I am writing this while I have been traveling with Omar. Travel is an important part of our jobs – whether it is in your own countries or to overseas locations. While technology has changed the frequency of travel, there is still no substitute for the value of face to face interactions to build relationships.
When we first start out working, there is lot of excitement to traveling. But once it becomes a part of our jobs, then for some of us travel becomes a necessary evil. Some of you try to avoid it. Or, if you have to travel, then you try to get in and get out as soon as possible so that you can return home. Efficiency begins to trump everything else.
As a result, business travel becomes more mechanical and less enjoyable. And that’s not surprising. Think about a typical business trip. On most trips, once you reach the location, a lot of your time ends up being spent in review meetings. Sometimes, the conference room is all that you see on your trip. And sometimes, you don’t even make it to the office, because you are in and out of meetings and then head straight for the airport.
So, my message this week focuses on how to rediscover the joy of business trips.
Why it is important to travel
We have ambitious plans for our company – to become a global FMCG leader. With that comes the need for each of us to develop a global mindset and to win locally. This is at the heart of our business strategy. We don’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Our edge comes from the ability to understand local tastes and needs. And then innovate and tailor our products to meet them. At the same time, there are huge opportunities for us to cross pollinate our portfolio and to share and learn from each other. To be able to do this effectively, we need to develop a more acute sense of the local context and ground realities. Both within our countries and even across geographies.
Travel, done effectively, will make you a much better business person. It will open your eyes to different cultures and the way people live. You will be able to step into the shoes of our customers and have a better understanding of local needs. These experiences will ultimately, help you find new ways to serve our consumers better. And at the same time, it helps you grow as an individual.
This could also be a great stepping stone to exploring opportunities to live in another country.
There is in fact a lot of research that has found important benefits from travel. Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School has found a connection between creativity and travel. When you are in a routine at home, sometimes it gets difficult to examine an issue from all angles. Professor Galinsky’s research has found that travel enables one to experience things in a different manner, increases cognitive flexibility and forges new ways of thinking.
What you could do differently when you travel
Try and use your business trips to learn more and do more. Meet more people and get a better taste of the local consumer and culture. Here are my ten tips for work-related travel:
1. Pick the right place to stay at
Where you stay will significantly impact your overall experience. Try out something in the heart of the city. Someplace that will offer you a real feel of the life there – with shops and busy streets and lots to walk around and see. If you’re just looking to stay at a typical business hotel, you might miss out on this. A few years ago, we were planning a trip to Indonesia. There was much discussion around where we should stay. The decision was finally made and we shared it with Mr. Adi Godrej. He took one look at it and refused, saying that he couldn’t stay so far away from the heart of the city. How else would he visit the market, he asked? Take a cue from him. Stay closer to the action. And each time you visit, try to stay at a different place and in a different part of the city. You will cover so much more and there will always be something new to look forward to.
2. Interact with people at the office or factory
Go around and introduce yourself to people at the office, who you may not have met otherwise. Try to grab lunch with some of them. Ask them for their thoughts and suggestions on our products in that country; which ones they use and what they would do differently. Exchange stories. If you are visiting a factory, take some time to chat with the shop floor workers. Find out how they are doing. Calendar in time to do small group meetings to get feedback from the team.
Beyond people at work, try to strike conversations with local people. I find speaking to taxi drivers or local car drivers a great way to learn about the city.
3. Savor the local cuisine and get a glimpse of other aspects of the culture
There is lots to experiment with on the food front when you travel. For starters, don’t eat every single meal at the hotel you are staying at. And if you can be invited for a home cooked meal – there’s nothing to top that! Try a local restaurant. As many of you would probably vouch for, the best food isn’t to be found at the fancier restaurants. Make it a point to try out the local cuisine at the places where the locals eat out. I’m sure that the team you are visiting would be only too happy to help out. For instance, when I travel to Indonesia, Naveen usually tries to make sure that we sample the local cuisine and experience some of the culture – he gives us batik shirts to wear for office functions and gets us to attend shows of local gamelan music and traditional Indonesian dances.
4. Read the local newspaper
Get hold of a local newspaper. Reading it is a great way to get a feel of the local pulse. And it always helps in conversations with the team members that you are visiting.
5. Walk around
The best way to get to know a new place, is to walk around. So, step out and walk around the local neighbourhoods. Early morning walks can be a great way to experience a city waking up to daily life. Some cities have guided morning trips. Make it an adventure of sorts. It will give you a much better sense of how people live.
6. Spend time in the markets
Make it a point to visit the local markets with your team. Observe what people are buying and how they are shopping. Even pick up a few items for yourself. Also, if they don’t mind, ask a few consumers on what they are buying and how they making purchase decisions.
7. Don’t miss out on local events
Head out and explore the city, especially if you haven’t been there before. This is where local hosts and friends come in handy. Local events and festivals are a must-do, as is theatre or music. If there is a local sport that you can find to play or watch, don’t give it a miss. Occasionally, I manage to catch a cricket or a football match with colleagues – it is a lot of fun and a great way to bond with the team.
8. Add a side trip
If you can manage it, try to add a weekend day of leisure travel to your trip. One of the most memorable side trips I remember was a Saturday trip with Omar when we were in Argentina. We went to El Calafate, where we spent the day on the breathtaking Perito Moreno glacier.
9. Learn some local phrases
Pick up a local language phrase book. Or try one of the many online apps. Learn a few phrases of the local language when you visit. And try to use them in your conversations.
10. Plan ahead
Website such as tripadvisor offer great reviews and tips on the highlights of each city. Read up before hand. And pick one or two things that you will do in addition to your meetings.
Do give some of this a try when you travel next. I am sure that you will have many stories to carry home. Those of you who travel often would have tips of your own to share, so do write in with them.
One final point – many of these tips apply to our home cities as well. Sometimes, we take things for granted and don’t relish the wonderful experiences that are right next to us. Once in a while, it is equally worthwhile being tourists at home and soaking in all the things that make our home cities special.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.