At first, if you were like me, you will probably feel overwhelmed by all the new terms, idiosyncrasies, and time-sensitive procedures associated with the fleet business sector. Do not worry, you can handle it. Like any new job, there is a learning curve and shortcuts you can take to learn the position and be effective. The following are a few bits of wisdom that can help you get off on the right foot.
Find Out Who Your Client Representative Is
If your company does business with a fleet management company, find out who your client representative is, and contact him or her. The representative will be able to help you adjust in your new role and give you the guidance required. Believe me, representative are a wealth of information from many companies that they handle. Your client representative can supply you with not only important contacts in the fleet environment (ordering, maintenance, laws, etc.), but can be extremely helpful in coordinating the flow of information between both your organizations.
Your fleet representative can give you a history of your fleet as to what is currently being done and what can be done to improve the efficiency and the bottom line. In effect, it will make you look good in the process. The representative can provide you with numerous tracking reports, whether hard copies or online reporting, at your fingertips that can guide you along and track your progress.
Familiarize yourself with motor company and federal/state regulations and language. Subscribe to various fleet publications and read them from cover to cover. Great ideas are there at your fingertips. You need not only to have the knowledge, but you have to "talk" like a fleet manager.
Read Your Company Fleet Policy and Procedure Guideline
If your company has a fleet policy and procedure guideline, read it! This explains what is required of your drivers and should list some of your duties in this area. If it is outdated, make changes with the proper approvals.
If one does not exist, write one! Get the input of your drivers, human resources and legal departments, your fleet lessor, and upper management. A good fleet policy should contain, at the minimum, procedures on following: ordering guidelines, maintenance/fuel program, safety program, training and driver records review, accident management, communications between driver and fleet manager, replacement guidelines, disposition of vehicles, and disciplinary action for any abuse.
Contact Your Drivers Immediately
Try to contact all your drivers as soon as possible. You need to make sure that they are current in many areas such as having current insurance and registration cards, company-provided accident kits, and a company fleet policy (if there is one). Your drivers are a wealth of information. They can make your life pleasurable or lousy depending how you communicate with them. Most will be resistant to any change. It is your job to communicate the benefits to all parties why things need to be done in a certain manner. Don't let them walk all over you!
Stay Organized by Maintaining Good Records
This is where the new fleet manager will get lost most of the time. I cannot stress enough the help you can give yourself by being organized and staying that way. I used color code tabs to identify model years of vehicles, along with filing by different cost code locations. This was great for a quick review at anytime. You can also tell which vehicles will probably need replacing in the near future at a glance.
Keep a log of all transactions (acquiring, transferring, selling) to see if the lessor is processing on a timely basis. The lessor will usually send you a monthly invoice detailing - and I do mean detailing - what makes up your payment to them. Take your log and compare to the invoice. If something should or should not be on there, call your lessor. It most likely is a timing difference, but this does two important things: It lets them know that you are on to of your fleet and that you are expecting them to perform at the top of their game too.
Good records are necessary in this business and good organization skills will go a long way in making you successful in this job.
Audit the Lessor, Drivers - and Yourself
After you have been in the saddle for a time, look at all aspects of the fleet business. Determine what can be done more efficiently to save not only time but also money. In effect, audit yourself. Along with that, audit the lessor, the drivers, etc. Do not leave a stone unturned. You will be surprised what you can find when you are looking.
Some of the areas where savings may be impacted include: type of vehicles ordered and options, ordering cycle, lease term (depreciation is the biggest cost and impacts cash flow the most), maintenance/fuel programs, accident management, disposition options, and lease billings.
Check your monthly lease bills to assure yourself that vehicles have the proper driver information, state/county of residence, and the monthly fees are based on the cap cost for a new vehicle are correct. Everyone can make a mistake; just bring it to the attention of your fleet representative. (Do not forget to keep track of any errors that need correcting.)
Being the new fleet manager on the block will seem a daunting task at first, but over time it will become less time-consuming and more efficiently run. Whether you have a fleet of 10 or 500 vehicles, staying organized is crucial. Your fleet representatives can also help you by offering numerous suggestions.
Working together with them and your drivers will ultimately save you time and money!
Editor's note: David Fern, former fleet manager for Textron Golf and Turf in Augusta, GA, has more than 14 years of fleet experience and is currently a part-time fleet consultant.