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We truly have become a digital culture. Once computers became personalized, with the advent of the “home” computer, the focus of technology shifted from the big corporations to the individual, enabling the melding of the worker with the work.
Some of this is good: Two of the most important resources any businessperson has are time and information. The digital revolution has certainly made all workers more productive, and fleet managers are no exception. Access to data and communications makes time more productive, and fleet managers more accessible.
But, is this all a good thing? Can fleet managers achieve a balance between a healthy home life and a successful career? They can, provided they set clear ground rules, and remember what is important.
How Did We Get Here?
Fleet managers have been making themselves available for a long time, primarily by telephone. An East or West Coast company fleet manager would keep in mind the three-hour time zone difference and either get to work early or stay late to cover for drivers and offices on the opposite coast.
Some fleet managers even went so far as to provide a home telephone number, and notified drivers and field managers to call if there was an emergency or if they needed general help. Many a fleet manager has had his or her dinner interrupted by a ringing phone and a desperate driver looking for instructions on what to do.
The advent of the cell phone and its steady spread among the populace made this at the same time easier and more intrusive for the fleet manager. “Quiet” time driving to and from work, or traveling, became cell-phone time, as fleet managers made and received calls no matter where they were.
Further down the time line, laptop computers, followed by notebooks, tablets, and readers such as the Amazon Kindle, gave fleet managers access to data, the Internet, reports, e-mail, and all of the other technological accoutrements of the office anywhere they happened to be. Who hasn’t noticed an airport gate, a commuter train, or any public place full of people staring intently at that small screen, or talking on their smart phone while tapping the digital keyboard on their tablet?
Now, here we are, the 24/7 connected culture, full of social media and ever more amazing personal technology, and the fleet manager faces a job that can overwhelm family, friends, and pastimes.
Start Setting Limits
Before work invades the home and family, fleet managers are wise to set reasonable limits on when and where they can be available. Steps to take can include:
- Make sure drivers know that, while the fleet manager values his or her personal time, in true emergencies where help cannot be had elsewhere (more on that later), he or she is there to help in any way possible.
- Establish “working” hours — different from the standard eight hour working day — to include those time zones on the coasts and elsewhere. A West Coast fleet manager may have to be ready to field calls at 6 a.m., the East Coast manager to 8 p.m. Again, this is necessary only in those instances where help cannot be had elsewhere.
- Ensure drivers know the fleet manager will also respect their personal time, and that he or she will not contact them directly beyond normal working hours.
However, do all this with an eye on how the message is provided: Make it clear the fleet manager is ready, willing, and able to help drivers whenever they need it, and that he or she recognizes the importance of what the driver does and that the driver’s own personal time will always have the fleet manager’s respect. And, that he or she expects the same in return.
Think About Outsourcing
Over the years, fleet suppliers have provided their customers with more programs and services that often can be accessed directly by drivers. From maintenance management to title/tag administration, suppliers know that, to be competitive in the marketplace, they must make these services available 24 hours a day. This is where the “help cannot be had elsewhere” issue comes to the fore.
Most driver calls to a fleet department can be categorized:
- Policy/procedure questions
- Accident reports
- Mechanical breakdowns or other repair issues
- Expired registrations
- Traffic violations
There are programs that, when drivers are properly informed and know where to go, will provide all the assistance they need when the above issues arise. Maintenance management, registration renewals, even violation programs all provide drivers with resources that are readily available.
For policy/procedure questions, there are “fleet desk” programs, replete with toll free numbers drivers can call to get help on any number of such issues. The point is that not only can fleet managers avoid the slow seeping of work into personal life, but drivers can get help more quickly than ever before. Outsourcing clerical and administrative functions make this possible.
Be Driven — But, Not Too Much
Success in business requires a certain drive, an ambition to succeed that not all workers have. Highly motivated fleet managers are no exception. This drive can result in a fleet manager taking on too much, delegating too little, and looking at the job as a 24-hour responsibility.
Part of the solution lies in delegation, even in today’s tight business environment where fleet managers often don’t have staff. Some decision making can be left to field personnel, to branch managers for example. They can be part of the process, if they are properly trained in using outsource programs, and in company fleet policy and procedures.
If a fleet manager is fortunate enough to have staff, delegation is a critical ingredient to a successful fleet operation. Here, it’s possible to draw the distinction between clerical and administrative tasks and management decision making.
Staff can help drivers, first by directing them to suppliers (under the right circumstances), and answering questions about policy. If possible, have a copy of fleet policy, procedures, and forms online — drivers (and other stakeholders) can be given answers and then directed to the site for future question. Include on the site a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section for common inquiries.
Fleet managers who refuse to delegate for fear that a subordinate can replace them run the risk of becoming indispensable. While, this may not sound like a problem, it can be. Management might fear promoting a talented fleet manager if it doesn’t believe anyone is available to take over the job.
Above all else, fleet managers need to remind themselves what is really important in life. A spouse, children, brothers and sisters, parents, friends — all of them are more important than any job. Driven executives and managers sometimes forget this, and fail to make time for them in their desire to be successful in a career.