VITAL SIGNS: Holidays that work

VITAL SIGNS: Holidays that work - Real holidays are pointless from the management trajectory point of view. It is, for instance, a bad idea to get away from it all unless you're a) getting away with a gang of very high pedigree and b) going to somewhere v

by PETER YORK, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing directorof consultants SRU. e-mail:
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Real holidays are pointless from the management trajectory point of view. It is, for instance, a bad idea to get away from it all unless you're a) getting away with a gang of very high pedigree and b) going to somewhere very singular - a global billionaire's log cabin. But sun and sand, places where you might meet divisional managers from Hartlepool, all these represent dead space and galloping opportunity-cost.

The point of a holiday is to extend your networking, subtly amaze key people in the business and dummy-run the better life. Why go to a place that's nastier than your own to meet people you wouldn't dream of inviting to supper?

There's no limit to the wonderful things you can do with a holiday. Remember, the possibilities for participant observation, or market research, are endless. Remember how many interesting lives you can try on for size if you go somewhere important, somewhere the Masters of the Universe gather. Remember, there's always a pretext to check out the posting you want - the New York office or the Milan one.

And, above all, remember that your holiday can be turned into a corporate event. Get the guys - the really senior ones - together round one of those boy-thing enthusiasms (that way the senior women will demand to come too). Think sailing, think fishing. As long as you organise in advance you'll be astonished how many key people fall in. It's a problem solved for them; a holiday away from the family with an alibi.

Or just turn one of those enthusiasms into a trip for a select group of really senior clients - that way the business pays. Or get the company to sponsor you for something highly visible - sailing round New Zealand, say - with a charitable or worthy component and a lot of exposure in-house.

If you're going somewhere recently war-torn and you take tolerable pictures, get a photographer friend to make the selection, advise on the cropping and framing and offer them for the headquarters lobby. Then perhaps a drinks party to raise money for the poor of whichever former Socialist Republic it was.

In The Sloane Ranger Handbook, Ann Barr and I defined a really senior sloane as a girl who usually stayed at the British Embassy whenever she went anywhere that mattered ... because the ambassador was an old family friend.

What's the 2001 equivalent? Aspen with Spielberg or Gates, Milan with Dolce and Gabbana? I can't tell you how to get on that circuitry but just remember it's easier when you're away from Blighty - well away. People tend to put foreigners up a notch or two from their local status. And in generous America - apart from sophisticated New York, where they know all about spongeing Brits - a nicely spoken Englishman who's packed a dinner jacket can still get some very good invitations without having to tell a single whopper. But it's easier if you leave the Mrs at home. Sorry.

It is profoundly interesting to understand the real life of Upper East Side Manhattanites, sixieme Parisians and the smart Milanese. Much more useful than seeing those cities as a backpacker, or from a cheap room in a benighted suburb.

Here's a guide to life that's subtly different, yet entirely comparable with one's own. The hippie trail is delightful recollected in tranquility after 25 years, but no use at the time unless you did it with hugely rich deluded apologetic young people who introduced you to their nice conventional plutocratic parents, who then backed your first business. Now that's worth doing.

But the fall-back position is market research. See our subsidiary in Toronto and live its marketplace. Get into the culture, the distribution, the marketing on the ground. See where the local guys are getting it right - and wrong. See your type of product and brand perform in a completely different context, against a different kind of competition. The research rationale can take you anywhere that's nice.

And if the worst absolutely comes to the worst - ie, you have to spend a fortnight with the kids at a Center Parcs or somewhere similar - you can redeem yourself by observing the visitors, profiling their national origins etc, quizzing the staff and calculating the margins as closely as you can before you get home and gut a bundle of analysts' reports to see how close you came. Now there's application.

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