The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

The Fleet Manager: An Agent of Change

You can manage a fleet or you can transform it. Change agents are sometimes feared and disliked, but done right, transforming a fleet to excellence is challenging and rewarding, for you and the company.

December 2011, by Staff

Agent of change sounds like yet another business seminar catchphrase. We’re told, “Don’t just manage; be a change agent and you’ll achieve excellence, a promotion, or something good.”

A fleet manager looking to move a fleet — or career — to the next level needs to define change. What creates change? How can it help achieve your lofty goals?

‘If All You Ever Do…’

There is a saying in the state of Texas, “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.” Read it again and think about it — there is wisdom in those words.

Perhaps Einstein’s words are more succinct: “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”

Sometimes, or most of the time, we are all consumed with the “conventional wisdom,” or thinking and acting based on how we’ve always thought and acted, and that makes the results all too predictable.

Being an agent of change in your organization requires creativity, confidence, leadership, a bit of salesmanship, and, most of all, it takes the courage of one’s convictions, a fearlessness that can overcome doubt.

Fear of Failure

The single biggest obstacle most people have in the way of being a true agent of change is fear of failure. We all tend to not want our fingerprints on bad decisions, so all too often we avoid making decisions altogether. It is certainly impossible to introduce change unless hard decisions are made.

Take replacement cycling, for example. The fleet “conventional wisdom” is that replacement should be a function of a time/use algorithm: Replace at “X” months or “X” miles, whichever comes first. We’re told over and over again that replacing too soon will hit depreciation hard, while replacing too late will result in increased maintenance and repair costs, and risks major component failure.

Changing this mindset (not just adding or subtracting a few months or miles to the policy) would stand in the face of decades of fleet lore, and, after all, are things going so badly that such change is needed? The short answer is no, they’re probably doing just fine as is, but there again is that Texas saying — doing what has always been done, generally has the same results as usual.

Is there a better way? Perhaps, but no fleet manager will find out unless they “think outside the box.”

With the new vehicle technology and extended warranties of today, vehicles can be kept safely and efficiently a great deal longer — up to 100,000 miles or more. Or, perhaps, with new car sales stagnant, the used-vehicle market is strong enough to replace vehicles sooner, perhaps even every year.

Relying on a “that’s the way it’s always been done” attitude is a sure-fire barrier to bringing about change in any organization. Playing it safe may well be safe, but it isn’t the path to excellence.

Qualities of Change Agents

There is no real dictionary definition of “change agent.” There are, however, a number of qualities that real agents of change have, enabling them to break out of the pack and introduce revolutionary change to an organization.

  • Sensitivity. It may sound odd, but sensitivity is important. Change agents must be sensitive to how others perceive change, especially radical change, and what they need to do to address such perceptions.
  • Communication skills. Few qualities are as important as communication when introducing change. Selling, persuasion, and clarity will help make the job of bringing change easier on everyone.
  • Enthusiasm. Clearly, unless change is proposed enthusiastically, the fear of failure that others have will be difficult to overcome.
  • Leadership. You’ll need people to follow your example and feel confident that you’re leading them in the right direction.
  • Networking. Being able to work with colleagues at all levels of the organization, from staff who will implement the change, to the managers who will have to approve it.
  • Creativity. The aforementioned ability to “think outside the box,” as well as apply that thinking in a practical sense to bring about positive change.

These are some of the more critical skills an agent of change must have if he or she is to be successful. Along with these more personal attributes, any fleet manager who seeks to change their organization must have the skills, knowledge, and experience to get deeper into the process.

You cannot simply make sweeping suggestions without the detail justifying what you’re trying to do. That detail comes with technical fleet management experience and knowledge, and is a necessary compliment to the personal qualities above.

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