At one time, the scope of the fleet department’s responsibilities was crystal clear. However, over time these demarcation lines have shifted and departmental boundaries separating them have become fuzzy. Here’s what one fleet manager told me:
"Nowadays, there are too many departments involved in Fleet. Sourcing needs me to lower our costs. Sales wants nicer, more expensive vehicles for reps. Service wants bigger service vehicles with more upfitting, while, at the same time, lowering fixed and operating costs. Sustainability requires increased mpg to lower CO2 emissions. Risk wants to give reps everything they want."
Such is the life of today’s fleet manager. In the not-too-distant past, fleet existed as a realm of its own. However, as fleet managers assumed additional responsibilities and/or had their staffs reduced, they were stretched thin, which gave rise to other depart-ments encroaching into areas traditionally the domain of fleet. The days of the fleet manager only handling fleet is gradually becoming less the norm and the amount of time devoted to fleet has decreased.
Now, collaboration with sourcing, legal, HR, finance, sales, service, and environmental, health & safety (EHS) is needed, often requiring approvals or buy-in from individual departments. Fleet managers lament they now “share” fleet responsibilities, requiring approvals or buy-in from affected departments. As a result, what, in the past, were straightforward decisions, now require inordinate interdepartmental discussions. Today, it seems fleet decisions can no longer be completed in a timely manner. Compounding this inertia is that fleet managers are often tugged in opposite directions and sometimes given contradictory demands from different departments.
Crosscurrent of Safety and Procurement
Over the past decade three powerful corporate crosscurrents – safety, sourcing, and resource constraints – have reached a confluence at fleet. For example, fleet managers are under pressure to minimize preventable accidents. Often, the company HR, legal, and risk management departments are driving these pressures.
One consequence is that corporate risk management has become more influential in the types of vehicles added to fleet selectors. Another department with a growing influence on fleet safety is the EHS department. EHS is responsible for employee safety issues elsewhere in the company, such as the factory floor and workstation ergonomics; why not fleet vehicles?
Currently, EHS is extending its reach into fleet because company drivers are one of the largest sources of workers’ comp claims. The entire decision-making process in accident preventability management has evolved from being fleet-department-focused to being overseen by corporate committees. In general, participants on these committees include representatives from HR, legal, risk, sales, and operations. And, the hard reality is not all department managers are team players and, as a result, there are the inevitable interdepart-mental conflicts. Many of these conflicts are typically driven by the challenge of balancing HR/driver requirements versus fi-nance/procurement requirements, which are often at odds with one another, with the gains in one area negatively impacting the other.
Similarly, corporate procurement departments are now very influential in vendor selection, contract negotiations, service level agreements, and ongoing supplier management. As more fleet managers now report to procurement, they often interact with decision-makers who have little or no fleet background, with their sole focus being cost reduction. Many fleet managers report to supervisors who have minimal interest in fleet management.
Cultivating Interdepartmental Relationships
Since fleet managers’ primary objective is to manage the fleet in a way that supports the objectives of the user groups, it requires a management mindset to view all work from the internal customers’ perspective. The benefit is that fleet managers play a pivotal role that intersects with most major corporate functions, such as HR, sales, procurement, risk management, legal, sustainability, finance, and administrative services.
The reality is that interdepartmental friction is an unfortunate fact of corporate life, especially those involving “territorial” issues, which are typically not open to compromise. Despite this, a fleet manager must establish and retain a relationship with each affected department to ascertain their interests, keep them informed, and get their buy-in when establishing fleet policy. Each department has a vested interest, which must be considered. It is incumbent for all fleet managers to learn what is important to senior management, EHS, legal, HR, etc., and incorporate these priorities into their decision-making methodology.
In a nutshell, fleet managers must focus on meeting the needs of their internal customers by establishing a cooperative, working relationship with all corporate functions associated with fleet.
This is easier said than done, but it can be done.
Let me know what you think.
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet