Rightsizing a fleet, whether it means reducing the number of vehicles or transitioning to smaller, more fuel-efficient models, can create resentment and frustration among drivers, causing them to resist the initiative.
Take, for example, how technicians might respond when tasked with switching from a full-size to a compact van.
"They may be thinking, 'I need to carry a certain amount of inventory and tools with me, and now I need to fit all that into a smaller vehicle? This is really going to change how I do my job. It's going to inhibit my productivity, my efficiency, my comfort. How is this going to work better?' Without effective communication, there can be a lot of skepticism," explained Suzanne Benzion, manager of strategic consulting for PHH Arval.
And, it's not just service technicians. Sales reps, too, may take offense when asked to downsize to mid-size sedans.
"While the vehicle is a required tool to perform the job, it's also perceived as a perk by many sales reps," Benzion said. "If the reason for the change is not effectively communicated, the driver may feel slighted, thinking you're taking something away."
These driver concerns with rightsizing, if not adequately addressed by management, could fester and negatively impact employee morale and productivity. But, with effective communication, fleet managers can help ease the pain and get drivers on board.
Look at the Big Picture
One way to combat resistance to rightsizing is by explaining the rationale to drivers and other stakeholders impacted by the initiative.
"You can expect drivers to resist and resent any initiative that takes away their vehicles without a good reason; one that's not based on clear and sound goals and determined by a systematic and logical decision-making process," said Paul Lauria, presidentof Mercury Associates Inc., a fleet management consulting firm based in Rockville, Md.
According to Michele Zeiler, senior manager, account management for Wheels Inc., the best way to communicate these goals depends on how the rightsizing is being implemented. For instance, if frontline sales or service drivers are losing their company vehicles, an in-person meeting would be the best way to communicate the change.
"Explaining the reason for changes thoroughly, as well as the future plan, will be understood better in person, and that type of format allows for questions to try preempting incorrect assumptions from circulating in the field," Zeiler said.
For example, if the plan is to reduce spare vehicles, a webcast may be sufficient to explain the plan and how fleet will respond when an immediate need for a vehicle arises. No matter the details of the plan, according to Zeiler, it needs to have support from senior management and provide the benefits the drivers and branch managers will see from the change.
Before executing any rightsizing campaign, first solicit recommendations from drivers during the planning process, Lauria of Mercury Associates advised.
"Drivers should be involved in the process when developing information on how vehicles are used to support the operation of the enterprise," he said. "Drivers are the most knowledgeable individuals in an organization about such matters and should have input to the information-gathering and decision-making process. If fleet users feel that they had no say in the development of rightsizing recommendations, they may try to repudiate those recommendations when it comes time for management to implement them."
There are a few practical ways to get input from fleet drivers. Lauria advised fleets to use online surveys.
"We've surveyed the operators of as many as 25,000 vehicles for a single fleet rightsizing study," he said. "Once we've developed specific recommendations regarding the reassignment, right-typing, or elimination of vehicles in each organizational unit, we conduct face-to-face meetings with representatives of these units to discuss the recommendations and to try to establish consensus on the final plan."
Surveys also serve as an effective communication tool for fleet managers to talk about rightsizing with drivers, said Bob Sandler, vice president of enterprise consulting and analytics for PHH Arval.
"The survey results give you the opportunity to say, 'We've heard you.' And, then incorporate into the discussion: 'Here's what we're considering,'" he said.
However, not only must the fleet manager get a survey to drivers, he or she may need to motivate them to actually fill it out.
"Your response rate will rise as drivers see that you're acting upon their feedback," Sandler said. "As with any survey, the more the respondents see that you're taking action, or at least communicating results, the more likely they will be to participate in future surveys."
Another way to solicit input is through a council, said Zeiler of Wheels.
"The council should include members of operations management (such as sales, service, and human resources) and a couple of drivers to provide the perspective from the field. These drivers can be management as well, but they need to be close enough to the field to have a solid sense of the impact of the change as well as a voice to help sell the concept to those it will impact," Zeiler said.
Set Up Test Drives
Benzion of PHH Arval said some clients conduct onsite test drives to help drivers feel a sense of ownership in the rightsizing process. If the company is looking to move sales reps from full-size SUVs to smaller crossover vehicles, for example, a test-drive program would allow reps to drive those vehicles, see how their gear fits inside, and ensure there are no substantial issues with the spec if they make the switch.
Some large fleets also tap "ambassadors," employees who are highly respected and vocal among their peers, to test drive the new "rightsized" vehicles and share their experiences with other drivers, according to Benzion.
"Ambassadors can provide effective testimonials to say, 'This is working for me, I love it, and here's why.' They can also prove whether the vehicle can actually do the job before it's introduced to the wider fleet," she explained.
Despite what the hard data says about the merits of a rightsizing initiative, it takes the "soft" skills of effective communication to make the rollout successful. Communicate in a way that seeks input, garners trust, and eliminates unpleasant surprises.