Identify Your Highest-Potential Employees: Hit the Road
It’s estimated that American workers take an average of 12 to 14 business trips per year. Some jobs mean you’re a constant road warrior, where for others it’s maybe once a quarter, or a few times a year.
While there are usually some perks that accompany business travel, a majority of it can be stressful, mundane, or downright depressing. It is, however, a really great opportunity to get to know who you are working with.
For about three years I was on the road domestically for work for around 75% of the time, flying and driving long-distance alongside coworkers of all ages.
We went to the biggest of cities to middle-of-nowhere towns, and as a result, usually spent more of our lives with our coworkers than without them.
We all have stories that range from horrifying to hilarious about our travel adventures with colleagues and our teams. There are even legendary tales that I wasn’t around for, but were passed down from prior generations (I like to tell myself that they’re true).
These interactions we have while traveling for work are some of the most organic we’ll ever have with our teams. Over time, these experiences can cause you to view some people’s potential differently from others.
Here are a few crucial competencies that common business travel scenarios can help reveal.
Coping With High-Stress Situations
Friday, 5pm. Your flight is delayed another 30 minutes, then another 30, then indefinitely. *or* You’re driving along a country road, when a tire explodes. *or* You finally get to your client, and someone forgot the presentation.
If your coworker or team member does their best to retain composure in a tough situation out of the office and make the best of it, you can bet they’ll do the same back in the office.
Working Within Ambiguity
The group said they’d do dinner, but one was never really set. *or* You may need to go back on a later flight. *or* The hotel everyone else booked earlier is now full.
The ability to communicate and find the information they need shows resourcefulness, and an understanding that they will probably never have full clarity or all the inputs on every situation.
Ability to Multitask
Using a long car ride to talk through a problem you need to solve. *or* Chatting with guests in attendance to learn more about the company. *or* Using your flight time to complete administrative tasks.
There will be times on trips where your team can’t have their laptops out on a desk in a silent room to get work done. Taking advantage of the situation they’re in to make progress shows that they aren’t limited to the comfort and convenience of the office — literally working outside their comfort zone.
Showing up at 8:50 for your team’s 9:00 departure. *or* Pulling the car around front of the hotel for your team so they can leave on time. *or* Sending a completed report earlier than promised so the team can have extra time to review.
My personal belief is that if you’re on time, you’re late. Super old-school and super binary, to be sure, but I still normally go with it.
Someone who is ready to go when everyone else is shows that they respect the team’s time and can get themselves together early enough to make it. If they approach deadlines seriously on the road, they will likely do the same at other times.
Heading back early to work out or get some sleep. *or* Opting out of the team dinner to talk to family or meet with friends. *or* Finding a local group fitness class and inviting your team to come with.
This one is especially true for jobs with constant travel. Knowing when to take a moment for themselves shows that they know their worth, and are confident in doing what they need to have a productive tomorrow.
Sending a schedule or agenda out to the team ahead of time. *or* Submitting expense reports and booking travel in a timely manner. *or* Ability to navigate airports, car rentals, hotels, etc.
These seemingly basic things are so important for success on the road, and many of them come with time and experience. Having these skills will translate directly down the road for promotions or other leadership opportunities.
Watching out for your coworkers and trying to prevent them from something regrettable. *or* Sitting in the backseat if you know it makes someone else carsick. *or* Waiting for your team to all get off the plane before departing.
In my opinion, teamwork demonstrates someone’s overall character. It indicates that they are thoughtful, humble, and want to make sure everyone has a positive experience.
These are critical leadership traits — watch for the person who consistently shows teamwork. It’s the toughest to teach, but perhaps the most important out of all of these.
To sum it up, business travel isn’t just about platinum status and upgrade lists. It’s about taking someone out of their element and seeing how they respond.
My personal business travel rock bottom was when the Albuquerque hotel I frequented started calling me by name, and automatically giving me my “favorite room” upon check-in.
While I don’t miss the drama of long drives and hot flights, I did enjoy the time I had with my colleagues, and those who I learned from along the way.
Work trips are always going to be great opportunities to see who I’m really working with — and you can easily do the same.