By John Webb, principal consultant, strategic fleet consultancy, Lex Autolease
If you’re a fleet manager trying to influence at a strategic level, you need to be aware of your communication style and the impact you have on others. Perhaps you have designed a well thought-out fleet policy, but convincing your audience of its importance, and why they should comply with it, is what really counts. Acknowledging how others view your message, and being flexible in how you present it, is crucial in exerting influence.
How to influence drivers
Drivers often see themselves as customers, and managing expectations can make the customer experience a positive one.
This can be achieved by having a well-constructed policy document that is communicated effectively and makes it clear to all parties what vehicles they can order, any trade up or accessories, and delivery timescales and handover processes.
This need for clarity also applies to service, maintenance and repair events. Lack of information can be frustrating for drivers and have a significant impact on the core business.
It is also important that drivers see you as supportive long after they have opted for a vehicle; seeking regular feedback on your own performance and on suppliers is important to create clear lines of communication and a culture of continuous improvement. A fleet manager should be there to escalate issues and a friendly ear who will listen to concerns, helping drivers navigate processes to reach a resolution.
You must have a relentless and ongoing focus on driver feedback and address emerging issues quickly. Staff morale can be positively influenced by helpful fleet support.
How to influence unions
Unions are particularly important stakeholders when there is a consultation process underway to consider proposed changes in vehicles or changes to car policies.
If vehicle changes are proposed, unions will focus on assessing the impact on their members, ensuring they are safe while driving at work and emphasising the need for employers to exercise their legal duty of care. Where cars or vans are a tool of the job, unions will want assurances that vehicles are fit for purpose. Any proposed change will need to be supported by evidence that these important factors are met. Similarly, changes in terms and conditions – such as a reduction in choice or payments for policy excesses – have potential to cause dissatisfaction and union involvement.
In such a situation, the fleet manager must follow the agreed processes and communication channels. Union consultations are often part of broader negotiations about pay and conditions, so any failure to follow the correct process may have a much wider impact. Most importantly, they must provide robust evidence that vehicle models or policy changes are appropriate.
Having a good relationship with unions can provide a good channel for communicating with drivers, and an opportunity to get feedback on fleet performance and early warnings of any problems.
How to influence colleagues
The first stage in influencing colleagues is carrying out some form of stakeholder analysis. This involves identifying individual roles and impact on fleet – and vice versa – for procurement, finance, HR and operations at various levels up to the board.
You then need to decide how you involve them in decision making via, for example, driver user groups and regular surveys and how you will manage the relationship. Importantly this will also identify any emerging issues with vehicles, services or policies.
Colleagues’ aims and objectives can often provide conflicting views. HR’s desire to maintain a competitive car scheme may be at odds with finance’s desire to reduce costs. Likewise, a board initiative to reduce CO2 averages may not be welcomed by operational staff who feel they need specific models that go against a greener policy. Once you demonstrate you understand what everyone needs and why, you gain credibility with them.
Constancy is key when aiming to influence colleagues. Dealing with individuals in the same way and being consistent with messages builds credibility although a strategy needs to be flexible in the face of new challenges.
Above all, you need to listen and communicate effectively using appropriate channels.
John Webb was head of fleet and radio communications at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) from 2000 to 2006. He picked up the Fleet News ‘UK Fleet of the Year’ Award for two consecutive years (2004 and 2005) and holds a diploma in car fleet management from the Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM). He was associate director for Lex Autolease from 2006 to 2011 and has been its principal consultant since April 2011.