For organizations contemplating a fleet rightsizing effort that won’t anger end users, here’s some advice: use solid data, convey information clearly and seek understanding.
“At the end of the day, it’s ultimately about communication,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com). Prior to a rightsizing initiative, operators won’t necessarily be saying that the fleet has extraneous equipment, while others in the company may be focused on budget. But when fleet professionals get to know their internal customers and their needs, Guthro said, greater collaboration is possible.
“When you rightsize a fleet, it gives organizations more opportunity to hold on to their most critical resource: their people,” he said. “You have to approach it from, ‘We’re not here to do things to you, but for you, and we want you to be involved.’”
That’s easy enough to say, but it can be challenging to deliver, especially with new management – those who want to make a definitive mark through changes without perhaps fully surveying the landscape or considering long-term impact. This can affect productivity and diminish employee buy-in.
Imagine, for example, a utility fleet that cuts back on lesser-used equipment, believing it will be available as needed from external rental providers.
When discussions begin with a rental company, Guthro said, “those outsourced parties are cooperative, and say, ‘Yes, we can provide that for you, and here’s the price point.’ It’s a nice, pretty picture. But when you have to get that equipment, you have to understand that you’ll likely be competing with others who have the same expectation, and demand may outpace supply.”
When needed equipment is not available, challenges go beyond the immediate situation; employees have negative feelings because workflow is disrupted, which can disintegrate trust over time.
Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, said there have been times he’s seen rightsizing efforts engender some pushback. But fortunately, NPPD is not an organization that “lends itself to pouting and complaining” once changes are made. The key, he believes, lies in having information readily available to back up what needs to be done, as well as sharing it with business leaders.
“It all boils down to access and readiness of the assets,” Gilliland said. “A lot of times, with rightsizing, you’re asking business units or end users to share assets or pool assets, and sometimes their work causes them to go in two different directions.”
The right data, however, separates reality and perceptions. But when considering that data, “you have to be ready to be wrong,” Gilliland said. “In general, the fleet person wants the contingent of vehicles to be as small as possible, whereas the end user wants it to be as large as possible. Somewhere in the middle is what’s right.”
He also said his first thought with any effort is the idea of “doing no harm,” which helps ease communications with business unit leaders and end users. Quite often, Gilliland said, when GPS or other measuring points are introduced to business leaders to support a cutback, the response is, “Yeah, we’re seeing that, too” or “We’re not surprised by that.” With proper evidence in the picture, he said, “they’re generally pretty supportive. At the end of the day, they’re trying to run a business unit, and just like our unit needs to run affordably, so does theirs.”
Proper language and phrasing also help. Gilliland is fond of the term “optimizing” to cast things in a better light. And this last suggestion is something Gilliland said he learned from his colleagues, such as fleet support specialist Rob Barbur: “One thing we’ve done – and Rob has done this consistently – is to also talk to the end user about what they need that they don’t have.” That way, Gilliland said, it’s not a one-way conversation of having to defend what’s already in place; fleet professionals and end users can work together on what could be.
About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.
Making the Case for Rightsizing
Are you ready to back up your rightsizing argument but unsure how to do it? Consider these three tips.
1. Know what information to collect. Matt Gilliland, director of operations support for Nebraska Public Power District, said utilization rates from miles, hours and power-takeoff standpoints can be helpful. “And look at those over a particular term or period, whether nominalized by day, week, year or however else you want to do it.” In addition, he said, “reach out to other organizations that are like-minded and like-sized, and do some benchmarking and comparisons. I’ve found benchmarking to be a tremendous tool when it comes to having the right assets.”
2. Ensure the fleet is properly categorized in its utilization. “You can’t have an expectation that all equipment will be used 40-plus hours a week,” said Charlie Guthro, vice president of global strategic services for fleet management company ARI. “You have to understand the uniqueness of your fleet. You can’t broad-brush it based on what’s worked for another organization.”
3. Get help if you need it. Fleet management companies such as ARI can assist in gathering and preparing data that will help fleet professionals “move from anecdotal to evidence-based decisions,” Guthro said. They also can help provide a window into the best practices of other companies.