Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

Breaking the News: How to Give Management Bad News

It is likely the one scenario fleet managers dread most: there is bad news, and management needs to know. Are there ways to soften the blow? Being the bearer of bad news isn’t fun, but it’s a part of doing business.

March 2009, by Staff

"Give me the bad news first" is the usual answer to the announcement, "There's good news and bad news." Nobody likes it, but unwelcome messages are an unfortunate part of every businessperson's life. It's something good managers can handle.

How so? How does a fleet manager survive the unpleasant task of telling management that, for example, the fleet budget has been exceeded? That a necessary fleet-wide recall will cost the company thousands of downtime hours? That used-vehicle values tanked and depreciation has skyrocketed?

Like most other tasks, with good communication, proper planning, and an eye on detail, bad news, while not welcome, won't linger like a bad odor, and the fleet manager can survive the ordeal.

Which News is Bad News?
Bad news comes in varying levels of intensity, depending on the people involved. What is bad news to a fleet manager isn't always something management will dislike or even understand.

A senior manager is usually concerned about the costs in company operations. Most senior managers view fleet as a cost of doing business. Consider this scenario: A manufacturer notifies a fleet manager the remaining model-year orders will not be built and are being pushed to the new model-year. Bad news? For a fleet manager, it is. Is the VP of operations concerned? Not really; it isn't likely he or she understands the implications of the delay, nor does the VP need to know. It's just one of those day-to-day fleet management issues fleet managers deal with. Extend a few replacements, a handful of out-of-stock purchases, and the setback is resolved.

Another scenario: the fleet consists of 500 of one particular model pickup truck. The manufacturer has issued a recall, which requires returning all 500 vehicles to a dealer for repairs, triggering replacement rentals and downtime costing tens of thousands of dollars. Bad news? Yes, indeed — for both the fleet manager and the director of services whose budget will be hit with the unanticipated charges. The essential point is that fleet managers need to differentiate between news of resolvable inconvenient events  and news of situations with serious consequences to costs, operations, etc.

Categorizing and defining these important issues goes a long way toward holding instances of delivering bad news to management to a minimum. Asking the following questions will help:

■  Is the news "big?" Are the numbers, if cost issues are involved, relevant enough to notify a senior manager? A budget overrun of $5,000 in a multimillion-dollar budget is hardly of interest to senior management. An overrun of 20 percent is.

■  Is it relevant to  the executive's interests? Fleet managers deal with bad news every day. A branch manager's registration expires, and e-mails fly. Know the executive's stakeholder relationship with fleet and deal with the unwelcome issue accordingly. A lawsuit arising out of an accident might be important to a VP/treasurer, but not to the director of sales. Break the news only to individuals who need to know.

■  Is it personal? Every fleet manager has dealt with a senior executive on a personal level — getting an executive car repaired or delivered — and problems arise. Deal with these issues immediately and frankly.

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During her 18-year career with PHH, Patsy Mance worked in a variety of positions at the Hunt Valley, Md., headquarters office until 1974, when she was promoted to account executive and assigned to a field position in New York City.

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