Release date: 1/20/2020
Managing Change In Fleet’s Evolution
By Sandy Smith
Technology implementations can strike fear in the hearts of employees, but an empathetic strategy can help them feel part of the process.
Steve Saltzgiver, CAFS®, often uses a chart adapted from Michael Bridges’ Transition Model that showcases the stages of change and transformation, ranging from denial to anger to, finally, acceptance. If it sounds like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief, it’s not that far off. Change can be hard to implement and, at a time when technology-driven change is so fast and furious, opposition to new ideas and processes is often the immediate response. After all, change makes people feel uncomfortable. The key is for the change agent to listen and communicate empathetically to steward new models and systems with those who will ultimately activate and work with them.
"People may be more open to change because they’re so used to it," said Saltzgiver, now a manager with consulting firm Mercury Associates. "But because of the pace, people are fatigued. They are getting wary of what technology is going to do to their jobs. Leadership needs to be focused on where morale is at any given time so that they’re not heaping too much change on at once."
Building a change-oriented culture isn’t easy and fleet professionals may find they need to manage up, convincing the C-suite to invest in new technology, as well as down, helping those who will use the new technology to accept change. Critical to success of adopting any new tech product or service is to make a strong business case for the innovation.
Ed Dubens, CEO and Founder of Mentor by eDriving, sees it all the time. The solution, he believes, is to get buy-in on the front end. "The biggest thing for me is that initial consultation," Dubens said. "I know sometimes people will roll their eyes and say, ‘I’d like to get this done this year.’ When you go to the large fleets, consultations get more complex." Those buy-ins, he believes, should start well before a technology provider is chosen.
"Talk to the senior leadership and get department heads involved. Make sure they understand what the technology can do and what it can mean to them before they talk to the vendors." It is also important to recognize that many traditional leaders are afraid of tech through lack of experience and understanding. The change agents become a bridge between the past and the future, building confidence and expertise among all stakeholders.
Only change endures
Saltzgiver has a defined process that he uses with large corporate fleets. "You can introduce the change, articulate the benefits, and identify people in your organization who are advocates or early adopters. They will help bring others along," Saltzgiver said.
You can’t underestimate the reality that many are fearful of change, especially these days. And it is exacerbated by a multigenerational workforce. "It comes at a time when there is a convergence of technology and fleet complexity coupled with the loss of institutional knowledge as boomers exit the workplace. Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z don’t have the traditional mechanical and perfunctory skillsets, but they are much more analytical and accustomed to changes in the work environment," Saltzgiver says.
Stephanie Donelson, Enterprise Marketing Manager for Derive Systems, often hears pushback that a fleet is too small or that fleet managers don’t have time to implement a new tool. "We know that fleets of all sizes can benefit from improving their operations through technology and getting ROI, whether that’s improved routing which could improve customer service and satisfaction, or reducing fuel waste and costs which immediately pays for itself," Donelson said. "We also know a fleet manager’s time is valuable and our technology saves them time and money in the long-term. Instead of having to analyze data for hours, they can use our technology to make immediate improvements to their fleet vehicles and concentrate on other areas of the business."
Resources at the ready
In many cases, the fleet manager has another arrow in the back pocket to innovate change: the fleet management company. This is especially crucial if the technology is going to be installed in a vehicle. "They’ll have an eye on where you are in the buying cycle," Dubens said. "People can get blown off course pretty easily with a mistake here."
If the change comes from working with a new technology vendor, fellow fleet professionals can be invaluable in providing some background on the company. Does their product or service line up with what they promise? Having that peace of mind can help the fleet professional be more secure in their decision. And that confidence can inspire others to get on board.
"Businesses don’t do business with companies that can’t provide a referral," Dubens says. He suggests fleet professionals should line up allies on the front end, at the leadership and managerial level. Key players at the table of any change discussion should include human resources, legal, and privacy. Information and technology officers, especially for multinational companies, should be involved with any change dynamics involving tech, Dubens adds. "Sometimes these stakeholders are left out of the loop until the end, which is too late."
Donelson has found that advocates for tech transformation tend to fall into two categories: enthusiasts and strategic decision-makers. "The enthusiasts are dedicated to upholding the fleet’s values and mission and are passionate about finding the right solution right now. Our strategic decision-makers are focused on long-term success and will need more information before implementing new technology, but once we prove why our technology is innovating fleet management, we can rely on them as advocates."
The technology vendor is a valuable resource and can help advocates by providing information and understanding the challenges the fleet faces. Derive provides a toolkit with case studies and fact sheets and can provide pilot data from a specific fleet, Donelson says. "We also put a focus on continued education by sharing industry news, best practices, and guides to today’s fleet tech to keep them informed of what’s going on in the fleet world and help them have databacked conversations on the future of fleet management and fleet technology."
Drivers are also important to include in the discussion. "We like to get some champion drivers leading the charge," Dubens says. "Let them play with the technology. Word spreads. It will pay back in the end. If you’re interested in the long-term solution, you have to put in the work on the front end."
Make sure that you’ve identified key stakeholders and understand how new technology will impact each person. "Conduct employee listening sessions needed to strengthen workplace engagement where managers talk to each employee about how this change will benefit them," Saltzgiver explains. "Let them raise their most pressing questions with you. Sometimes it may not be things you’ve thought about."
That communication is not a one-time event. Saltzgiver recommends regular meetings, with team leaders who can report along the way. "We meet in a periodic cadence so that everybody is always on the same page. This group will identify the issues. You’ll never have a project without a problem. You have to figure out the solution."
Managing the naysayers
At some point in the process, a naysayer will appear. It may be the finance leader who has been burned by an overhyped technology investment that didn’t pan out. It may be the person at the lowest level of the rung but with a loud enough voice to stir up trouble.
Listen to those concerns, address them if you can. And if that person is in management, "find out their concerns and turn them into advocates," Dubens says. "The last thing you want is to have your beautiful, shiny new program and someone telling their direct reports, ‘This will never work. This will go away.’"
Whether leader, manager or front-line employee, meet their concerns with relevant data, Dubens says. "Everybody has a story to tell and the only way to counteract that is through case studies. Our customers are very willing to share currently, and that’s increasingly important as we’re all bombarded with fake messages."
Donelson says getting to the "root of why they feel it won’t work" can move the process forward. "By understanding why they’re pushing back, we can alleviate those fears while showing their input is valued and addressed."
Saltzgiver also suggests allowing the naysayers a chance to be heard. "Identify their concerns and repeat it back through active listening skills," he explains. "You can say, ‘You think this change won’t work — why? What suggestions do you have? What if we do this?’ Make them part of the process."
If no obvious solution is immediately apparent, Saltzgiver suggests saying, "That’s a good question. Let me take it back to our team and see how we’re going to address it." The goal is making them feel heard rather than having change forced on them.
"Having stories and solutions that focus on positive outcomes helps placate concerns," Saltzgiver says, pointing out that as a fleet professional, he successfully completed a major change when telematics systems were implemented with vehicles of union drivers.
"Unions don’t like feeling like they’re being tracked with telematics. We offered examples of where it got someone out of trouble because they weren’t where they were accused of being." Providing a clear example of how the change in question might address a real-world issue for these unionized drivers helped pave the way for the all-important buy-in.
Ultimately, not everyone will be happy with change. If that derails the project, Saltzgiver suggests bringing stakeholders back together. "Do a listening session to figure out what the issue is, listen to their ideas and concerns to reset goals and objectives, and get them back on track."
Your Next Stop: The Comfort Zone?
Change is hard, especially for an organization that’s grown comfortable with the institutionalized status quo. However, business-as-usual prevents leaders from being open to innovation and change, offering only unremarkable results-asusual. Ask yourself these four questions about your organization’s change culture; if you answer yes to even one of them, you might be at risk of staying in the comfort zone.
Is your company change-averse, leaning on unconscious/conscious biases that might prevent transformation?
Do habit and tradition play an outsized role in decision-making?
Do you have the change agent skills that can secure buy-in at all levels of the workforce?
Are your operations reliant on and reinforced by "echo chamber" mentalities rather than actively seeking new solutions?
Design thinking, a concept that has been around for 50 years now, is hardly new, but it remains cutting-edge and relevant. First created to improve product design, its useful concepts help organizations implement change through holistic cross-disciplinary approaches and systems solutions.
The process, as outlined by the Interaction Design Foundation, promotes seeking to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems. The process is somewhat fluid, with some proponents identifying the process with as few as three or as many as seven phases. Stanford University’s Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design settled on five:
Empathize with users.
Define their needs, problems, and your insights.
Ideate by challenging assumptions and creating innovative solutions.
Just to mix it up, the five phases are not always sequential. Tim Brown, author of Change by Design, terms design thinking as "essentially a problem-solving approach, crystalized in the field of design, which combines a holistic user-centered perspective with rational and analytical research (to create) innovative solutions."