CIPD HRD 2013 – Thoughts & Observations from Day 2

Day2wordleThis next installment comes to you as fly across the Atlantic, cruising at 40,00ft – as only MrAirmiles would. I thought I’d capture my thoughts before jetlag kicks in and the Florida sun distracts me even further.

I have to confess I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from day two of #CIPDHRD13. Day one had left me flat and upon reflection a little numb. I had enjoyed two of the sessions but I still felt a lack of passion and energy for L&OD around the exhibition & conference. With a few exceptions, the majority were very quiet and subdued – either they were a quiet bunch (an unlikely L&D trait) or they had pure and simply misplaced their mojo.

Undecided which sessions to attend: Mentoring in the Workplace or Developing Internal Talent, Alison and I eventually picked one each. Having just joined us for day 2, Alison went to the Mentoring session, about which she eloquently wrote on her blog, and I, for once, arrived a little late for Developing Internal Talent, at which point Nick Pascazio of the BBC had already stared his session.

First impressions count (old cliché, I know, but true) and I wasn’t really drawn in by Nick’s presentation. He seemed a little unprepared and it made my mind wander elsewhere. Still, was interesting to hear about the effort the BBC puts in place to develop internal talent – both in terms of technical and managerial expertize, until another 3×3 matrix appeared! Yet again we’re focusing on top talent. A sign of BBC’s bureaucratic culture and heavy governance?  Why does everything has to fall into a box? BBCiPlayer could have been a reality 2 years earlier guys….

On the plus side, it was refreshing to hear how they pair their “top talent” with “top talent” of their suppliers and partners, to help develop their internal talent.

Then, like a bolt of lightning in comes Andy Lancaster from Hanover Housing. There was colour, energy, images, passion, action, belief, inspiration, you name it. Even his shoes were cool!

I wanted to tweet and take notes but was totally mesmerized listening and this was just 2 minutes in. Andy also used a great example to share with the group – how it started with an “itch in between your shoulder blades and you just have to scratch it”. You can’t let it go – “ if there’s an itch there’s a way”.

How Andy and his team went about doing it, how they created energy at all levels of the organization, including their suppliers, to me summed up what OD is all about. It should touch everyone in the organization, not just a privileged few, everyone has to own it (not owned by one single individual) and want to be part of the end result.

Doug & Sukh already blogged about Andy’s session and did a great job of it, so I won’t repeat go over it again – you can read it here: (Blown Away) (Developing Internal Talent)

Andy’s enthusiasm and passion are infectious. He’s captivating and makes you want to work for him. Talk about how to set the bar high that early in the day. I left feeling energized and happy that, despite the previous day experiences, there were some passionate L&OD professionals out there who still believed and cared for and in what they did. Thanks Andy!

People say you should quit when you’re ahead but when you’re buzzing like that after Andy’s session you just want to keep going, so Alison and I went to the next session: L&D to Support High Performing and High Potential Employees. The other choice was Aligning Your Internal Development Programmes to External Qualifications. We thought we’d picked the best of a bad bunch…

“I’m not one of those L&OD professionals who likes to use powerpoint” was Karl White’s opening line. Now, Karl is OD Manager for Mercedes Benz – if he doesn’t like powerpoint, why the slides? If you really believe in what you say you live it, right? Is that not one of the values of OD?

What unraveled over the next couple of minutes made me feel really angry. He came in to MB to make some changes, and let’s just say few, if any, of his “old training team” are still there. If I hadn’t wanted to hear Amanda Whiteford, Head of L&D a Tubelines speak next I would have got up and left. Some of his remarks were just …

We were shown slide after slide, model after model, and more graphs, mostly in black & white. Don’t get me wrong, my organization uses the same approach & framework to leadership development as Mercedes Benz, but even I wouldn’t stand there and inflate my ego with “here’s another model I like”! I certainly wouldn’t show a cool, state of art video about Leadership Development in my organization featuring me talking on it. Would they have done the same if they had Zero Spend? I doubt it…

If Andy Lancaster had sparked energy in me 30 mins earlier, Karl had completely killed most of it in less than 5 mins.

Amanda’s example was far less about her and she certainly didn’t feature in the video about Tubelines. There was a glimmer of hope. For starters she is more softly spoken and less egocentric. Amanda took over an existing team, which, as she described was doing a good job. She just just had to make the most of it and get them to do things differently. Tubelines has put a fair amount of effort in developing a leadership development program that includes the usual coaching, mentoring, on the job learning, etc. Good to know I’m not doing similar things. At the heart of it is L&D as a facilitator and enabler of conversations and dialogue. Like creating a new water cooler space for people to come and talk about their leadership and development aspirations. They developed a simple career development template to promote exactly that – discussion and ownership by the individuals. Not only that, but individuals had to define what they wanted to get out of it, what capabilities they wanted to develop, even if outside of their role, and, along the process develop their own succession planning in case they had moved on.

There was no guarantee of a job or a promotion at the end of it, sometimes even in the next year. It was about equipping people so they felt ready to take those roles when they came up. Being honest with people about this reality was a the biggest challenge but one they had to have, even if that meant employees would leave the organization.

Total contrast in presentation style and connection with the audience. One hour later I read a tweet saying they were still in the room answering questions…

As the inside temperature at Olympia rose, I made my way to Naomi Stanford’s session: Understanding and Developing your OD Capabilities.  Talking about OD & change management after lunch, really? Yes, really and if anyone knows how to do it, without a facilitator that person is Naomi. In no time she had everyone talking to each other about one capability they had developed in the last year. Hers was to use Twitter – Naomi rocks! But she didn’t leave it at that – she explained why, how she uses it, for what purpose. What she was saying was: whatever capability we develop, we need to think how it can be used to help us deal with different types of change. Learning to user twitter has made her more connected in today’s social media world.

From that she talked about the different types of change and capabilities required to deal with it at personal, team and organization level. At each point she asked the audience to discuss and share, but more than that, to talk a bit more abut it.

Naomi demystified Change Management, captured the audience’s attention, got them discussing and sharing with each other  – all this during what we refer to in my world as the “graveyard slot”. If someone can make Change Management sound sexy after lunch, that person is Naomi! At the end someone in the audience asked: what capability would you like to develop. Naomi’s reply: Worldness! To help me live, remain and make the most of the current fast changing world. If this was facebook I’d give a BIG Like!

By now my brain had reached max capacity and I decided to skip the Values Based Leadership session. I heard mixed reviews – maybe I didn’t miss that much.

Time flies, and so does this plane I’m on. It was 3:45 and time for the last session of the day: Transition of Leaders – Applying a Cultural Mind-shift Change, with Neil Morrison, Group HRD and Jo Mallia, L&D Manager, both from Random House.

As you walked into the session there was music playing – yes, cool music playing. There were round tables, where people could see each other. It was inclusive. It made me feel I’d come to see something special!

24hrs later I’m still trying to find words to describe Neil’s and Jo’s session but I remember one participant saying “this had been the best session he had attended all week”, to which the whole group applauded. It was!

The Death of Publishing had given birth to a new mind-set, one which involved bring people together to collaborate rather than remain in their single track ways. Neil made this come alive with an energy I’d never seen from him before. He drew you in, jumped about, used quotes from his colleagues and the many books published by Random House. He had you hooked and then…

…and then over to Jo Mallia, who I’d never met or heard present before. What followed was, to me,  pure and simple passion for L&D!

I’ve never heard anyone speak with so much passion, conviction and belief for what they do (other than me perhaps :). If this was a warm-up gig I can see Jo becoming the next L&D rock star.

She’s involved in understanding the business, getting under its skin, understanding how it works and most importantly of all – keeping the customer, their end user, at the center of it all. She brings people together, gets them talking, collaborating, thinking differently – she unleashes the “pink elephants”, the mavericks. She does more than she should sometimes, but only because she’s passionate, cares, loves her job and no doubt has a great boss 🙂

It was refreshing to see both an HRD & L&D Mgr who shared the same passion, collaborative approach and commitment to a project. It restored faith that there are some truly awesome L&D people out there.  A Big Thanks to both Jo and Neil.

And so 2 days of #CIPDHRD13 came to an end. For all the energy and passion that was shared and experienced, there there are still those in our professional that have the complete oposite effect!

I’d like to thank the CIPD for inviting me to come along, tweet and blog about the 2 days. It was a great opportunity to work and network with many interesting and passionate individuals. Also, thanks to the great “blogging/twitter” team for their company, laughs, debates and shared passions/frustrations over the 2 day event.  Thank you!

As I lay on a sandy beach somewhere in Florida I’ll reflect further on the week’s events, sessions and “blogliday” away. Oh dear…I think I got a bit carried away coming up with my own words – I blame that Google session on day one.

Until then, I leave you with a further selection of posts from some of the team. Happy reading!

From Megan:

Purple bumper boots…

How deep is your love?

From Doug:

Creativity & Learning – the Google Way

Speaker Tips

From Sukh:

Has L&D Stalled?

From Neil:

Mind Fruit

Young, gifted & skint?

CIPD HRD 2013 – Thoughts & Observations from Day 1

It’s 00:33 and I can’t sleep! My head is buzzing with all sorts of ideas, energy, challenges, contradiction and and a slight dash of disappointment after day 1 of CIPD HRD 2013.

First there was the Google opening session, which I blogged about earlier. There was the  “food thing” which was ok but If I had a Buzzword bingo card, as suggested by @pontecarloblue at a later session, it would have been filled by 9:45am (15 mins after the session started). I left the session feeling flat…I wanted more but I guess Google, just like anyone else is doing the same “L&D things” as me, only called a “cool funky name” – googlelution perhaps? Not to mention all those slides! So un-Google like!

My next session “Waking Up OD – putting relationships at the the heart of our practice”, kind of woke up some participants, but not enough for them to “speak up”. Saying that it was a good session run by @stevexoh & @claresrelume with the added bonus of Fabiola Williams from The Body Shop. They challenged the audience to think about their role as OD Practitioners, how they connect to the profession, the role they play, if they bring themselves (Self as Instrument) and most importantly of all, the spirit of enquiry. It’s not about labelling OD, following a process or asking for leadership buy-in but what you, as a practitioner bring to the table. I particularly liked the way Relume got everyone talking and building relationships (even if in a small scale), but sadly very few participated by feeding back their answers/discussion points…a case of “I’m paying to be here, I want to listen and learn, not contribute!” Sad really given the large number of OD people in the room, and a missed opportunity to hear about their discussions which were quite energetic given the buzz in the room. Imagine the relationships they could have built if only they’d woken up! Can you tell yet I enjoyed this session?

Time for a break, a blog post and a walk around the exhibition- so many people trying to sell you the latest re-incarnation of the last thing. One stand even had a full display of their clients but nothing about themselves or what service they offered. Earlier in the day Doug Shaw had found an empty stand which remained as unpopulated by the time I got around to it at 1:45pm.

The 2 sessions that followed were a mix bag. There was open & genuine dialogue by the speakers, including asking the audience feedback on their work (coaching for team performance session), and high expectations followed by disappointment and contradiction (Resilient Leaders session), not to mention the speaker who over dominated the last session of the day (poor facilitation by the session chair perhaps?)!

Coaching for Team Performance saw the panel talk about what they had done to build a Coaching Culture, the challenges they faced and how they overcame some of them. Good mix of backgrounds and industries yet none of them professed to be experts. They all said this is what we did and how – what do you think? Did we do it right? i.e. they cared enough about it to ask for feedback.
Good discussions about coaching, building a coaching culture, coaching relationships and all the challenges associated. Sue Miller, L&D Manager at Hilton hotels, described how she used other functions with an interest in coaching to help build a coaching culture in the organisation. It’s a business driven agenda rather than an HR/L&OD initiative. Sue also likes the Weegie accent (accent from Glasgow) 🙂

Sunil Jindal of Diageo, in addition to tying his shoe laces in a funky way, talked about coaching as a dialogue/conversation. Even if nothing else happens, it’s ok. Quite right too. You get dialogue going and that in itself is a good start.
What struck me about these guys was the fact they’d tried to get a coaching culture going or start coaching programmes, had succeeded to some extent but were also humble enough to ask the audience and each other for their opinion. Peers asking peers for feedback. Sadly, the audience remained as quiet as I’d grown used to! Once again, good session but little, if any audience input.

Last session of the day, perhaps the most highly anticipated: Developing Resilient Yet Agile Leaders for your Organisation, failed to deliver on many levels. It started well, with good examples and case studies from the panel but after a while descended into the Chelsea Football Club show. Forget RNLI & Thames Valley Police (who got some air time), this was the CFC show. Eventually people started getting up and leaving… Either poor facilitation meets over dominating panelist or it was the last session and everyone wanted to get home.
What had promised to deliver and started well (no PowerPoints involved), descended into a scene of contractions and over dominance. I’m sure the deeply personal story by the Thanes Valley Police speaker around personal resilience was overshadowed by the Chelsea FC Performance Director going on, and on and on..!
Ali Peck of RNLI stared well by saying:”don’t overlook the human aspect during a major change program as people are key to you delivering it”. Only to contradict herself later by saying we need hard data to show and validate there are issues in the workplace/work climate. i.e: people are key to us delivering the vision but let’s wait until a few drop dead, count them, then use it as hard data before the evidence disappears! I thought Ali had just said “don’t overlook the human factor”…and now we need data??? By then I had switched off and more people left, but not before the session got, yet again, highjacked by Mike Forde, Chelsea FC Performance Director. He does have lots of stories and friends….that’s for sure. With all the good stories from the earlier part of the session forgotten, over dominance by one speaker, contradiction by another, lack of process facilitation and end of a long day, I got bored, got up and left!

It’s now very late and my head is already buzzing in anticipation of day 2…bed time! Nite nite!

Food for thought…and collaboration! Googlelicious!

A few years ago, when designing our kitchen, my partner and I wanted to create a space where people came together, not just to eat our delicious food but also to part of the cooking experience. We wanted a space where we could talk, eat, drink, debate and be in each other’s presence.

The designer was finding it hard to translate the vision into reality but after some heated debate and challenge from both parts we got there…

Should organisations create such spaces for their employees to come together? If so, what benefits would they expect to see, other than just “we have the coolest canteen in the world”?

Everyone’s favorite search engine, Google, did just that. We’re all used to seeing and hearing about their cool funky work environment. After all, Culture and Climate are vital to their innovation, as Stephan Thoma, Google’s Director of Learning & Development pointed our this morning during his  CIPD HRD 2013 session on “Nurturing Creativity and Learning in the Workplace”.

Google however, took it one step further. In addition to their cool funky workspace, lots of colour and radical design (an HES Officer’s worst nightmare), they introduced FOOD! Not just food but great tasting, varied, FREE food! “Food is a place to bring people together” said Stephan.

Just like me and my partner, Google wants their “Googlers” – we simply call ours “friends” – to come together in this space over something that is important to them (and us) all – Food.

So, if you’re going to create this space in your organization, find out what brings people together, and what you want to get out of it.  For Google collaboration and team work are critical  and they use this spaced to do exactly that – promote dialogue, discussion, collaboration and learning.

What is important to your organization now and in the future and what spaces are you going to create to encourage and promote that “thing” you want?

I’m not suggesting everyone should follow Google or start offering free food. Do whatever work for your organization.  As Stephan said: “I’m not going to share best practices as it may not work for everyone”

More importantly, are you ready to fight for the space and climate you want, as we did with our designer or just settle for any “ magnolia kitchen/canteen space”?

Of course Stephan didn’t just talk about food – there was also reference to their “non-hierarchical and process free approach”, yet he referred to his boss’s boss and an overcomplicated performance management process.  Contradictory? Food for thought perhaps…

Want to know more about Stephan’s presentation? Have a look at Doug Shaw’s blog post this morning “Creativity and Learning –  the Google Way”  Doug summed it up nicely J

Oh, and there was something else too –  “Learning on the Loo”…yes, at Google there is something called “ Learning on the loo” (some people call it reading the paper). Even there, they “bring people together”.



A blast from the past

After commenting on a couple of blogs recently,  it got me thinking…should I give it “another go”?

I decided to re-visit the “Old Mr Airmiles” blog I had started back in 2011, and try to bring it back to life  once more. Somehow I managed to Delete it! 24hr later I still don’t know how, by hey, life goes on!

Sadly I lost the posts and comments but luckily I had kept the original articles on file. There weren’t many – just 6 or 7.

To celebrate “my return” I re-posted some of those original ramblings, firstly posted back in 2011. I remember these 3 being quite popular at the time:

These refer to specific moments/situations back then – for those who knew me at the time it totally made (and hopefully still makes) sense. Time as moved on, and so have I – older and slightly wiser (or so I think) 🙂

What will I blog about now? Time will tell…

Hope you enjoy my return to blogging.


Do you speak Culture? Lost in Trains-lation…


(Originally posted 12.Apr.2011 on my old blog)

Last week I met up with an ex-colleague from the U.S. who was over in London running a workshop. It was her first time over here to run a course and she was a bit apprehensive, plus, she was facing some specific challenges from the group, which she had not expected. Welcome to when Training, Culture (organisational & national) and different Countries meet!

She came prepared with a list of questions to ask me (quite apologetic about it), but if we’d spent enough time talking “business” I’d get a free dinner out of that – I had nothing to lose, and since I can talk for Portugal and England combined, off I went…(and got my free dinner too)!

One of her questions was: What were your most peculiar training experiences or most surprising reactions from workshop participants in the region (EAMEE)?

Rather than list every peculiar experience (there are lots), I chose to share personal experiences, thoughts, observations, tips and ideas. I’d been meaning to write about this for a while and that conversation was the catalyst. Later that evening I got further inspiration from reading Rob Jones’ blog.

So here it goes…

As the G&Ts flowed, I explained that anyone who runs “corporate programmes” globally, be that in-house or as a consultant, knows full well (or should anyway) that what works in one country may not work in another (see my post Think Global, Understand Local, Act Global). You must be prepared to think on your feet and customise corporate or other content on the spot, to fit your audience.

Whilst basic principles of Communication Skills may be common sense amongst audiences in the western world, in Angola for example, a country deprived of education for over 20 years by civil war, those same basic principles may be the most interesting piece of information you’ll ever share and need therefore to spend a little longer explaining it.

Likewise, asking a group to reflect or share their ideas when their education system has been one of control and command may be too big an ask. It once took me 2 hours to get a group in Kazakhstan to openly talk and come up with ideas – this was supposed to a creative/brainstorming session…

The organisation had (has) plenty of resources to help prepare people “culturally”, such as The Cultural Navigator Tool, knowledge banks, intranet pages, fact sheets, colleagues who had been there, books and Google! Yet, the only way to really learn about these nuances is by getting there and experiencing it for ourselves.

Drinks and starter earned, now I had to work on my main course…so I carried on:

Geographical culture is only one component. The other, just as important, is you own organisation’s culture! Be mindful of the “corporate culture”, the various sub-cultures, the politics, the leadership teams and company’s operations – what’s actually happening in the business right now and how may this be affecting the group or impact how you run the session.

At this point she realised why some people in the workshop were being very negative and challenging. News of a business deal had just been announced and whilst some people knew they were being sold to the new owners, the other had no idea and were anxious. At the same time, other participants from a different Unit were totally oblivious to this since it didn’t affect their business.

Multiply that across 10 business units in over 80 countries and you have “cultural time bomb” in your hands. Luckily I only had Europe, Africa, Middle-East and Eurasia to deal with…

Before I go on, I just want to say that these events were my personal experiences and reactions. While it may give insights into the country’s culture, attitudes and behaviours, it shouldn’t be used to stereotype, label or undermine the countries/cultures/nationals referred to.

Most importantly of all, one should always be mindful of the fact that these events never happen in isolation. You need to take into account the physical and cultural environments in which you’re operating, the organisational culture and context, the programmes you’re delivering and of course, your own beliefs and assumptions. Welcome to some of the challenges facing the “global trainer”.

Now that I’ve shared my tips and insights, here are a couple peculiar or surprising reactions I experienced in my workshops:

One: In Holland, during a supervisors course, whilst talking about Performance Management, one of the participants (Mr A) was expressing how he felt about managing people and performance. It was pretty apparent he didn’t enjoy being a supervisor. As if this wasn’t sensitive enough (everyone had gone very quiet…), the guy next to him (Mr B) mutters something in Dutch and out the blue the two of start this almighty argument (in Dutch)! As Mr A gets up and leaves the room I looked around as if to ask for help, ie, someone please translate, when the Mr B responds: “He’s just being moody. He’ll get over it! Don’t worry, keep going!”

Two: While running the Diversity session or a workshop in London, I asked the group to discuss the company’s diversity vision in their groups and share their thoughts afterwards, when I was cut short by a female participant: “This is all American bullshit! What diversity? We don’t have enough black women in leadership positions. All the leaders in London are men,…”.

Before I could catch my breath I had 6 women having the most almighty argument across the room. Took 10 minutes (which felt more like 10 hrs) to calm them down…the guys sat very quiet!

Three: In Moscow, during an Influencing Skills session, I asked the all female group to discuss, at their tables, What is influencing and What is not influencing. After a very long silence and a burst of Russian language across the room, one participant stops, walks to me and goes: “What you mean influence? What’s this influence thing? In Russia we don’t need influence! Police stop we give money! You want something you tell people or we point gun to head!”

“Eerrr…gun to head? That’s a bit extreme…and it’s not something the organisation…” I said, looking at my co-facilitator who was just as surprised as me.

“No, here we all carry money and gun in car…” OK….

Four! One group of local (Kazakh) supervisors didn’t understand the need for feedback (asking, receiving or giving), not even when challenged by their expat counterparts in the course. I asked them to explain why they felt feedback wasn’t important and the response was: “Why you need feedback? You get job because you good at your job. No need to say well done when it’s your job. Don’t do a good job, bye bye, you’re sacked! No need for feedback.”

All the other Kazakhs agreed by nodding and smiling in unison, at which point an American voice said: “Oh My God! You’re kidding, right?” No, they were not kidding….

So, there you are, when training, culture and different countries meet you get “lost in train-slation” experiences! Fun to look back on but quite bizarre and surprising when they unfold live before your own eyes!

Think Global, Understand Local, Act Global!

glocal(Originally posted 06.Mar.2011 on my old blog)

Whereas most people tend to stick to the old cliché of Think Global – Act Local, I’ve always been a strong advocate of Think Global, Understand Local, Act Global.

This group I worked for wanted to Operate and Act globally, yet didn’t want to invest any time whatsoever preparing the team to Think Global and Understand Local. Those who saw the benefit, and cared, really made an effort and tried to make a difference. Those who pretended to care, well…that’s it, they pretended!

And then this:

I got a call from an ex-colleague in Kazakhstan, in a panic, asking me what to do as she was getting no response from my ex-team in the US.

I thought: I no longer work there…why should I care? I care because I loved my work and this is someone I was mentoring. I offered to stay in touch after I’d left, and she did. I’m glad she felt comfortable enough to call me, given the cultural norms.

Two days later I had another call, this time from an ex-colleague in the US. Also in a panic, asking me what to do as she too was not getting any response from the team in Kazakhstan. Since I’d worked extensively with the team in RoK (Republic of Kazakhstan), could I help them understand why they were facing such challenges?

Despite spending a considerable amount of time on “knowledge transfer calls”, highlighting the importance of partnering, relationships and understanding local challenges before acting, it all appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Hence missing my work, not my job.

So, for any organisations, or any individuals for that matter, here’s some food for thought:

Think Global: if that’s what they want to be, organisations need to think, live, breathe global. It should be part of their DNA, their Culture, not just a good looking globe on their website or strap-line on the brand. The People need to understand it, believe in it and promote it.

Understand Local: before starting to operate locally around the world, organisations should invest time in understanding the locations where they intend to operate or offer their services/products. Get to know the cultural norms, the people and talk to those who’ve been there before.

Act Global: act and operate in an integrated and consistent way, with clear communication channels, taking into account the global thinking and local understanding.

Never under estimate the power of “glocal”.

Table for one? This way sir…

(Originally posted 08.Feb.2011 on my old blog passport)

The moment I start talking to people about my last job and the amount of travel involved (incl locations visited) they all go: “How did you do it? That’s crazy!”

To which I reply: You have to be crazy to do it!

Business travel is a bit like Marmite: either you love it or you hate it. I enjoyed the travel side (still hate Marmite) but I have to admit by the end (4 years later), it was getting a bit boring!

Short of being George Clooney (Up In The Air), how many of you actually enjoy business trips? Spending time at airports, security/passport control Qs, sleeping in flee infested hotels, most of which in the middle of nowhere? Dinners for one?

Last Sunday I was chatting to @onatrainagain on twitter about some upcoming business trips, and suddenly the flood gates opened…it inspired me to write this. For all the little fun and excitement, business travel is quite lonely!

Sitting in countless airports and lounges I looked around time and time again and thought: thank god am not the only sad f… here! In fact, I was surrounded by others like me! If only we dared talk to each other we might actually make those trips more exciting.

Living out of a suitcase was far from ideal! I wrecked so many too! Enduring –30c wind chill in Kazakhstan and +50c in Kuwait was…an experience! Saying bye to my partner for another week, sometimes 3 at a time was a real bitch! Sorry, there’s no other way to put it!  I’m lucky to have a very understanding partner, who now makes use of my hard earned airmiles  !

However, the one thing that always got to me (and still does): Good evening Sir! Table for one? This way please…

Here we go again…another lonely breakfast, lunch, dinner…day in, day out. The sad thing is I was surrounded by many others in the same situation, with that empty look of defeat in our faces, lonely! I hated it and I still do!

That was my Marmite of business travel!

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely loved my job and enjoyed some of the travel. I got to visit some amazing places and whenever possible made the most of it! I was also fortunate that the company had a great travel policy (any flight over 4hrs was Business, and mine were all over 6hrs – Emirates A380 to Australia was just great!), we stayed in safe/secure hotels and our well being and safety was cared for, at least in my team.

Over time I had it down to a T. A bit like George really (looks and all)! I could pack in 30 mins, the shirts were counted and folded, shoes, trousers, jacket, tooth brush, passport, visa, taxi, fly!

I understand this is not a lifestyle suitable for everyone, least for those with young families. For some people this can be stressful, lonely and not very enjoyable, specially don’t doing that often and only go for a day or two. Other’s love it! So, to make your next business trip a bit more exciting (you can always read this on the plane/train) here are a few tips (free of charge) that might help:

  • Avoid flying on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon/evening! Chances are so will every other business person! Heathrow can be hellish even at 5am! Fly out on Sunday evening or midday Monday. If you can, fly back Saturday morning. Avoid peak time trains too! It’s not stressful…It’s hellish! Passenger rage extreme (I’ve done it)!
  • If you have to fly at some hellish time of the morning book yourself at the airport hotel the night before. They usually have cheap deals and you don’t have to get up at 2am for a 7am flight!
  • Travel light/be practical (easier said than done)! Chances are you are travelling to a place where you can buy most things you need. OK, not if you’re going to be in the middle of a gas field, but you’d be surprised at the things you’ll find even there! Hotel soap/shampoo miniatures are perfect travel size
  • Purchase tickets in advance (cheaper) and look for cheap upgrades on the day! Collect airmiles/status points and use these to upgrade you for free! These aren’t just tips…these are MrArmiles’ Tips! Oh, and check in on-line! I timed it so my journey involved taxi to airport, bag drop, security, gate, fly!
  • Security checks can be a pain in the butt! Be prepared! Don’t wait till you get to the point to start removing your laptop from your bag or your phones, wallets, jackets, etc…be practical about it! Watch those around you and always follow other business people, not the 5.6 family travelling together!
  • Avoid Duty Free shops on the outward trip! You only have to bring it back again! Chances are you’ll break the bottle of Gin at some point or forget it on the plane/train! You also risk losing your flight!
  • That goes for sitting at the airport bar…good idea at the time…not so good when they call your name before threatening to offload your bags! Oh, and everyone staring at you as you crawl into the last seat right at the back (never done it myself…was usually 1A which was even more embarrassing!)
  • Choose a hotel with a gym/leisure facilities, so you can relax in the evenings. It helps reduce travel stress and keeps you fit! Hotel food is very bad for you…I put on almost 15kgs eating junk food! I was so tired from running workshops all day that I didn’t feel like hitting the gym in the evening….yep, guilty as charged!
  • Ask your colleagues/clients for restaurant alternatives in the area. Not only it will be cheaper than the hotel but you get to try local food. People may even offer to take you out and you get to see the place from the local’s point of view! Californian, South African, Aberdonian and Australian colleagues: you rocked!
  • If your family doesn’t mind (or you’re single), and your company allows, stay the weekend! Explore the place! Ask the locals for suggestions/recommendations. Look at it as an opportunity to visit somewhere new. I know it can be hard if you have a young family, but think of it as a little “me time”.  I loved walking all over Pembrokeshire and going up a mountain in Almaty. Not so much visiting Shopping Malls in Kuwait City…
  • Ask for a hotel room away from reception, from the bar, lifts and ice machines. Still, it won’t guarantee you a good night sleep! It depends on the hotel or if you have someone snoring next door, new born babies or a couple on honeymoon across the way (I had one guy and 2 hookers one day staying across from me…it was so distracting, not to mention noisy!).  Naughty tip: If you have a loud snorer next door (I had lots!), call their room number and wake them up – yes, I did it, lots of times, and they never knew it was me!
  • Get to know the hotel staff. They will look after you! The breakfast lady at the Lamphey Court in Pembroke was an absolute gem!
  • If you’re brave enough to sit at the hotel bar, do it! You can meet some interesting people (and some not so interesting). The Sports Bar at the Renaissance in Atyrau can be quite colourful…specially if you’re a male on your own (need I say more?)! Hyatt Houston Downtown…noisy! Avoid!
  • Not a social animal? Not everyone is! Order room service! Stay in your room, watch tv, read a book, listen to music and relax! My choice most of the time!
  • Talk to your family, partners, kids, etc…as often as you can. It’s expensive but worth every penny spent – they will keep you sane! Nowadays you have MSN Live/Skype/Facetime. Some hotels even give you free wi-fi (not many I know).
  • Don’t forget your passport! Enough said!
  • Remember: you may be lonely but you’re not alone!

Now off you go…turn that Marmite into some sweet jam! Oh, and travel safely!


PS: have a few tips of your own?  Share them here! I’d love to hear them!