Sometimes it seems like the only constant in the trucking industry is change. Technology has led to changes under the hood and in the cab, shop, and office. Changes in regulations or commodity prices force fleets to adapt rapidly to stay compliant and competitive. Your team’s change management process determines whether a change is an obstacle or an opportunity for your business.
What is Change Management and what can it do for your fleet? Change management is a structured approach for ensuring that changes are thoroughly and smoothly implemented and that the lasting benefits of change are achieved (source). It’s a way for fleet managers to make sure that their entire team contributes to and embraces the changes that are necessary to keep the fleet competitive.
With the mandated transition to electronic logging devices (ELDs) still looming large in our rearview mirrors, the entire trucking industry has plenty of recent experience with organizational change management—both positive and negative. The fleets that followed effective change management principles cruised smoothly through the transition. Others struggled with everything from installation to implementation and adoption.
There will always be more change to manage.
Your fleet will get better results with change management tools that lead to success.
Change Management: An Overview
Knowing a little bit more about where CM came from and what problems it has been able to solve should help you appreciate what it can do for your fleet. Once we have given you a quick rundown of where CM has been and where it’s at in the present moment, we’ll provide a breakdown of the elements that are combined in change management best practices. Then we’ll proceed to a discussion of how to take your fleet from where it is right now to where it needs to be to effectively handle the changes that the industry throws at us.
The earliest days of CM research focused on parallels between how employees in an organization responded to changes at work and how people managed the grieving process. Human emotions were a central concern of CM research until the early 1980s. Since then, CM research has attempted to balance the human elements of an organization with insights from engineering models and new technologies.
In the late 80s, large accounting and consulting firms embraced CM research as a service model that they could offer their clients. This included finding ways to communicate the importance of the change and ensure that employees would adopt and embrace the changes. In the early 2000s, change management professionals began to understand that having people advocating for the change at every level of an organization leads to more successful outcomes.
The Era of Digital Transformation
Today CM has its own trade association and it offers members a professional certificate. So, there are Certified Change Management Professionals who earn their living helping businesses manage organizational change. At the same time, the spread of software solutions and mobile apps into every area of professional life means that you can now download change management tools to help you and your staff implement change effectively.
If you’re anything like us, you probably chuckle a little bit at the idea of technology that is designed to help your organization manage the change caused by adopting new technology.
In this instance, it seems like technology can be both the cure and the disease!
Our purpose here isn’t to either endorse or cast aspersions on any of the software solutions that offer businesses easy access to change management tools. Since technology plays such an outsized role in the changes in the trucking industry today, we think it is more useful to walk through the elements of a solid change management model. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether you pay a consultant, download an app, or implement change management principles on your own.
Change Management Principles & Models
We talk to fleet and maintenance managers at small- and mid-sized trucking companies every day. So, we feel like we have a pretty good sense of the obstacles that they need to overcome to implement a change in the routine without upsetting their team. It’s human nature to resist change—even when a change is likely to make your job easier.
That’s why we think an informed change management process is so important. The only alternatives are to avoid change altogether or to leave the success of new initiatives in the hands of fate. If you ask us, neither of those is any alternative at all. Not when the future success of your business
is riding on the outcomes.
Fortunately, the people who study change management for a living have boiled the process down to six key factors that we think every trucking business can follow when they need to implement a change that will disrupt their team’s normal routine. They are:
- Create a definable strategy: The first step is to tie the proposed change to the reasons for implementing it and the benefits that it will have for your business and everyone who works there. The next step is to keep your strategy flexible enough to adapt to new insights about your assumptions, associated risks, costs, returns on investment, and company culture as they come to light.
- Communicate effectively: Having a strategy is a great place to start. But you have to make sure that everybody understands the parts that they need to—especially the underlying reasons and the ways that it will affect them. Communication is the key.
- Empower employees: Education, training, and skills upgrades are important elements of making sure that employees feel prepared to perform their jobs in the new environment that will come from implementing the change. At the same time, we feel that it’s important to give employees a voice throughout the process so that leaders can benefit from employees’ insights.
- Counter resistance: It’s important to identify employee issues and then address and resolve them in ways that line up with the strategic direction that your fleet is pursuing through the change. Sometimes it will be necessary to go back to your strategic plan to alleviate employee concerns. That’s why it’s important to keep it flexible.
- Support employees: Make sure that employees have the opportunity to express concerns and ask for assistance that they need adapting to the change. Make calming change-related fears a central goal of your change management process.
- Track Progress: Monitor the results of the process and fine-tune your efforts wherever you identify opportunities for improvement.
Change Management: Getting Started and Getting It Done
Hopefully, the ground we’ve covered to this point has convinced you of the importance of a structured approach to change management. We believe it’s the key to achieving successful outcomes when you implement changes to your fleet’s operations. But at this point, you’re probably thinking ‘just tell me how to get it done already’!
We tell the fleets we work with that there are three pillars to a structured approach to change management. These are: knowing when you’re ready for change, knowing how to get change done, and working together as a team to make change happen.
ADKAR is an acronym for the five elements that should be present on an individual level within your organization before you initiate a change:
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to participate and support the
- Knowledge of how to change
- Ability to implement the necessary skills
- Reinforcement that will sustain the
When you take the time to communicate the need for the change with your team and give them the opportunity to provide feedback, you can bring your team along with you through the process of organizational change in ways that produce these five elements. Doing so will make a big difference in how smooth the transition is for the team as a whole and how individuals feel about it.
The Kotter Model
John Kotter, a professor at Harvard University, wrote a book in 1995 called “Leading Change”. In that book, he laid out an eight-step process for effective organizational change management. The steps are:
- Create Urgency: Talk to your team about what is happening within and outside the organization that makes the change necessary. If you take the time to convince everyone that a change is necessary, they will be more committed to making sure that it is implemented effectively.
- Build a Coalition: There are probably people in your organization that you recognize as natural leaders. Hopefully, you’ve got these sorts of people in every department and at every level. Having buy-in from team members who can speak to and speak for drivers, maintenance, administrative staff, and management will give you a powerful squad to help manage the change.
- Create a Vision for Change: When the people who are helping you drive the change and the people affected by the change can clearly see what their world will be like after the change they can begin to understand why the anxiety of change is worth it in return for the benefits that will result.
- Communicate the Vision: Keeping your team focused on the outcomes isn’t something that you can do by showing them your vision once. You will need to make your vision part of the language you use to communicate about your business and a regular topic of conversation in meetings and informal discussions.
- Remove Obstacles: Whether it is in the form of employees who are resisting the change or existing business processes that interfere with the integration of the change, your job as a leader will be to remove those obstacles so that your team can continue to forge ahead.
- Create Short-Term Wins: When the change is large or the process is lengthy, you will need to break it up into smaller components that ensure your team will be able to point to identifiable milestones throughout the process. Small wins along the way are the best tool for keeping a team focused on the ultimate outcomes.
- Build on Change: Every successful change is an opportunity to identify what comes next and start thinking about how to make it happen. In this way, you’ll help your team become focused on innovation and constant improvement. The best part is that you’ll have the tools to manage those processes and your business will benefit many times over.
- Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture: When your team manages change effectively, being innovative will become part of your organization’s personality and reputation. For your team, it will become second nature. For your customers, it is a difference that will set you apart from your competition.
Change can be scary. Even when it isn’t scary, it can be tempting to focus on the hassle involved in making a change rather than the benefits that the change will introduce. But for small- and mid-sized fleets in the trucking industry, change is an unavoidable fact of life. When fleet managers utilize change management best practices, they make change easier for the entire team and increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.
FleetPal Connect is a software solution and mobile app that can help your fleet make changes to how they deal with inspections, maintenance, emergency breakdowns, warranties, and more. Give us a call to learn more about what our tools can do for your fleet and feel free to ask us for advice on how to manage the changes our tools can bring to your fleet’s efficiency and profitability.