By Matthew Betz, Vice President Business Development, Fleet at Motus, LLC
“Many baseball fans look upon an umpire as a sort of necessary evil to the luxury of baseball, like the odor that follows an automobile” – Christy Matthewson
“What we have here, is a failure to communicate.” – ‘Captain’ in Cool Hand Luke
To hear many fleet managers talk, our drivers are a necessary evil to the luxury of our industry, like the odor that follows a fleet of automobiles. To illustrate, let me share two quotes:
“I hate drivers. You can’t trust them” – A nationally respected fleet manager
“If it wasn’t for all of the drivers and all of the cars, this wouldn’t be a bad job” – Fleet executive
While these are not my own thoughts or words, I have heard similar phrases throughout my long fleet career. Yet, without drivers and vehicles, there would be no fleet management industry. So, to try to understand this perplexing disconnect, I would like to point out a couple of key facts. First, in many cases, The Modern Mobile Worker is a well-educated, highly productive, professional member of our organization. Second, the fleet professionals that so quickly dismiss drivers as a necessary evil, are also usually highly-educated, sophisticated, and have the organizations’ best interest at heart. And last, most drivers would not be in vehicles if it wasn’t essential to the organizations’ goals. So, what causes the conflict?
That question leads me to the second quote listed above – “What we have here, is a failure to communicate”. I submit for your consideration that if both groups are well-meaning, educated, and have the organizations’ best interest at heart, that the most likely cause of any friction is poor communication. And, a fleet professional can significantly raise their status in the organization by organizing a plan to clarify that communication and reduce the misunderstanding that creates the problem in the first place.
According to Ragan.com, communication professionals, there are 5 keys to communicating with adult employees. In fact, according to them, communication is not the most important part of a manager’s job – it is the manager’s job. Here are the 5 keys according to Ragan.com:
1. Let employees know what is going on – Sharing information with employees on a routine basis helps strengthen their commitment to the organization. It can also reduce questions and rumors regarding changes that they hear about through the grapevine. This is particularly true when considering any change to the fleet program, that drivers often consider part of their benefit package.
2. Pay attention to rumors – The rumors that I just mentioned can be caused when employees are left to “fill in the blanks” with whatever they think is the real story. Managers that ignore rumors can often lose control of the situation. If much of the information in your organization is spread by rumor, it’s a sign that something is wrong with the communication in your organization. While this responsibility seldom falls solely on the fleet manager, we can help by creating specific communication around changes we have planned.
3. Tell employees why their job is important – To paraphrase, there are still fleet managers out there that say they don’t need to explain what they are doing, drivers should do what they are told because it’s their job. But according to Ragan.com, people need to understand how what you want them to do fits into the organizations’ big picture. Tell them why and how what you need them to do is essential and why they are a valuable part of the program’s success.
4. Give feedback – Some may want more than others, but almost everyone wants feedback on how their efforts are contributing to the organizations’ success. Also, it’s equally important to give positive feedback to those doing a good job, as it is to give constructive feedback to those falling short.
5. Ask for feedback – A story is told about a worker at a Ford Motors plant who came up with an idea for a manufacturing improvement that saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Henry Ford himself visited the worker, handed him a reward, and asked him when he came up with the idea. “Oh, it was years ago!” the worker said. A shocked Ford asked the worker why he didn’t say something earlier. “Nobody asked me before now!” the worker replied.
While we’re all recognized experts in fleet management, we all can learn something from the people that we are providing a service to. It’s important that I take a minute to say that the quotes that I opened this article with are not indicative of the majority of fleet professionals that I know. I only suggest that if you are feeling frustrated with your driver group, and can’t figure out where the disconnect is, try looking toward improved communication as a means to better understanding and increased co-operation.
If you have ideas, thoughts or suggestions about additional items we should include in the discussion, please contact me at email@example.com