I have always contended that mistakes were learning opportunities in disguise. I cannot recall ever discharging an employee for making an honest mistake. Rather, the incident was treated as a learning experience, complete with clearly defining what happened, what likely went wrong, cost penalty resulting from the error and steps that could be taken to prevent recurrence.
In fact, I don't recall ever discharging an employee for making the same honest mistake a second time except for computer security violations. As with the initial occurrence, it was another learning opportunity, replete with definition, consequence and steps to prevent recurrence.
I admit to even going through this process on a third repetition, but by the fourth, and positively by the fifth repetition, I had to conclude I was either a bad teacher or the employee was a bad student. I'm not a bad teacher.
Life is full of unknowns and learning experiences. More likely than not, we would have eventually figured out that 2+2 was 4, not 5, on our own, that the letters of the alphabet have a specific sequence. That's why we went to school: to learn from other people's mistakes.
Oh sure, I could teach myself to be a brain surgeon. All it would require is a really long list of those who would be guinea pigs while I learned. Or I could teach myself to be a rocket scientist.
In fact, a member of the Flat Earth Society built a rocket at home that he launched in late March. With himself aboard. To an altitude of about 1,875 feet. If there were ever a clearer example of someone who desperately needed to go to school and learn from others, I can't find it.
That said, I admire his spirit of adventure and willingness to explore. Many of us would never even think of doing something like this, let alone actually do it. Nevertheless, there have to be those willing to try things for the first time so that others can learn from their experience. Certainly some are riskier than others but still require a curiosity and experimentation. Like, who was the first person to eat a chicken egg? Or roll tobacco leaves up into a tight cylinder, set fire to them and inhale the smoke?
It is the same way with the retail travel industry, only different. In the last century, travel wishes, wants and desires along with learning ways to fulfill them have changed significantly, mostly for the better. Once upon a time, a person might attend a lecture by someone who had actually been to the area of interest, go to the library and read books on the destination or consult a travel agent. The internet has all but made each of us instant experts on just about any topic one might name.
Need to diagnose an illness? Search Google with the symptoms. I entered "stomachache and vomiting blood." Of the 1.3 million results from my query, I am confident that at least one of them has the right diagnosis and correct treatment. (I need to stop here for a moment. If you had a stomachache and were vomiting blood, would you really be looking for a diagnosis and treatment on the internet or would you be headed to see a professional?)
Yet almost everyone feels competent to leap onto the web, find a site and make a reservation that could cost well over $10,000. And by the way, I got over a million results on the query "best Tahiti vacation."
There are some consumers, perhaps many, who, having done several such searches for themselves and friends, believe they are ready to become a travel agent. True travel professionals decry the card mills and multilevel marketers that mint "certified travel agents" with the click of a credit card number, turning them loose on unsuspecting prospects who don't know any better.
Actions of a few, such as misappropriation of funds, providing no or incorrect advice and information and more, besmirch our profession.
It is time to do something about it. Many host agencies and consortia have programs that include what I am about to describe. If anyone reading this has ever commented negatively about someone's question on a Facebook group page or complained about what "those untrained travel agent wannabes are doing to this profession," it's your turn to make a difference.
Be a mentor to someone who is where you were five or 50 years ago when you first started. This profession is far more than learning GDS computer code. It's about learning or honing interpersonal skills, the multitude of products available (even if one has chosen a niche) and studying marketing, business and more.
A good mentor needs to have 10 to 30 years of experience. It is important to have a list of things that work, but it might be more important to have a list of things that did not work. I do, and it is a long one.
Mentoring is about giving back to your community and sharing your knowledge with neophytes as well as with those who might have been in business quite some time but are floundering. It is an opportunity to help our chosen profession grow and flourish.
A mentor must have a love, a passion for this business. A good mentor has to have a record of accomplishment but also a belief that he or she knows how to do real-life things that are important for others to learn and not go through the same mistake-making processes. If you are someone who fits this description, be assured that simply letting others know you are willing to share will bring inquiries.
Being a mentor requires work. It requires a commitment by all involved to be successful in the long term. It means building a relationship with someone who believes so much that you can help them that they lay bare their professional souls. It means being a good communicator. It means trusting and being trustworthy over a period of time.
A good mentor will outline those areas in which they can best assist. Creating a basic outline of specific topics to cover, establishing a general accomplishment timeline and scheduling regular conversations and reviews is essential. Setting expectations too high or too low presents challenges such that it is better to wait until after the first face-to-face meeting or two to set goals.
Sometimes mentoring will be nothing more than answering a question about how best to communicate an idea or statement to a client.
In the end, this is a profession centered on communication: helping the mentored understand that while communicating with millennial peers via text might be the best -- perhaps only -- way to do so, the best way to communicate with clients in other generations is going to be totally different.
A mentor still has his or her own business to run, so establishing at the outset ground rules about the time each devotes to the exercise is vital. An hour a month at a scheduled time seems about right to review action item progress since the last conversation and to set new agenda items for the future. Checking in occasionally or a casual conversation at other times might be a good idea, as well.
Depending on a mentor's skills and the needs of the person they mentor, topics for these meetings, either face to face or by phone, can run the gamut from operational requirements to computer technology, marketing, sales methods and more. This process will help the mentor see areas where he or she can grow as well as bring to light unforeseen areas with which the mentored needs assistance.
A year, at most two, for a mentorship program feels about right. You didn't take them to raise, after all. That said, don't be averse to the idea that you are training your next really good agent or maybe even the person who succeeds you when you retire.
It's like this: Complain about the state of affairs that we find in the travel agent population today or commit to doing something about it and leave a legacy of having made the industry better. Whoever the first person was to decide to take the beans from that plant, roast them, grind them up and pour hot water over them to make a steaming cup of coffee, you are the best friend I never met.