For a business, knowledge is the asset of intellectual capital. Professional relationships outside a company but in related firms and fields, is the asset of network capital. Both of these assets are very easily invested in every single day without most firms realizing it, and because they don’t realize it, they don’t capitalize on it.
How so? These gains can be very easily achieved when you have staff out on the road on business travel.
Business travel is a ‘twofer’ sort of thing, where you get two for the price of one. There’s the point of the trip itself, but then there’s way more to be gained from the opportunities which travel provides, and not just for the traveler. The traveler becomes the ticket.
When I was the boss approving travel budgets I was very liberal with those allocations; I considered them part of my Staff Training and Education budgets. And since I considered them a kind of mobile schooling, my travelers were given homework. No written reports; I wasn’t interested in creating more work like some Scrooge wanting to get the very most out of my money. Further, I wanted people to relish their travel opportunities, and not consider them a necessary evil. The homework was simply that they had to bring back those two assets I mentioned in the beginning, and share them with the rest of us who had been left behind to hold up the fort. Depart a traveler, return a teacher and a connector.
Homework Assignment 1: For Knowledge and Intellectual Capital.
Tell the rest of us what you learned while you were gone. Teach it to us as best you can without our having the same sensory experience.
Homework Assignment 2: For Relationship and Network Capital.
Show off those business cards you collected, and tell us about the people you met. What do they do, and how will you be following up with them to strengthen the connection? Who else in our company can you introduce them to?
My travelers became very creative with this. They got to be fairly competitive about it too, but in a way that was very healthy for the knowledge and network base of the organization. They started taking pictures, so they could ‘show and tell’ in our staff meetings, but their photos weren’t of cityscapes and monuments; they tried to create that ‘sensory experience’ I’d asked about in the learning itself. My retailers took pictures of attractive shop windows and unusual visual merchandising displays. My golf pros took pictures at tournaments to help explain tricks with gallery control to their staff for our next tournament. All those trade magazines and brochures previously thought of as old news once they’d read them, were no longer chucked in hotel room trashcans. Instead, they came home in flat rate shipping boxes so they could be passed out to everyone else in their department, simply to share a greater awareness of the amount of choice in the industries we operated our own business in, or to stimulate more question and dialogue for us about market trends and breaking ideas.
On the networking side, they quickly found out the benefit of being gracious hosts, for they would invite their new connections to visit our company when we were next on their travel itineraries. When trips repeated to the same cities, or my travelers attended annual conventions, we now had a growing professional network with whom we could magnify our previous opportunities and build on them. Through others, we gained new clients or accolades about our aloha spirit, our products and services; highly valuable word-of-mouth advertising we never would have otherwise enjoyed.
This concept of smart homework for travel worked so well for us, that I’ve even applied the same thought process to the travel we do as a family on our personal vacations. It’s less specific, however it amounts to the same thing: We do things a bit out of our comfort zone, with the attitude that we’d never do the same things at home, learning something new along the way. We don’t keep to ourselves as much as before. We talk to, engage with, and meet many more people; we’ve learned to be more gregarious and social.
You can expand your own thinking about this when you consider travel to be any thing out of the office, but theoretically still ‘on the clock.’ How about all those association luncheons and trade shows you go to right in your own back yard? What is the intellectual capital and network capital you get out of them, and what are you bringing back for those with whom you work? Do they silently resent or envy your mobility, or are they grateful they have you as the company connector? Something to think about.
Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business
Previous Thursday Column: When Does Great Service Happen?