By being good at something, you invariably make the task at hand look easy. Such is the case with the in-house fleet manager. A fleet manager’s capabilities and expertise can be easily overlooked by executive management, especially when a fleet is well run. Fleet is not core to senior an executive’s responsibilities, so they tend to focus on fleet when things go wrong, such as expenses needing to be cut or addressing dissatisfaction among company drivers. When fleet runs smoothly, it tends not to be on the radar of senior management, who, often, are not aware of the required behind-the-scenes expertise. In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing fleet managers is getting senior management to see and acknowledge their contribution to the company. Too many fleet managers labor in obscurity and are taken for granted.
Since most fleet managers do not have a staff, it is important that everyone from the manager of your direct supervisor up to the CEO of the company knows what you do and fleet’s importance to the corporate bottom line. You need to become known within the company. This includes both professional interactions, as well as social interactions, such as attending company events. If you manage a sales fleet, make an effort to attend sales meetings and get out into the field to meet drivers. If you manage a service fleet, learn as much as possible about how customers and products are serviced. If there is a company social function, attend it.
The more people you know (and who know you) increases recognition of your work and how it benefits the company. If your company conducts in-house seminars and presentations, such as a “corporate university” designed to familiarize employees with other departments, take the opportunity to make a presentation about fleet operations. Market the capabilities and accomplishments of fleet operations using the corporate newsletter and intranet. While everyone agrees it is important to network within the industry; it is also just as important to network within your company. Take every opportunity to become known both within your company and the fleet industry, among your peers and supplier partners.
The Road to Complacency
You may think you manage a well-run fleet, but how does management really know how well you are doing unless you have objective data to prove it? It is important to have an open-book policy and share data with management, internal customers (such as driver supervisors), and suppliers. From the perspective of management, this will validate that you are getting optimum performance from the fleet. This will cultivate the recognition with senior management that you are the in-house expert on all matters dealing with fleet management. But, this isn’t a given; the fleet manager must work at earning the full support of senior management. It is important for management to understand that a competent fleet manager can easily save a company millions of dollars by implementing the right fleet policies and selecting the right suppliers.
The curse to running a well-run fleet is that it sometimes breeds complacency. Veteran fleet managers who have implemented numerous cost saving initiatives will tell you that savings become more difficult to find – the law of diminishing returns takes hold. They point out that most of the excess cost has already been wrung out of the operation, noting metrics that prove the fleet is running smoothly. Unfortunately, these fleet managers are operating on auto pilot and have become too comfortable in their positions. This is the road to complacency, or, at worst, it is the road to stagnation. They reason that things are working just fine – why monkey with a well-tuned fleet operation? When operations are running smoothly, there is inertia to change. The conventional wisdom is to not change something that isn’t broken. Again, there is some truth to this statement, but ask yourself: “Is your goal to run a well-managed fleet or do you want to run a best-in-class fleet?” Complacency is the enemy of excellence.
Make it a Journey, Not a Goal
Fleet managers need to rise above the level of simply managing day-to-day work. Their understanding of the company’s business transcends fleet management and are constantly conceptualizing new initiatives. They have a broad perspective of how procurement and supplier selection decisions impact the corporation as a whole. They are creative in problem-solving, motivating staff and suppliers to excel, and are willing to experiment by implementing new technology-based fleet solutions. These fleet managers strive to stay current with industry best practices and network with industry-respected fleet managers. One underutilized resource is prospective suppliers. Many fleet managers make themselves inaccessible to prospective suppliers. By doing so, they are missing a wonderful opportunity to pick their brains to learn of new industry developments. You need to continually ask suppliers what they have seen among their client base that is successful. Could these practices be implemented in your fleet operation? If you are not continually learning about fleet management, about new products and services, it’s easy to become stale at what you do.
To manage a best-in-class fleet, you must look to the future and be ready and willing to innovate. It is important to remember that maintaining a well-managed fleet is not a goal, but a journey.
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