It can be a fine line any employee walks; try to make yourself indispensible to the job, and you can effectively crush any hopes at advancement. Delegate, make yourself "available" for promotion, and you run the risk of making yourself available for termination, while watching the job being handed over to a less expensive subordinate.
Fleet managers can lose their jobs for any number of reasons, some preventable, some inevitable. Here are five situations that can threaten a fleet manager's job and what he or she can do to avoid them.
Doing a bad job or not doing the job at all is pretty much a one-way ticket to the unemployment line. In general, managers become managers if they exhibit the skills, temperament, and experience that signaled their leadership potential in the first place — for the most part.
Sometimes, though, even managers who exhibit the management combination simply don't end up doing the job. They don't do well on follow-through, they miss the big picture, they become bogged down in detail and lose sight of the ultimate goal of cost control. The job can be intimidating at first, even overwhelming, and it's difficult to catch up once events have piled up in the inbox.
Since we'll assume the fleet manager isn't really incompetent, but simply allowed events to get out of control, there are, indeed, actions a fleet manager can take to maintain quality in job performance. Most of these measures can, and should, be a focus of the new fleet manager:
- Write your own job description. One may already exist, but talk to staff (if you have any), your immediate supervisor, and other stakeholders to determine which tasks are important to perform, and which aren't.
- Keep in mind fleet management begins and ends with policy. If one exists, learn it thoroughly, then find and correct any weaknesses. If no policy has been developed, immediately get started creating one.
- Talk with and meet suppliers as soon as possible. They can be very helpful in learning how the fleet has been handled in the past, and what they suggest will help you get started.
- If you're new to fleet, start your education immediately. If you're a veteran, make sure you're up-to-date in industry and management knowledge, and learn to apply it to the job.
- Finally, talk with your supervisor. Understand the company's expectations of you, what goals you should set, and how they'll be measured.
The single biggest fear of most fleet managers: the job will be outsourced to a fleet supplier. It's a practice discussed more than just about any other job-related issue, and one that seems to result in more fleet managers losing their jobs every year.
Most fleet managers know the drill: either a new management team takes over and looks to make changes or a supplier contacts senior management and makes the case. Either way, unless a fleet manager is prepared for an outsourcing proposal, it can result in an awkward meeting (or telephone call), and some depressing news.
If a new senior manager is bound and determined to outsource, little can be done. But if the idea is merely "floated," if outsourcing is only one of several options put forth, a great deal can be done, and fleet managers are well advised to prepare for it.
- Know Your Numbers. Good management requires the fleet manager know the fleet's costs: fixed and variable in detail, comparisons of current numbers to previous periods, and cost trends. It is not uncommon for a supplier to approach senior management and say, "We can cut your fleet costs by X percent over the next year," or something similar. If your supervisor approaches you with such a claim, a fast and accurate answer will help calm the waters.
- Think Ahead. Track and keep current on what analysts say about fuel costs, used-vehicle values, interest rates, and other important drivers of fleet costs.
- Know Supplier Abilities and Limitations. If a claim is outlandish, say so, and be prepared to back it up. Additionally, know what suppliers should, and should not, do. Make sure your senior management understands no one outside the company can be as careful a steward of company resources as you.
- Pinpoint Fleet Functions to Outsource. Repetitive clerical and administrative tasks, such as registration renewal, are better done outside the company. It's better to suggest such a move yourself than wait for others to do it for you.
- Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Again. Keep it simple, short, and to the point, but make sure you regularly report important fleet cost information to your superiors. The higher up in the organizational structure you provide data, the more simple and brief you should be. Focus on trends, use graphics, and keep a running comparison of previous periods to present.
Nearly every fleet manager at one time or another faces a management "suggestion" that reimbursing drivers for use of their personal vehicles might be a better option than providing the units. For some fleets, this practice is not at issue. Service or delivery fleets, for example, cannot expect an employee to have a utility truck or a full-size cargo van available for business use. But sales fleets, in which drivers are provided vehicles to conduct sales and marketing tasks, are often targets for this process. It can be the result of outside influences (a company that provides reimbursement programs), financial or accounting managers, or direct supervisors.
The suggestions can be complex combinations of fixed and variable costs, or something as simple as reimbursement for mileage reported or a flat monthly amount. A number of strong arguments can refute this practice, and fleet managers looking to secure their jobs need to know and communicate those arguments:
- Reliability suffers when reimbursement is used to provide transportation for company business. A driver who suffers a dented fender is more likely to let it go unrepaired than one with a company vehicle and the resources and programs in place to get it repaired.
Like it or not, employees treat reimbursement as income and make certain their expenses do not exceed that income. They may skip repairs or preventive maintenance when money is tight, and both can result in a broken-down vehicle that keeps a driver from doing the job.
- Treating reimbursement as income opens the door to out-and-out fraud, as drivers report mileage far in excess of that actually driven to maximize reimbursement income. The administrative task of tracking accurate mileage can replace the expense of a fleet manager with that of a "reimbursement manager" with no actual bottom-line decrease in fleet cost.
- The company cannot carry a consistent image with customers. One driver shows up in a 10-year-old subcompact, another in a pickup truck with last weekend's mulch in the bed, another in a high-line, sporty convertible. The inconsistent and potentially unprofessional appearances all contribute to a confused and undesirable corporate image in the marketplace.
- If a competitor offers similar compensation with a company vehicle, the company's efforts to recruit, hire, and retain talent become more difficult. All things being equal, a prospective employee goes with the company car. If the difference is made up in salary, the cost savings of a reimbursement plan disappear.
- The company loses any control over employees' business travel vehicles, the condition of those vehicles, their reliability, and how they appear to the customer.
4. Office Politics
Office politics have been the bane of many careers for as long as companies have existed. Backbiting, gossip, agendas, etc., can draw anyone into conflict, and getting involved can result in a pink slip.
Often this occurs when senior managers attempt to widen their spheres of influence. The VP of sales wants to control the fleet, but the director of finance currently supervises the function and won't give it up. The head of strategic sourcing sees fleet spending as a perfect complement to her responsibilities, and the purchasing manager believes it's a purchasing function. No matter who the combatants are, each has his or her own idea as to who should be running the fleet on a day-to-day basis, and you might not be the person they chose.
- Don't Get Involved. Don't allow yourself to be dragged into conflicts between managers or offer an opinion regarding its source. Avoid making comments about others, even if prompted and even if you trust the recipient. Just stick to the mantra that you're there to do a job, you take that job very seriously, and no matter who the big boss may be, you'll continue to do so.
- Do a Good Job. Keep good records, know your costs, be a competent manager. Be ready for any challenge.
- Be Nice. Be a good employee. You do need to be careful about getting too close to another employee, and stay away from gossip about others. It's easy to be friendly without becoming a sounding board for the grievances of others.
5. Personal Behavior
It isn't just a warning for fleet managers — it's one for any employee at any level. Behave in a mature, responsible manner, no matter what the venue. Office parties are notorious for prompting bad behavior, but so are meetings and even casual encounters in the lunch room.
For a long time, the fleet industry was a male bastion, and the inevitably resulting "locker room" behavior gave rise to stories that have become legend. Thankfully, this is no longer the case, as the profession has opened up to women at every level, in every industry. Unfortunately, though, women are every bit as capable of untoward behavior as their male predecessors.
- Many opportunities for social interaction arise in the fleet business: trade shows, industry organization chapter meetings, manufacturer's events. Behave. Just that, behave. Don't be overly friendly with people you've just met, and don't be a wallflower, either. Engage others in a friendly, but professional manner.
- Alcohol — stay away if you can, use it responsibly if you prefer to indulge. Alcohol almost always is involved at some level during fleet events, and there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself.
Keep in mind two realities: first, your behavior will — will —
be affected if you drink and others will know it. Have a glass of wine with dinner or one beer at the reception, but don't drink to the point at which you know others will observe it.
Secondly and most importantly, remember you most likely will need to drive home or back to a hotel. If you've had more than that one beer or glass of wine, don't get behind the wheel. Call a cab or ask a colleague or friend for a ride. If your boss is around, don't drink at all, no matter what he or she does.
- Suppliers will offer to take you to lunch or dinner, to play a round of golf, or attend a ball game. It's fine to accept the offer on occasion; it fosters a good, comfortable relationship. But don't make a habit of it. Spending too much time in casual environments will make it more difficult to deal with a supplier on a business level. You will need to be firm when problems arise, and playing a round of golf with a supplier once every few weeks will make it easier to overlook bad performance for which you'll be ultimately responsible.
- Behave like a gentleman or a lady when interacting with the opposite sex in the office or other business environments. Keep off-color jokes to yourself, and your hands off others.
All in all, keeping one's job is more often the result of things you can control than things you cannot. Sometimes, little can be done to remain in the company's employ. Just make certain you avoid giving others the opportunity to send you packing.