As a fleet manager, your primary job is managing the assets and services provided to internal user groups. To earn the respect of user groups, you need to intimately know their fleet requirements, plus know their total fleet costs, frontward and backwards. However, as some fleet managers can attest, much of their time is not spent in this way, but consumed by interdepartmental and personnel issues. In many respects, the “people” aspect of fleet management is the hardest part of being a fleet manager.
To minimize these issues, it is important to build a team esprit de corps with your user groups, and there are multiple ways to do so. The first rule is to get out of your chair and meet with the managers of your user departments and their drivers. Speak with them to find out what’s on their minds and observe how they are using fleet assets. Listen to not only what they say, but also what they don’t say. When legitimate complaints are brought to your attention by user groups, address them.
Likewise, acknowledge outstanding policy compliance or exemplary care or corporate assets. The best way to cultivate an esprit de corps is to recognize outstanding achievement. When user groups do a good job, give them positive feedback. Let management know when someone receives accolades from you. Conversely, you also need to be self-serving. Often, senior management has an inaccurate perception about fleet operations. To correct misperceptions, you need to let management know of your team’s accomplishments.
One fleet manager told me he holds quarterly P.I.T. (preventing interdepartmental trouble) meetings to survey user departments about fleet satisfaction. It is important to explain your management objectives to all user groups and how each user group fits into the “bigger picture” of what fleet operations is seeking to accomplish. You’ll be surprised by how many do not have a good understanding of the fleet organization’s overall goals. It is important to continually re-communicate the fleet mission. It is critical that user groups understand the mission of fleet operations through ongoing, regular communication with you.
Get in the Field to Assess Vehicle Usage
When trouble-shooting fleet problems, such as increased costs for a particular user group, it is important to identify the root cause, which often requires on-site visual inspection of fleet assets and how they are being utilized.
For instance, one common problem that can be addressed by getting into the field is overloading. In fact, the No. 1 cause of unscheduled truck maintenance expense is overloading. The best way to determine if vehicles are being overloaded is to visually assess vehicle usage while they are performing a fleet application. The root cause may be that drivers are requesting the wrong vehicle for the application and this may not be apparent to you unless you conduct a field visit.
There are several ways to determine overloading: a sagging rear-end, irregular tire wear, premature brake wear, and loose unresponsive suspension and steering. It is also advisable to be on the lookout for users modifying a vehicle to accommodate a heavier payload, such as changing tire sizes, adding spring kits, air shocks, heavy-duty brakes, and anti-sway kits. When you modify a vehicle, you create an unsafe situation by changing the integrity of the vehicle. In addition, this may affect the new-vehicle warranty and increase liability exposure if there is an accident. If you’re not out in the field observing, you may never know that these modifications have occurred.
In addition to increasing wear and tear, overloading, in and of itself, creates an unsafe vehicle and increases liability exposure in the event of an accident. Consider the following liability exposures:
- Emergency handling capability of an overloaded vehicle is reduced, which may result in an accident.
- Braking distance increases, which can cause drivers to misjudge stopping distances.
- Tire failure rates are higher, because tires run hotter.
- Roadside weight checks (if applicable) could result in overloading fines and possible vehicle impoundment until the problem is corrected.
Many view fleet management as being a desk job, but it is more than that. There is a management theory called “management by walking around” or MBWA. This refers to a management style where managers walk around, in an unstructured manner, through the workplace, at random, to check with employees, equipment, or on the status of ongoing work.
Do yourself a favor – get out of your chair and take a walk.
Let me know what you think.