Author: Mike Antich, Editor, Automotive Fleet Magazine
Here’s a real-world case in point: One fleet manager related to me that his management hired an outside consultant to analyze the performance of the municipal fleet and submit recommendations for improvement. The fleet manager relating this story to me is held in high esteem by his peers and has been very proactive. Over the course of the past several years, he has made detailed recommendations on how to improve the City’s fleet operations; however, his recommendations fell on deaf ears. When the consulting company issued its follow-up report, it was enthusiastically received by management and the city council. What was distressing to the fleet manager is that the consultant recommended exactly what he had recommended earlier. Why did his recommendation fall on deaf ears, while the almost identical recommendations made by the consultant were met with enthusiasm?
This dilemma is not solely restricted to fleet managers. The same complaint is heard from in-house IT personnel, staff attorneys, etc. One reason is that some management values an outside opinion, which presumably is not vested to a particular outcome. These proponents argue that a consultant can offer a different, more objective perspective about how a problem can be solved. Also, consultants are exposed to a variety of operations and different methods used to deal with the same issues facing your operation. But this theory falls apart when the consultant’s recommendations are identical to the in-house manager and one is accepted over the other. The reality is it is a deeper issue of management not listening to its in-house subject-matter experts. Unfortunately, opinions given by consultants are sometimes given greater credibility than those offered in-house subject-matter experts.
Here’s another example from a different fleet manager, which illustrates this point. “My outfit hired an outside consulting company to perform a financial and operational audit. When completing the audit, the consultant wrote a review. The opening comment in the final review was: ‘Your fleet is operating well under benchmark averages.’ They then went on to make further cost-saving recommendations. After the review meeting, I sent several e-mails to my reporting officials with a single note: ‘We paid this outfit how much to tell us this?’”
This fleet manager went on to summarize what is at the heart of this problem. “My point is, what a shame that management, all the way up the line, won’t ask (then listen to) the people who know their jobs as to what would be good actions and practices to take for operational cost savings. Of course, this applies to all departments and not just fleet operations. The bottom line is when will management learn to listen?”
However, the blame isn’t all one-sided. In the final analysis, many fleet managers do a very poor job in elevating their professional stature in the eyes of senior management. The sad reality is that if you don’t take the lead in defining your expertise as a professional fleet manager and showcasing your value to the management team, someone else will do so, which is often erroneous and the source of misperceptions about your capabilities.
These are turbulent times for public sector fleet managers. Many fleet managers are under-appreciated by user groups, senior management, and elected officials. Sometimes, the fleet manager is at fault because he or she does a poor job of promoting themselves and their department to management. When money is scarce and budgets are tight or need to be cut, fleet managers quickly find themselves on the radar screen of elected officials, the local news media, and taxpayer watchdog groups.
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 quantify the performance of your operation to management and elected officials, they are more likely to appreciate the value of the service provided.
However, this lack of understanding by management is often the root of inquiries that put fleet managers on the defensive attempting to justify their performance. Fleet managers should not assume management understands their business and knows they are doing a good job. If you want to demonstrate you are competitive, you need to develop and measure on an ongoing basis specific performance metrics valuable to your user departments that are available for review by all interested parties.
In today’s weak tax base, fleet managers can save taxpayer dollars by implementing effective fleet policy, maximizing fleet utilization, right-sizing the fleet, optimizing user department productivity, all while reducing operating expenses. The sad part is that many fleet managers are not vocal about their achievements and management is not fully cognizant of their contributions to achieving these goals. Fleet managers must be viewed as valuable members of the overall management team, if for no other reason than the fact that they are managing tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer assets used to provide the services taxpayers demand.
I’ll admit that I, too, am mystified by the under-appreciation of many fleet managers. I am continually impressed by the caliber of today’s public sector fleet managers and how they overcome the challenges they face day-in and day-out. Each year, fleet managers and their teams struggle to do more with less money. Perhaps it is because the personalities of many fleet managers are humble by nature and not prone to self-promotion.
Management needs to know that it takes years of hard work to develop specialized fleet management expertise and institutional knowledge. It is high-time senior management and elected officials realize the value of their fleet managers and utilize this expertise to its fullest extent. My message to senior management is a simple one: Listen to your fleet manager.
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