Author: Sean M. Lyden

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Shop Talk: Developing Your Continuity of Operations Plan in a COVID-19 World

If you were to lose one-third of your workforce in the fleet department at any given time due to COVID-19, what would your continuity of operations plan look like? What adjustments would you make?

Dale Collins, fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water, which serves nearly 2 million customers in Northern Virginia, began posing these “wargaming” questions with his team in early March when it became clear that the pandemic presented a significant health risk to employees, especially the shop technicians who needed to be on-site to help keep the fleet running.

So, what changes have Collins and his team made as part of the water utility’s continuity of operations plan to ensure employee safety while maintaining high service levels for customers?

UFP recently spoke with Collins, who oversees 434 total fleet assets and two garages – in Chantilly and Newington, Virginia – with seven total shop employees, to learn more about the utility’s COVID-19 response. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

UFP: How did Fairfax Water arrive at the COVID-19 protocol you have developed?

Dale Collins: It was early March when we, as a fleet organization, really became attuned to focusing on the things that we needed to start doing. We became more situationally aware. And our executive leadership really helped us to get in front of this quickly.

In what ways did senior leadership help drive the process?

They helped the entire organization to think about and develop scenarios; I call it wargaming. If we were to lose one-third of all of our workforce, what would our continuity of operations look like?

And they pressed that thinking process down to the managers, directors and on down to the supervisors at the ground level to help draw out the best ideas. And it all went back up the chain [of command], which made it much easier to wrap our heads around what things would look like if we couldn’t operate as usual.

So, what are some of the changes you’ve put in place for fleet?

We started by building greater awareness with our end users. We highlighted the need for them to be very disciplined in doing their pre-operational checks, making sure that they check everything before they get in the vehicle to go to the job site. That’s because, if we were to lose a significant number of our technicians on the shop floor, our ability to respond to road calls would be compromised.

I also asked them to please be diligent on curtailing any type of self-inflicted wounds or any damage – to make sure that when you’re loading your vehicles with the equipment that you take a little extra room, don’t bump the side of the truck bed, and so forth.

I have to say that our field people have really responded well to that. We don’t have to do a lot of damage repair right now. And that has helped a whole bunch right there.

What else did you include in your continuity of operations plan?

For example, if we lost technicians, I would split my role from being a supervisor position to helping on the shop floor or anywhere we needed support. The same would go for the supervisors on my team. Instead of being heavily administrative, they would be more focused on doing hands-on, nut-and-bolt work.

Our other adjustments would be that we would push off our preventative services to address any urgent corrective needs, at least initially. And then we would go back to doing our PM work. But obviously, vehicle uptime is paramount. So, even if you’re a little late on your service, we find ourselves pretty well prepared to weather a storm like this because we have a relatively young fleet. And the age of the fleet helps a lot in terms of minimizing the strain on our shops to repair older vehicles.

What about your shop operations? What has changed? What best practices have you implemented in response to COVID-19?

Before we get a vehicle in – if it’s a scheduled service or a corrective repair – we wash up and glove up. We spray disinfectant on the seats, wipe down the steering wheel, the door panels. We put in a floor mat and a plastic disposable seat cover. We then bring it in the shop, execute our work, take the vehicle out of the shop, remove our PPE, take off our gloves and then wash immediately after. Each time. Every time. No exceptions.

What type of PPE are your techs using besides gloves?

For one, the plastic seat covers. They work great because you don’t have to worry about contaminating the clothes you’ve got on your body. Also, the floor mats because there’s a significant amount of data about how viruses can live on shoes and spread.

What other best practices have you implemented?

Our nighttime cleaning crew has continued the winter protocol that they typically follow during the heavy influenza season, which includes increased wiping down of surfaces, door handles and other common high-touch areas. When we arrive in the morning, we spray down our door handles and prop the doors open so we’re not constantly touching them. We’ll spray down the water fountain and wipe it down with disinfectant. We’re providing hand sanitizer in the mobile crew trucks for the field staff when they can’t have running water and soap. And we make sure to maintain as much space as possible between each of our staff members.

Also, we do a roll call every morning at both shops to make sure everyone is in good health and feels well, and that their families are staying healthy. We’ve asked every staff member that if they feel ill, if they’re running any type of temperature, to stay home.

With us being an essential service, we really try to make sure we take care of ourselves so we can take care of our customers.

Becoming a Steady, Highly Effective Leader in Uncertain Times

In his “Meditations” nearly 2,000 years ago, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius gave us a powerful picture of what it looks like to be a leader during a crisis. He wrote, “To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”

As a fleet leader, you’re grappling with the effects of a global pandemic crashing over you and your organization. How do you stay calm and be that rock of stability and confidence so that you can effectively lead your team through the rough seas of these uncertain times?

Over the years in my career as a professional writer, business owner and leader, I’ve encountered more crises than I’d care to admit. But it’s because of those challenges that I’ve been able to develop a mental framework that helps me keep my head together – to think clearly and lead effectively in the face of uncertainty.

I call it “Glance vs. Gaze.” The idea is that we can’t control the COVID-19 pandemic – or any crisis, for that matter – but we can control what we focus on.

So, Glance vs. Gaze is about adjusting your focus in a way that empowers you.

When you glance at something, you look at it briefly and then move on. You don’t dwell on it. But when you gaze at it, you focus on it intensely.

To stay calm in a crisis, then, I’ve learned to glance at the big picture – the long, challenging road ahead – and then gaze at what’s on tap for the day so I can be as productive as possible.

But what happens when we reverse the order of glance and gaze? We make a bad situation worse.

That’s because when we gaze too much at problems, we start feeling overwhelmed. All we see is so much uncertainty. So few answers. And we feel completely paralyzed, unable to function and do the important work we should be doing immediately to build positive momentum for ourselves and the team.

When we choose instead to glance at the problem – that is, acknowledge the challenge but don’t dwell on it – we put ourselves in a more resourceful mindset to figure out a solution. Then we can quickly shift our gaze to focus our time, energy and emotions on the task immediately before us to improve the situation.

The bottom line: When we focus on “winning the day” and pour ourselves into our most important tasks today, we can have confidence that tomorrow will take care of itself, no matter how uncertain things seem right now. And it’s that confidence that keeps us calm under pressure.

Sean M. Lyden


What’s New in Truck and Van Upfits for 2020?

The industry’s leading body manufacturers and upfitters in the truck and van sector are developing new products that equip your crews to get more work done in less time and with less strain.

Some companies are incorporating lighter-weight materials in their product designs so that you can increase a truck’s payload without bumping up to a larger vehicle. Others are adding more versatile tool storage options to enhance accessibility and improve ergonomics – to offer a safer work environment for your crews.

So, who are these truck and van equipment providers and what are some of the products and design enhancements they’ve brought to market recently to help you achieve your fleet objectives? Here are eight new developments to watch.

What’s New: CabMax Composite Bulkhead

In November, WEATHER GUARD introduced the company’s new lightweight CabMax Composite Bulkhead to enhance driver comfort, reduce noise and increase customization options for fleets.

The composite bulkhead weighs 55 pounds, which is 25% lighter than a comparable steel bulkhead, according to the company. And the new bump-out design of the bulkhead allows the driver’s seat to recline up to 35 degrees, which the company says is the largest driver-seat range of motion in the industry.

In the past, van bulkheads – which separate the driver from the cargo area, providing protection from shifting loads – were not designed to have van storage components or other accessories mounted on them to maximize cargo space. But the new CabMax Composite Bulkhead offers accessory panels that can be placed in 14 different attachment points. The accessory panels are designed to accompany WEATHER GUARD REDZONE accessories, but they also offer standard threaded inserts to use off-the-shelf attachments.

Terex Utilities
What’s New: Spin Bottom Drill Bucket

In October, Terex Utilities introduced a new Spin Bottom Drill Bucket for use with digger derricks to improve worker productivity when drilling in unstable ground conditions, such as wet or sandy environments.

As the tool drills into the ground, barrel teeth cut through the material while the bucket captures it, allowing the operator to dump the material outside of the hole.

“When the ground material won’t stay on the auger carry flight, the Spin Bottom Drill Bucket enables digger derrick operators to clear a hole faster and easier,” said Dale Putman, product support manager for auger tooling and auger drills.

The tool is available in sizes up to 36-inch diameter and features 5/8-inch wall thickness, 30-inch barrel length and 104-inch overall length.

While Terex Utilities has offered similar tools for auger drills, this is the first time this type of tool has been available for digger derricks.

What’s New: Single Man Folding Basket for service cranes

The Diversified Products brand LiftWise introduced its new Single Man Folding Basket for service cranes in January. The basket provides fall arrest and fall protection while eliminating the need for ladders or climbing on equipment.

The basket is attached to the crane head using an adapter that is specifically built for each make and model of crane. When they are finished using the basket, crews can fold it in less than a minute.

Weighing 230 pounds, the basket offers a 350-pound capacity with a full-sized floor to accommodate workers and materials. The floor is designed with slots that allow water to drain and upset holes that provide skid resistance.

Kargo Master
What’s New: Updated drop-down ladder racks

Kargo Master recently updated its lineup of drop-down ladder racks, which are available in both aluminum and steel and feature increased protection for vans and improved ergonomics for workers.

Updates include a new clamping arm that can rotate below the crossbow for easy loading and unloading, as well as new clamp and lock-specific mount kits for the lowest possible roof clearance. The aluminum drop-down racks now offer full rotational actuation for easier access.

Dakota Bodies
What’s New: Ranger Service Body

Dakota Bodies now offers an aluminum service body for the new Ford Ranger midsized pickup. The Ranger Service Body is a compact unit for lighter payload applications and easier maneuverability on narrow streets and in low-clearance parking garages.

The Ranger Service Body is 69 inches long and weighs 575 pounds. It’s available for the Ford Ranger 2×4 and 4×4 Supercab models with XL trim and no Co-Pilot 360.

What’s New: One-Key locks for Ford Ranger

BOLT Lock now offers a complete set of their One-Key locks for the new Ford Ranger pickup, including padlocks, 5/8-inch receiver locks, 6-foot cable locks, coupler pin locks, collar-kingpin locks and off-vehicle coupler locks.

The company uses patented technology to create tumblers that permanently memorize a vehicle’s ignition key upon the first insertion and rotation. By utilizing the vehicle’s ignition key, BOLT locks reduce key clutter and allow users to quickly locate the key needed to unlock each individual lock on the truck. Every lock resists picking and bumping, while a bright red design acts as a visible theft deterrent.

Venco Venturo
What’s New: Venturo Logic Controls crane control management system

To enhance safety, control and reliability, Venturo released an advanced control system for its line of fully hydraulic service cranes.

The Venturo Logic Controls crane control management system offers overload protection; vehicle stability and grade indications; real-time load and status updates; safety alerts; and wireless or CAN communication. These features help prevent potential damage to loads and injuries to job site staff.

The VLC system comes standard with a wireless-remote pistol-grip controller, which reduces operator fatigue and enhances comfort.

Prime Design
What’s New: Over-the-cab material rack

In January, Safe Fleet’s Commercial Vehicle Group announced that the company will introduce its new Prime Design branded over-the-cab material rack for 8-, 9- and 11-foot service bodies at NTEA’s Work Truck Show 2020 in Indianapolis this March.

The new lightweight aluminum cargo rack adds overhead cargo space while offering 1,200 pounds of payload capacity. It features standard crossbar end stops, a removable rear crossbar with easy-pull latch system, and side rails that allow side-loading with a forklift or for when you are working from the curb in tight, congested areas.

The company also offers optional cargo management accessories to customize the rack, such as retractable ratchet straps, cargo hooks, a conduit tube and mounts for lighting.


Women in Utility Fleet: Mariela Perez

In 2016, when Mariela Perez and her husband visited the exhibits while attending a national fleet managers conference, very few equipment vendors knew who she was: the head of the fleet department at Duke Energy, one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S.

So, you can imagine the awkward surprise for many of those exhibitors.

“My husband also works at Duke, as the general manager of distribution in Florida,” Perez said. “And since many of the attendees bring their spouses, and I wasn’t wearing a Duke shirt, [the vendors] assumed my husband was the fleet manager.”

Sales reps would look past Perez and approach her husband: “What can we do to earn your business?”

“My husband would say, ‘Talk to her,’ pointing to me,” Perez said. “‘Why would we want to talk to your spouse?’ He’s like, ‘Well, because she’s the general manager of the Duke Energy fleet.’”

How did she take it?

“I don’t get offended like that; I had a blast with it. He was the only male spouse attendee. But people assumed I was just there as his spouse,” Perez quipped.

The Unconventional Path to Fleet
Perez doesn’t come from an automotive background. And she’s relatively new to the fleet world, having taken the helm at Duke’s fleet services division in November 2015. But she said that her wide range of experience in finance and operations, and the relationships she has developed across all the business units at the company, prepared her well for navigating the challenges and opportunities she would face in fleet.

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Perez moved to the Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, area, starting her career in finance at the global consulting firm KPMG, where she worked for three years.

She got her first taste of the utility industry – on the telecommunications side – in 1994 at GTE Wireless, now Verizon, where she served in various finance roles for the next seven years.

In 2001, Perez joined Progress Energy, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, which would become Duke Energy after the merger in 2012.

She started in the finance department, overseeing audits. In 2003, she moved to an operations role in real estate and leasing, where she would eventually serve as the project manager for the construction of the 16-story Progress Energy corporate headquarters (now Duke Energy’s Florida regional headquarters), completed in 2007, in downtown St. Petersburg.

In 2009, she became manager of business excellence in distribution, where she served as chief of staff for the senior vice president of distribution.

And then, from 2012 to 2015, Perez spearheaded Duke’s human performance program, building the initial team and creating the frameworks for conducting investigations and recommending corrective actions.

Today, she leads a fleet department with about 14,000 assets, 350 employees and seven regional directors who report to her.

With so many directions she could have taken in her career, what drew Perez to fleet services? What has been her experience being a woman in fleet? And what advice does she have for other women considering fleet management as a career?

UFP recently spoke with Perez to learn more about her story. Here is the edited version of our conversation.

UFP: You’ve talked about not coming from an automotive background, like many fleet managers. What was it about fleet services that attracted you to it?

Mariela Perez: I have all this experience in operations and finance. And in most positions, you really only focus on one of those areas at a time.

But when I was in finance, I missed operations; when I was in operations, I missed finance.

So, what I like most about fleet is that it brings those two worlds together. Very few positions in the company offer that type of opportunity.

How did the fleet opportunity open up for you?

The previous general manager of fleet services had left the company. And at the time, I had been in human performance for three years and felt like most of my work was done – the heavy lifting of getting the program off the ground. Now it was about maintaining the program.

So, I was really struggling to find a new challenge and role at the company that could combine my experiences.

There were two openings I considered: a position in IT systems and the general manager of fleet services.

I interviewed for both positions in one interview because I would be reporting to the same vice president.

As the vice president was trying to figure out where I would be a better fit, he asked me, “Which one would you prefer?”

I said, “Honestly, I would prefer fleet.”

He was like, “Why? You have a strong systems background. You would be able to walk right in and do a great job. It’s a role that’s much like what you have done recently [in human performance].”

I said, “Exactly. That’s why I don’t want it.”

That’s because I like a big challenge. I like learning something new. I felt like I could bring a different perspective to fleet services.

When you say “a different perspective to fleet services,” what does that mean?

Our team has very strong technical people with tremendous subject matter expertise on the equipment and the maintenance sides of the fleet, which is incredibly valuable.

Where I felt I could bring the most value is on the strategy, finance and all the other things from a business perspective as they pertain to the fleet.

And I understood fleet operations from a user perspective because I was a customer of fleet for many years.

So, understanding the customer’s perspective and having developed relationships with the various business units over the years have enabled you to become a liaison of sorts between the fleet and the company as a whole. Is that accurate?

It is. Talk to my directors, and they will tell you that’s the biggest value I’ve brought.

The fleet organization had certain needs that they were trying to get taken care of for about 10 years. And they hadn’t been able to get them.

Where I’ve been able to help is with articulating our needs in a way that operations would make those investments in fleet – not just in the equipment but also in our people.

My value hasn’t been in improving the maintenance operations. We have experts on our team who do that very well. My value has been more in positioning the fleet department in the right way with the rest of the company – to get the resources we need to serve our customers in the best way possible.

What has been your experience as a woman in fleet management?

I think a little bit of the difficult part is that nobody really thinks that, as a woman, you can effectively manage a large fleet because, first, you’re a woman. And second, you did not grow through the ranks.

But I know from my perspective – and it’s a little different than what you will hear – being a woman in fleet has actually been an advantage.

In what ways?

I think that being a woman and coming from a different background than my directors enables me to be a complement to what they do. I have such respect for what they do. And they have respect for what I do because our perspectives and skills complement each other. We make each other better. And I recognize that my success is because of that difference.

What advice do you have for other women who are considering a career in fleet?

My biggest advice is that I would not think of yourself as any different because you are a woman. I never ever come to work thinking that I’m a woman in a man’s world. I’m just a person trying to make a difference and be successful.

The reality is that, yes, it’s a challenge when people assume that your husband is the fleet manager and I’m just his spouse. But I can’t do anything to change that. I can only control how I react to it.

And to me, I made the decision years ago that I would never let that bother me. I don’t let that stand in my way. I wanted to do this job. I went for it. It doesn’t matter that I am a woman.


Leadership Strategies: Creating the Connections that Produce High-Performing Teams

If you’re like many utility fleet leaders right now, you’re bracing for a significant brain drain in your organization as experienced technicians and other key people in the fleet department get ready to retire in the next few years, with fewer younger workers in the pipeline to take their place.

So, how can you get a leg up when competing for top talent to eventually replace your veteran workers? And how can you create a culture that makes the fleet department – and the company as a whole – a more attractive place for employees to work, learn and grow?

Become a Connector manager.

That’s the big idea from the book “The Connector Manager: Why Some Leaders Build Exceptional Talent – and Others Don’t,” based on a study of about 10,000 managers and employees by the research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.

UFP recently spoke with Sari Wilde, the book’s co-author and managing vice president at Gartner, where she advises executives at hundreds of Fortune 500 companies on their leadership and talent management practices.

Here are the key takeaways from our conversation.

The Four Manager Types
Wilde and her co-author, Jaime Roca, found that all managers tend to follow one of four dominant approaches for how they coach and develop their employees.

The Teacher: Develops employees’ skills based on their own expertise and directs employee development along a similar track to their own. “The Teacher manager often has as their mantra, ‘I did it this way and was successful doing it this way, therefore you should do it this way, too,'” Wilde said.

The Cheerleader: Gives positive feedback while taking a generally hands-off approach to developing employees. “The Cheerleader encourages a lot of self-development,” Wilde said, “but when they do provide employee feedback, it tends to be overly positive.”

The Always-On: Provides constant, frequent feedback and coaching on all aspects of the employee’s performance. “Whether or not their employees actually need that feedback, the Always-On managers are providing feedback on almost everything that employees are doing,” Wilde said.

The Connector: Provides feedback in their area of expertise while connecting employees to others on the team or in the organization who are better suited at addressing specific needs. “The Connector manager provides targeted coaching and feedback where it’s appropriate for them, where they have the right experience and knowledge,” Wilde said. “But when they don’t, they connect their employees with others who have the right expertise to help them.”

Which manager type is the most prominent?

“The numbers were fairly evenly distributed across all four types – about a quarter each,” Wilde said. “We see some slight differences across industries or functions. But overall, in our sample of 10,000 managers, we found that they tend to be evenly distributed.”

Defying Conventional Wisdom
Conventional wisdom would state that the Always-On manager should be the ideal profile.

After all, the Always-On manager seems to be the most engaged manager in terms of providing employees with coaching and feedback.

But according to the research, the Always-On manager actually degrades employee performance by up to 8%, Wilde said.

“The Always-On [manager] creates a situation where employees depend too much on their managers for everything,” Wilde said. “Those employees aren’t actually developing and improving their performance. They’re focused more on trying to kind of check the box or what they think their manager wants.”

They also tend to make assumptions about their employees’ needs that can lead to off-target coaching. “Often, those assumptions can be wrong, and that could lead employees down the wrong path, hurting performance,” Wilde said.

The Top Performer
So, which manager type drives the best performance from their team?

“We found that the Connector manager has, far and away, a much higher impact on employee performance,” Wilde said. “And the other two types – the Teacher and Cheerleader – fall somewhere in the middle [between the Connector and Always-On], but much lower than the Connector.”

Why? What makes the Connector the most effective manager?

The Connector demonstrates humility and self-awareness, understanding the limits of their expertise and experience. So, they connect their team to other resources who are better suited to help those employees grow and develop. Then they follow up with those employees to make sure the learning happens.

Wilde said that Connector managers help make these three critical connections for their team:

Employee connection: This is the one-to-one connection where managers get to know their employees at a deeper level. “They’re focused on understanding their employees’ motivations, interests, goals and development areas in ways that we don’t see in the other types of managers,” Wilde said.

Team connection: The manager creates an open and transparent environment in which team members can develop one another so that all of the coaching doesn’t have to come from the manager. “Often, you work more with your peers than you do with your manager,” Wilde said. “And your peers are closest to you and best prepared to kind of provide that feedback.”

Organization connection: The manager helps their employees find the right skills or expertise outside of themselves. “The key point here is that [the Connector] is really good at helping their employees learn from those connections,” Wilde said. “So, it’s not just about delegating development to someone else, but it’s really about helping the employee apply the learning.”

Becoming More of a Connector
Whichever manager type you are today, what advice does Wilde have to help you become more of a Connector?

There are several exercises in the book for developing the Connector in you. But one practical idea Wilde offered in our conversation that you can apply immediately is, “Each one, teach one.”

“The manager convenes the team in a meeting, where everybody shares skills that they’re willing to teach to others,” she said. “The idea is that you’re able to find skills on the team that are needed by other individuals on the team. And it’s essential for the manager to begin facilitating this kind of peer skill-sharing, something that the other manager types don’t tend to do.”


What type of manager are you? Take the online quiz at


Shop Talk: Creating Consistency for Dielectric Inspections Across a Global Enterprise

As a utility fleet professional, you’re well-versed in ANSI’s requirement for annual dielectric inspections on aerial equipment to verify the nonconductivity of electricity through the boom. These inspections help you and your team identify and fix potential issues before they can cause injury or downtime.

But if you have bucket trucks, digger derricks and other aerial equipment spread across several locations and regions, how do you ensure those critical inspections are getting done on time, according to the right standards and at the best possible price?

That’s the challenge John Adkisson confronted in April 2019 when he became the director of fleet services at Asplundh Tree Expert LLC, the Willow Grove, Pennsylvania-based company that provides vegetation management and utility infrastructure services to utilities and municipalities throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Dealing with Inconsistencies
Adkisson oversees about 45,000 fleet assets across 160 regions throughout the globe.

So, you can imagine the complexity involved with trying to create consistency in dielectric testing on thousands of aerial assets in so many different locations.

Adkisson and his team developed service-level agreement standards to comply with ANSI directives and create consistency in the data that Asplundh would need to track at the corporate level.

“For a dielectric inspection vendor to be accepted on our property, they need to prove they’re qualified, have a set pricing schedule for all of the equipment for all the regions, and be able to demonstrate and document their inspections via an automatic feed that goes directly into our fleet management system,” Adkisson said. “With that automatic feed, we’re able to easily determine inspection compliance and any resolution of issues noted during those inspections – what we call a ‘red tag list’ or an ‘out-of-service list’ based on those inspections.”

Adkisson said that the service-level standards have not only helped to improve inspection consistency across all locations but also to cut costs through volume pricing, where the regions pay lower fees for inspections than what they would be able to negotiate individually.

Key Concerns: Availability of Inspectors, Equipment Downtime
Although creating standards made sense from a corporate perspective, Adkisson needed to address legitimate concerns from the regional managers at the local level.

“When we began talking about inspection standards, the regional managers were concerned about the availability of approved inspectors and whether we would have inspections going overdue, which would ground the units until they were inspected,” he said. “So, it was incumbent on us to make sure, when we rolled out this program, that we had backup plans in place with alternative vendors that could fill in when needed.”

What was Adkisson’s communication strategy to garner support for the new inspection standards program?

“Before any communication would go out, I would first meet with the senior-level executives who supervise the regional managers and share with them what I’m going to do and why I’m doing it that way,” he said. “This way, they’d get a chance to see the communication before it goes out to the field, which does two things. First, it allows them to offer their input and ask questions so we can modify the communication based on their feedback. And second, they know about the issue before the communication goes out, so they’re prepared to answer questions and talk about the initiative with their regional representatives.”

Tips for Effectively Managing Service-Level Agreements
So, what advice does Adkisson have for establishing and managing service-level agreements with vendors? He offered these three tips.

1. Define the scope.
“State your expectations for the service-level agreement so that all parties know what the expectations are, who’s going to do what, and what the scope of work is that the vendor is going to provide,” Adkisson said.

2. Agree on key performance indicators.
“You need to determine key performance indicators to hold the vendor accountable,” Adkisson said. “Ultimately, if the vendor is not performing, you need to have the operational flexibility to bring in someone else.”

3. Diversify your vendor network.
“It’s never a good idea to have just one option because you’re going to have a much tougher time holding that vendor accountable if there’s only one player in the game,” Adkisson said. “If you’re going to use a service-level agreement model, you need to have a backup vendor that is fully vetted, and that you can bring in if the first vendor is either overloaded or doesn’t meet service expectations.”

Building – and Maintaining – a Strong Professional Network

A common trait I’ve seen in interviewing numerous successful fleet professionals over the years is that they’ve all learned how to cultivate a strong network.

Relationship-building is a critical skill for professional success because you never know when you’ll need to call on someone to help you get out of a jam, make an important connection for you, or expedite delivery of equipment or gear.

And the stronger and bigger your network, the more valuable you’ll become in your career.

But how can you keep in touch with people more efficiently and effectively, without consuming too much of your time or inconveniencing the other person?

I recently listened to a podcast that featured an interview with entrepreneur, podcaster and master networker Jordan Harbinger, who shared a simple technique for keeping in touch with people that can be valuable to all of us – no matter what our role might be.

The idea is that, when you scroll through your text messages, if you notice that it has been a while since you connected with a certain person, send them a quick text that goes something like this: “Been a while. What’s the latest with you? No rush on the reply. I know everyone’s busy.”

Here are three reasons why I think this template is effective:

1. It’s low key. You’re not asking anything of the recipient, and they don’t feel the obligation to reply – which, ironically, means that they’re more likely to respond.

2. It’s thoughtful. You’re letting them know that you’re thinking of them without an agenda. At this point, your goal is merely to strengthen that relationship – and your network as a whole – in a way that ultimately brings value to all parties involved.

3. It’s simple. You can do it while standing in line for coffee or waiting to get on your next flight. A few seconds here and there and you’ve strengthened bonds with people who could be vital to your success.

In some situations, it may not be appropriate to send a text. In that case, you could adapt Harbinger’s script as an email, using a more formal sentence structure. It could look something like this:

Hi Steve,

It’s been a while. What’s the latest with you? No rush on the reply. I know everyone’s busy.

Hope all is well with you and the family.

My best,

Give it a try. See if it can help you strengthen the bonds in your network without taking much time out of your day.

Sean M. Lyden


Women in Utility Fleet: Michele Davis

Michele Davis has loved cars for as long as she can remember.

So, when her father bought her a 1968 Chevy Camaro for her 16th birthday, “I lost my mind,” she recalled. “I didn’t expect anything like that. I mean, I just wanted a car to drive to school, go to work, see all my friends. But my dad said, ‘Well, I know how much you love cars, and I know you’ll appreciate this more than your younger sister will when she turns 16.’”

Today, Davis still owns that Camaro. And she has become a successful leader in a career that taps into her lifelong passion for all things automotive. She’s the fleet manager at Washington Gas, a natural gas service provider headquartered in the District of Columbia, where she manages about 1,200 fleet assets and 30 employees.

But it took a long and winding road for Davis to discover that she could build a career around her favorite pastime.

“When I was in high school, especially as a female, I never heard of anything like a fleet manager,” she said. “It was like, you’re a doctor, you’re a lawyer or this or that. It wasn’t something that was spotlighted in school.”

She started working as a clerk at Prince George’s County in Largo, Maryland, right out of high school in 1988. After stints in construction, contracts, procurement and human resources, Davis finally got her start in the county’s fleet department in 1999.

By the time she left Prince George’s County in 2015 for Washington Gas, Davis had earned her associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees – all while working full time.

So, how did Davis get into fleet management? What challenges has she dealt with? And what advice does she have for other women considering a career in fleet? UFP recently caught up with Davis to learn more about her story. Here is the edited version of our conversation.

UFP: How did you get started working in fleet?

Michele Davis: I was working in the human resources department at Prince George’s County, and the fleet department had a job opening for an administrative assistant. This was around 1999. My qualifications were there, and it would be another promotion within the county for me. But the bonus was that I would be dealing with vehicles, which was always my pastime.

What was it like during those early days?

I was the assistant to the fleet administrator. And he taught me everything. He would bring me to fleet manager meetings and took me under his wing.

He told me, “One day, you’re going to be sitting in this chair.”

I said, “No, I just want to be a deputy.”

“You can do this job,” he said. “You need to stop aiming so low and start having confidence.”

I didn’t know how to take it then, but those words never left me.

I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2004 and was promoted to logistics manager in 2006. 

After 27 years at the county, you became the fleet manager for Washington Gas in 2015. What sparked that change?

It was an accident. That’s what I tell people.

I loved what I was doing at the county. I had a great office and great co-workers. But my now-husband and I were dating at the time, and he and his father worked for Washington Gas. And his father said to me, “I know the director over facilities and fleet, and he’s been looking for a fleet manager for eight months and can’t find anybody. I know you know what you’re talking about when it comes to fleet. You should apply.”

I was like, “Look, I’m not trying to leave the county. I like my job.”

He said, “Well, at least put in for it.”

My now-husband told me, “It’s up to you. It’s your decision.”

I said, “I’m just going to put in for the job, and that way, I can tell your dad that I did it.”

I applied, and they contacted me a few days later to schedule an interview. Things went so fast that when they offered me the job, I told them I needed a day or two to think about it and talk with my family.

What was the deciding factor?

When I talked to the director, who’s now my boss, he would ask me questions about what I would do or how I would handle certain situations. I realized that there were so many things that could be tweaked just a little bit – like the low-hanging fruit – that could make a big difference in the fleet department. And I realized that I wanted to be a part of helping make those changes.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in fleet?

When I first came to Washington Gas in 2015 and went around the garages to meet my staff, I could tell some were a bit skeptical, thinking, “She’s a female. What does she know about vehicles?”

But I wanted them to know that I’m not trying to come in as if I know it all and just automatically change things. I like to listen first. And then when I have something to say, I say it when it’s relevant.

How did you go about earning your team’s respect?

I listen to all sides of things – the management side, the field side, the mechanics’ side – because everybody has some skin in the game when it comes to the vehicles.

But trust takes time. You can’t force someone to respect you.

One of the first things I did was to look for the low-hanging fruit – something to improve the department.

That’s because I literally would have people see me in the hall and say, “Oh, aren’t you new? What department do you work in?”

I said, “Transportation.” And they would say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I got that all the time.

I went back to my now-father-in-law, and I’m like, “What did you do to me? Everybody’s apologizing!”

So, if that is how the fleet department was being viewed, I wanted to find some way to help boost morale. And one of the things I found was that, out of our four garages, two had enough technicians with ASE certifications to be a certified Blue Seal garage.

I explained to our technicians, “You guys have worked hard for these certifications. All I have to do is put in the application with the list of your certifications because it looks like we qualify at these two locations.”

But some of the guys didn’t think much about it at the time. They’re like, “Oh, it’s just a piece of paper.”

And I said, “Look, I get it. But for people who work in the office who don’t even know what ‘ASE’ stands for, the Blue Seal is something that’s visual that people outside our department will notice.”

I put in the application, and we got certified as a Blue Seal shop in one location in Virginia and the other in Maryland. We then put a banner and big metal sign out in front of the garage bay.

I catered lunch for them to celebrate. I put them in the newsletter with a picture of all the techs together with their supervisor. I got them all patches for their uniforms so they could outwardly display their accomplishments.

I said, “You guys aren’t recognized enough for what you do. So, now it’s out there for everybody to see.”

What is your advice for other women who are considering a career in fleet?

The admin supervisor who works for me is a woman who has been with the company for about three years. And I try to encourage and mentor her in the same way the fleet administrator at [Prince George’s County] did for me.

I tell her, “If [fleet management] is something you like, there are so many different facets to this career and opportunities to change things and make a difference.”

I take her with me to visit other fleets to look at their systems and explain to her where we’re going with our systems and our department and all that. And she gets really excited, “Wow, there’s so much more to this.”

So, my advice: Don’t sell yourself short or count yourself out, as I did early in my career.

When my first fleet administrator told me, “You’re going to be sitting in this chair one day,” I just couldn’t see it at the time. And there’s still a mentality out there, even amongst other women, that [fleet] is a man’s world. But if fleet is something you like, don’t let yourself or anyone else hold you back.


Driverless Vehicles are Closer Than They Appear

You know the label on a vehicle’s sideview mirror that reads, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”?

Perhaps something similar could be said about autonomous vehicles (AVs): They’re closer than we expect.

Now, most industry experts agree that full SAE Level 5 driverless vehicles – which can drive themselves anywhere, at any speed, under any conditions – are more than a decade away. So, from a robots-ruling-the-road perspective, AVs appear to be far out.

But when you look at just one step down on the SAE scale, to Level 4, where vehicles can operate without a human driver but within particular limitations – such as geofenced areas, weather conditions and speed – those AVs are much closer to making an impact. In fact, Level-4-capable vehicles are already starting to operate on public roads in a growing number of U.S. cities.

Take, for example, the Beep ( autonomous shuttle program that launched with two vehicles in September in Lake Nona, Florida, a fast-growing master-planned community in southeast Orlando.

The all-electric Beep shuttles are manufactured by the French company NAVYA ( and carry eight to 10 passengers. They travel on a fixed route at low speeds (15 mph maximum) with a Beep attendant on board who serves as a safety operator to perform any manual driving functions when necessary and ensure passenger safety throughout the ride.

When you get in the shuttle, you’ll notice something odd: no steering wheel or brake pedals. The attendant can take control of the vehicle at any time with a touch screen and a hardwired Xbox controller.

I recently rode in the Beep shuttle and spoke with the company’s CEO, Joe Moye. Here are five key takeaways I learned from my conversation with Moye and my experience riding in the autonomous shuttle. They are intended to give you a glimpse into what could be the not-so-far-away future of fleet management.

1. AV deployments are starting small to build public trust and acceptance.
According to the latest AAA survey on consumer attitudes toward fully self-driving vehicles, 71% of U.S. drivers said they would be afraid to ride in AVs. This number is similar to AAA’s 2018 survey that followed high-profile fatal incidents involving AVs.

The industry recognizes that it needs to win over the public. That’s why AV companies – like Beep – have recently launched on a small scale, with fixed routes and low-speed vehicles. Also, the Beep shuttles have a human attendant on board, even though the vehicles are designed for Level 4 operation, which doesn’t require a human operator.

“We’ve engineered manual processes into the system out of an abundance of caution,” Moye said. “Even then, the shuttles are driving themselves 95% of the time right now.”

What type of manual processes?

“When the shuttle arrives at an intersection, it’s perfectly capable of thinking, ‘All right, I’m here. The traffic signal is green. I’m going to go.’ Or, ‘I’m at a stop sign. I know nothing else is moving into the intersection. I’m going to go ahead and take the right of way.’ But we’ve engineered a manual step for our onboard attendant, who is still going to look right, look left and then press the ‘go’ button before we let the shuttle get into the intersection,” Moye said.

Moye likens the idea of having a shuttle attendant onboard an AV today to the early days of elevators that would have human operators in them.

“When elevators first came into being, you always had an elevator operator on there,” he said. “It wasn’t that having someone on board was required. It was that people were afraid to get on the elevators. And having an elevator operator in control helped people get comfortable with riding on elevators. We have a similar type of phenomenon with these shuttles. We want to build exposure and educate people on the technology so that they’ll ultimately feel more comfortable with it.”

2. Autonomous fleets will be able to optimize vehicle utilization with real-time demand.
Beep plans to expand its autonomous fleet to eight to 10 shuttles with multiple routes in early 2020. But how will the company manage those assets to ensure high utilization rates?

Beep has partnered with Switzerland- and San Francisco-based technology provider Bestmile (, which has developed what’s called a “fleet orchestration platform” for autonomous fleets.

“When you have eight to 10 vehicles and multiple routes, you want to optimize your assets,” Moye said. “You want them to be where the demand is. So, we’ve got a software partner in Bestmile that helps us with demand planning – or fleet orchestration. This will enable our shuttle service to go from a single fixed-route operation to an on-demand ride-hailing model. Now, keep in mind the stops have to be programmed in, so the shuttle can’t go anywhere. But the shuttles can have multiple routes configured in, so [the operation] doesn’t have to just be point to point. There could be multiple destinations and origins where you’re able to optimize those assets to be available based on the demand models you have in place.”

3. A command center model might be the key to AV growth.
As the public gets more comfortable riding in AVs and 5G connectivity is rolled out in the U.S., Beep envisions that the next step is to eventually move the human attendant out of the shuttle.

But that doesn’t mean shuttle passengers will be left alone should there be an issue with the vehicle.

Beep is building a 10,000-square-foot command center in Lake Nona that will allow for human oversight and intervention to ensure passenger safety and security on a remote basis.

“We have internal and external video cameras on the vehicles,” Moye said. “So, we’ll provide an overall cloak of monitoring for safety and security. We’ll also be able to monitor all aspects of shuttle performance, including vehicle maintenance and service delivery, while also optimizing data analytics and machine learning for continuous improvement.”

Could the command center model be the key to wider AV adoption because it offers the best of both worlds – full driverless functionality but with real-time remote access for human takeover when necessary?

“Yes, I do think that,” Moye said. “But it’s coming in phases. Right now, you can monitor the vehicles remotely but not take over control of the vehicles. That’s because the vehicles are a black box. You have to physically log into them. But we’re investing a lot in the cybersecurity components that we need to build into the vehicles so that we can ultimately interface with the shuttles remotely.”

4. Training for first responders will be integral to AV deployment success.
In May, Beep and NAVYA hosted training for nearly 100 emergency personnel from both Orange County and City of Orlando fire rescue, EMT and police departments. The training taught the attendees how to interact with the vehicle in emergencies and included a hands-on session on how to manually drive the vehicle if needed.

Said Moye, “If there’s an incident, what can [first responders] do to pull the vehicle off the side of the road? How do they shut off the high-powered battery connection? How do they access the vehicle through the safety glass if the doors are jammed? These are things a lot of people might not think about but are critical to ensuring the safe rollout of these vehicles.”

5. Human drivers must adjust to AVs on the road.
I rode the Beep shuttle for the 2-mile round trip. Overall, the ride was a smooth experience. But there were two times when the vehicle reacted with harsh movements – and both times, it was because of the human-driven vehicles around the AV.

In one case, a truck coming from the other direction got too close to the double yellow line and the shuttle, causing the shuttle to react. In the other situation, a car passed the shuttle from behind. It then swerved back into our lane too close in front of us, which caused the AV to brake hard.

These are prime examples of how human drivers will need to learn how to adapt to sharing the roads with AVs until Level 5 autonomy becomes ubiquitous.

For its part, Beep has placed a high priority on onboard communication.

“We’ve put signage on the shuttles that alerts drivers when the vehicle is in autonomous mode as a signal for them to drive carefully and not follow too closely,” Moye said. “These are basic things that most people would understand, but you can’t take them for granted. When you put [safety messages] in lights on the shuttle, it really does help increase awareness.”

The Bottom Line
After a handful of high-profile incidents in 2018 involving vehicles in autonomous mode, I had assumed that expectations for AVs would tamp down significantly. And, for the most part, the industry has backed off their once-aggressive timelines for Level 5 deployments.

But when you start looking at what’s bubbling up on the local level in a number of U.S. cities, like Orlando, you begin to realize that driverless vehicles could be coming sooner than you think, just not at full Level 5 capabilities.

After all, Level 4 AVs are making an impact right now. And as the technology matures and improves over the next few years, you’ll likely discover opportunities to start piloting all-electric AVs for limited-area applications in your own fleet.


3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Purchasing Automotive Lifts for Your Garage

When operating heavy lifting equipment, like forklifts and cranes, there should be no one underneath the lifted load.

But there is one exception to that rule: automotive lifts.

“The automotive lift industry is the only one where operators are encouraged to go underneath a lifted load,” said R.W. “Bob” O’Gorman, president of the Automotive Lift Institute (, a trade association of North American-based lift manufacturers that promotes the safe design, construction, installation, service, inspection and use of automotive lifts.

“For every other type of lifting equipment out there, the message is clear: ‘Don’t do it. Don’t get under that load.’ But in the automotive lift industry, the message is, ‘Go forth and perform your job with 10,000 to 50,000 pounds above you,'” O’Gorman said. “That’s why choosing the proper lift is so important – so that operators can feel comfortable in performing their jobs under such capacities.”

With a lot of money and your technicians’ safety at stake, O’Gorman recommends avoiding these three pitfalls when purchasing a new automotive lift.

Pitfall 1: Neglecting to spec an ALI-certified lift.
As you evaluate automotive lifts, beware of claims like “ANSI certified,” “Meets all ANSI standards,” “OSHA certified,” “Meets all OSHA requirements” and “Certification pending.”

According to the Automotive Lift Institute (ALI), those claims are misleading because ANSI does not perform product compliance evaluations, provide inspection services for hire or certify products. Neither does OSHA. And ALI’s certification program does not allow for any wording that indicates a certification of a lift model is pending.

The most stringent safety and performance requirements for automotive lifts are outlined in the current ANSI/ALI ALCTV safety standard.

But how do you know if a lift meets that standard?

Look for the ALI gold certification label.

“For any piece of equipment that is installed in the commercial workplace, like automotive lifts, there’s an OSHA requirement that the equipment be listed,” O’Gorman said. “And ‘listed’ refers to the electrical safety qualification of the product against known standards. So, for automotive lifts, big or small, that boils down to being an ALI-certified lift. The only way to know that lift in your shop is ALI certified is to go close to the [lift] controls and look for the ALI gold certification label.”

Keep in mind that ALI’s gold certification label pertains only to that particular lift model and does not necessarily apply to the lift manufacturer’s full product line. To search a directory of ALI-certified lifts, visit

Pitfall 2: Going it alone.
“If you haven’t considered the electrical requirements for more than 10 lifts, for example, and you wind up installing 14, you’ll significantly drive up the project cost in a manner that neither you nor anyone else had accounted for,” O’Gorman said. “You could blame your vendors all day long, but as the fleet manager, you’ll likely be the one held responsible.”

So, how do you minimize your risk of making costly errors? And how do you ensure that you’re installing lifts that best fit your garage operations?

“Build and work with an experienced team that can help you fully assess all your needs as you’re setting up a new shop or renovating or updating your lifts,” O’Gorman said.

Who should be on your team?

O’Gorman recommends including people from:

  • Health and safety – either in-house or outside consultants.
  • Operations – those who are going to manage the shop.
  • Key management – someone who has visibility into where the shop needs to be in terms of capacity and efficiency, not only in the near term but also a few years down the road.
  • An ALI member company – experts to help you match your objectives with the right equipment and investment.

The critical point here is to seek input from key stakeholders throughout the specification and purchasing process to help you shape – and sanity check – your lift requirements and point out any potential blind spots before investing in the equipment.

Pitfall 3: Overlooking training.
When it comes to putting a new automotive lift into service, don’t rely on technicians “figuring it out.” Instead, make sure your techs receive proper training on that specific piece of equipment.

“There are many lift manufacturers and distributors that will provide fleets with the training required for the safe operation of their equipment,” O’Gorman said. “But if you’re unable to get that training assistance through the vendor, you can reach out to an ALI-certified inspector who should be able to provide training as an extra service.”

To find an ALI-certified lift inspector, visit

O’Gorman said that ALI also has developed a general lift safety certificate program that can be taken online.

The Bottom Line
There’s a lot at stake when purchasing an automotive lift. As O’Gorman put it, “Would you want to send your employees under the cheapest lift you can find? Or, do you want to do your homework to make sure you’re sending your employees under a lift that you would go under yourself?”

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