THE TRAVEL AGENCY TRANSFORMATION.
This story is about a travel agency which was in dire states due to a hostile business environment and how it used mentoring to survive and grow.
Chand Travel Agency (CTA) was a medium-sized travel agency which grew rapidly during the ‘90s as the President, Deepak Chand persuaded large corporates and affluent individuals to become clients. To service their needs CTA provided all travel related services including ticketing, hotel bookings, car rentals insurance, forex etc – all the services offered by a large travel agency – which is what Deepak wanted CTA to become.
After the yer 2000 various happenings adversely affected CTA. The internet enabled travellers to deal directly with airlines, hotels and other service providers without commissions being paid to travel agencies. In those days successful travel agencies were either big and had the clout to negotiate favourable terms with service providers, or small and specialised with low overheads. CTA being neither found it difficult to cope. Sales and profits tumbled. Also the morale of the managers dropped, affecting teamwork. By 2002 it was clear to Deepak that CTA’s survival was endangered. It needed to reposition itself in the travel business. He searched for a mentor to help make this change.
The Coaching mentor
An experienced and knowledgeable mentor who had helped several companies redesign their businesses was found. The mentor, Pal, had also served as a senior executive in the management cadre of one of India’s most diversified conglomerates.
At preliminary briefings it was agreed that the change in CTA’s business role should be affected with the full involvement of the CTA managers; so that it was viewed as a result of their efforts and not an external imposition, creating a sense of ownership. However under Deepak’s dictatorial management style of control and command the managers had retreated into mental shells. Pal saw that his first task would be to get the managers out of their shells and contribute to reshaping CTC. For this he decided to use facilitated brainstorming.
At the first brainstorming session Pal asked the managers to discusss “Where will CTA be five years from now?” The managers’ response was that if CTA continued in its existing lines of business with its current management style and organisational structure, it would probably cease to exist! They were then asked to suggest new lines of business, new management styles and new organisational structures. The managers said it would be unwise to continue providing general travel-related services -a new role was required.
As the brainstorming proceeded a picture regarding a new role for CTA began to emerge. At first the picture was hazy, consisting of points hastily noted on the blackboard. Gradually, the picture became clearer; and finally their appeared a clear statement describing a new role for CTA. It was: specialised outbound and inbound tours in niche areas. For this new role the managers considered strategies,. Then came action plans indicating how the strategies would be implemented and finally a timetable.
Pal realised that for the mentoring program to succeed it was vital to changeDeepak’s behaviour. Deepak was astute but lacked the ability of creating and leading a team. He was strong in analytical intelligence but weak in emotional intelligence. The managers perceived him as, arrogant and aloof, they were hesitant to speak before him.
Pal explained to Deepak that his behaviour needed to improve. The areas for improvement were identified by collecting feedback from people with whom he interacted. The feedback confirmed that the team could perform much better if Deepak changed his behaviour, Surprisingly Deepak was relieved to learn this. Apparently it confirmed to him something that he had always suspected about himself but had not addressed. When Pal presented the feedback results this sufficed to initiate behavioural change in Deepak. It had been necessary only to create awareness – the rest followed naturally.
Six months later:
The mentoring at CTA continued with many discussions and much brainstorming. Some changes happened: With respect to business activities, the main focus shifted to specialised in-bound and out-bound tours in niche areas from and to the UK.
This resulted in changes in job content within CTA. Many functions were outsourced. External specialists were identified for each tour and given the responsibility for planning, selling and conducting the tour. The marketing and planning functions within CTA were upgraded involving identification of tour opportunities, selection of tour co-ordinators and overseeing their work.
Initially CTA organised a tour for chefs from famous London restaurants to study ways of cooking seafood on India’s Malabar coast – the tour co-ordinator was the Food & Beverages Manager of an international 5 star hotel in Mumbai, funding was arranged by the foreign restaurants.
Other specialised tours in niche areas under consideration were a visit by Indian driving school instructors to the UK for exposure to British teaching methods, road courtseys and manners – to be organised by British and Indian automobile associations. Another was in the area of disaster management.
Pal suggested that to ensure the success of the mentoring programmes there should be continual monitoring. Also progress should be considered with reference to business benchmarks such as sales, profits, rankings, and referrals.
A dramatic change brought about by the mentoring program was in Deepak’s behaviour. He became aware of the effects of his behaviour on the organisation and made deliberate efforts to choose behaviour which enhanced participation and teamwork. He became a patient listener and seldom lost his temper. To ensure that he did not relapse he kept a logbook in which he noted details of negative behaviour.
The CTA team which had become dysfunctional and combative became collaborative and trusting. The organisational culture became blame-free and fear-free with open and honest communication All this resulted in a resurgence in sales and profits as well as a brighter outlook for the future.