Companies we speak to at Rocketrip have many goals for their travel programs, from cutting costs to increasing online booking tool adoption. Of course, achieving these goals can’t come at the cost of employee satisfaction. Business travel is increasingly a driver of talent acquisition and retention, as well as employee engagement on the whole.
Instead of adding more rules, managers need to encourage employees to align their individual travel decisions with company goals. The challenge is to make the “good” choice seem easier and more appealing at the moment of decision.
This challenge is central to behavioral economics. Though the discipline extends to wide-ranging questions such as how to curb smoking habits or encourage recycling, it is commonly applied to new research on workplace behavior and management.
If you manage travel at your organization, you can take advantage of this burgeoning science by breaking down traveler behavior into a series of choices. Not only can those choices then be optimized, but that can be done in a way which thrills and delights travelers.
In this blog post, we’ll teach you how to design such a behavioral intervention with the D.R.I.V.E. format.
Nudging in the right direction
In their book Nudge, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein point out that we make dozens of choices every day, from what we wear and eat to how much we spend on a new car. Employee travel decisions also represent a series of choices and, like all choices, they’re influenced by internal and external environments.
Anchoring, the peak-end rule, and loss aversion are all heuristics that affect these decisions. To learn more about these heuristics and how environment changes decision making, check out our Guide to Behavioral Economics for Travel Managers.
Until recently, these principles were well-known among academics, but the corporate world either wasn’t aware of them or didn’t know how to apply them. In 2018, Torben Emmerling developed the practical D.R.I.V.E. framework to apply behavioral economics in organizational settings. D.R.I.V.E. consists of five steps, framed in language that will be familiar to corporate executives:
- Define the target
- Research current actual behaviors
- Identify scientifically demonstrated ways to nudge decision-making
- Validate these interventions to see if they achieve the desired effect
- Execute the interventions throughout the organization after they are validated
How can D.R.I.V.E. help companies manage business travel?
When optimizing for goals such as reduced spending or online booking tool adoption, it’s important to realize that those behaviors are each actually a series of individual decisions. By influencing the way employees make these decisions on a day-to-day basis, you can expect to achieve significant change over time.
To explain how the D.R.I.V.E. framework accomplishes this, we will walk through steps one by one. We will focus on one desired travel decision: online booking tool (OBT) adoption.
As a first step, you need to define your end goal. This should be a specific action or actions you want employees to take. You should also choose a small subsection of employees on whom to test the intervention. Map out all the choices these employees make throughout their booking process. In the case of OBT adoption, the choice in question is whether to use an OBT, book over the phone with a travel agent, or book on the open market.
Most companies prefer employees to use their OBT because it automatically tracks expenses, vendor choices, and employee locations. This gives travel managers more control over their programs, helps them document important metrics, and improves duty of care. Therefore, successful interventions to motivate use of OBT will have a significant payoff for the organization.
The next step after defining the goal is to research the way employees make choices now. For instance, what user experience issues do they face with OBTs? Is there a multi-step login process where one mistake means starting over? What happens prior to booking travel that may influence their decision making, perhaps leaving them feeling hurried or fatigued? Are they reminded of all their options at the time of their decision?
After specifying which behaviors to change and identifying current influences on those behaviors, the next step is to brainstorm ways to influence decisions — i.e., interventions.
This step can be the most creative yet the most challenging. Emmerling asserts, “It is critical to only use interventions that have been thoroughly researched in sound academic studies.” It isn’t always practical for busy professionals to hunt for an ivory-tower-approved solution, but searching online to see how others have attacked similar problems can’t hurt.
Your intervention should be designed on three levels: behavior, cognition and action.
At the behavioral level, ask, “What intervention will trigger desired behaviors and associate them with rewards?” To motivate OBT adoption, a behavioral intervention might involve a rewards program.
On the cognitive level, try to cut down the level of effort and thought required to complete the desired behavior. Any improvements you can make to the user experience of your OBT will accomplish this. For example, Rocketrip has a recommendation feature to surface the most attractive airfare and hotel accommodations for travelers. This way, the barrier of a long and arduous search is removed.
All too often, companies create interventions but never measure their success after implementation. The D.R.I.V.E. system emphasizes the need to review each intervention systematically and rigorously.
This step requires planning. Here’s where being rigorous in step one pays off. By now, you should know your goal and the best metric for measuring your goal. At this point, you should ask examine that metric from before and after the intervention.
Of course, there are some additional questions you can ask yourself: With multiple interventions, how do you isolate the effect of each intervention? How do you recognize which changes occur due to the intervention and which could be due to chance or the passage of time? A change might also be attributed to changes in travel destinations, new departmental management, or even the season.
Finally, you can move your intervention beyond the small group that was the target of your experiment. This means applying your findings across departments and even divisions. As Emmerling warns, however, your company should continue to monitor the results and also be on the lookout for additional interventions.
Establishing travel guidelines will always be challenging to companies, especially given concerns with retention and engagement. Choosing interventions to influence decision-making will depend on each organization’s industry and culture. Those who motivate employees to make decisions aligned with corporate goals will gain an advantage over those who attempt to mandate draconian policies from above.
Understanding the decision making process is no longer the exclusive province of organizational psychologists. Through behavioral economics, managers can be equipped with tools for change. Frameworks like D.R.I.V.E. introduce these changes in an actionable and realistic way for you and your company.