Most fleet managers are very detail oriented and self-motivated, who find personal gratification performing in their job. They enjoy what they do and are passionate about their job and responsibilities. However, many times, their efforts are often not fully appreciated by their senior management.
But this is not true of all fleet managers, some are viewed by senior management as the go-to in-house subject-matter experts on all things related to fleet. In many cases, both of these fleet manager types manage their fleets similarly, but one is recognized and the other is not.
Why the difference?
The secret to elevating your recognition and exposure to senior management often boils down to your ability to self-promote your accomplishments. Some fleet managers know how to promote themselves without being perceived as self-promoters. They use their self-promotion skills so others in the company know what they do and how well it is done. They excel in visibly promoting the fleet department’s accomplishments.
Oftentimes, fleet managers tend to get bogged down in the day-to-day tactical operations and then wonder why they are not connecting with upper management. These fleet managers wrongly assume that effective fleet management is effectively managing assets. This is true, but you also need to be a good “storyteller” to be a successful fleet manager.
Why is this necessary?
Typically, fleet is not core to a senior executive’s responsibilities, so they tend to focus on fleet when things go wrong, such as expenses needing to be cut or addressing dissatisfaction voiced by user groups. When fleet is well-managed, it tends not to be on the radar of senior management, who, often, are not aware of the behind-the-scenes expertise that keeps a fleet running smoothly. One of the biggest challenges facing fleet managers is getting senior management to see and acknowledge their contribution to the company.
Second, the perception by many in senior management is that they don’t see fleet management as a complicated and sophisticated profession. Most fleet managers aren’t high up in the corporate hierarchy and must rely on their immediate management to properly represent fleet’s viewpoint, which often doesn’t happen. The end result is that sometimes management under-rates the contributions made by fleet managers. Too many fleet managers labor in obscurity and are taken for granted.
Respect is not an entitlement; it is earned over time. Genuine respect is not bestowed gratuitously; it arises in recognition of consistent performance and an ongoing demonstration of management skills. This is what cultivates management confidence in a fleet manager’s expertise and value to the organization.
However, it is not uncommon to hear fleet managers complain that management doesn’t appreciate — nor fully understand — what they do. Ask yourself: What are you doing to communicate to management the value your skillset brings to the organization? What are you doing, on an ongoing basis, to earn management’s respect?
I have been studying the fleet management industry for more than 25 years and, over this period, I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview (and become friends) with many of the greatest fleet managers in North America and Europe. Based on these discussions, I learned many valuable lessons from these fleet managers on how to gain senior management trust and respect.
Below are strategies you should employ to position yourself to senior management to gain their recognition and awareness of the fleet initiatives you have implemented that are contributing to the company’s bottom line:
- Become an Expert of Your Company’s Core Business
While your career may revolve around fleet, this is not the case with senior management. Unless your company’s core business is logistics or transportation specific, senior management is focused on the core business, which fleet supports as a business tool. To senior management, fleet is a corollary function used to achieve the corporate core mission. Therefore, to start the process of earning senior management’s respect, a fleet manager must fully understand the company’s products, programs, and services. As appropriate, provide to management recommendations on how fleet can better facilitate fulfilling the core mission. This is an important mindset. You must manage at a level that is “company impactful” rather than simply “fleet impactful.”
- Link Fleet to the Corporation’s Overall Mission
We all love fleet, but to gain the ear of senior management, your discussions need to transcend fleet management. Fleet managers need to rise above the level of simply managing day-to-day work. Your understanding of your company’s business must transcend fleet management. The purpose of fleet is to provide the tools to fulfill the corporation’s overall business goals.
Develop metrics to show how fleet is helping to achieve the corporate mission and goals. Besides demonstrating expertise in fleet management, you must demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of your company’s product line/services, sales/marketing objectives, and the needs of user groups. You must implement fleet programs that contribute to the achievement of overall company goals and facilitate support to user groups to successfully meet their objectives.
As the fleet manager, you occupy a critical role in your organization’s hierarchy because your job responsibilities intersect with other departments, such as HR, sales, procurement, risk management, legal, finance, and administrative services. These are your internal fleet customers. As the fleet manager, you need to focus on their needs. Unfortunately, too many fleet managers have adversarial relationships with their internal customers.
Interdepartmental cooperation is critical to operating a best-in-class fleet operation. You must strive to closely align your fleet operations with the needs of your user departments. But, as we all know, this is often easier said than done. Creating a cooperative relationship with a contentious user department is not a one-way street with all of the compromise being done by fleet.
User departments also have a responsibility. A user department needs to be an active partner in meeting management mandates and the long-term goals of your fleet operations. Sometimes it is necessary to involve senior management to resolve interdepartmental differences. While it is crucial to have interdepartmental cooperation, in the real-world, not every manager of a user department is a team player 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.
- Continually Educate Senior Management on Fleet Best Practices
Increasingly, today’s fleet managers are scrutinized for their every action and are constantly second-guessed by management and user departments about the efficacy of their policies.
Fleet managers also must deal with the revolving door of new managers, especially the “fleet experts,” who assume the fleet is not run efficiently. These individuals erroneously believe anyone can run a fleet and that no special skills or expertise are required. Consequently, a fact of life faced by every fleet manager is the ongoing, year-to-year struggle to continually educate all levels of management about the intricacies and nuances of fleet management, so they truly understand and appreciate its complexity.
A fleet manager must increase his or her exposure with management to educate them as to the value they provide. To do so, you first need to become known to management. Periodically set up meetings with HR, purchasing/sourcing, and sales management when new fleet-related topics come up pertaining to one of these areas. As you are updating these managers, you are educating them as well.
More times than not, these managers may be unaware of your capabilities and subject-matter expertise. Your ultimate goal is to become someone whom management consults when making major decisions. You want them to call you into their office or include you in meetings to solicit your opinion. But to earn (and retain) a seat at the table with management, you must know the company's core business and your total fleet costs, frontward and backwards.
To avoid misperceptions, fleet managers need to define and elevate their stature in the eyes of management. Otherwise someone else will do so, which often is the root of false perceptions. Ask yourself, how do you prove you are doing a good job? You may think you manage a well-run fleet, but do you have the metrics to substantiate this assertion? If you can’t succinctly quantify the fleet’s performance to management, they, most likely, will not truly appreciate your asset management skills.
Do not assume management knows you are doing a good job. To demonstrate your subject-matter expertise, you must develop performance metrics that can be reviewed by all corporate areas that interface with fleet.
- Fleet Serves the Internal Customer Not Vice Versa
Fleet exists to serve user departments. It is important to remember that without internal fleet customer groups, there is no need for an in-house fleet manager. The bottom line is that an unhappy internal customer represents a deficiency in your department’s customer service performance. In the final analysis, it is important to remember that fleet operations exist to support user departments, not vice versa.
Work intimately with each department that utilizes fleet vehicles to ensure your decisions are in sync with the real business needs and demands of the organization. Link strategic business objectives to the management of the fleet by embracing these corporate/departmental goals and philosophies. You must continually demonstrate to management your ability to effectively “connect the dots” from the macro corporate level to the departmental level, all the way down to the individual employee level, using the corporate fleet as a business tool to achieve each of their objectives. Furthermore, do so in a way that demonstrates you are a good steward of corporate monies.
A great fleet manager recognizes their primary goal is serving end-user departments and drivers. They establish a cooperative, working relationship with all internal departments associated with fleet operations and are proactive with their needs. Great fleet managers understand that the managers and drivers they support are key to their success. They are service savvy. They keep their sights set on the end-user and the board of directors, as well as everyone in between.
Internal users are too often treated by some fleet managers as a captive audience that can be dictated to and shown little respect; however, it is important to remember the reason your fleet department exists is to support user departments. You are the business partner of these departments that rely upon you to provide superb customer service to help them fulfill their daily tasks.
Establishing a customer-service mindset within a fleet organization creates customers satisfied with your services — who view you as a true business partner. Nothing creates more credibility for your team than for senior management to hear user departments compliment you on the quality of customer service they receive. But to earn the praise, you must walk the walk and talk the talk.
Also, you need to be a diplomat because the needs of some user departments are in conflict with the fleet needs of other user departments. For instance, there is the constant challenge of balancing the requirements of HR and driver requests against the requirements of the finance department and procurement. Often these requirements contradict one another. Your primary job is to manage the fleet to support the objectives of the user groups. In the final analysis, a fleet manager must view their responsibilities from the perspective of the internal customers and to manage the fleet to support the objectives of these user groups.
- Create a Network of Interdepartmental Allies
To elevate your stature with senior management is to expand and build new relationships within the company. Interdepartmental cooperation is an integral part of how management views a fleet manager. You must establish a relationship with every department touched by fleet to address their needs, keep them informed, and gain buy-in with fleet policy. The more people you know (and who know you) increases recognition of your work and how it benefits the company. While everyone agrees it is important to network within the fleet industry; it is also just as important to network within your company. Your ultimate goal is to be the in-house subject-matter expert with whom senior management or user departmental managers consults when making major decisions that may directly or indirectly be influenced by fleet.
- Strategic Goals Must be based on User Collaboration
There is a difference between a well-managed fleet and a best-in-class fleet. I define a “best-in-class fleet” as one that represents the top-tier performance level in its specific industry segment, which is used as a standard or benchmark.
Based on my experience, the great fleet managers who manage best-in-class fleets have one trait in common. They manage their fleets from a strategic perspective. A tactical fleet manager may be well suited to operate a well-managed fleet, but you need a strategic perspective to operate a best-in-class fleet, which transcends day-to-day fleet management.
One of the biggest challenges facing fleet managers is that they get bogged down in the day-to-day operations of running a fleet. You need goal-oriented, long-term planning to manage a best-in-class fleet.
One of the challenges with long-term planning is turning strategies into tactics. You can develop a great fleet strategy, but it will be useless unless you can effectively implement it. A fleet manager with a long-term perspective sets the strategic goals and then develops the tactics to implement these strategies.
One byproduct of strategic fleet management is synergistic interdepartmental collaboration. To be successful, it is critical that you cultivate an environment of interdepartmental cooperation. What I have learned from great fleet managers is that they focus on the needs of internal fleet customers, establishing a cooperative working relationship with all departments that interact with fleet.
- Practice Goal-Oriented Fleet Management
It is extremely important that you manage the fleet from a strategic level focused on achieving specific long-term objectives of your user groups by using metrics to benchmark actual (not presumed) progress. Become goal oriented in all aspects of fleet operations, especially driver productivity and safety, and strive to reduce not only hard costs, but also soft costs, such as downtime and fleet-induced impediments to employee productivity. Use metrics to benchmark progress to achieve these objectives. The challenge for today’s fleet managers is to continue to find ways to add value to their company and the bottom line. This is what gets the attention of senior management.
- Metrics-Oriented; Measure Everything
Successful fleet managers understand that what gets measured gets managed and hold themselves and team members to goals. You need to be results-oriented and live and die by metrics. These fleet managers drive for continuous improvement to achieve specific business results. For them, there is no such thing as maintaining the “status quo.” As metrics are achieved, concisely communicate these results to management and the heads of the impacted user departments.
It is important to have an open-book policy and share data with senior management, internal customers, and supplier partners. From the perspective of management, this will validate that you are getting optimum performance from the fleet. This will cultivate the recognition with senior management that you are the in-house expert on all matters dealing with fleet management.
The fleet manager must work at earning the full support of senior management. It is important for management to understand that a competent fleet manager can easily save a company millions of dollars by implementing the right fleet policies and selecting the right suppliers.
- Develop the Ability to Effectively Present to Senior Management
Great fleet managers have strong presentation skills, both in putting together effective reports and delivering them to keep upper management informed. If you wish to be respected within your corporation, this skill is a requirement in corporate business. If you can’t present or effectively report to senior management, your value will never be recognized by them.
A corollary to being an excellent communicator is the understanding that most executives are not fleet management experts. When communicating with senior management, only provide data critical to making a decision. Keep reports jargon-free and formatted for quick review and comprehension.
- Demonstrate the Ability to Achieve Goals
Management must view you as a goal setter. You should be goal oriented in all aspects of fleet management and employ metrics to continually benchmark productivity to achieve specific results. Govern your operations with these objectives in mind.
In addition to being a goal setter, you should have a strategic vision as to the future of the corporate fleet. Fleet managers who are strategic thinkers and visionaries are respected for this skill. The skill to think strategically is the ability to develop and communicate a vision as to how fleet will evolve in lockstep with evolving corporate goals and objectives. A respected fleet manager is long-term driven, which means being open to new ideas because fleet is an ever-changing industry. You may be the fleet expert, but someone else may have a better idea. Be open to ideas from anywhere, including peers, suppliers, drivers, and other managers within your company. You must be open to new possibilities, which may lead to innovative approaches in fleet management. However, open-minded doesn’t mean being open-headed. You must listen and entertain new ideas, but also temper it with pragmatism since you possess the subject-matter expertise.
- Accountability Will Earn the Respect of Management
Embrace increased accountability because it will make you a better fleet manager. When measuring fleet’s performance, it is important to communicate these goals within your company. Continually push metrics to internal customers to demonstrate how they can contribute to improving productivity and make the fleet operate more cost-effectively. Maintaining an efficient fleet is not a goal, but an ongoing journey. You need to keep feeding the metrics back into your processes to continually improve performance. It is important to realize that only by putting this data into practice, can you develop performance metrics that will truly optimize fleet performance and identify inefficiencies.
- Cultivate a Closer Partnership with Your Suppliers
Work with fleet suppliers to optimize their performance. Just as important, you must never stop learning and it is important to confer with suppliers to be on top of the latest products and services in the market. Many fleet managers make themselves inaccessible to prospective suppliers. By doing so, they are missing a wonderful opportunity to pick their brains to learn of new industry developments. You need to continually ask suppliers what they have seen among their client base that is successful. Could these practices be implemented in your fleet operation? Network and probe with your peers. Ask what’s working for them. Adopt proven solutions successful at other fleet operations. By getting out of your comfort zone, it forces you to view fleet management from a different perspective. It stimulates you to visualize solutions in a different light. If you are not continually learning about new products and services, it’s easy to become stale at what you do.
- Increase Your Involvement within the Fleet Industry
A great fleet manager is connected to the industry at large. It validates you as an industry subject-matter expert in the eyes of senior management. It is important to become involved with industry associations, such as NAFA and Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA). In addition, and just as important, become involved with the industry associations that represent your company’s core business.