I’m about to visit Havana on a cultural exchange mission.
America is sending over some of its best and brightest HR leaders to talk about staffing, workplace issues, and labor market concerns. Should be an interesting trip.
Cuba wonders why the hell we’re not sending back Beyonce and Jay Z!
Americans don’t know Cuba.
My in-laws honeymooned in Havana in 1957, which makes them part of the final group of Americans to see Cuba before Fidel and Raúl Castro toppled the Batista government in late 1958. The United States embargo against Cuba began in 1960 and continues to this day.
(Yes, the Obama government is lifting some sanctions and trying to normalize Cuban-American relations. No, Americans can’t just fly down to Cuba and stay in a nice hotel without a bunch of red tape. Trust me.)
Why send HR people to Cuba?
Lots of people wonder why I’m going to Cuba. Well, I like to be early to new things. I don’t want to see a version of Havana where American tourists are chewing gum, walking around in flip-flops and pressuring low-wage workers for hotel upgrades. C’mon, I want to be the first American to do that!
I’m very interested in what happens when we lift all sanctions and Cuba welcomes new restaurants and hotels. I sit on the board of TDn2K, which is a company that provides actional financial and workforce insights to the restaurant and service industries, and I want to help our customers navigate the Cuban labor market.
I could read a report about economic conditions in Cuba, or I could talk to government leaders or business professionals on my own. I prefer to see the world with my own eyes, which is why I’m excited about this trip.
Travel broadens your horizons in HR.
Not everyone gets to travel for work, but if you get the chance, don’t turn it down. Whether it’s Wales or Witchita, travel will broaden your horizons and expose you to new ideas.
One of my first business trips was to Louisville, KY. I was able to tour the GE Appliance Park and meet recruiters who were filling highly technical contract labor positions. I didn’t know anything about Kentucky, which was eye-opening, and I also didn’t know that there was a crop of highly skilled workers in this country who preferred to be consultants instead of full-time employees.
When you work in HR, you think everybody wants to be an employee and is begging for a chance to earn a W2 from your organization. The contingent labor market was hot in the late 1990s, and it’s hot again, today.
Not everybody likes to travel.
Business travel can be a monumental pain, especially when you have a family or local obligations, but leaving the confines of your office park, even for a day trip, will change the way you do HR.
Travel helps improve your awareness about the way others work. When you meet new people and learn about their challenges, you can develop a greater sense of empathy. And travel will either confirm or challenge your personal biases about life, which is not a bad thing.
Don’t like to travel? Well, I can’t blame you. A cross-country coach flight in a middle seat doesn’t sound very appealing. You should try a networking event in a nearby town or municipality. That might be helpful and increase your professional development opportunities, too.
Say yes to business travel.
Fortune favors the bold. If you’re lucky enough to step away from your desk and see something new, say yes to the opportunity. Even if the destination isn’t sexy or glamorous, take advantage of the experience and try to embrace the adventure.
You never know where it will lead you.
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.