Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

What Your Fleet Manager is Afraid to Tell You

Most executives have good relationships with their staff, with open communication in both directions. But no matter how open it is, there are some things your fleet manager may be afraid to tell you.

March 2011, by Staff

MBWA was an acronym that was all the rage back in the '80s. It stands for "management by walking around," and it meant a manager should be open and close to his or her staff and ready to communicate. Most executives like to have that type of comfortable relationship with direct reports; they need to know what's going on and want staff to be confident in telling them.

Unfortunately, this doesn't always work. Particularly in a tough economy, when employees are sweating downsizing and force reductions, there may be some things a fleet manager, for example, is hesitant to tell his or her boss. Here are some of them.

'His' or 'Her' Idea is Really Dumb

Cars can be an area of interest beyond the job; you may well be very proud of your high-line, luxury car and fancy yourself well informed in "things automotive." However, sometimes what makes sense to you can send a fleet manager back to his office wincing and rolling his eyes.

You want to stave off rising fuel expense and it makes eminent sense to you that the company should simply use smaller cars. "If we used four-cylinder subcompacts, think of how much fuel we could save!" Your fleet manager knows, however, this is simply a bad idea. He or she knows a subcompact doesn't have the cargo space to carry necessary point-of-sale materials; that your sales force will be embarrassed when the customer brings three other people to go out to lunch; or that asking that four-cylinder engine to propel what the six-cylinder did will not save fuel, but have a significantly shorter life as well. Keep one thing in mind: Your fleet manager is a professional and has knowledge and experience that you don't. There's no problem with offering ideas; just make sure you defer, up front, to your in-house expert. Let him or her know you value that expertise and won't be insulted if you're told your idea is a bad one.

'His' or 'Her' Idea was Really Dumb

An obvious corollary to being told your idea is dumb is a fleet manager who realizes his or her own idea wasn't the smartest one. A change in policy, moving to a new supplier, overhauling fleet vehicle selection, or all of these situations and more can produce embarrassing results that the fleet manager won't be very anxious to tell you.

Fleet management is a very fluid industry. It changes regularly and sometimes it's difficult to keep up with those changes, particularly when a fleet manager is a one-person department, without staff and with few resources. Mistakes will be made. That new model on the selector will sometimes be subject to a massive recall. The new supplier might not provide the service it promised or might ask to change the prices previously agreed on. It's difficult for any manager to admit a mistake, particularly when he or she feels the job is on the line.

One of the first things any executive should tell direct reports when they're hired (or when you are) is that managers who don't make mistakes aren't really managing. A manager doesn't prove his or her muster when things are going smoothly; it's proven when they aren't. Managing mistakes - how the manager reacts to errors in judgment - will bring out the best in a talented manager.

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