Debbie Struna’s experience may sound familiar: Her manager gave her two weeks’ notice, leaving Struna to take over as fleet manager. Struna remembers asking, “What's a personal use charge and how do I apply it to my drivers?”
For Struna stepping up into fleet, it was baptism by fire. Luckily, her former manager had encouraged her to attend the fleet conferences and local fleet meetings to learn more. She immersed herself in the Bobit fleet publications.
Struna was also able to lean on her fleet management company and her vendor community, which includes many former fleet managers. She was proactive in her education and networking and had the support of her company. But that support isn’t necessarily the norm.
The role of fleet manager is not learned through a university degree. There is no formal path to the job, which varies greatly by organization and fleet type. As such, formal transition plans from a retiring or departing fleet manager to a new generation are often lacking.
At some point, you’ll leave your job as a fleet manager. Is your organization prepared to replace you, to give the new person in your position the tools to succeed? In a larger sense, how can we smooth the transition to a new generation, to foster their growth and sustainability in their positions?
There are external resources to help: Struna, who now works as national account manager for Fleet Street Remarketing, serves in the role of chairperson for the Women in Fleet Management Mentorship Task Force through Automotive Fleet Leasing Association (AFLA).
The one-year AFLA mentorship program pairs mentees with mentors by interests, experience, and skill sets. In the past year, the program paired 26 applicants with 26 mentors.
AFLA members can also access a deep well of archived education through the site. NAFA - The Fleet Management Association has an extensive library of resources as well, including its 100 Best Fleets Webinar Series, which this year convened a webinar on succession planning initiatives.
Yet those resources will lay fallow if upper management does not recognize the need to allocate the investment of time and money to engage newer members on the team. That starts with making sure management recognizes the importance of the fleet manager’s role in your organization.
Management needs to be aware that succession planning is a job in and of itself. If ownership of the task isn’t defined or formalized as part of job duties, it could fall through the cracks and lead to finger pointing when the transition falters.
One way to elevate awareness of the position is through NAFA’s Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) certification program.
Another way is through interaction with different internal departments, an ongoing part of a fleet manager’s job. For Struna, monthly meetings were an opportunity to educate the wider organization and communicate the resources needed to make the position a success.
Struna thinks that the industry could benefit from a shared document on succession planning, which would serve as a template that could be tailored to individual organizations and jobs. The document could help gain buy in from upper management on job succession initiatives.
When Struna ultimately left her fleet manager’s position seven years later, it was her boss, not a subordinate, who initially took over the reins. He was able to do so, at least until the position was filled, because Struna had kept him involved in many of her job functions. The fleet management company also assigned an associate to liaise with the boss and train the incoming fleet manager.
“Fleet management roles don’t need to become a trial by fire for those chosen to fill that role,” Struna says. “We all know that life happens, and people need to move in and out of positions. Let’s learn how to make that transition easier for those filling the new role and for those supporting that position in the organization.”
Let’s keep this conversation going. Your feedback is encouraged and appreciated.