By Mike Antich
Most in public sector fleet management say it is still fun being a fleet manager, but the job is increasingly filled with new challenges, many of them unprecedented. I asked fleet managers, on a confidential basis, whether their jobs are still fun in wake of the turmoil the industry has experienced in the past 12 months (and still unfolds into the present day). Here are their responses to the question of whether it is still fun to be a fleet manager.
"Every day is an adventure. I mean that in a good way. Even though things have been rough, and the uncertainties make it a challenge, it is still rewarding and fun," said one fleet manager. "You can never say you are bored with fleet. Each day brings different roadblocks that you have to find ways to get around and reach your goal, but all in all, it is a great job."
Fleet managers describe the job as "it is what it is."
"I would hesitate to equate it with fun - in the sense of smiles and laughter. It is, of course, much more challenging now than ever before, but that's the nature of change. It is still rewarding," added the fleet manager.
Most public sector fleet managers have a technical bent to their personalities and like to "fix things." I asked one fleet manager what he liked best about his job and he said: "What I find most rewarding about my job is that I enjoy fixing things. That includes improving existing processes or creating new directions that solve problems or proving a point using good data analysis. The fleet profession, to me, offers so many opportunities. I get to design, build, buy, and operate the latest and greatest vehicles and equipment. I like playing detective and solving mysteries. The bottom line is providing customers, both internal and taxpayers, with the best bang for the buck, whatever it takes."
A Turbulent Year
The past year has been very turbulent for fleet management, but most fleet managers are taking it in stride. "The past 12 months are really the same game - it's just been played with different rules, different plays/pitch, speed, and direction. The key to any game, of course, is anticipating and adapting to change. In the old days, almost any crazy fool could run a fleet," said one fleet manager. "Years ago, fleet was not high on the radar screen in many organizations. It simply did not rate a lot of attention. However, as fuel, emissions, liability, regulations, and performance issues escalated along with personnel, vehicle, and maintenance costs, management really started to pay attention. Fleets that did not keep up or only coasted along had to quickly organize and spend lots of money to get their act together or they had to default to an outsourced operation," commented one fleet manager. "Poor planning leads only to poor results."
Another aspect that keeps the job fun and exciting is the constant technological improvements to vehicles and equipment. "It is rewarding to be a part of 'greening' our fleet to protect our environment and be good environmental stewards. It is fast-paced, but does cause some challenges as to what to prioritize and how can we afford the changing regulations," said one fleet manager. "We are getting political pressure to reduce our fuel usage and GHG emissions, but we do not have the money to invest in newer vehicles and technology. It makes us become more creative."
However, green fleet initiatives, especially in this era of budget cutbacks and layoffs, are getting push-back from employees. "Our represented employees are questioning how we can afford the additional cost to 'green' the fleet when the employees accepted reduced pay and furloughs," said a fleet manager.
Volatile and unpredictable fuel costs continue to cause headaches for public sector fleet managers. "Fuel is a stressor. I am still looking to find a crystal ball for my desk so I can peer into the future and predict what it holds for fuel prices. I don't like the unknown and I'm a very patterned person. I look for patterns and trends to try and predict what the future will bring. Fuel prices seem committed to fluctuating so much that you can't get a handle on it. Is there a reliable source out there that can give me some information I can use to more confidently predict the fuel prices in 2010?" asked one fleet manager.
Another critique is leveled at managers and politicians who think they understand fleet, but really don't. "What I like least is pandering to people who have some authority or influence, but really don't have the background or knowledge to make sound recommendations or decisions. They deal only in perception," said one fleet manager.
A very common refrain is about "interfering" politicians who assume they know fleet management. Here's how one fleet manager summarized it. "After every election, my expertise and loyalty are questioned by a newly elected official who is going to 'fix' his/her misinterpreted belief that we're wasting tax revenue. After managing a public sector fleet for 20 years, I can plan that approximately every five years, I will need to spend hundreds of hours of labor proving we're fiscally responsible. Even using industry-accepted benchmarking to quantify performance, the political assumption generally is that the whole industry is corrupt."
Another frustrating aspect of the job is "territorial issues." Here's an example: "When implementing a fleet operational change, I encounter emotional defiance based solely on selfish 'kingdom' territory, and that person is not open to discussion or compromise. To accomplish my objective, I have to then escalate the issue up the chain of command. That customer generally blames me personally for their irrational behavior."
Another difficult aspect of being a public sector fleet manager is motivating mechanics. "I have long-term staff (shortest time on this job is 17 years) and after a while, pride is just not enough to keep them doing the job they are paid to do. When one mechanic gets in a mood and decides he is just not motivated to do anything more than he has to, he then affects the others, and in no time, I have a shop full of unmotivated, non-productive mechanics," said one fleet manager. "I hate to be a manager who has to hover and hound, but sometimes that is what has to be done to keep the work moving and keep our customers on the road. Motivation cannot come from money, even though they say it can. It has to come from within a person. It is sometimes next to impossible to find that motivating factor."
Fleet managers will tell you another aspect of the job they dislike is "pushy sales personnel who do not like 'no' for an answer or have products that are not that good and do not work," said one fleet manager. Another fleet manager said, "Every 'engine degreaser' chemical salesperson in the world has your phone number and at least 3-4 times per week, contacts you to buy their product. There must be special search engine software to ferret out a fleet manager's direct phone number."
Rewarding Aspects of the Job
Fleet managers cited many examples of the rewarding aspects of their jobs. One example related to me by a fleet manager was, "Each day, we get rewarded by taking on the challenges and finding solutions or alternatives to what we can control. I like the learning process."
Many fleet managers feel fleet management, in and of itself, is rewarding. "Knowing you did your best on a completed project, whether it is spec'ing the proper piece of equipment or vehicle for the job and finding new ways to get the proper equipment to match the job is rewarding," said the fleet manager.
Another example is the satisfaction of senior management recognition of a fleet manager's broad expertise and diverse skill set. "A really rewarding aspect of the job is when management comes to you for help in other areas besides fleet and to help solve problems in other areas of the city departments," said a fleet manager. Similarly, another fleet manager offered this anecdote: "While working directly with another division head to resolve a chronic equipment performance issue, we mutually discovered its cause to be operator error. After mutually solving the equipment performance issue through employee training and without being condescending, I felt like I just found the cure to cancer."
One common denominator many fleet managers find rewarding is concern about their customers. "Some of our customers can be a real pain, but overall, the majority appreciate what we do for them and are confident in our skills and put a lot of trust in us," said a fleet manager. "I like that they trust us. They believe we do a good job, take pride in our work, and work hard to keep everyone safe and secure when it comes to their vehicles. We have a next-to-zero percent comeback rate and a 90-percent get-the-job done-in-one-day rate, so we keep them on the road and not returning for the same problem. That keeps our customers content. They don't have to worry about their vehicle so they can spend that mental time on their job - which I think is our job - so it is a win-win for everyone."
Another fleet manager offered a similar observation. "I enjoy serving those customers who value both my opinion and my recommendation because of past success solving their equipment logistics issues."
Other fleet managers will tell you it is still fun being a fleet manager, but there are more fleet management challenges than ever before. "But it can be more rewarding when you see the hard-work results," said a fleet manager.
This was seconded by another fleet manager: "What makes the job rewarding is any action resulting in saving significant monies while at the same time improving service to the customer, such as balancing equipment utilization through a shared pool system, which reduces assets without causing any delays in customer needs or services rendered."
Let me know what you like and dislike about your job.
See all comments