Your business travelers aren’t mind readers. Yet, according to a study conducted by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and HRS Global Hotel Solutions about how travel policies are conveyed, it seems they need to possess that superpower at some companies.
The report, “Travel Policy Communication: Understanding Disconnects and Increasing Compliance,” shows a significant gap between managers believing their employees are using approved booking channels to make arrangements for flights (90 percent) and rental cars (81 percent) and what business travelers actually are doing (63 percent and 57 percent, respectively).
The GBTA-HRS study also revealed that while half of travel managers say they hold in-person meetings to educate their staff on policy, only 20 percent of travelers said their policies had been explained in-person.
As Kate Vasiloff, GBTA Foundation director of research, concluded from the study’s findings: “It is not a lack of desire or willingness to follow company guidelines that drives out-of-policy booking; it is a lack of understanding caused by a breakdown in communication between the travel professionals and the traveler.”
So if you find your own travelers repeatedly booking outside the proper channels or outside your preferred vendors, it may be more about you, not them.
But don’t sweat it. Here are some tips to improve the communication flow and, as a result, boost compliance and provide greater protection for your travelers.
The message itself
The key to having your employees embrace company rules when booking trips? Having a policy that is simple, clear, straight to the point, and doesn’t require them to reach for a legal dictionary to grasp the terms and conditions. It should be comprehensive — covering such topics as bookings, preferred vendors and suppliers, spend limits, and penalties for noncompliance — yet at the same time not be so long-winded that those reading it want to quit midway. More and more, simplicity is the key, and companies are moving away from overcomplicated policies.
Of course, one thing you definitely want to include is the policy’s objectives. And don’t make it only about the company’s bottom line; stress the importance of your travelers’ comfort and well-being.
Delivering the message
Your entire travel policy should be easily accessible to your employees, whether it’s part of a handbook given to each new hire on their first day or has a permanent home on your company’s intranet page that can be accessed by employees when outside the office and on the road.
But, don’t just stop there. Cover your bases by distributing the information in various forms, including targeted emails, interoffice newsletters, and mobile messages. (By the way, the Amex GBT Mobile app by American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) makes it simple for travel managers to push compliance reminders to travelers.)
Because it’s easy to ignore emails with “travel policy” in the subject line if other similar memos are clogging up an inbox, be sure whatever communication you send out only goes to a targeted list of travelers who need that information at that point.
And don’t forget about face-to-face meetings. They’re definitely worthwhile, providing you with an opportunity to clarify top policy points and emphasize the importance of compliance. In a group setting, employees also can benefit hearing what questions and concerns their colleagues have that they may not have thought of themselves. After a meeting, send a follow-up email recapping key policies discussed.
The weight of your words
When drafting and crafting your communications, reflect on your tone and language.
You don’t want to come across as some parent scolding their misbehaving child when there is a breach of policy. Rather, provide constructive feedback that clearly outlines steps to take in the future and focus on the benefits of compliance.
Every so often, review communications you have sent out in the past to see how you might refine your message and improve the way you convey your point.
Know your audience
As the GBTA-HRS report also indicated, there is no one-size-fits-all communications approach that works in all offices; regional and demographic differences do exist.
For example, the study revealed that Europeans have a stronger preference for email and an intranet site for communicating travel policy while their American counterparts are more accustomed to an employee handbook. And, a bit surprisingly, the study found that more than half of millennials prefer to learn about company policies at an in-person meeting—probably because they are the new kids around the office and are seeking a more detailed briefing. So, take this all into account when mapping out your own communication strategies.
Once you’ve hit “send” on a well-crafted email outlining policy guidelines or led a productive meeting filled with a lot of back-and-forth interaction, your job isn’t done. Travel policies will change; new employees will come, and the repeat offenders will fall back into their old, noncompliant habits. So, there needs to be ongoing education and review—even for seasoned travelers who’ve been around the world and back—as you introduce new concepts, reinforce old ones, and continue driving compliant behavior.
You want to strive for balance, putting the message in front of employees enough so they know that compliance is important and expected, yet not bombard them so much that they develop travel policy fatigue and start tuning you out.
One nice option may be to create an internal social media network to facilitate conversations not only between you and the employees but also among themselves.
Business travelers can share tips about destinations, their experiences, and even perhaps answer some of the oft-asked questions you usually get yourself.
Communication is a two-way street
Because it is so much easier to spur compliance when it’s viewed as a collaborative effort rather than a top-down directive, the focus also should be on employee engagement and fostering an environment where staffers feel included in the process and comfortable to offer their honest feedback.
Demonstrate to your employees that their travel experiences matter by having them provide post-trip feedback via an email or more formally with a survey. Have them identify what made their trip run smoothly as well as some pain points. Both sets of answers will prove instrumental as you continue tweaking your program.
If insight from an employee is the inspiration for a change in the policy, be sure to thank them and let them know about their valuable contribution.
Want to learn more about how best to communicate with your business travelers to drive compliance and be more transparent? Download a recording of the “Leveraging Transparency For A Better Travel Program” webinar, which was hosted by American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) and ACTE and moderated by Colin Temple, vice president and general manager of American Express GBT. Just register here to receive your download.