Seven Business Takeaways From a Roman Holiday

By: Vickie Sherman

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About a year ago, Mom and I were talking about her visit to Rome. She’d been with friends years before. But she didn’t see all she wanted to.

After pontificating about it over wine, decided we should go and do Rome right. No husbands. Just quality time together. We reserved the trip and made it happen in April.

As I reflect on it, I can’t help but to equate it to larger-than-life career advice.

1) Have goals and make a plan.

Our mission in Rome was to:

  • Drink wine.
  • Eat carbs.
  • Look at old stuff.

Rudimentary? Perhaps. So what? You can spend months in Rome and still not see everything.

With only six days, we needed to focus. We intended to stay in town the entire week and limit our tours to two big headlines — Vatican City and the Colosseum.

In our work, how often do we try to do everything? Do we worry more about what the board might think instead of what the company really needs?

Do we fill strategic plans, corporate-speak, and our day-to-day with busywork? A strategic focus that resonates across the enterprise is a sign of a healthy culture and managerial courage.

[Related: What to Do When “Flailing Arms Syndrome” Hijacks Your Management]

2) Identify the tools you’ll need.

Mom and I decided we needed to arrive as well-rested as possible. That meant business class flights with no more than one stop. The trade-off was a nice, but simple, hotel. We decided against a five-star hotel or an apartment with a kitchen, as both were more than we needed. Our goals dictated our choices.

Sometimes companies have strategic initiatives and fully expect them to be carried out without additional human capital, budget, or technology. That can be effective to a point.

But when a company has a multitude of projects taxing the same people, budgets, and systems, it’s a recipe for mediocrity and burnout, by no fault of the workforce. Without strategic trade-offs, priorities become a matter of politics.

3) Be present.

There’s a lot going on with me right now. My employer is being purchased. I have one teenager and one pre-teen. My husband’s firm is successful and quite busy. Medical issues are afoot in my family.

I had every excuse to disengage on the trip and bury my nose in my phone. I could have missed the whole experience.

When you’re at work, be at work. Pay attention. Give your energy. Engage. Appreciate that everything has an opportunity cost.

You must put something down to pick something else up. So must your team and colleagues. Embrace that. Make the very best decisions you can in the moment you are in.

4) Allow room for innovation.

Halfway through our stay, we were surprised by a marathon. The route surrounded our newly-familiar neighborhood. We were literally barricaded in. Not wanting to be constrained, we decided to take the train.

The result was an impromptu day-trip to Florence. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We felt brave and adventurous. Had we not been willing to pivot from our original plan to stay in town, not only would we have missed Basilica Duomo, we would have missed the beautiful view from the train.

I’m a big planner. I love to-do lists. The J in my Myers-Briggs profile is strong. However, I’ve found over the years that the more I allow peers or teams to find solutions, the more creative our solutions get.

Yes, things tend to take a bit longer. And it took me a while to be comfortable not being the doer. But the long-run payoff is higher, for the business as well as team development and morale. Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised.

[Related: Three Counterintuitive Ways To Get Back On Track With Your Goals]

5) Be positive and patient.

On our way back into the US, Customs had more than a dozen booths to process incoming visitors, but only two were staffed. The line stewards were sending travelers to each booth to process the crowd as fast as possible.

The couple in front of us got ugly with our line steward when four travelers that had originally been behind us in line were processed sooner. The scene was horrible. After more than ten hours on a plane, we were all tired and in need of hot showers. Hearing another human get railed on did nothing to speed up the line.

Most people are all too familiar with a toxic workplace. No one is entitled to dumping their ugly on someone else so they feel better. Everyone deserves kindness. Respect and courtesy are both free and priceless.

6) Record your results.

I snapped dozens of pictures. I picked the best ones and deleted the extras as we went along. I kept the activity short to stay in the moment.

As a marketing executive, I’m mindful of the difference between vanity metrics and business metrics. Marketing goals should be business goals or the function is all for naught. Great marketing results in profit. Forgetting this is all-too easy.

7) Lessons for the next adventure.

Mom and I decided we’re going on a trip once a year. Every trip may not be as big as this one, but that’s okay. Even weekends near home would be delightful.

This trip reminded me of what’s important. Focus. Teamwork. Trust. Authenticity. I know how to successfully market an enterprise and deploy strategic initiatives. I love it and I’m good at it.

Teams depend on their leaders for honesty, integrity, and transparency. I have faith in good people, constant learning, and striking the balance between plans and innovation.

[Related: Unlock Your Business Value to be Relevant and Competitive]

Vickie Sherman is the SVP, Director of Integrated Marketing at Rabobank, N.A. She’s a board member of the Gold Country Region of the American Red Cross and the UC Davis Graduate School of Management Dean’s Advisory Council. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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