By Mike Antich

The most difficult challenge a fleet manager faces is effectively communicating to senior management the complex issues facing fleet operations. This is a fundamental, yet often neglected, responsibility necessary to be a successful fleet manager.

"I have always said the best way to ensure the long-term survival of any fleet operation is to simply "Tell the Story!" said Frank Morgan, deputy director of transportation and operations for the City of Fremont, Calif. "Doing great things and implementing great programs for your customers is never enough, you must articulate your accomplishments so your customers understand you are continually refining the fleet operation to provide better service in the most cost-effective manner possible."

1. Schedule time with the city manager to tour your operation: City managers are very busy and often do not have time to have detailed conversations with the fleet manager, yet the city manager is often the final decision-maker when budgets get tight and the axe begins to fall on departments and/or divisions. The best thing you can do is give the city manager insight into the complexity of managing a fleet operation, so he/she has that information when plans for funding or cuts are being developed. Once the decision is made to cut or under-fund a program, it is often too late to undo the negative consequences that will certainly follow.  Frank relates a story earlier in his career with the City of Long Beach, Calif., where he worked as the fleet manager.

"After getting permission through your chain of command, call the city manager's office and schedule the city manager for a tour of your fleet operation," said Morgan. "In my case, it was two months out before I could get on the city manager's calendar, but I locked in the date and before I knew it, the day had come. Make sure you have your act together and focus on issues and aspects of your fleet operation that shows why your operation adds value to the City as a whole. The city manager does not want to hear a long story why you can't get a mechanic position filled. Think big picture and show him/her the great things you and your team have done to improve service to customers and reduce cost to the taxpayers. If you focus on those issues, I am confident that it will be a very productive tour and make a lasting impression."

2. Log the accomplishments of your team: It is one thing to make a list of everything your team has done, but it is an entirely different matter to show how those accomplishments have affected your organization. Simply stating what you did is no longer sufficient as you compete for limited funds within your organization. You must show the value your team brings to the organization and what can be expected if the city manager and finance department continues to fund your program.

3. Keep senior management informed: Understand that elected officials and administrators are not fleet management experts and only provide data critical to making a decision. Keep reports jargon-free and formatted for quick review and comprehension. Fleet managers no longer solely "manage" their fleets, they must also manage expectations, communication, and the political realities of their local environment.

4. Focus on the internal customer: Effective fleet managers recognize that they ultimately serve the drivers and user departments, their primary internal customers. Establish a cooperative, working relationship with all internal corporate functions associated with fleet operations. There is no better testimonial to the effectiveness of your fleet operations than when it is told to others by your internal customers. Also, satisfied user groups are powerful allies, should management ever consider privatization or engage in a managed competition. However, fleet managers are under tremendous pressure to deliver results while at the same time doing it with a slashed budget and reduced staff. Adding to the difficulty is that customers continue to expect and demand the high level of service they have been accustomed to throughout the "good years." When Frank was at the City of Long Beach, Calif., he painted on the fleet operations' main lobby wall the motto, "Exceptional customer service only starts when you exceed your customers' expectations!"

Luck Has Nothing to Do with It

The biggest challenge facing fleet managers in 2011 will be the political realities of reduced revenues from historically reliable revenue streams - property tax and sales tax revenue.

"In tough economic times, organizations must step back and evaluate the way they conduct business. The concept of 'doing more with less' simply does not work. In fact, it fosters the fallacy that we can continue to do our jobs in the same way we have in the past. Times like these are perfect opportunities to implement the concept of 'Reset versus Restore,' " said Morgan. "Fleet managers continually answer the call in difficult times by being creative and implementing innovative solutions to what seems to be insurmountable problems. I would wish everyone 'good luck,' but fleet managers know 'luck' has nothing to do with it. We must exceed our customers expectations to stand out as industry leaders and survive in the long-term," said Morgan.

Let me know what you think.

mike.antich@bobit.com

Author

Mike Antich
Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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