Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

How to Make Yourself Indispensable

Fleet management continues to be at risk when corporate cost-cutters roam the halls. Here are some ways fleet managers can make themselves as close to indispensable to the company as possible.

January 2009, by Staff

The scenario is playing out more and more: pressured by markets, shareholders, boards of directors, and investors, companies are seeking ways to cut costs. Department heads are asked to provide detailed cost numbers, and in some cases, to justify their existence. Fleet management is a popular target.

If fleet managers aren't prepared to provide the downside perspective about fleet services outsourcing, driver reimbursement, and value of a company-owned fleet, they may find themselves a victim of cost-cutters. Fleet managers can take several proactive steps to avoid or counter such scenarios, and the time to begin is now.

While even a CEO can be replaced, the issues with fleet management are first, how a fleet manager can clearly demonstrate the value of a company vehicle, and second, why an in-house fleet management function is critical in managing costs, safety, and dependability.


First Step: Relationship-Building

One initial step a fleet manager can take in securing his or her position in the company is relationship-building at all levels of the organization, from drivers up to senior executive management.

Relationship-building begins with communication. No matter how brief or often, fleet managers must keep all stakeholders in the fleet operation informed. Drivers, field managers, department heads, executives with company vehicles or whose responsibilities are "touched" by the fleet function — all have an interest in fleet activities, and it serves the fleet manager well to stay in touch.

The relationships vary depending upon circumstances. Senior executives normally are unavailable for casual contacts; however, it's a good idea to make the effort. A phone call or e-mail of introduction usually is remembered and can be used with executives who have no business connection to the fleet.

For senior executives with some involvement in fleet operations, there often is some regular reporting. If the executive doesn't specify a form or schedule for communication, fleet managers can suggest one. Keep the following advice in mind:

■ Keep it short. Whatever the reporting form, get to the point. The more senior in the corporate hierarchy, the less time the target has to review the material.

■ Visual evidence is better than words or numbers. Graphs and charts demonstrating trends, or performance versus benchmarks are particularly effective.

■ When cost reduction initiatives are implemented, keep executives informed.

■ Be on time and accurate.

Communications with drivers are an entirely different matter. Drivers are the "customer," and much of fleet management is serving their needs. Concerning company vehicles, these needs focus on a vehicle that runs well, is safe, and can do the job.

In a fleet of hundreds or perhaps thousands of vehicles, the relationship is generally with the entire group of drivers. They must be aware that their concerns are important to the fleet manager.

One popular form of communication and relationship-building with drivers is a fleet newsletter, issued electronically or in hard copy. Effective newsletters contain information useful to drivers as they perform their jobs: tips on maintaining their vehicles and driving safely, highlighting aspects of fleet policy and other day-to-day activity. A newsletter also can publicize driver rewards and recognition for safety or cost containment.

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