Fleet management, by its very function, should be one of the most important departments in any corporate hierarchy. 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. Consequently, interdepartmental cooperation must be an integral part of fleet management. A fleet manager must establish a relationship with every department touched by fleet to address their needs, keep them informed, and gain buy-in with fleet policy.
However, not all department managers are team players and many have egos the size of a Class 8 truck. As a result, there are the inevitable interdepartmental conflicts, typically driven by the challenge of balancing HR/driver requirements versus finance/accounting department requirements that are often at odds with one another. Fleet managers must learn to be diplomats because interdepartmental conflict can have a corrosive effect on how departments work with one another. Out of this departmental friction, negative stereotypes develop, as do efforts to downgrade the performance of the other party, and you don’t want fleet to be the target of those barbs. Fleet managers must learn to develop a more authoritative voice when dealing with other department managers since the wrong decisions will negatively impact fleet operations.
In years past, fleet existed as a realm of its own. The management of other departments often didn’t fully understand the nuances of fleet management other than the driver received a new vehicle every 36 months. Fleet managers of that era were the “kings” and “queens” of their own realms. However, that reality no longer exists. This is a hard transition for many long-time fleet managers. These fleet managers lament they used to be in “control,” but they now “share” responsibility, requiring approvals or buy-in from every affected department. As a result, what, in the past, were straightforward decisions, now require inordinate discussion and no longer gets completed in a timely manner.
In addition, many fleet managers today can no longer devote the necessary time to be a hands-on fleet manager because they have additional management responsibilities, ranging from travel to facilities to safety programs. These additional responsibilities often do not include additional staff, so these fleet managers are stretched thin. As a result, this gives rise to other departments encroaching into areas traditionally the domain of fleet.
Crosscurrent of Safety and Procurement
The migration by large corporations to strategic sourcing has caused corporate procurement departments to become the engines of change in fleet management at many Fortune 500 companies. The emergence of strategic sourcing in the 1990s altered corporate purchasing and forced changes in fleet acquisition and the supplier selection process. Corporate procurement departments are now very influential in vendor selection, contract negotiations, service level agreements, and ongoing supplier management.
The same is true in the area of risk management. Fleet managers are under pressure to minimize preventable accidents. Often the company HR, legal, and risk management departments are driving these pressures. For instance, 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 Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) Department. EHS departments are extending their 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 a fleet department focus to a function of a corporate committee, comprised of representatives from fleet, HR, legal, risk, sales, and operations.
Importance of Cultivating Internal Relationships
A number of fleet managers I know criticize this involvement of “non-fleet” managers, rather than seeking ways to partner and gain their support by educating them about fleet management.
Fleet managers must persuasively articulate their positions and have the courage to stand by their convictions without being abrasive or gaining a reputation of not being a team player. Many fleet managers miss golden opportunities to do so. The next time a major sales meeting occurs find a way to attend. There is no better way to know a business unit you serve than from the inside. While at the meeting, listen, participate, and ask questions to demonstrate your interest in supporting their business needs.
The bottom line is that you need to get other managers to see what you see, because when the time comes to implement a new process or strategy, you will have already gained the trust of your departmental peers. Continuously developing trust and proving value is necessary to stay abreast of the management turnover in these departments. It is incumbent upon fleet managers to learn what is important to other departmental managers and, when appropriate, incorporate that into your decision making when formulating and implementing fleet management strategies.
In the final analysis, 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.
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