Department heads at my company are constantly told to be innovative. But being early with travel technology tools and start-up companies is risky, and I am concerned about balancing innovation against protecting service levels and avoiding disrupting my travelers. Is it better to take chances by agreeing to pilot new technologies—assuming some but not all will work out? Or better to play it safe, wait for proof of concept from other implementations and consider innovating once all the kinks have been worked out by someone else? I’m struggling, because I want to advance my career and improve performance reviews, but I have a fear of failure.
Better Safe Than Sorry?
Dear Better Safe:
I hear you—well, I read you—but I disagree that the biggest risk you face when playing it safe is a lukewarm performance review. The real risk in being overly conservative is that your program becomes antiquated, your personal brand gets stale and your career stalls—and very quickly you get pigeonholed as a one-dimensional, maintenance-only travel manager.
One of my favorite quotes is “leap and the net will appear.” And I can tell you that with a lot of hard work before the leap, this approach has served me well. I always want to be on the “bleeding edge” in part because it’s good for me—for my brain, my reputation, my career.
But that’s not the only reason I’m willing to take smart risks. Being an early adopter actually makes me feel safer—more protected from failure—because there’s stronger chance that a vendor will respond to me early in a product life cycle than later. What I’m saying is, being an early adopter also means being an early influencer, which makes it more likely that I’m going to get the needs of my company met. And who doesn’t want that?
I suggest three things for any would-be innovator:
- Ensure that you have the support and buy-in of your leaders—and that they understand both the “art of the possible” and the potential inconveniences that could occur.
- Develop a strong relationship with the vendor so that they understand your expectations of them relative to open communication and accountability.
- Do your homework. That is, develop a detailed plan and communication strategy by leveraging vendor, team, and internal IT resources.
You don’t have to be a technology expert or the smartest person in the room to do this—in my case, I have never been either of these things. What has served me well, however, is to prepare and bring my team and internal clients along with me. If you do that, they can’t help but be invested in your success.
In my opinion, travel managers have a unique and continual opportunity to evolve how they are seen by leveraging transferable skills. Taking risks for the sake of innovation is just one way to optimize your impact and showcase many of the talents most travel managers possess.
Michelle “Mick” Lee, founder of ARROW212 and WINiT for Women, is 25+ year corporate buyer.
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