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Many of my clients travel a lot for business, whether to a conference, a branch office, or another type of meeting. I’m shocked when I ask their objectives for the trip, and all they talk about is whatever event they’re scheduled to attend.
“What else?” I ask, “What other opportunities do you have in front of you when you’re there? What would make this a successful visit?”
Blank stare. From further questioning, I learn that their only plans for after the meeting is to head back to the hotel room or run to catch their flight home.
What a missed opportunity to approach career planning with an outcome-committed mindset!
Instead, I suggest these eight steps for business travelers:
Find out who is registered or scheduled to attend, and also think of who else you know in the area that you could connect with while you are there.
Phone ahead of time and ask if you can meet for coffee or a meal. A phone call is more personal than email and a good set up for your face-to-face meeting.
Set a goal for each meeting – what would make it a success?
Schedule one-on-one meetings before, after, and in between your events.
Plan wisely based on the time zone difference. If you’re crossing time zones from east to west, early morning breakfast meetings will probably be easier. If the reverse, maybe plan an afternoon coffee or a glass of wine in the early evening.
Plan your conversations. Research the main initiatives the other person is involved in, what’s important to them, and how your role ties into their role. What relevant points can you share about your progress? These kinds of conversations are key to managing your career.
If you are traveling to a different country, research the culture so you avoid faux pas and are informed.
Get clear on the desired outcome for each interaction.
Benefits of building long-distance relationships
I’ve found that when traveling in Europe, Latin America, or Asia, my colleagues and hosts in those countries so a very good job of ensuring I have a good trip. They take their own personal time outside of work hours to take me to dinner and show me around, and that makes a huge impact. We really get to know each other and in many cases build a strong bond.
We could do a much better job of this as hosts in our country, but regardless of whether your hosts make the effort, you can be proactive and fill your own schedule.
When you’re tired from traveling and have full days of meetings and presentations, I know the last thing you probably want to do is get up early for a meeting. I can certainly relate from my own business travels. (Once I was so jet-lagged that I completely slept through a breakfast meeting with a top executive of the company!)
Yet it is so worth the effort. When you spend the time building relationships in person, it creates a bridge for collaboration after you return home.
Cultivating new relationships teaches you more about people, other cultures, and yourself! People on the fast track tend to be naturally curious and inquisitive – they don’t only talk to someone because they think they can benefit, but because they’re genuinely interested in people.
Aside from your own career aspirations, think of your company. If it were your money being spent to get you to this destination, wouldn’t you want to make the most of the trip? Your company probably feels the same way. They want you to create and build relationships with coworkers.
If you make two trips a month and plan even one face-to-face meeting with someone on each trip, that’s 24 more times you’ll be connecting to people each year. So by making a goal now and committing to it, you’ll really maximize your travel time and advance your career.
Do you plan extra relationship-building meetings outside of your structured activities when you travel for business? Why or why not?