Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

What Do Fleet Managers Dislike Most About the Job?

It's a challenging, interesting, and even fun career, involving cars and trucks, plenty of human contact, and a place for creativity. But, some things about the job drive fleet managers crazy.

January 2010, by Staff

Fleet managers deal with more people, in more areas of the company, than just about anyone else. They get to preview new model cars and trucks. Their days are never boring, as they deal with the little fires that break out ("my registration is expired!"), and advise fellow employees on which car gets the best gas mileage or how much their five-year old minivan is worth. They tour manufacturer assembly plants and spend days outside the office with the sales or service force, learning their mission. Fleet management is a great career, but like any other job, it most certainly isn't all unicorns and lollipops. There are huge frustrations, tough days, and all manner of difficulties. The following are some aspects of the job fleet managers dislike most.

Helping Out the 'Best Salesman'

The foundation of any successful fleet management operation is a carefully thought-out fleet policy document. Involving all fleet stakeholders (drivers, managers, legal, human resources, finance/treasury, and risk management), the policy covers everything from who qualifies for a company vehicle to how long it is kept in service to how a driver should report an accident, and then some.

Unfortunately, distributing and enforcing an official policy are two entirely different matters. It seems a fleet manager spends more time trying to defend the policy and enforce it in the face of challenges than he or she did in writing the document. From managers who "go to bat" for a salesman who has just had his third chargeable accident in two years to the executive who wants her administrative assistant assigned a company car, favor-seeking and policy challenges drive fleet managers to distraction. The most common requests are exceptions to:

  • Consequences for policy violations (accidents, moving violations, misuse, etc.).
  • Approved vehicle selection (i.e., driver too tall/big).
  • Replacement (both extension of existing vehicle as well as early replacement).
  • Vehicle assignment qualification.
  • Used-vehicle price policy for employee purchases.

What makes these kinds of challenges so difficult is more often than not, they involve senior management, who sometimes resort to bullying to get their way.

Lacking Proper Authority

Fleet managers are usually viewed as experts in their chosen field; however, far too often, they are not given authority to do the job properly. Senior executives are notorious for coming up with wild ideas on how to reduce costs ("Why don't we just use subcompacts, with four-cylinder engines?") or they bring their personal bias to issues such as vehicle selection ("My wife had one of those cars, and she hated it.") Unfortunately, fleet managers have no choice but to deal with this "oversight."

Most recently, the job has seen the "intrusion" of purchasing, procurement, and sourcing functions into the decision-making process, to the point where some fleet managers are literally forced to deal with suppliers chosen by others, even if they, themselves, would not have chosen those suppliers. It is not unusual for a long-term, beneficial relationship with a fleet supplier to be terminated in favor of one chosen by a purchasing manager or strategic sourcing specialist. Not understanding the business, their decision is often made in an uninformed environment and usually due to price. Lack of decision-making authority can create major problems for fleet managers, not the least of which is the frustration of dealing with a decision, made by others, that directly impacts the job.

Training the New Boss

Arriving at the office one day and learning there's a new boss in town often can be an eye-rolling experience for a fleet manager. When all is said and done, a fleet manager's job is about vehicles, and few things can generate more personal opinions. As the saying goes, "Everyone is an expert." If the new boss views him or herself as an expert, trouble may start brewing.

First, new managers (particularly executives) have a tendency to "clean up Dodge" with wonderful ideas that will prove a predecessor was doing it all wrong. Brilliant ideas (at least brilliant in the mind of the new boss), such as "Why don't we just use subcompacts?" or "We should be keeping these things in service much longer," can make their way down to a fleet manager who knows why they aren't brilliant ideas, but, nonetheless, must respond in detail, diplomatically refuting the notions.

Next, no matter how carefully and well documented the response, some managers simply won't face up to the fact that they don't know it all and refuse to try and learn. Most of what these managers "know" is based upon personal experience - "Don't tell me we can't use subcompacts; my family fit luggage for all three of us and drove to Florida without any problems at all." This kind of experience has little or no application to issues fleet managers face. Dealing with, and even attempting to train, a new boss can lead to months, if not years, of frustration.

Viewed as Indispensable

The reverse of the above is when a fleet manager is viewed as "the car guy," as though no one else in the company has the wherewithal to do the job. At first blush, this image might sound good; the job is safe and secure since the company views the fleet manager as indispensable. Well, smart fleet managers know that few career-killers are worse than indispensability. When the company believes the fleet manager is the only person who can do the job, it isn't likely the manager will be viewed as a serious candidate for promotion. This is particularly true when staffers aren't available to step into the job if the fleet manager moves to another position.

A corollary to this situation is the job isn't taken seriously enough. The fleet manager is just a "grease monkey" or "car buff" - someone who does for a living what many others do for fun. The remarkably broad and diverse skill set necessary for successful fleet management isn't recognized; the position is simply not taken seriously. This attitude can go beyond simple dislike to downright insulting, and it is surprising how many fleet managers must deal with it.

One result of not being taken seriously is the fleet manager is left out of the decision-making process.

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