Running a fleet of company vehicles, as with any departmental discipline in any company, is a result of a series of large and small decisions that take place over time. Some are reactionary, made in response to situations. Others are the result of regular, carefully planned analysis and research that occurs on some schedule.
At their core, these decisions have one overarching foundation: accomplishing the fleet’s mission. Everything fleet managers do, from day-to-day "putting out fires" to long-term planning is guided by the mission — provided the fleet has a mission. If it doesn’t, serious thought should be given to establishing one, formally and in writing.
Why Does the Company Have Fleet Vehicles?
Companies decide to provide vehicles to selected employees for a number of reasons, including:
■ Part of a competitive compensation package designed to help attract, hire, and retain talented employees.
■ For sales and marketing personnel to carry product and POS materials, and to entertain customers.
■ For service employees to carry tools, equipment, and parts to service customers.
■ To deliver product.
One or more of these reasons are the basis and purpose for company-provided vehicles. Is there a difference between purpose and mission? This analogy explains the difference: when you put a new front door in your home, the purpose of a screwdriver is to tighten a screw. The mission, however, is to put in a front door.
Much has been said and written about the mission of the fleet manager. Changes in technology, resources, and the corporate mission have led many to believe the fleet mission has changed. But it really hasn’t. What fleet manager could argue with the following mission statement:
"Provide the company and its employees with capable, dependable, safe transportation at the lowest cost possible."
It is every bit as applicable in 2008 as it was in 1958.
Fleet managers engage in two categories of activities:
■ Management activity – tasks and decisions involved in the allocation of company resources, such as time, money, and assets.
■ Administrative/clerical activity – recordkeeping, reporting, and other day-to-day fleet activities.
Management responsibilities answer the question, "What should we do?" Administrative activity answers the question, "How do we do it?"
The decisions fleet managers make daily, monthly, and annually all combine to define the fleet mission and achieve success.
Let’s take things one at a time. If we use the sample mission statement provided, what decisions can be matched to the mission criteria?
The first mission requirement is that vehicles are capable, that is, the vehicles selected fit the purpose of providing vehicles to employees — in other words, vehicle selection. The varied purposes listed previously — compensatory, delivery, sales/marketing, and service — all present particular requirements and fleet managers must weigh them to determine how applicable the vehicles are to the purpose:
■ Passenger capacity.
■ Cargo-carrying requirements.
■ Company image.
Any number of vehicles fit the requirements, and the fleet manager’s job is to narrow the field by considering the other mission requirements.
The mission requires vehicles are capable of their function and vehicle selection of that function is a decision-making process that both helps define as well as accomplish the mission.[PAGEBREAK]
Next, the mission requires the fleet be dependable. The company, drivers, and fleet managers need to know that once a vehicle is placed into service, it be can depended on to accomplish its stated purpose.
Determining dependability is a two-step process. First, dependability is researched when selection is made. This can be accomplished in several ways, including internal historical data (if the vehicle has been used before), peer data, and industry data. Whatever the source, both fixed and variable costs can be reasonably projected, as well as recall notices, warranty performance, and breakdown frequency.
The next step in the process involves tracking performance after the vehicle is selected and placed in service. Although it can fall under the heading of "after the fact," tracking performance is far easier and more accurate than any projections. Tracking breakdowns, recalls, and other dependability markers accomplishes two things: the record can be used to benchmark against the projections, and it will accumulate historical data for use the next model-year.
The third mission criteria is safety, and decisions fleet managers make regarding safety encompass both the vehicles themselves as well as assigned drivers.
The safety decision-making process begins before hire. Fleet policy most often requires that when a prospective employee, who will be assigned a company-provided vehicle is screened, a motor vehicle report (MVR) is obtained and reviewed. Unless the record is clean, there are various levels of severity for violations revealed in an MVR, i.e., a ticket for an expired registration is handled differently than a DUI or speeding violation. The focus of this process is risk management — using whatever data is available to minimize the company’s risk of providing a vehicle to a new employee.
Once hired, driver MVRs must be monitored on a regular schedule, annually at the very least, more often if possible. In addition, if the company provides personal use privileges that include family members, these records should also be reviewed.
Fleet managers are smart to provide ongoing training and regular safety communications. If the mission of the fleet is ongoing, the decision-making process of the fleet manager must be as well.[PAGEBREAK]
How Does Decision-Making Become the Mission?
It could be a "chicken or the egg" question: does the mission beget the fleet manager’s decisions, or vice versa? The answer should be obvious — the decisions a fleet manager makes define the mission of the fleet.
It matters little if the fleet mission precedes the hiring of a fleet manager. The former without the latter in reality lacks a mission; it has purpose only. Fleets lacking professional management have several things in common:
■ They tend to like convenience in the decision-making process. Vehicles are purchased from dealer stock; repairs are done when needed; and preventive maintenance is often lacking.
■ Replacement usually occurs only as needed. When a vehicle begins to show age (e.g., mounting physical damage, performance problems, breakdowns, etc.), it is replaced.
■ Price is managed, but cost is not.
The sole focus of a fleet without a mission is the purpose of the vehicles — to carry product, entertain customers, and provide transportation for service employees.
This is not to say that, for example, the company is not concerned with safety and dependability. It is simply a matter of a lack of expertise and experience, a focus on tactics rather than strategy. Most fleet-related matters are handled as they occur, the kind of careful planning that goes into finance, product development, or customer service.
Professional fleet managers bring the element of strategic management thinking to the fleet. The decisions they make as a routine part of the job begin to define the mission when implemented.
■ A focus on cost, not price.
■ Managing depreciation, not original cost.
■ Planning replacements based on lifecycle data, not immediate need.
■ Removing drivers from of the fleet process, using management and administrative programs to keep downtime to a minimum.
■ Managing risk, not merely punishment of unsafe practices or reacting to violations and accidents.
■ Careful research and analysis of vehicle candidates for selection and an understanding and application of sourcing methods.
Without the fleet manager’s decision-making process, the mission remains undefined.
The fleet manager should not ignore purpose and focus solely on mission. Indeed, the nature of day-to-day issues fleet managers face is based on fleet purpose. Vehicles break down, registrations expire, and drivers have accidents. Dealing with these issues is part and parcel of the job and is process- and purpose-oriented, rather than strategic and mission-focused.
All in all, it may seem as though it is merely parsing words to say the fleet manager’s decisions define the mission of the fleet. But a careful, close look at what the fleet manager does and what is lacking when the position doesn’t exist, makes it clear that without fleet management, purpose rather than mission rules. ■