The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Learning to Thrive in Change

If there is one constant in business today, it is change. Here are some tips on how a fleet manager can embrace that change and make it a door to opportunity.

March 2014, by Staff

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

It's difficult enough for a fleet manager to get the respect and appreciation he or she deserves in the first place. It can be more daunting when, in the midst of those efforts, the audience suddenly changes. 

Perhaps it's just the direct supervisor, maybe the whole team within the area into which fleet reports, and sometimes it can be an entire overhaul of the C-level executive leadership. Whatever the level of change, fleet managers have little choice but to deal with it. Smart managers, however, learn to thrive in change.

Managing, Not Reacting

Managing change is a hot topic in business today. With what seems to be an endless string of acquisitions, mergers, and divestitures, companies change nearly every day, including executive leadership. Fleet managers face these challenges as often, and as much, as any department level function. They manage a sales or service tool, which is of interest to risk management, legal, human resources, finance, and accounting. Fleet extends across more corporate functions than just about any other department; thus, it is exposed to management changes almost anywhere in the company.

Some such changes are only peripherally important to the fleet function, but shouldn't be entirely ignored. There are others that can have a striking impact on the company's fleet. Managing these changes can often determine the future of the fleet manager's job: how it is performed or even if it will continue to exist.

Fleet managers often speak of "training" a new supervisor, and, to a great extent, this is what happens when there's a change. The boss, generally, has more than one corporate function reporting to him or her, and it is likely that their backgrounds do not include fleet management; thus training by the fleet manager is necessary. Not all management changes that affect fleet occur directly at the line of authority in which the fleet manager reports. So, fleet managers must have a broad-based understanding of who the fleet stakeholders are, what interactions take place with them, and what "culture" drives fleet management decisions.

Changes in management can be disruptive, even frightening, but fleet managers can position themselves to find opportunities — even thrive — when management changes.

Preparing for Change

At the risk of being obvious, fleet managers need to properly prepare for any changes in management by doing the job well all along, and focusing on what all company leadership desire: cost savings/containment. That preparation should include having the numbers available at a moment's notice, in a format that can be easily understood. 

Because they represent the large bulk of fleet costs, there are two particular cost segments that will dominate any cost reporting:

Depreciation: Depreciation is driven by two numbers; the first is the original cost of a vehicle, the second are the resale proceeds. Any reduction in the former, or increase in the latter, will result in documentable savings.

Fuel: Not only is fuel the single largest variable cost, but it is the most volatile as well. 

Staying Flexible

Change isn't bad. It's just different.  Fleet managers can begin the process of dealing with new management by remaining flexible. Resisting change isn't a good idea, and, sometimes, a new manager will suggest, or even demand, change. 

Most managers are creatures of habit; they develop ways of doing things, and decision making that becomes comfortable and successful. But, fleet managers also can benefit by looking in the mirror and recalling what they did when they first got the job. Any new manager wants to make a mark, and fleet managers are no exception; change, when someone new is in charge, is inevitable.  

Although fleet managers need to remain flexible, and be prepared for a different focus for fleet within the company, it is unlikely that no matter where the focus is, cost savings will be of great interest. Depreciation (fixed) and fuel (variable) are where the money is.

Developing Broad-Based Relationships

A change in management entails any one of a number of possible scenarios. A new manager might have a background in procurement, accounting, finance, or even sales. Each one of these disciplines carries with it a different philosophy, a different focus. 

For this reason, fleet managers need to develop broad-based relationships within the company, in order to best prepare for such inevitable and eventual leadership changes. For example:

  • Procurement: A new supervisor who comes from a background in procurementor purchasing will likely focus on pricing. In fleet, this will include vehicle cap costs and fees for fleet services. 
  • Accounting: Accountants appreciate order, good record keeping, and detail. Although more general reporting for management is usually better, backing up graphs and bullet points with the data behind them might quench the need for detail for that new supervisor whose background is in accounting.
  • Finance: The lease vs. own issue, cost of funds, and the terms of a fleet lease can come to the fore when a finance manager oversees the fleet function.
  • Sales: Rising through the company ranks via the sales function, the new manager will always remember what he or she did, and what was important in a company vehicle. Selection, specs, even make and model will generally be important for a veteran of the sales function.

These examples show how smart fleet managers remain flexible and adaptable to the background of a new supervisor.

It also illustrates why it is smart to develop relationships with management in these and other stakeholder functions. If the fleet manager knows and understands their collective interests vis-a-vis the fleet, he or she will be far better prepared to move nimbly when changes occur.

Meeting the New Manager

When a fleet manager learns of a new direct supervisor, the first few communications will go a long way toward establishing a good relationship; indeed, it can be a first step in turning change to an opportunity, even an advantage. 

The first thing to do is to find out if the change is part of a wider reorganization. Is the group or overall function to which fleet has reported in the past going to remain the same? This will help in understanding what other departments or functions report to the new supervisor, and where fleet fits into the new regime. 

The next step is an important one. At some point, a fleet manager will meet the new supervisor; the question now is who should initiate the meeting, or, at least, the first contact? It's probably a good idea to wait at least a week or so before initiating that contact. New responsibilities will keep the new supervisor busy. 

If the new boss doesn't make the first contact within that week, it's a good idea for the fleet manager to do so. An e-mail congratulating him or her on his or her new responsibilities, and telling that you are ready to meet and go over whatever information is needed is a good way to break the ice. That or a phone call will usually generate a response of one sort or another. Either option will allow the new boss to set the date and time of a meeting, or, at least, indicate that he or she will get back and likely generate a note of thanks for the well wishes.

Succeeding at the First Meeting

Although the new supervisor will have an agenda reflecting his or her professional background, a fleet manager can subtly nudge the agenda toward what is essential. Preparation, even before the meeting is scheduled, is important. Here are some items that should be gathered and at the ready:

  • Cost reports: The reports themselves, and a good, simple summary using graphics and showing trends.
  • Budget performance: Both for the department as well as the fleet, with current month and year-to-date performance versus budgeted funds.

Where there are challenges, e.g., fuel costs are over budget, orders are behind schedule, etc., face them head on with clear explanations and solutions.

  • Inventory: How many and what kind of vehicles are currently active in the fleet. Fleet policy/procedures.
  • Names of and data about suppliers.
  • Selector information: Vehicles, specs, makes and models, and how/why selections were made.

It is possible (perhaps even likely) that all of the information that the fleet manager should have at his or her fingertips won't be needed or asked for during this first meeting, but it's better to have it ready than to be asked for something and not have it available. Indeed, it is best to bring it all along even if the agenda doesn't specify that it's needed. 

The first meeting might be anything from a simple, casual conversation to a formal presentation and anywhere in between. It's best to be prepared for a formal presentation. Put together a brief Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, with a few slides showing fleet vehicle and department budget cost trends (again, graphs are best), with a copy of the fleet policy and savings, declining cost trends, and be ready for that "training" session. Remember, if the fleet manager does his or her homework, the preparation should surround that area of background and interest (accounting, finance, purchasing, sales, etc.) of the new manager. 

Certainly, the first contact and meeting might contain some surprises, so be prepared for that as well. Some managers will do some preliminary research through a predecessor. There are managers who, finding that things are in good order in the fleet operation, will say "keep doing what you're doing" and leave it at that, without asking for any details. 

Others, however, can approach the new relationship from the opposite direction. They like to micromanage, and seek all manner of detail on a regular schedule from direct reports. This can be disconcerting, but, with the kind of preparation covered above, it can be done. Whatever the new manager's style may be, the first meeting is an excellent opportunity to probe and find out what the new manager's specific points of interest may be, what kind of management style he or she practices, and how to deal with any changes that will likely result. 

Coming in from the Outside

It is also possible that a management change involves a new manager from outside the company. In such cases, one simple bit of research can help a fleet manager meet the challenge fully prepared. 

Fleet management is a networking profession; in comparison to other departmental processes, fleet managers are relatively few in number, making networking with peers a regular and easy activity. If you learn that the new manager has been hired from the outside, the first thing you should do is to see whether that company has a fleet. If so, a phone call to the fleet manager (if there is one) can provide a wealth of information on the new manager's style, the aspects of fleet on which he or she focuses, and what advice the fleet manager might provide to help the transition go smoothly.

If there is no full-time fleet manager (fully outsourced), determine what supplier(s) the company uses, and contact a representative from that company. Even if there is no fleet manager, the account representative from the lessor or service provider has to be dealing with someone, and can provide much of the same information a fleet manager would. Either way, it is a good first step to be prepared for change that comes from the outside.

If the new, outside manager's former company does not have a fleet, the previously discussed preparation will be the effective way to solidify the relationship and manage any looming change.

Presenting Yourself as an Expert

The bottom line, when there is a management change, fleet managers need to prepare themselves for the "worst" (micromanaging, reams of data, and even "suggestions" from the new manager on how better to provide individual transportation to drivers), with the challenge being turning change into opportunity.

Follow these strategies to turn change to an advantage:

  • Preparation: Know the numbers — cost data, supplier contract information — and have backup data on key decisions. Have it all ready for that first meeting.
  • Develop relationships with all fleet stakeholders in the company: Understand what different functions might determine is important.
  • Be flexible: If the focus on fleet has been, for example, accounting, and the new manager comes from the sales department, prepare to shift focus.
  • Give the new manager the opportunity to make first contact: If none is made within a week or so, reach out with an e-mail or phone call or an office "drop by" to congratulate the new manager on his or her new responsibilities, and tell him or her you are ready to meet at his or her convenience.

Use the first meeting to learn, and confirm, what the new manager's style is, what will be their focus, and how to work with him or her going forward.

If the new manager is from outside the company, use fleet networking to get advice and counsel from the previous company's fleet manager, or, absent that, from the company's fleet suppliers.

Keep one key idea in mind: The fleet manager is the expert in the room. There's no need to crow about it, or even to point it out. Be confident in what you know, what you've done, and why you've done it.

Dealing with changes in management can be a trying and nerve-wracking event if a fleet manager allows them to be. But, when fleet managers prepare properly, remain informed, know their numbers, and do some research on the new boss, a change in management can open new doors to opportunity.

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