The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

How to Avoid Professional Obsolescence

It’s been a long time since anyone needed a “buggy whip,” and those eight-track tapes belong in a museum. Don’t allow yourself to be added to the list; avoid professional obsolescence by taking a few key steps.

October 2011, by Staff

It’s a frightening phrase — professional obsolescence — and it should be. If you or your job becomes obsolete, you or it will be replaced. It’s that simple. Business today moves so quickly and changes so radically over short periods of time that obsolescence is not a luxury a company can afford.

What is even more inexcusable is when a manager allows himself or herself to become obsolete. Complacency, laziness, arrogance — whatever the cause, your industry can pass you by very quickly if you aren’t paying attention. This career sin can be avoided, however, and here are some steps you can take to remain state of the art.

Change Isn’t Bad, It’s Just Different

To grow and prosper, business must learn to deal with change. The pace of change has become dizzying in recent years, as technology outpaces the ability of many businesses to adapt.

The same holds true for fleet managers. Although the basic mission of fleet management hasn’t changed — the safe and cost-efficient management of company-provided vehicles — the means by which this is accomplished, as well as the vehicles themselves and the laws and regulations governing them, undergo change nearly every day. Keeping up with such changes, and learning to apply them to the job, is at the same time more difficult today. The pace of change is so much faster than it was decades ago — as well as easier — and tools available to fleet managers are much more advanced.

If a fleet manager becomes complacent, comfortable in a routine, in the way things are, obsolescence is inevitable.

What Is ‘Obsolete?’

Merriam-Webster defines something as obsolete very simply: “No longer in use, or no longer useful. Of a kind or style no longer current.”

When change is inevitable, and the pace of change rapid, a fleet manager can become obsolete in the same way that the buggy whips and eight-track tapes did. No longer current, no longer in use, and no longer useful.

Professionally, obsolescence comes when either the job being done is no longer current, or the means by which the current job is done is no longer in use or useful. How can this happen to a fleet manager?

As mentioned, the basic mission of fleet management remains unchanged, just as the basic mission of, for example, a batter in baseball. Fleet managers are to provide, and manage, company-provided vehicles in the safest, most cost-efficient manner possible. The change of which we speak is broad, however. The vehicles of today would hardly be recognizable to a fleet manager of 30 years ago, or even 15. The technology available to fleet managers — communications, reporting, the gathering, storage, and use of data — is far more sophisticated, and the laws and regulations under which a fleet must operate are more numerous and more complex.

Thus, there are a number of ways that fleet managers can risk professional obsolescence:

Vehicle technology: Much like a mechanic who hasn’t progressed beyond kingpins, points, and condensers, a fleet manager who fails to remain current in vehicle technology renders himself or herself obsolete. It doesn’t matter that some technology may not impact the fleet directly. Someday, it may. And someday, also, there may be a career opportunity that requires that knowledge.

Legislation and regulation: Governments at all levels have passed and imposed more regulation related to vehicles, drivers, and driving in the past 10 years than at any time previously. Changing speed limits, new CAFE requirements, emissions controls, the use of mobile devices — the list of things that lawmakers and bureaucrats seek to limit or control gets longer every year. Once again, just because a law or regulation isn’t immediately applicable to your fleet doesn’t mean you don’t need to stay current on what is new, and how existing laws have changed.

Business technology: The pace of change and advancement of business technology is little short of dizzying. As little as 30 years ago, the primary means of communication were via telephone and the U.S. Postal Service. Then came faxes, followed by e-mail, and now the options for communication are remarkable: webcasts, instant messaging, all manner of social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, etc.), and the hardware that can be used goes well beyond computers to cell phones, tablets, BlackBerrys, and more. In addition, the means by which companies and managers use and mine data have expanded as well, from the first spreadsheet software to online tools, lessor “dashboards,” and the Internet.

Business models: Twenty years ago, if the company needed an accounts payable clerk, it found one in the local market, hired him or her, and sat him or her at a desk in the corporate office. A fleet manager had a cubicle or office in the same building. Now, however, the concept of the “virtual office” has become more accepted, primarily due to the use of new technology. Documents can be scanned (and thus have become more and more legally acceptable), teleconferences and webcasts replace meetings held in conference rooms, and the large majority of tasks nearly every employee must address each day can be done from the comfort of a home office. Not only does this save the company money, but it provides a far wider talent pool from which to choose the best candidates for the job.
So, the pace of change can, if a fleet manager doesn’t keep up, render either the job or the person obsolete. What then, can be done to avoid it? How, with the day-to-day responsibilities fleet managers have, is there time to remain relevant in light of all the changes that occur?

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