Over the years, I have known many competent fleet managers. But, like salmons swimming upstream, not every promising fleet manager survives the challenges and rigors of day-to-day fleet management. It is understandable when fleet managers are fired for making expensive mistakes or when caught engaging in ethical transgressions, but, sadly, many more are terminated for circumstances that are entirely avoidable. Here are five common reasons why competent fleet managers are terminated and how to avoid it.
The fleet manager role has changed dramatically over the past 20 years as staffs have disappeared, outsourcing became the norm, and procurement groups gained a greater role in fleet sourcing. Fleet is ever-changing and the fleet managers who survive are those who adapt to the change instead of fighting it. The corporate kiss of death is resisting change, or being perceived as an obstructionist. Instead of perceived as a problem solver, these fleet managers are viewed as part of the problem.
Likewise, fleet managers must avoid being perceived as closed-minded. While you may be recognized for your strong industry knowledge, you do not want develop a reputation of not being open to new ideas. Even if you are the in-house fleet expert, someone else may have a better idea. Be open to ideas from anywhere, which includes peers, suppliers, drivers, and other employees. It is important to be not only be open to change, but also open-minded.
This perception commonly occurs mid-career after a fleet manager has mastered the fundamentals of fleet management. These fleet managers grow complacent and stop learning. Their attitude is: My time is scarce, why bother to learn new things when the fleet is running smoothly? As the years progress, these fleet managers attend fewer and fewer fleet management seminars, they can’t seem to find the time to read industry publications, or even attend webinars or conferences to keep pace with best practices. While they may be paid members of industry associations, they are not engaged. Eventually, this complacency and resistance to change fosters a feeling in management that its time for a change.
Managing fleet assets is a full-time job that can consume every minute of a work day. Vulnerable fleet managers grouse they don’t have the time to understand what other departments are doing because they’re busy staying abreast of their departmental activities. These fleet managers have forgotten that they are a support department whose purpose is to help user departments to achieve their goals. They have a narrow-minded focus of fleet management. While they may be managing at a “fleet impactful” level, they are not managing it at a “company impactful” level. They fail to link strategic corporate objectives to the management of the fleet. This cultivates user-group discontent that will ultimately percolate up the management hierarchy to your detriment.
Let’s face it, most people in your company do not fully understand what you do and, as a result, do not appreciate your achievements. If you do not promote your accomplishments, chances are high that no one will know about them. If you don’t define yourself within the company, your detractors will do the job for you. A humble fleet manager is often relegated to mediocrity.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can’t be negatively perceived as an unabashed self-promoter because this typically encourages curmudgeons to continually second guess your accomplishments. You need a balance. Be prepared to defend your position, and, most importantly, be prepared to show objectors the direct benefits to their departments that have resulted from these accomplishments. As Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, once said: “Control your own destiny or someone else will.” These are wise words that many fleet managers don’t take to heart.
Your company and its strategic suppliers are making ongoing and significant investments in new productivity technologies. To be effective, this technology must be used. Do not develop a reputation as being “old school” and unwilling to incorporate new technology into your work routine. This hesitancy adds to a misperception that you are resistant to change or of being an "old dog" not wanting to learn new tricks. It is annoying for co-workers who have to develop “work arounds” in dealing with you because you are not technologically savvy.
Most fleet managers learn fleet management through “on-the-job-training.” Fleet managers who thrive in the “school of hard knocks” are those who learn to lead and coach drivers, multiple management levels, and supplier partners. In the corporate world, not everything is black and white and these fleet managers learn to make decisions when faced with ambiguity. They become leaders who recognize leadership is more about serving than being served.
As a leader, do not fear change. Lead by example.
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