level with key personnel such as heads of department and budget holders to ensure buy-in, to ensure that they understand the vision, the need and benefits. They in turn become advocates, remove obstacles (step five) and help reinforce the vision (step eight) through communicating with their team. In a best case scenario, country level personnel should be included and communicated to during every stage of planning, decision making and implementing.
Repeat your messages
Many people assume that if they communicate clearly with internal stakeholders, their job is complete. However, there are many reasons why internal stakeholders may not hear or understand the context of what is being communicated the first time around. Internal communications have strong competition from other day-to-day communications within the company, so you need to communicate frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do. Typically messages need to be repeated six to seven times before they are cemented into the minds of internal stakeholders. That is because the readiness of change for each internal stakeholder depends on many factors. Effective communicators carefully consider three components: the audience, what is said and when it is said.
Communication planning, therefore, begins with a careful analysis of the audiences, key messages and the timing for those messages. The project leaders must design a communication plan that addresses the needs of all internal stakeholders. Each audience has particular needs for information based on their role in the implementation of the change and the way it will impact them.
Taking into account the eight-stage model, communication needs to occur at each and every stage. You can't simply call a special meeting to communicate your vision. Instead, you need to talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. Constantly communicating the message in different ways, using different mediums. When you keep it fresh on everyone's minds, they'll remember it and respond to it.
Action plan for success
- Engage with all internal stakeholders, in every location throughout the process. Listen to people's opinions and make them feel involved and talk about your change vision
- Openly and honestly address peoples' concerns and anxieties. This is vital when trying to address change across multiple countries with different cultural norms regarding current expectations of a service and differing communications methodologies
- Lead by example. It's important to 'walk the talk'. What you do is far more important — and believable — than what you say. Demonstrate the kind of behaviour that you want from others
- Choose suppliers that can support you in your vision and change management activity. TMCs should have a detailed implementation and communication plan, together with materials to assist you in the communication process
- Never underestimate the value of a face-to-face kick-off meeting with your core team and your key supplier team as this will enable you to communicate clearly the objectives and support required and will establish the new working relationships for your project delivery
- Consider who is communicating, reinforcement from above can be beneficial so 'C' level communication to reinforce the need for change
- When responding to and de-coding communications, some people have a natural preference for verbal messaging and others have a natural preference for non-verbal messaging, so any communication plan needs to use a mixture of techniques
- If communication is really going to be communication — a two-way process — then the sender has to pay close attention to feedback
No two implementations are the same and similarly, no two clients are the same. But by following the eight stages, continuously communicating and having the flexibility to ensure the travel programme is suitable in all locations and making local changes where required, many obstacles can be overcome. By having the client and TMC working together as a team, you'll be leading by example and increasing end-users buy-in which will lead to the success of your travel programme.