The formation and leadership of fleet strategy
by Ken Goldberg – Consultant, IPWEA FLEET
Some of you may recall that I presented on Leadership in Fleet Management at the IPWEA Australasian Fleet Conference earlier this year. I covered theories relating to the formation and leadership of fleet strategy. This article has been included in this edition of Fleet intouch as a result of further interest in the topic.
There are lots of ways to develop fleet strategy. A simple method entails essentially 4 key questions, as follows:
1) What do the users of our services want?
This question is customer (or stakeholder) focused, to help you understand your business’ value proposition. You and your team will want to understand the type of relationship you should have with the customer, the customer’s journey, and the resources, partners, and activities required – at a minimum.
2) Where are we now?
Consider reflecting over the last 12 months. What went well and what hasn’t gone so well? Your team may want to look at trends, historical and financial performance as well as reviewing the value being delivered to customers or stakeholders.
3) Where are we going?
This question is about purpose, vision, and mission. Consider reviewing the corporate plan and visualising the end of a strategic period for your group, department, functional area and so forth. What outcomes are envisaged? What will you and the team be celebrating at the end of the financial year?>
4) How do we get there?
Set targets, returns, must-do actions, timing, and who’s responsible. Develop a Fleet Business Plan focusing on the short to medium term, that translates key organisational objectives into measurable actions. This is typically over a 12-month period, but it can be longer. Prioritise to develop a 10-year Fleet Asset Management Plan. Consider legislative requirements. Finally, ensure actions are aligned to corporate objectives and backed up by corporate policies that are statements of intent providing operational guidance. Consolidate the entire exercise, if possible, into a “plan on a page”.
We can overlay the above concepts across a maturity model. For example, a basic business might do annual planning with the management team, prepare an annual fleet business plan, and routinely review an executive summary. A more sophisticated (or core) business might do everything in the basic model but also prepare a fleet asset management plan and use specialised business systems such as a fleet information management system. An advanced business may do everything in the core model but also apply a continuous improvement framework, have progress routinely reported to or reviewed by senior management, and implement integrated systems.
Once fleet strategy is in place and there is a proper implementation and review process as described above, then what about leadership? There is much written on the subject and there are numerous characterisations of what leadership is. I think the definition from Rene Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim (who co-authored the book Blue Ocean Strategy) is a good one. They suggest that leadership is “the ability to inspire confidence and support among the people that are needed to achieve organisational goals."
If you think about this leadership definition and flip it around in relation to fleet strategy, then you will get a clear message as a fleet manager. Start the strategic process by working with relevant personnel within your organisation to develop goals that align with overarching organisational strategy then provide fleet practitioners with confidence to execute and achieve fleet objectives. Seems so straightforward. However, the execution of strategic initiatives many times gets derailed or fails, due to managers having insufficient interpersonal skills required to lead their staff, especially through change.
What does leadership practically look like in fleet management?
There are a vast number of critical areas as a fleet manager requiring leadership skills. Your current situation may involve dealing with items such as budgeting and finance, purchasing, maintenance, fuel, disposal, FMIS and reporting, customer service, staff capabilities, health and safety, environment and risk, and continuous improvement to name a few. But what about future direction?
The future strategic direction may be even more complex. You may need to manage or are already dealing with emerging issues such as staffing shortages, alternative energy, sustainability practices, high-risk virus variants, the circular economy, autonomous mobility, social policy and remote work, supply chain and chain of responsibility, disruptive technology and so on.
In these cases, conducting a gap analysis and setting a strategic direction periodically is prudent. However, managers need to add key leadership skills to ensure that the team successfully navigates through significant challenges and change.
According to Andrew Dubrin (Author of Leadership: Research Findings), managing pertains to the administrative aspects of a manager’s job whereas leadership relates to its interpersonal aspects. Stereotypical differences include being rational vs visionary, implementor vs initiator, persistent vs creative, tough-minded vs inspiring, analytical vs innovative, structured vs courageous, centralising knowledge vs sharing knowledge, and so on. As you can see, there is a continuum of skills that fleet managers must master to manage AND lead. In the end, managing and leading are not the same thing.
Sometimes it’s hard to pull our heads out of the day-to-day and foist ourselves into a strategic mindset. However hard it may be, if we fail to consider our strategic direction, we end up running on the hamster wheel going nowhere. Similarly, if we fail to lead, our department becomes nothing more than a rudderless ship. Take the time for strategy and brush up on your leadership skills. They’re skills that can catapult you and your team to the next level.