Not unlike most things in life, there are rules. Whether rules are meant to be broken or followed is a whole other philosophical discussion, but when it comes to the expectation concerning use of a company vehicle, the rules must be followed.
Every corporation, every company has some form of a code of conduct. If you manage company vehicles, a well-written fleet policy must exist, and moreover, it must be an extension of that corporate code of conduct.
Conceptually, brick-and-mortar surroundings make it easier to understand when one is in a work environment. When you are at work, you know you are at work, and you act accordingly. However, what happens when your office is your fleet vehicle, and you need to travel to various locations to conduct business or vehicles are allowed for personal usage? The perceived freedom of the open roads can present ambiguity in terms of acceptable behavior and expectations, and that is where a strong fleet policy comes into play.
What Should a Fleet Policy Entail?
As a fleet manager, it is incumbent upon you to reduce areas of the unknown and clarify things as much as possible for your drivers. Shades of grey in fleet policy can monopolize large amounts of valuable time in decerning actual fleet policy. Similarly, the same questions surfacing repeatedly are a strong indicator that some item or directive in the policy has not been directly addressed and likely needs formalization.
If certain areas are not well understood, you should work to foster an environment in which honest questions can be asked, and discussions can take place with drivers in a timely fashion. Providing regular upfront communication, engagement and training of your policy is paramount for your drivers.
A fleet’s composition and the functions it performs dictate the fleet policy content. If you do not plan to treat all vehicle types the same, you must be prepared to address the specifics of each area.
Spend the time researching federal and provincial/state regulations to help to shape the language in some situations. Also, if you work in a multinational organization, ensure your policy rolls up appropriately and you have not developed a policy that deviates from corporate standards.
In covering specific fleet areas, address boundaries upfront; otherwise, confusion will certainly result. I liken this circumstance to playing a game but making up the rules as you go along — it is chaotic and arbitrary and serves nobody. While outlining boundaries first can lend to a more lengthy and granular policy for some scenarios, fleet management’s credibility will suffer if it does not have its act together — potentially reflecting poorly upon the company at large.
Data is Your Friend
There is absolutely no point in making a rule or setting an expectation if its effectiveness cannot be measured. Quantitative decision making is hard to discount. Logically, something exceeds, meets or fails to exceed the intention or purpose you strive to put rigor around.
Regularly check the health and effectiveness of your policy measures and communicate upwards and outwards as required. This is the culture you want to create: a transparent environment in which the health of fleet is easily understood. Everyone should be on the same page about monitored items and measures, promoting data-driven decisions. Quantifying fleet activities takes time, and in some cases, you may need to develop processes for collecting credible data.
Data collection presents particular nuances. For example, telematic data is impressive: every data point at the exact moment it occurred. However, consult legal/HR in advance about initiating data collection. A litany of items, including employee privacy, must be considered in this area. Your policy should address how data will be captured, stored and utilized, a process that can take some time to work through.
Allies in Strong Fleet Culture
Upon fleet management is bestowed the honor of demystifying what specifically goes on within fleet — the good and the bad. You cannot accomplish that goal if the policy is not clearly outlined.
Strive to have regular communication regarding fleet operations with your company’s human relations, insurance and legal departments, as well as with senior leadership. They can be your most important fleet allies.
Conversations tend to go much easier, and partnerships are strengthened when everyone is speaking the same language. Contact with relevant company leaders provides opportunities to showcase what is performing well, and moreover, where fleet management needs support. Within fleet management, your span of influence is only so large, but drivers can become more receptive once they understand fleet initiatives are being driven top down and are very much supported.
Your fleet management provider, if you partner with one, should also be consulted and engaged on policy. The first point of contact for your drivers, these providers need to be in a lockstep position on your company’s organizational expectations so they can help to educate and enforce your fleet policy. Given the nature of what they do, fleet management providers can share insight on best practices in certain areas and help to make you aware of blind spots within your policy.
Walk the Talk
When fleet vehicles are not used as intended the corporation is exposed to significant costs and risks. Unfortunate circumstances are bound to happen along the way — some intentional, others not; some purely internal in nature, others that may affect those outside your corporation’s walls. Every action has a potential consequence; a well-written policy will outline steps to be taken when something goes awry.
If your fleet policy clearly establishes a rule, the data and the escalation pathways, then outlined steps must be taken to address issues and concerns that fall outside of acceptable practice. Fleet policy must clearly showcase your — and your drivers’ — duty to protect not just the corporation, but every other driver on the road. This duty is not to be taken lightly, and your drivers should understand it implicitly every time their vehicle is turned on.
A Journey with No End State
Once you have fleet policy established, it is not long before additions, modifications and deletions need to be made for the next update. And that flexibility is the crux of this commentary. Fleet culture must be developed to ensure that fleet operations are always current and malleable—adjusting and flexing to keep up with business needs and industry trends. Change not for the sake of change, but for betterment.
Fleet is a delicate balancing act. People feel very passionately about their fleet vehicles, and, fleet policies are not about winning a popularity contest. If you can develop broad understanding, create a level of interest that generates dialogue and defend the rationale behind established rules, you are well on your way.
Developing a strong fleet policy takes significant time, collaborative discussions, and many working iterations of the final document. It’s an exercise in change management and resilience.
About the Author
Hamid Dean is National Fleet Manager & Ethics and Compliance Leader for 3M Canada.