Business Travel… Smart or Stupid?


“In the 21st century marketplace, business travel is inevitable… but smart travel is not. When I asked clients directly what was ‘essential’ travel, there was not a common understanding or mindset for evaluating that.” – Laurie Anderson, Ph.D.

Since the September 11th attacks, concern about the safety of air travel is prompting many companies to rethink their policies on business travel. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management of more than 5,600 companies, found that 37 percent say business travel will be curtailed as a result of the terrorist attacks.

“Baxter and McDonalds were among many companies that curtailed travel for much of September and then issued a directive to reduce travel. People were instructed to avoid all unsafe locations and then to use their judgment and only proceed with ‘essential’ travel,” says Dr. Laurie Anderson, executive coach and business consultant. “When I asked these clients directly to define ‘essential business travel,’ there was not a common understanding or mindset for evaluating that.”

The terrorist attacks thrust the issue of business travel into the spotlight and prompted companies to evaluate travel in terms of its safety. But, long after September 11, many business travelers continue to express angst about the ROI of their travel commitments. How often have we traveled to a meeting and did not find it worth our time? Could we have accomplished the same purpose without making the trip? Clients I talk with voice these concerns repeatedly – and were doing so even before the viability of business travel was thrust into center stage. Now add to these feelings the safety concerns of business travel – and you cannot help but wonder whether all this travel makes any sense. Does it now? Did it before? To answer these questions, business travel must be viewed as a business issue … as an ROI issue. For we could travel safely… yet accomplish little.

Business is about investing resources to produce targeted outcomes in ways that fulfill short-term commitments and build longer-term capacity. The overriding business question is how to be effective AND efficient. Not leaving the office will usually win the efficiency prize…. but is it maximally effective in both the short- and long-term? How do we decide when and why to travel? How do we decide for ourselves? How do we lead others to decide and plan? How do we evaluate our thinking and business practices related to travel so we can continuously improve?

To help businesses answer these tough questions, Anderson has created a model that is designed to both strengthen (make it smart) and simplify (so it’s usable) how business professionals can assess the ROI of certain travel practices or expectations. The 4-step model is best used when the right decision is important or costly… but not obvious.

Step 1: Clarify the driving business needs or opportunities. Identify the short- and long-term objectives of the trip, which might include several goals including accomplishing a particular task, establishing credibility with a constituency, or launching/repairing/strengthening critical relationships. Consider the objectives from the point-of-view of all key constituents, including more importantly, organizational priorities (i.e., is the trip related to achieving current goals versus old routines?), the employee, and the customer.

Step 2: Determine how you will know (measure) if the trip was successful, both immediately and over time. This ensures that the focus is not on the trip or the means to the end… but rather on the end itself.

Step 3: Identify all non-travel options that were considered and why. Is travel the superior tactic in terms of the anticipated ROI?

Step 4: Once the decision to travel is made, is everyone involved clear on what needs to be accomplished and how the results will be made known? The very act of calibrating on the optimal outcome of the investment helps drive its fulfillment because it takes the focus off the being there and puts it more on driving to a particular outcome. Be sure that the traveler or meeting participant has a high “get it” factor on the objectives of the trip so the focus is on the result and not on showing up.

Remember, the key is to reward people for getting the work done, not for travelling.

The ROI of business travel was a valid and long overdue question to get on the table. Leaders must know how – and teach how – to do the business analysis of business travel. After all, travel is inevitable… smart travel is not. Smart business travel is what we need to ensure.


Laurie Anderson, PhD, is a clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience as an executive coach to leaders in organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to the World Bank. Visit or call 1-708-524-2444 for more information on Laurie’s services for individuals, groups, and organizations.

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