Fleet Management 101 - How to Educate Your Boss About Fleet Management
Fleet managers lament when they have to “train” the new boss. Here’s how to do it without creating problems.
Getting the new boss up to speed on fleet management requires careful planning and presentation skills. Here are some pointers for effective “training”:
At a Glance
- Do a little research on the new boss to familiarize yourself with their background and experience.
- Based on the information found, ask the new boss questions about what he or she is interested to learn about fleet.
- Cover the basics of fleet management in a “class” setting, and keep data in an easy-to-follow format.
- Develop a relationship.
The business world isn’t like it was 30 or so years ago, when people stayed with the company and moved up the ranks over years, even decades. Today, fast-track managers move freely and often, within or between companies.
For fleet managers, this means that within a relatively short period of time, many can expect to report to more than one person, as they move up in the company, or move out to better opportunities. And, each time the new manager comes in, he or she is generally clueless about fleet management or, worse, is a “car buff” and thinks he or she knows all about it. Amidst all of the other responsibilities fleet managers have, “training” a new boss is an unwelcome task that must be endured.
Do a ‘Background Check’
When a new supervisor is named, he or she will likely come from within the ranks of whatever department or function fleet management resides (i.e., someone from accounting, finance, sales, or corporate services). But, it is often the case that someone from outside the department — or even outside the company — is named.
Certainly, it makes it a bit easier to train a new boss if he or she comes from the same side of the business as fleet. The point is that the first step in this “training” process is to know the background of the new boss.
There are a number of places where this can be found, not the least of which could be a press release from the company announcing the appointment. Other sources can come from the last department he or she moved from, online networking sites such as LinkedIn, or a simple online search. It’s important to perform such a “background check” to know and understand likely motivations and areas of particular interest.
For example, say the new boss came out of purchasing. The particular skills purchasing requires include negotiation, contracts, and supplier relations. The fleet manager might begin by preparing a brief outline of what suppliers the company uses, such as lessors, service companies, and fuel card programs. Include how the business was awarded, fees, contract terms and conditions, and supplier contacts. Or, rather, if the new boss came out of the sales or service department, be ready to show how the selector was developed, and why certain vehicles were chosen and others rejected. The point is to hit your new supervisor in his or her “sweet spot” first, gain trust, and move on.
Once you’ve made the first contact, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Find out from the new supervisor what he or she knows (and doesn’t know) about what you and the fleet department do. Having an open discussion can also reveal what a new boss wants to know — what areas of the fleet operation are of greatest interest.
Where and when should this kind of introductory meeting take place? Most often, new managers will reach out to direct reports as a group or individually. Such first contact will likely contain questions for them as well. Give the new boss a few weeks to become acclimated. If by then no such meeting has been scheduled, reach out. Offer times and dates, and most important, be prepared.
Create the ‘Curriculum’
So, the boss has reached out, or responded positively to you, and the meeting is set. The next step in this teaching process is to identify the “curriculum” for the meeting. What should this be? How does a new subordinate prepare for a meeting with the new supervisor who doesn’t know much about fleet management?
Essentially, a fleet manager should already have the basics for such a meeting. There are certain questions most managers have when exposed to the company fleet; common questions that require straightforward answers, including:
- Why are we using the vehicles that are on the selector?
- Why can’t we use smaller vehicles to save money?
- Why don’t we keep our vehicles longer?
- Why do we lease/own?
- Can’t employees drive their own vehicles?
You get the picture; the new manager (and this holds true for new fleet managers, too) wants to come into the job and “clean up Dodge,” question what the company is doing, and put his or her own stamp on the operation of fleet.
The answer to these and other questions should be, for the professional fleet manager, readily available, and form a good portion of the teaching curriculum. Here are those answers, and the information needed:
Vehicle selection: Each model year, fleet managers throughout the industry review the fleet selector. Based on the ability of vehicles to do the job, they review the performance of the vehicles used previously, examine and analyze the alternatives, contact and discuss competitive allowance program (CAP) and other pricing programs with the manufacturers, and, ultimately select the vehicles to be used. All of this requires analysis that can be produced to defend the decision.
Replacement cycling: Similarly, the establishment of replacement policy is the result of careful analysis of lifecycle costs, and fleet managers set replacement at that point when the combination of fixed and variable costs are lowest.
Leasing versus ownership: The financial decision of leasing versus ownership, in the private sector, is straightforward: the net present value of the after tax cash flows. In the public sector, in which governments are tax exempt, it is simply the net present value of the cash flows. Whichever is lower is the most financially sound choice. The analysis can be done using a standard spreadsheet.
Company vehicles versus reimbursement: This is probably the single most important analysis the fleet manager can perform, and it should be done every year. Fleet managers should not wait for the question to be asked. The financial decision is similar to that of vehicle assignment: There is a point where the cost of reimbursement (based on mileage driven and the reimbursement rate) is greater than the cost of providing a vehicle. There are other, non-financial factors as well, and records of all of the above analysis should be kept.
All of these, and other standard fleet management processes, are the “text” of the “curriculum.” They tell the story of what the fleet manager does, and, most important, why he or she does it. Add the fleet policy to this, and the fleet manager has most of what is needed to begin the educational process with a new boss.
Teach Fleet Management 101
Unless the new boss has some background or understanding of fleet management, the next step is to begin the education process. The fleet manager has “felt out” the new manager, based on several factors, including where he or she came from, early discussions or communications, and specific questions that may have been posed.
Fleet managers should now take the initiative. Tell, don’t ask, the new boss that you’d like to bring him or her up to date on how the fleet is being managed, what the policy is, and why things are done the way they are. It doesn’t necessarily need to be accomplished in a single meeting; it can be done over a period of time depending, of course, on the new boss’ schedule and availability.
Start by determining what it is that he or she wants to know first; however, guide new managers through the basics. Start with fleet policy, vehicle assignment, replacement policy, maintenance and repair processes, accidents, and safety. This should provide a good foundation for moving into more specific fleet matters. Remember, a few dos and don’ts to the process:
- Do keep whatever materials used simple. Use graphs and bullet points, not detailed spreadsheets or verbiage. It is likely that your time with the new boss will be limited, so plan your “lessons” carefully.
- Don’t forget, however, to have the details handy. Bring reports and analyses along, and be ready to provide the background for the decisions made.
- Do remember that you, the fleet manager, are the expert, and that you have the background and experience the new boss doesn’t have.
- However, don’t flaunt your expertise, or assume the new boss is completely at sea about fleet. Be the teacher, but don’t forget who is the boss.
- Do, if schedules permit, hold “class” in a series of relatively short meetings. You should be able to cover any of the basics in a half hour. Multiple meetings will keep the new boss’ interest, and will also enable the fleet manager to develop a more personal relationship, a comfort, that one or two longer meetings won’t.
The venue for the “classroom” isn’t all that important; however, try to conduct the classes off site, if possible. This will minimize interruptions, and ensure you have the full attention of the boss. The second (and more likely) choice is a conference room; the worst is the manager’s office, where interruptions and distractions will be most intense.
Try to make the sessions interactive, and encourage questions and other forms of give and take. Naturally, you won’t test his or her understanding of the material, but as you move forward and report and communicate fleet activity, refer back to the “classes” regularly. (For example, “You may recall how we use lifecycle costing to select vehicles. Here are those vehicles we’ve chosen for the coming model-year.”)
Use Preparation & Common Sense
Though all of these processes sound complex and time consuming, they really aren’t. Remember, if the fleet manager is doing the job in the first place, all of the detail and background should already be readily available, and he or she should know and understand how to present it to the uninformed.
Preparing for the education of the new boss is the key to success, and understanding how to approach him or her to initiate the process is simple common sense. Remember these simple rules:
- Familiarize yourself with the new boss’ background, and where their expertise lies.
- Using that knowledge, ask some preliminary questions to learn what the new boss wants to know first.
- Develop the curriculum carefully. Be prepared to cover fleet management from beginning to end; however, choose the most important aspects (company vehicles versus reimbursement or vehicle selection) if your time, or their interest, is limited.
- Keep it simple. Present the curriculum at a high level, using summaries, graphs, and bullet points, but in a simple format. And, make sure to have all the detail and background analyses handy, just in case it’s needed.
- Take advantage of the time to begin to develop a relationship.
- Keep the “classes” short to maintain interest.
Fleet managers may well be competing with other department heads for time and attention. Don’t be greedy, but be firm in your efforts to get time. The new boss can become overwhelmed if too much detail and information is pressed on him or her too quickly, and attempts to monopolize the time won’t be well received.
Like it or not, in today’s business environment fleet managers can expect to have more than one supervisor over the years. Fleet management is a specialty, a very unique discipline, and it is more likely than not that a new boss won’t have much background and understanding. They may well have very strong opinions about cars — personal preferences or experiences —that they’ll bring with them. Accept that they will, but use your own skills to explain that such personal likes and dislikes cannot be part of the job.