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The Fleet Leader’s Guide to Effective Communication: Inspired by ‘Made to Stick’

Written by Sean M. Lyden on . Posted in .

Enhance your influence and team performance with these six time-tested principles.

Do you struggle with getting your team to understand, remember and act correctly on your instructions?

How can you consistently communicate in a simple, straightforward and memorable way?

How can you expand your influence with your boss and direct reports?

If any of these questions relate to you, read “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath.

The book delves into six principles that make certain concepts “sticky” and effective in changing thoughts and behavior. Those principles comprise what the Heaths call their “SUCCESs” model: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories.

Let’s explore how these principles can be applied in real-life fleet management scenarios to drive positive change in your department.

1. Simple
“It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ‘sound bites.’ You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by ‘simple’ is finding the core of the idea.”

Focus on the essence of your message – the most straightforward, precise way to convey your idea or solution – and cut out everything else.


  • Presenting budget and cost analyses: Highlight the key areas where costs can be saved, such as fuel consumption or maintenance, rather than delving into every line item of the budget.
  • Discussing fleet expansion or reduction: Clearly state the reason for the change, such as meeting increased demand or optimizing costs, and how it will benefit the internal customers and the company.
  • New technology training: When introducing new technology, focus on the essential functions and benefits in practical terms rather than explaining the full technical details.

2. Unexpected
“The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns.”

Look for strategic ways to periodically change things up to grab your audience’s attention.


  • Introducing a compelling fact or stat: Start with an unusual or surprising statistic about the consequences of ignoring safety guidelines.
  • Varying report formats: Change the format or layout of regular reports to keep them interesting and engaging.
  • Using creative training methods: Use interactive and unexpected methods in training sessions, like games or simulations, instead of standard lectures.

3. Concrete
“Abstractions make it harder to understand an idea and to remember it. It also makes it harder to coordinate our activities with others who interpret the abstraction in very different ways. Concreteness helps us avoid these problems. This is perhaps the most important lesson that Aesop [and his fables] can teach us.”

Ground your messages in tangible examples – using charts, stories or compelling statistics – to make it easier for your audience to quickly grasp and act upon your ideas.


  • Communicating with non-fleet staff: When discussing fleet operations with other departments, use clear, nontechnical language to describe how fleet improvements can benefit the entire company.
  • Setting performance goals: Set specific, measurable goals, like “reduce vehicle downtime by 10% within six months,” rather than abstract goals like “improve efficiency.”
  • Conducting performance reviews: Give concrete feedback based on specific behaviors or outcomes rather than vague assessments.

4. Credible
“How do we make people believe our ideas? When the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop talks about a public health issue, most people accept his ideas without skepticism. But in most day-to-day situations, we don’t enjoy this authority. Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.”

Support your ideas with relevant data or testimonials to gain your audience’s trust.


  • Highlighting industry benchmarks: Compare your fleet’s performance against industry benchmarks to demonstrate areas for improvement.
  • Providing pilot program results: Share results from pilot programs or small-scale tests before rolling out significant changes.
  • Using testimonials: Share testimonials from other fleet managers or drivers who have adopted proposed changes or technologies.

5. Emotional
“The goal of making messages ‘emotional’ is to make people care. Feelings inspire people to act.”

A logically sound presentation isn’t enough. Your message must also make people care deeply to motivate real action.


  • Sharing the bigger picture: Regularly communicate how the fleet’s work contributes to the larger goals and mission of the organization, instilling a sense of pride and purpose.
  • Fostering team spirit: Encourage a sense of camaraderie and collaborative effort, stressing the importance of each team member’s role.
  • Discussing the real consequences of negligence: Share real-world incidents where negligence led to injuries, emphasizing the human cost.

6. Stories
“How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations.”

By sharing stories of failures and successes, you pass along accumulated knowledge so your team can learn from others’ experiences.


  • Sharing accident stories: Tell stories about actual incidents due to negligence, emphasizing the importance of safety protocols.
  • Change management stories: Tell stories about how the team successfully adapted to major changes or restructures.
  • Vendor relations stories: Share experiences of how building good relationships with vendors led to better service or cost savings.

The Bottom Line
By learning and applying these six fundamental principles of “sticky” communication, you’ll develop an invaluable skill to reach the next level of your career.