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If you read my most recent blog “Elevator Pitch: What is Your Fleet About,” then what you are about to read will make total sense. If you haven’t, read it. I’d suggest reading that before reading on.

Ok, welcome back (or thanks for having read it already). You know that saying, “Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission?” Well, sometimes it’s a decision you make before the act…and sometimes it’s your only choice because it’s post “the act.”

The seventy-six thousand dollar question is, how will it go when you ask for forgiveness? The truth is, it’s all about relationships and the track record you’ve hopefully already established via elevator pitch or other interactions with leadership. My “ask for forgiveness” moment came on June 4, 2015, in the early afternoon to be exact.

We were wrapping up a Tidewater Area Fleet Manager’s Association (TAFMA) meeting when the local Honda representative approached me to let me know our 2015 CNG Honda Civics had just been delivered to fleet and he had one here with him so the TAFMA group could check it out on their way out.

It took me a second to process what he was saying because, unlike most vehicle orders that are successfully delivered, this one had been canceled by my purchasing department…but apparently that hadn’t been communicated to Honda. Oddly enough, this uncommon Honda Civic was a fantastic match for the city of Norfolk’s fleet. 

We had a fast-fill CNG pump just outside fleet’s property so fueling infrastructure was already in place (and maintained by an external organization at no cost to our fleet), and the Honda dealer down the street was certified to repair these CNG vehicles…and I had a customer department that had been anxious to get into some new rides – Building Inspections & Code Enforcement.

The cherry on top was the price, $30,000 minus a few incentives and a grant from Virginia Clean Cities Coalition which would offset the delta of any alternative fuel vehicle and make the cost equivalent to the ICE engine of that model. It was a no-brainer.

Fleet had thought through the plan, even thinking of a partial wrap for the vehicle that would be seen all around town advertising fleet’s effort to go green. With all this in mind, I took a deep breath and called my boss…no answer. I called her boss…no answer.

There was one more person left to call…Sabrina Joy-Hogg, my boss’s, boss’s…boss. That’s right, I jumped the hierarchy ladder three levels…the City Manager’s Office, Sabrina was a Deputy City Manager, with fleet in her portfolio of departments.

I got right down to it, “Ummm, hey Sabrina….this is Facundo, I am calling to ask forforgiveness.” There was a slight nervous laugh from Sabrina and she responded “Okayyy, is everything ok?”

“Yea. Well, sort of. Ok…here is what happened…” I went on to explain the situation. It was right around this part of the conversation that I also realized that it was June, the last month of the fiscal year…just about any expense that was planned for was strictly prohibited. I feared the outcome but continued on.

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Sabrina responded remarkably calm and said “Tell you what, Marcus and I (the city manager) will be meeting shortly, come by in about an hour and you can fill him in on the situation and he’ll make a decision. So many thoughts went through my head at that moment — should I show up with a letter of resignation, or will I get fired instead?

As I entered the elevator and took the familiar trip up the 11th floor, there was some comfort in the fact that the lines of communication had already been established and I had already communicated my vision for the city of Norfolk’s fleet…a vision that had support throughout the organization, including the city manager. As the elevator opened and I walked into the city manager’s office, there was no time for rehearsal in my head…it was showtime!

Before I completed checking in with the front desk, Wynter Benda, another deputy city manager came walking around the corner and, in his always lively and energetic tone, says “Oh, you’re here for the sales pitch, I’ll go grab Marcus and Sabrina.”

“Oh this is great,” I thought to myself…but not in a positive way, I was thinking more along the lines of ‘word had gotten out already and they are all laughing at me.’ Within a minute or two, the entourage of Deputy City Managers led by City Manager Marcus Jones appeared.

Sabrina quickly recapped and then I was on, my opportunity to ask for about $150K (prior to incentives and grants). I started by reminding my audience of city leaders (and other ears around the room I knew were listening), that they were aware of the fleet’s vision and that the acquisition of these CNG Honda Civics would be the start of our right-sized transition to alternative fuels.

I went on, detailing how while these weren’t common vehicles, but they were a perfect fit for us given the application, the fueling infrastructure, and the nearby dealer support for repairs we couldn’t handle in-house.

“Ok, makes sense to me and I appreciate you communicating the situation so fast, you’ll have the funds tomorrow,” Marcus said as the other nodded in approval. It wouldn’t have been complete without Wynter’s comment, “nicely done!”

Mike Tyson (yes the boxer and ear biter) once said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” This was 100% the case for me, we were smoothly sailing into the end of the fiscal year without getting any unwanted attention until I got punched in the mouth by the unexpected delivery of the Hondas. Fortunately for me, my network within my organization was well-established and gaining momentum.

What can you do to be prepared for that punch in the mouth? Well, the tough thing is that we never know how, or where, or who will throw that punch, but here is what I recommend and encourage you to do to be prepared:

  • Get out and about within your fleet and your organization. Don’t be that person calling all the shots from behind your desk. Seek approval and buy-in for your mission internally and externally.
  • A potential problem can go from bad to worse if you don’t take immediate action.
  • Knowing who to call is great…having a relationship with that person is priceless.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes the solution to your problem may be easier than it appears.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for forgiveness. Things will happen, mistakes will be made. Leaders expect you to come across problems, but what they really want is for you to come to them with solutions to problems.
About the author
Facundo Tassara

Facundo Tassara

Fleet Success Ambassador, RTA: The Fleet Success Company.

Facundo Tassara is the fleet success ambassador with RTA: The Fleet Success Company. He previously worked as the fleet manager for the cities of Norfolk, Va., and Ormond Beach, Fla.

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