There have been many changes in the fleet management industry over the past 50 or so years. Many are technological, many more are legal and regulatory, and certainly more are changes in vehicles managed. However, there is one item that hasn't changed; indeed, it is every bit as important today as it was when fleet management was in its infancy, if not more so - fleet policy.
It is simply impossible, and always has been, to properly manage a fleet without a well thought out, formal fleet policy document. Without it, drivers don't know what they can and can't do with a vehicle, managers don't know who qualifies for vehicle assignment and who doesn't, drivers don't know how to handle situations (accidents, breakdowns, registration renewals, etc.), and most importantly, the fleet manager doesn't have a basis for his or her authority.
Merely having a policy is one thing; enforcing driver and supervisor compliance is another. Here are 10 ways a fleet manager can ensure better compliance with fleet policy.
1. Keep It Simple
Simplicity is a cornerstone of any governing document; one only needs to compare the U.S. Constitution to that of the European Union.
First, it is important for the fleet manager to differentiate between policy and procedure. The former is what is to be done, the latter is how to do it. For example, fleet policy defines what will qualify an employee for company vehicle assignment. Procedure lays out how that vehicle will be acquired for assignment. Thus, a description of the vehicle ordering or replacement process, replete with forms, has no place in a written fleet policy. Here are the key components to include in a fleet policy:
■ Vehicle assignment, or which employees qualify for company vehicle assignment. This can be by job function, mileage, or compensation.
■ Replacement policy. How long are vehicles to be kept in service?
■ Personal use. Are drivers permitted to use vehicles for personal business, and if so, where can they drive, what expense (if any) will the company pay, and how is personal use charged to the employee? Also, are any non-employees permitted to drive the vehicle (e.g., family)?
■ Maintenance/repair. How are drivers to obtain preventive maintenance, repairs, and tires?
■ Safety. Include MVRs, safety training, accident review (chargeability), and consequences for chargeable accidents and violations.
■ Authority. What level of authority does the fleet manager have, i.e., to approve exceptions to policy?
A simple fleet policy document will in and of itself encourage a high level of compliance.
2. Get Senior Management Endorsement
If drivers, supervisors, and driver-function senior management believe the fleet manager (a department head) is the sole authority behind the policy, when exceptions are sought, they'll "pull rank" to get them approved. The classic, "She's our best salesperson," as a defense against consequences of safety policy violations is a good example.
Before fleet policy is even written, fleet managers are well advised to get an endorsement from as high up in the corporate hierarchy as possible. If, for example, the fleet manager reports ultimately up to the senior VP of operations, his or her endorsement should be the lowest level provided. Clearly, such an endorsement from the CEO or president is best. It can take the form of an introductory letter or statement from the supervisor.
It would be naïve to think that this endorsement might eliminate such exception requests or other non-compliance; however, you can be sure that it will cause managers and senior executives to think twice before trying to exert their own authority over a fleet manager.
3. Make It Available
In years past, fleet managers placed a hard copy of the corporate fleet policy in the glove compartment of each vehicle, either on paper or bound into a booklet. Today, technology enables the fleet manager to provide drivers with access to fleet policy 24/7/365, whether they're in the car or not.
Most companies have an Intranet site, a company website for employees. These sites provide information on a myriad of company benefits, policies, and procedures, not to mention company and employee news. If you can't get a specific page of that site dedicated to "all things fleet," at least get the policy document linked. Drivers can then access the policy via a laptop, desktop, or mobile device (e.g., BlackBerry, smart phone application, etc.). One can't comply with policy unless one knows what that policy is.
Include an "FAQ" section with answers. "When is my car replaced?" or "Can I drive to Canada on vacation?" are the types of policy questions that come up regularly, and drivers can see answers with the click of a mouse or tap of a touch screen.
A "How Do I...?" section is a good idea, too, with answers and links to procedural forms (e.g.,. "How do I order my new car?" with a link to the lessor's online ordering system). The more information you can make available to drivers, the greater their compliance will be, and you won't be inundated with questions that drivers can get answered online.
4. Keep It Updated
A fleet policy document is a "living" document; that is, many policy provisions are subject to change. A 36-month/75,000-mile replacement policy can become a 48-month/100,000-mile policy from one year to the next.
Unless drivers know of such changes, compliance will suffer. With the previously mentioned online policy site, updates are easy to make, and an e-mail blast to drivers and their supervisors can notify everyone of the change.
As soon as any policy changes are approved, drivers should be notified and any policy documents updated. Once again, technology makes this process simple and certainly drivers can only comply with a policy if they know what it is.
It has been said drivers know how to drive safely; they just forget when the time comes. The same can be applied to policy. Keeping policy compliance in front of drivers on a regular basis will help keep compliance with that policy at a high level.
Whenever possible, fleet managers should participate in driver communication. Sales and service organizations often hold weekly or monthly conference calls, where they go over their activities, are introduced to new products and services, and receive training. Fleet managers should request some time on these calls, time that can be used to remind drivers of items such as safety, but also to focus on fleet policy. Updates on policy changes can be reiterated on such calls, and a particular policy can be highlighted. For example, "Don't forget that your vehicle is to be replaced when it reaches 36 months in service, or 75,000 miles, whichever comes first."
Driver functions often have an annual meeting, where they go over the prior year's activity, present awards, and receive face-to-face training. Here again, a fleet manager should ask for time on the agenda to discuss the same items that they would on a conference call, but in greater depth, and answer questions.
Regular communication with drivers and their supervisors can keep policy compliance fresh on their minds and help reduce violations.[PAGEBREAK]
6. Reward safe Behavior
The argument can be made that employees should not be rewarded for simply complying with company policy, which has merit. However, there can be specific areas of fleet policy where drivers can be rewarded for performance that goes beyond mere compliance.
Safety is the most common portion of fleet policy for which long-term compliance can reasonably be rewarded. As previously noted, there should be clearly defined consequences for violations of safety policy - serious or repeated moving violations, or multiple chargeable accidents within a period of time - and fleet managers can help ensure compliance by establishing rewards for drivers whose safety records are exemplary. This is common with over-the-road trucking companies, and there's no reason why it cannot be for auto and light truck fleets.
The rewards can take the form of recognition (plaques, certificates, being featured in the company publication or website), financial, or via the fleet vehicle itself (higher-line vehicle, additional equipment, or reduction/suspension of personal use charges). Drivers who complete some long period of time without violations or chargeable accidents display a focus on safety that sets an example for all drivers, and rewarding them publicly can help to ensure better compliance in overall policy.
7. Punish Violations
The other side of the behavioral coin is to provide consequences for serious or repeated policy violations. As with rewards, punishment for safe driving policy violations can focus on the areas of moving citations and accidents. First, it is important to differentiate between equipment and moving violations. Though a broken tail or brake light, burned-out headlight, or parking violation are not to be ignored, consequences should be focused on more serious safety violations: speeding, DUI/DWI, reckless driving, and failure to obey traffic signals (stop signs, lights, etc.), which put drivers, passengers, and third parties at serious risk.
Penalties can be progressive, including:
■ First serious moving violation, letter of warning.
■ Second violation, suspension of company vehicle assignment.
■ Third violation, job suspension, or possible termination.
The same holds true for accidents, based upon chargeability (not merely fault). Clearly, the "seriousness" of a traffic citation, or chargeability of an accident, must be clearly defined in the policy in the first place. One way or another, though, drivers must know that their adherence to company fleet policy will be tracked, and there are consequences for serious or repeated violations.
8. Apply the Policy Consistently
The ability a fleet manager has to apply a fleet policy effectively begins with the senior management endorsement described in item No. 2. Once this has been obtained, the next step is to use that endorsement to ensure the policy is applied consistently throughout the organization. What this means is that no matter who the driver is, no matter how high up in the organization he or she may be, or how exemplary his or her performance may be in other aspects of the job (the superstar sales rep, for example), the policy is applied and enforced in the exact same manner as it would be for an average salesman or service rep in the field.
This is particularly true as it pertains to executive vehicles, where many exceptions tend to take place. A senior vice president who has a luxury SUV as part of his or her compensation, who gets speeding tickets, is repeatedly cited for traffic violations, or fails to maintain the vehicle per policy should be subject to the same consequences as anyone else. If the executive vehicle program provides for a selector, with company-paid equipment, executives should receive no more (or less) than that, no matter how big their business card or office.
How would this somehow ensure better policy compliance in a broad sense? Simply by exhibiting to all fleet drivers that their superiors will be held every bit as responsible for complying with fleet policy as they are, and that job title or responsibilities are not grounds for exception. Better put, if policy is not applied consistently throughout the organization, drivers have solid grounds to protest their own culpability, or an excuse not to comply themselves. Fleet managers often find that the CEO or other most senior executives are very careful to comply, recognizing their own responsibility to set the tone and example for the rest of the company.
Either way, unless policy is enforced at all levels, a fleet manager cannot expect a high level of voluntary compliance.
9. Be Realistic in Establishing Policy
There are a number of jobs for which vehicles are a relatively standard business tool provided by the company. Pharmaceutical reps and insurance claims adjusters are two examples of jobs where a talented recruit will expect a company vehicle and have his or her choice among corporate suitors.
If you establish an unusually strict or restrictive policy, recruits will often be able to choose a competitor whose policy is less burdensome. Take personal use, for example. If your policy prohibits it, limits it to an unusual extent (not permitted on vacation, for example), charges too much for it, or limits it to the employee only (rather than allowing at least a licensed spouse to drive), your competitor's program might be more attractive.
This does not mean that the policy should be without those requirements that will help you run the fleet most efficiently. It simply means that the more restrictions placed on drivers and their use of the company vehicle, the more likely they will be to seek ways around them. Allowing personal use is generally a good policy, particularly in the case of younger drivers, who often do not have another car to use. Allowing at least spousal use, provided they are properly licensed and have acceptable driving records, is also a good idea.
Don't make consequences for safety violations too serious; drivers are human and will make mistakes, so allow for them when the policy is written. Provide drivers with whatever tools they need to keep the vehicle on the road, such as a maintenance program or accident management, to minimize disruption and keep them focused on the job at hand. The bottom line here is that policy compliance will be better and easier for drivers if it is realistic and in line with other companies in your industry.
10. Tie Compliance into Overall Job Performance
This is something that will generally require some level of discussion with management, particularly within the driver function (sales, service, transportation, etc.), as well as a clear way to measure fleet policy compliance. All employees undergo annual performance reviews. Sales staff members are usually given goals or quotas, including volumes sold, number of sales calls to prospects, and/or contracts closed.
Where the job entails driving a company-provided vehicle, compliance with policy can be strongly encouraged if that compliance is considered part of job performance evaluation. Before this is done, however, there must be a simple, measurable way of "scoring" fleet policy compliance. This can be done relatively simply, first by breaking policy down into the components described in No. 1.
Has the driver maintained the vehicle properly according to schedule? Has he or she been involved in any chargeable accidents or been issued traffic citations? If the vehicle was replaced during the year, was the new order placed on time, the vehicle picked up promptly, the replaced vehicle cleaned and prepped for turn-in? Did the driver submit required condition reports according to schedule?
These and other questions can be researched, and a driver's compliance can be measured in any number of ways. Points can be accumulated for non-compliance and the resulting score measured against a sliding scale. However it's done, having a fleet policy compliance component to overall employee performance evaluations is one of the strongest ways that compliance can be not only encouraged, but kept in the employee/driver's mind throughout the year.[PAGEBREAK]
REMOTE EMPLOYEE COMPLIANCE
Many fleets operate out of field offices - branches, regional/zone offices, etc. Compliance with fleet policy can be done both directly with those drivers and via the local managers and supervisors to whom they report. Other fleets are centrally garaged, making policy enforcement easier.
Some fleets, however, have as all or part of their fleet driver roster remote employees: drivers who work out of their homes, traveling a significant amount of time, and don't work out of one of the company's field locations. Encouraging policy compliance with these drivers, while a bit more challenging, can be done equally effectively.
Many of the techniques in increasing policy compliance that work with drivers who work out of a branch office will work equally well with remote drivers. Thanks to technology, conference calls, webcasts, and other communication channels can be just as effective; remote drivers' participation is no different.
Some fleets are made up entirely of remote drivers; there are no field offices, and drivers use a home office. A more intensive use of the above mentioned communication channels, as well as social media (Twitter, Facebook), can keep those drivers informed as to key elements of the policy, changes that they'll have to understand, and will allow them to communicate directly with the fleet manager from the field.
Other fleets have a mix; some drivers report to a field location, while some are home based. Consider a communication channel - a newsletter, a link on the company Intranet, etc. - geared directly to them. Another option is a weekly or monthly news publication ("The Remote Driver," for example), which addresses their unique issues such as how to get help when there is no branch manager available.
Additional information that can be supplied to remote drivers includes:
■ If the numbers aren't too daunting, offer home-based drivers a custom list of repair shops, low-price fuel locations, and body shops that are near their homes.
■ Provide information on their state and local vehicle laws and regulations, DMV locations, inspection rules, registration/personal property tax, and other regulations that they'll have to deal with at some point each year. Apply that information to the policy sections that they impact, and offer step-by-step instructions on how to comply.
■ Make sure your fleet suppliers (for leasing, maintenance management, accident management, etc.) know who your remote drivers are, and that those drivers know they can get help from those suppliers 24/7.
Sometimes, remote, home-based drivers can feel a bit left out when some of their peers work out of a branch office, or even if the entire fleet is home based. The key to increasing policy compliance is communication, lots of it, and an environment where these drivers know they aren't forgotten and won't be left out while at the same time knowing their responsibility to comply with policy is no different than any drivers who work out of field offices.