In my previous blog, I discussed searching for your weaknesses to help you improve. I took that opportunity to share one of my weaknesses and I challenged myself to do something about it. While motor pools are not my weakness per se, it was the fleet example I used that helped me challenge myself — and just so happens to be the same concept I will use to share this thought: Tell them what they need.
A Solution for a Unidentified Problem
What did Steve Jobs and Henry Ford have in common? Both were brilliant men who created a product and or a process that would change the world, but that’s not the answer I’m looking for. In their own ways, and in response to the times they lived in, both men presented a solution. The interesting thing is that at the time, no one really suffered from the problem that their solution identified. Rather, they offered what they felt people needed.
“It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” — Steve Jobs
In the early ’80s, when Steve Jobs built the Mac, there was no outcry for Apple to solve a problem. They built the Mac for Apple, and they would decide if it was good or not. Obviously, deciding it was good AND necessary for the average American, Apple would push the new product in a series of commercials that made people say “I need one of those.”
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
— Henry Ford
In July 1903, Ford sold the first Model A (in a world where zero demand existed for the automobile) and within just a few years, he had a problem. He could only crank out 25 vehicles a day, falling way behind his demand. By 1908, he had developed the assembly line, dramatically reducing the time to build Fords from several hours to 92 minutes.
Let Me Tell You
Here are how these men and their bold ideas lend themselves to fleet. We (fleet) operate in a very unique environment — one which most of our organizational leadership are not versed in. They become aware of needs and wants through what neighbors are doing, what they read online, or through an article. I propose that we, the fleet professionals, tell them what they need. The reality is that our leaders mean well and want the best for the community. You cannot hold it against them that they have limited knowledge about fleet — their rise to their positions probably did not come through fleet.
At the City of Norfolk, we recently had a budget surplus and in efforts to “sell” this solution, we needed to be bold. At an end-of-the-year budget meeting, our bright young administrative assistant Exum Lee III asked, “Can we do something with this surplus?” We sat through about five seconds of interesting silence as we thought about challenging the norm of the General Fund black hole. Our budget analyst responded with something along the lines of, “Well I suppose if you had a something in mind, we could give it a shot.”
At that point, I knew Exum had just thrown the perfect Hail Mary, and now it was my turn to do the fingertip, two-tippy-toes, inside-the-end-zone catch. And I was up for the challenge. Circling back around to our underutilization policy, I quickly pointed out that this policy went hand-in-hand with motor pools. Not just any motor pool, a smart, automated, attractive motor pool. I went on to explain that in order to make this work, we need to revitalize our motor pool to incentivize use. Next, we needed to have an effective way of reserving the vehicles, keeping track of the keys, and all while making all of this convenient. Essentially, what I told our budget analyst (our messenger to the top) was, “In order to continue taking steps in the right direction, the city needs a modern automated motor pool with several new vehicles to incentivize use and create a new culture of sharing.”
The respect that fleet has been gaining in my organization, paired with the storytelling that we do on a daily basis, allowed us to make a pitch that no one knew was coming — not even me. However, being at the right place at the right time enabled me to present a solution that few in my organization knew they needed (or knew existed). For the most part I would say, people are always looking for ways to improve the organization but because of their background, some may not know how to do it. This is where the fleet professional steps in to tell them what they need.
So how is this project coming? We have ordered six new vehicles for the motor pool along with hardware and software that will allow us to fully automate our new motor pool.
I caution you to be honest with yourself and expect to be shot down several time before you get a yes to a major project and expense. However, you owe it to yourself and your staff to try. As the saying goes, if you fail, fail forward. And when the time is right, tell them what they need.
See all comments