Thou shalt not kill. Commandment No. 5 is the oldest and most widely known policy document in history. Even more than 3,400 years ago (there is some debate on the date) there was recognition that a written policy can help things go smoothly. Certainly No. 5 here has helped more than one fleet manager in their dealings with drivers!
But why is a well-documented fleet policy needed? A written policy clearly defines the expectations of all parties involved with the use of a company vehicle. From the driver, to the company, and to various third party stakeholders, a policy sets roles and responsibilities pertaining to the need, care, and use of a company vehicle. It helps reduce risk, gain compliance, and codifies and eases the operations for the fleet.
Whenever creating a policy there are many concerns that must be addressed, concerns can be different for every company. Rather than trying to list every possible need, an exhaustive task to be sure, here we will add nine more “thou shalt not” commandments.
Thou Shalt Not…
1. Only Have Your Fleet Team Write the Policy
John Donne has it right, “no man is an island.” When you try to create the fleet policy alone two major problems can easily arise.
The first is that all pertinent issues and concerns may not be addressed; something can be missed. There are so many factors in a good policy that a single person can easily overlook one or more issues that are important to the company or the driver. The second problem is quite the opposite. Being so close to the trials and tribulations of running the fleet, you may see the trees instead of the forest. It is easy to get so down in the weeds that items listed and addressed in the policy will multiply and grow so that the policy comes out with the heft of a Victor Hugo novel.
A happy medium needs to be met so that all needs are covered, but at a level that is sufficient for easily defined parameters, which leads to our second concern.
2. Exclude Fleet From Being Involved in Writing the Policy
Key parties for the policy can range from HR, to sales, legal, risk, safety, finance and even to the executive suite. All have legitimate needs and want to have their concerns addressed, but when writing a policy, a lack of knowledgeable oversight can lead to vague and problematic policy as evidenced by statements I have seen in a policy written by group consensus;
“Acme will ensure that all drivers have valid licenses” (Who is “all?” Is it assigned drivers, pool users, or simply occasional drivers in personal cars on company business?)
“Each accident in a company vehicle will be investigated to determine cause” (Investigated by who, and what expertise do they possess to determine cause?)
“Only drivers with safe records will be allowed to operate a company vehicle.” (What is ‘safe’?)
These vague and incomplete bullets, while well meaning, increases the risk exposure to the company, and add to the confusion of operating the fleet. No mention of the details of how this will be done or who will be tasked with the follow-up leads to nothing getting done and is a serious risk to our fictitious Acme company.
While all interested parties must be represented, it is a mistake to rely solely on others to write the policy. A conductor, the fleet manager, needs to lead the band.
3. Write Your Policy in Multiple Documents, Authored by Multiple People
The parable of the six blind men and the elephant in many ways represents the pitfalls associated when multiple parties create a policy without the help of the fleet professional; they all are concerned with what they know to the exclusion of all else.
One of the easiest ways to fail is to try to compartmentalize different topics into different policies. Safety, maintenance, driver history and training, etc, all are important, but they must be seen in the context of a unified fleet whole. If they are not, it can lead to documents with different structures which may be difficult to understand and can often contain conflicting terms; it also makes updating and revising as necessary more difficult. Divide and conquer is not a motto for the fleet policy!
4. Create an Incomplete Policy That's Missing Key Components
With the vast array of topics that the policy needs to address, it is often easy to overlook one or more pieces that are important to your company and your fleet.
Once you have created a policy it is important to socialize it as a draft to all stakeholders. Have them review for completeness of content first rather than for how it is worded. While all the large concerns are generally caught some less obvious concerns may be missed; use of vehicle while on leave, use of fuel card on vacation, spouse use of vehicle and other issues. Take the time to catch those misses.
5. Have Out-of-Date Policies / Fail to Review at Least Annually
No matter how well-written a company fleet policy, it needs to be constantly reviewed to ensure it does not become out of date due to neglect. A lack of a regular review period for the fleet leaves the company open to risk exposure; at a minimum you should review your policy annually.
The risk to out-of-date policies can come about from outside forces that are constantly changing, forces which impact the fleet. Think of new safety equipment offered by OEMs, changes in the law, changes in how the company insures the vehicles, or a host of other items. Review it regularly and keep it current!
6. Be Misaligned to Company Goals
In North America, more than half of all the fleets reporting in AF’s 2018 survey allow for personal use of the vehicle. And if the company does allow personal use, it should be clearly stated. For service fleets, they may not allow personal use as the company vehicle is very much a tool for the job. As such, if the needs for the job change, or company priorities change, then the policy may need to change to reflect this revised company need.
If the company launches a green initiative, then the fleet is one place that a quick win can occur for the company! Your policy needs to change to reflect changing and evolving priorities.
7. Enforce the Policy in an Inconsistent Manner
As any parent knows, it is absolutely worthless to set rules for your children if you don’t enforce them; children quickly learn if a threat is meaningless. (Did I hear someone compare sales associates to children?) And while a policy is not meant to be a threatening document, there needs to be consequences for not following it. If you take the time to create a truly comprehensive and well-constructed policy, you need to ensure that it will be maintained and enforced.
To ensure this happens it needs to be socialized and important stakeholders need to fully support the policy, and more importantly, need to be seen as supporting the policy. Besides wearing the many hats of a fleet manager (i.e., counselor for the drivers, accountant for Finance, SME for management and others) you need to be a cheerleader for the policy. Make sure everyone is on board!
8. Fail to Gain Written Compliance to the Policy
Once the policy is written and approved it must be communicated to all employees that it touches. People cannot follow and abide by a policy they don’t know about. Make sure that you gain agreement from all associates who the policy affects in writing; by a signed driver agreement document or via accepted e-signature.
And if the policy is revised at some future date, then gain that written acceptance again. The best fleets incorporate policy approval in their company’s annual approval process for all relevant policies.
9. Fail to Communicate the Policy to all Drivers/Employees or Hiding the Policy on a Hard-to-Find Website
Once the policy is written and approved it must be readily available to all. One reason for the success of McDonald’s and Starbucks is that everyone knows where they are; they are consistent, ubiquitous and easy to find. When you need one, you know where to go.
It must be the same for the policy. Celebrate the policy, let everyone know where it is and regularly remind them.
Follow these nine cautionary steps, include everything that is needed for your company, and you should know success in this arena.