Tag: Editorial

What are Your Stories? Share Them.

A couple of months ago, Dale Collins, the fleet services supervisor at Fairfax Water in Virginia, emailed me about four new crew trucks he had ordered. He and his team were proud of the final product – and of the nearly three-year process they went through to get the spec right.

Collins thought there might be a story to tell to UFP readers, but he wasn’t sure what that story would be or look like. He reached out to me anyway. And I’m glad he did.

That’s because I’m always on the hunt for real-world fleet stories that can inform, educate and inspire you to do more, be more and achieve more in your career.

When I received Collins’ email, I didn’t know what value his story would bring to our audience, but I wanted to explore it further.

We scheduled an initial 10-minute phone call. During the conversation, I was looking for lessons learned, new ideas and new strategies that would be applicable and useful to utility fleet professionals beyond Fairfax Water.

As Collins delved deeper into the three-year process to garner management support, get input on spec changes and make critical decisions, I stopped him. “We’ve got a story here,” I said.

Then we scheduled a full interview. The result is the fleet profile in this issue of UFP: “Fairfax Water: Overhauling Crew Truck Specs to Improve Safety and Productivity.”

I tell you this story because you’re most likely doing interesting things in your own fleet right now that you’re really proud of. But perhaps you haven’t thought about sharing your experiences beyond your organization.

If that’s the case, I want to encourage you to reach out to me, just as Collins did, and let me know what cool things you’re doing in your fleet.

You might not know if you really have a story, but that’s OK. Collins didn’t know either and contacted me anyway.

If you’ve been in fleet for any amount of time, you’ve amassed a wealth of stories that could bring value to your peers and position you as a leader in the industry.

So, what are your stories? Let’s talk.

Sean M. Lyden

How to Get Buy-In on Your New Fleet Initiative

You’re planning to roll out a new telematics deployment or ask senior management for a bigger budget, expecting to encounter some resistance. How do you position your proposal to get buy-in from stakeholders?

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle offered insight into this topic with his work “The Art of Rhetoric,” which was published about 2,400 years ago. He introduced the three elements of influence that still serve as the foundation for effective leadership communications today.

The big takeaway from “The Art of Rhetoric” is that if you overlook any of the three elements when crafting and presenting your proposal, you’ll stack the odds against you being able to win over your audience.

What are those three elements?

1. Ethos
Aristotle uses this Greek term to refer to the character and credibility of the speaker – which is you.

Does your audience believe in you, trust that you have their best interests in mind and have the confidence that you know what you’re talking about? You can present the most compelling and smart proposal, but if stakeholders don’t trust or believe in you, they’ll dismiss your ideas before you even present them.

So, in the planning stages of your initiative, start early when it comes to involving stakeholders and building trust with them.  

2. Pathos
This term refers to the emotional disposition of the audience. In “The Art of Rhetoric,” Aristotle talks about how we look at things differently based on our emotions. Whether we’re fearful, angry, happy or hopeful, we see things differently and accept the same message differently depending on what emotional state we are in at the time.

Your job is to identify both the current emotional state your audience is likely to be in and the target emotional state you want to lead them to. Then build your proposal or presentation in a way that moves your audience from their current state (e.g., fear) to the target state (e.g., confidence or optimism).

3. Logos
This element pertains to the logical consistency of your proposal. After all, you can establish your credibility and make a powerful emotional connection with the audience, but if your proposal doesn’t make sense, you’ll lose all that momentum.

The objective is to construct your proposal in a way that’s clear, concise and compelling for your stakeholders to “get it” – so that they’ll be more inclined to buy into it.

Sean M. Lyden

Electric Outlook for the Work Truck Industry

My biggest takeaway from this year’s NTEA Work Truck Show? The industry appears to be headed toward an electric future. But a lot of work still needs to be done for that future to become a mainstream reality anytime soon.

Here’s what I mean: Electrification is building momentum because the cost of battery technology has been trending downward to the point where electrified trucks are becoming a more attractive and financially viable option for fleets to try.

According to Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance report, lithium-ion battery prices have fallen 73% per kilowatt-hour since 2010. That trend is expected to continue until EVs become cheaper to buy than their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts by 2025 to 2029.

As battery costs have dropped, this has allowed for more affordable power that extends the battery range between charges, making it comparable to the range of conventional-fueled vehicles – and thus more acceptable for more fleet applications.

That’s why we’re seeing a growing number of OEMs like Tesla, Freightliner, Mitsubishi Fuso and now Ford – with its recent $500 million investment in Rivian to produce an all-electric pickup truck – entering the fray.

But here’s the challenge: charging infrastructure. There’s not enough of it.

After all, what happens when you have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of vehicles that need to be charged – most of them at the same time – putting massive amounts of stress on the existing grid and infrastructure?

What will be the impact on the cost of electricity and thus the cost of “fueling”? Will there be any stability in pricing so that consumers and fleets can budget and plan?

There was a lot of talk at the 2019 Work Truck Show about the need for greater collaboration among fleets, regulators, automakers and utility companies to work toward a solution – to build out charging infrastructure that’s sufficient, stable and affordable enough to meet demand.

So, while the future of the work truck industry appears to be electric, the question is, when will that happen? Watch the developments in charging infrastructure. That will give you an accurate gauge as to when mainstream adoption will become possible.

Sean M. Lyden

Your Job Title Says ‘Fleet,’ But You’re Actually in Sales

Whatever position we’re in, we’re all selling something – an idea, a point of view or a proposal – whether we want to call it “sales” or not. That goes for fleet professionals as well.

In his book “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,” best-selling author Daniel H. Pink put it like this: “Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Lawyers sell juries on a verdict. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. … Whatever our profession, we deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients. We try to convince the boss to loosen up a few dollars from the budget or the human resources department to add more vacation days.”

But far too many fleet managers believe a myth that’s putting their careers at risk: “My work should speak for itself.” The truth is that, even in fleet, perception is reality. And if you don’t intentionally shape the perception of senior leadership to match the reality of your work, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Think about it: Your fleet could be one of the top performers in the utility industry. But what if leadership doesn’t know what top performance should look like? All they see is that fleet costs keep going up. So, from their perspective, you must be bad at your job, right?

That’s why your long-term success in fleet hinges on your ability to sell yourself, your proposals, and your department’s performance to all stakeholders who have the resources and support you need to do your job right.

What does sales look like for fleet professionals? Check out this issue’s article “Budget Talks: Why Fleet Needs a Seat at the Table – And How You Can Earn It, in which we interviewed 30-year veteran fleet manager Chris Lindquist to help us dive deep into this topic.

The premise is that you can’t expect senior management to “get it” when it comes to fleet performance. That’s on the fleet manager. In the article, Lindquist offers four tips for how you can increase your influence on the discussions that impact your budget.

According to Lindquist: “You have to educate management by developing your models and business cases so that they understand that what the fleet department does actually dovetails with the company’s strategic objectives – that your fleet really does have an impact on the overall company dynamics, especially on the operational side where these budget dollars are being fought over.”

That’s the essence of sales in fleet. It’s not about obnoxiously tooting your own horn. It’s about the subtler arts of education, communication and demonstration to help all key decision-makers to “get it” – to shape the narrative that explains why your department should be entrusted with more dollars.

Sean M. Lyden


In a pre-show call for a fleet industry podcast, the interviewer asked me to talk about UFP and our audience to get insight into the range of topics we might discuss during the episode.

I shared what I’ve learned from speaking with many of you over the past four years. After I finished, the interviewer responded, “That’s amazing how much [utility fleet professionals] are responsible for and how much they must know compared to other types of fleets.”

He nailed it. Exactly.

As a fleet manager in the utility industry, there’s a high level of sophistication you bring to the job that’s not required in many other sectors. That’s because you have so much more on your plate than what you would deal with, say, managing an urban delivery or pharmaceutical sales fleet, where you may have a handful of vehicle types you’re working with – box trucks, pickups, vans and sedans.

But in the utility world, it’s a whole different realm. You’re managing road vehicles, trailers, off-road equipment and all-terrain vehicles. At some utility companies, even aviation assets, like helicopters and drones, are managed by the fleet department.

With road assets alone, you’re writing specs for the full gamut of vehicle types, from cars all the way up to Class 8 tractors, to accommodate a wide range of jobs. 

And you need to know a lot about accessories and upfits that strike the right balance between crew productivity and safety – such as truck-mounted bodies, strobes, compressors, cranes, aerial buckets and digger derricks.

You’re also a talent evaluator, recruiter and coach who manages a maintenance shop of skilled technicians and provides them with the safest possible environment to work in.

You negotiate complex multimillion-dollar equipment deals with a wide range of suppliers, where only a small mistake can create massive headaches for you, your team and the company as a whole.

And if you’re like many utility fleet professionals, you’re also leading the way in green fleet initiatives, such as with natural gas and electrification, bringing an even higher level of complexity to your job when it comes to equipment specs, procurement and maintenance.

I’m sure this just scratches the surface of all that you have on your plate. And a lot of what you do often goes unnoticed – until something goes wrong or an issue with a vehicle arises. But as I reflect on your role and responsibilities and all that you do as a utility fleet professional, you have my utmost respect.

Sean M. Lyden


Tesla’s Turmoil and the Future of Electrified Transportation

It has been a tumultuous 2018 for electric carmaker Tesla and its embattled CEO, Elon Musk.

Earlier this year, a handful of crashes involving Tesla vehicles increased scrutiny of the safety of their semi-autonomous Autopilot systems. Then there have been the ongoing manufacturing challenges causing lengthy and expensive delays in building the Model 3 – the mass-market electric car that Musk has banked Tesla’s future on. And Musk’s high-profile Twitter feuds with journalists, analysts and short-sellers have caused many in the industry to question his fitness to effectively lead a publicly traded company.

But whatever storm clouds may be hovering over the company today, Tesla has already made its mark, pushing the automotive industry toward what will likely be an all-electric future – no matter what happens to the company itself.

Think about it: Traditional automakers have been building electric vehicles for years, but Tesla has made EVs desirable. With the introduction of the Model S sedan in 2012, Tesla showed that EVs could be sleek, spacious and fast. And with hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for the lower-priced Model 3, Tesla demonstrated that it’s possible to create mass-market demand for EVs at a time of relatively low and stable fuel prices.

The major automakers are following suit with plans to introduce several new all-electric models in the next two to three years.

Tesla also has made electric vehicles practical with battery ranges that exceed 300 miles, pushing other automakers to do the same. After all, it was just a few years ago when the all-electric Nissan Leaf could travel only about 80 miles on a single charge. Today, Nissan has nearly doubled that range. And GM’s new Bolt offers a battery range of over 200 miles. But it took Tesla to show that there could be enough market demand for automakers to invest in the research and development of longer-range batteries.

So, what’s the future of Tesla? Will Musk remain at the helm? Will the company even exist five years from now? Who knows. But what I do know is that the state of electrified transportation would not be where it is today were it not for a relentless and visionary CEO who doesn’t hesitate to put all his chips on the table to change the industry – and the world.

Sean M. Lyden

Tap into the Power of Stories to Expand Your Influence

For a fleet manager, stories can be more than just entertaining anecdotes – they can be a powerful tool to motivate technicians, change employee behavior and garner senior management’s support.

But what exactly is storytelling in a utility fleet environment? How do you tell a good story, especially if you’ve never thought of yourself as a great communicator?

In an interview I conducted with Paul Smith, leadership trainer and author of the best-selling book “Lead with a Story,” Smith said that storytelling is “a way of getting your message across without making your audience feel defensive, so they will be more open to what you have to say.”

How do stories make the audience more open to your message?

“A story activates a different part of the brain, where instead of being critical and analyzing, they’re just listening to the story,” Smith said. “It creates that open frame of mind in people in a way that data alone cannot do.”

The idea is that you can use stories to influence people without wagging your finger at them or telling them what to do. Stories allow the listener to arrive at conclusions themselves, making them more receptive to you and more motivated to follow through on your message.

So, what does storytelling look like when you’re managing people in a utility fleet environment?

Suppose you’re rolling out an initiative that could bring significant changes to your organization – whether it’s rightsizing the fleet, deploying telematics or switching maintenance software systems. You’ll inevitably encounter employees who don’t want those changes to happen, doing everything they can to undermine your efforts.

That’s where stories come in.

For example, you could tell employees a story about another fleet that deployed telematics. At first, employees resisted the idea of Big Brother watching them. Then one of their drivers was involved in a vehicle crash and considered at fault for the incident. But the vehicle’s telematics data told a different story – what actually happened – that proved the employee’s actions didn’t cause the collision. And he was exonerated.

The story’s lesson: It’s natural to be wary of change. But the telematics rollout wasn’t about the company trying to be Big Brother. It was about building a safer and more efficient fleet. And telematics can be a powerful tool to help good drivers protect their safety – and their driving record.

Too often, managers bypass storytelling altogether, taking a heavy-handed approach. But if you really want to influence people, try telling a good story instead.

Sean M. Lyden

The Need for Greater Collaboration Between Fleet and Safety

In April, our team at Utility Fleet Professional magazine launched the first-ever fleet track at the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo in Loveland, Colorado. The conference is the industry’s largest safety education event, produced by our sister publication, Incident Prevention magazine.

We covered a wide range of topics, from the imminent safety challenges of automated vehicle technologies, to fleet ergonomics that can reduce worker injury risks, to spec’ing aerial platforms with maximum safety in mind.

But my biggest takeaway from the conference?

It’s that there’s a growing need for fleet and safety professionals to communicate and collaborate with each other on a deeper level – to spec the safest vehicles possible within the real-world budget constraints that fleet departments must navigate.

Think about it. We’ve seen automated driver-assist systems deployed in cars over the past few years. But now we’re starting to see them being introduced in the commercial truck market as well, which could have significant implications for both the fleet and safety departments at utility companies.

For example, the 2018 Ford F-150 features an available Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection system and advanced adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality that uses radars and cameras to maintain a set distance behind a vehicle – and even follow that vehicle down to a complete stop.

This is cool safety technology, but it also makes the truck more expensive. And when fleet managers are given a mandate from senior management to do more with less money, how do they strike that delicate balance between vehicle safety and cost?

If a fleet decides to spec their trucks with driver-assist systems, what is the company’s policy regarding operation of that equipment? Now, that’s a question for the safety department. After all, if a driver gets annoyed with the beeps or vibration alerts on the truck’s lane-keeping system, for example, and decides to disable it, how is that issue addressed? If a crash occurs after the system was disabled, what does that mean for the company’s risk exposure?

And if there are specific driver policies governing the use of driver-assist systems, how can fleet assist the safety department to help ensure driver compliance with those policies? Perhaps fleet could place labels inside the cabs that clearly communicate the safety policy. And in some cases, fleet could install technology on the vehicle that would alert the company when a driver ignores a warning or disables the system.

Both safety and fleet professionals want to see lineworkers and equipment operators get home safe to their families. So, it makes sense that they should work closely together to build the safest fleet possible in a way that doesn’t break the budget.

Sean M. Lyden

Fleet’s Expanding Role in Making Sure Lineworkers Get Home Safely

Lineworkers truly are heroes in our industry – and in our communities. I’ve gotten to see this firsthand as a resident of Central Florida, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma last fall, leaving many of us without power for over a week. So, you can imagine how heartening it was to see all the convoys of bucket trucks from out of state and Canada coming down to Florida, with lineworkers who had left their families to work around the clock to restore power to our area.

Now we’re seeing a massive mobilization effort by utilities across North America to help Puerto Rico, where many residents have been without power for several months since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

As fleet leaders, you play a big role in making these storm-response missions successful by ensuring that crews have the equipment they need to serve our local communities, often in harsh weather conditions, and return home safely to their families.

It’s this safety component that I want to zero in on in this letter. When your crews are performing storm-response work, how can you give them complete confidence that their fleet equipment is safe and up to the task? That begins with you making sure that you’re continually covering all your bases when it comes to fleet safety. And we’re here to help you do just that.

At Utility Fleet Professional, we’re dedicated to safe fleet operations. That’s why we’re partnering with the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo to offer an all-new fleet safety track in Loveland, Colorado, April 24-26, 2018.

The fleet safety track brings in utility fleet leaders, safety professionals and industry experts to talk about these topics:

  • Advanced Ergonomics: Spec’ing Truck Bodies & Equipment with Ergonomics & Economics in Mind
  • Autonomous Vehicles are Coming Sooner Than You Think: What You Need to Know to be Ready for the Safety Challenges They Will Bring
  • How Technology is Improving Tool Safety
  • Going into Autopilot: Is Technology Preventing or Causing Increases in Driver Incidents?
  • Aerial Platform Safety: How Florida Power & Light Uses Automatic Load-Sensing Technology to Reduce Risk
  • Spec’ing Aerial Equipment for Maximum Safety: Best Practices that Protect Your Workers
  • Eyes in the Skies: How You Can Use Drone Technology to Mitigate Utility Safety Risks

The bottom line is that fleet safety requires continuing education as new safety challenges emerge. So, if you’re interested in learning the latest trends and best practices to build a safer fleet – to ensure utility crews get safely home to their families each and every day – then consider joining us at the iP Utility Safety Conference in Loveland. For more information and to register, visit https://utilitysafetyconference.com/.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sean M. Lyden

How Will You Adapt?

Our story begins in 2009.

It was only eight years ago, but so much has happened since then.

At that time, we were in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The idea of calling an Uber using your smartphone was still about a year away from happening. And a niche electric carmaker, Tesla, had just received a major cash infusion to pull the struggling company from the brink of bankruptcy.

That’s also when search engine giant Google launched its self-driving car project.

If you recall, at the time, the idea of robot cars still seemed like science fiction – a long way out in the future. And any work being done in this space was primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

That’s what makes Google’s foray into this space so remarkable. Here was this young private-sector company willing to put significant resources into what the firm has described as a “moon shot.” This bet on autonomous vehicles represented an unprecedented level of commitment by the private sector for an unproven, highly expensive technology.

But today that bet is starting to pay off with wide-ranging ramifications.

To date, Google’s self-driving car project – now branded as Waymo – has logged over 3 million autonomous miles. And that success has spurred on a lot of healthy competition, with traditional automakers and other Silicon Valley companies entering the race. Industry consensus is that we’ll start seeing at least Level 3 autonomous vehicles – where the human driver must still be ready to take back control when the system requests – legally hitting the market in 2021.

Let that sink in for a moment. That’s less than four years from now. 

And sure, there are still big hurdles and many questions – beyond the technology – that government, industry and citizens must answer before robots will rule the roads. But the U.S. and other world governments are actively working on developing legal frameworks to address societal concerns and give automakers the regulatory clarity they need to go all-in with autonomous vehicle production.

As a journalist who has covered the fleet industry for over a decade, I spend a lot of time talking with smart people about the intersection of technology and transportation. From what I’m hearing – and if the past year is any indication – we’re accelerating toward a self-driving world.

So, what’s your plan? How will you adapt to the big changes coming soon to our industry?

Sean M. Lyden

Utility Fleet Professional

360 Memorial Drive, Suite 10, Crystal Lake, IL 60014 | 815.459.1796


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