How Lee County Increased Fleet Department Morale

March 2005, Government Fleet - Feature

by Cheryl Knight - Also by this author

Marilyn Rawlings, fleet manager for Lee County, Fla., began working in the fleet department in 1994. Called in as a troubleshooter to help the county prepare for the privatization of its 1,400-vehicle fleet, Rawlings faced many mechanics and administrators who weren't happy."The fleet was privatized from 1982-1990, but was brought back in-house in 1990," says Rawlings. "However, during the next few years, the fleet operations team had some serious morale and perception problems."Most of those morale issues stemmed from the constant threat of privatization. "In the early 1990s, privatization was the buzz word for fleet management," says Rawlings. "Morale would plummet because it was hanging over their head that at any moment the fleet could be privatized."While Rawlings came into the picture to transition the fleet back to privatization, based on Rawlings suggestion, the county ultimately decided to keep the fleet management in-house.Assessing the Fleet from Vehicle Cycling to Driver Eligibility
Based in Fort Myers, Fla., Lee County's fleet department consists of 20 mechanics and seven administrative staff members. The county's mostly owned fleet consists of Ford Rangers, F-150s through F-550s, Internationals, as well as various heavy equipment.Vehicle replacement ranges from five to eight years or 60,000-100,000 miles. Rawlings conducts lifecycle costing to determine each model's replacement schedule."We did a resale value analysis on each model," she says. "I found out where I could get the most bang for my buck at the other end. There is a point where my repair costs go skyrocketing upward."Driver eligibility for the use of a vehicle is determined by job function. Risk management then determines eligibility. Any driving-related felony or DUI is an automatic eligibility disqualification.A Motor Vehicle Record check is run at the time of hire, and then, depending on the type of licensing required, it's run again from once a year to every three years. Each driver is required to take a defensive driving class every three years.The mechanics team performs most vehicle work in-house. The county does outsource paint and bodywork, towing, transmission repair, and extensive engine repair.Listening and Responding Boosts Morale and Builds Relationships
Once Lee County decided to keep its fleet management in-house, Rawlings had to face the challenge of instilling confidence and a positive attitude in the team.Her first step was to sit down with each employee and ask questions. What were they doing right? What were they doing wrong? "I got some incredibly good ideas. The things I could change I changed; the things I couldn't change I told them why," says Rawlings. "I also had a list of things I needed to look into." Rawlings says this initial strategy helped get things off and running because it allowed for immediate positive reinforcement and action. "If people know you're listening to what they have to say, that's a good starting point to boost morale. I also got to learn a lot about my employees," she says.One issue that came to Rawlings' attention early on was that the mechanics' personal tools, which were required for the job, were not insured in the event of a natural disaster. Today, eight years later, those tools are insured."This may seem like a little thing, but those little things add up," she says.Each employee has also completed leadership training. "I want to provide them with life skills and not just job skills," she says.Creative Morale Games Keep Fleet Team Smiling
"I do some really strange things to keep momentum going with my mechanics and my administration team," says Rawlings.For example, some days the team will hear an announcement over the loud speaker: "Find Marilyn!" The first person to find Rawlings somewhere around the shop receives a surprise, like a cup of hot cappuccino.On other days, Rawlings attaches bug stickers that look like cockroaches to various items around the facilities. Whoever finds one brings whatever it is attached to (like an oil can) to Rawlings, and they get a small prize — such as a mouse pad, T-shirt, or hat.During football playoff time, Rawlings, a Philadelphia Eagles fan, played the Steve Miller Band song "Fly Like an Eagle" over the facility's loud speaker system for all the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans. She later had to eat her words when the Eagles lost. Another ongoing game in the shop involves "finding the fleet barrel," which is a odd-shaped object made from an empty fire extinguisher and a fluorescent broom handle. The employee of the month hides the "barrel" at standing height somewhere in the shop. At least a small part of the barrel must be visible. Each time the barrel is found, the winner gets to pick a prize. The game can continue many times throughout the month, but at the end of the month, the new employee of the month gets to hide the barrel.Fleet Consultant Tom Johnson recently ranked Lee County as one of the top 100 fleets in the country. As a "thanks for your hard work," Rawlings took a third of her team each day for three days to a Minnesota Twins spring training game. "We had a great time, and it was a total surprise," she says. "The first group even kept it a secret so each team was surprised. They have talked more about that than about anything else we've done."Rawlings' increased productivity figures prove her point. Since 2001, productivity has gone up 25 percentage points.These programs also benefit the county's fleet drivers. "They have a better perception of fleet, and they have better vehicles to drive," says Rawlings. "Our drivers know we will be there. If I have happy employees who feel good about themselves, they will transmit that to the people they serve."Rawlings is currently putting many of her ideas into a book, Painting Penguins Green, which will be available in February 2005. For additional information, contact Marilyn Rawlings at (239) 338-3233.

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