Fleet managers hold keys to reducing government costs
Help with the communication ‘playbook’
Weichman and other municipal fleet managers know that “getting the word out” is far easier said than done — especially when it comes to one-on-one communication. In Weichman’s case, he maintains a two-minute “stock speech” that quickly sums up the value fleet management provides Palm Beach County in terms of savings and uptime support for various departments.
“In many cases, you may only get a few minutes with the county executive or mayor in an elevator ride or after an annual planning meeting,” Weichman says. “The trick is to have a cohesive set of facts that shows why you and your department create value for the municipality as a whole — and be ready to share that at a moment’s notice.”
Martinez adds that good communication skills are critical because the flow of information from the shop floor to the commissioner’s desk identifies the needs of the end users and allows for everyone to contribute. “That’s why we have monthly FleetStat meetings, so everyone from mechanics to shop supervisors to administrative managers are able to trouble shoot and problem solve,” he explains. “That way, the overall efficiency of the operation improves.”
Martinez believes there are four tangible ways to communicate the value of the fleet to city or county operations:
- It is imperative as a fleet manager to capture all relevant data with performance indicators to quantify your efficiencies and identify and address your inefficiencies.
- You must then share this data with other city agencies and the mayor’s office so they can see your results and apply the same relative metrics to each agency as a way to improve on cost savings.
- Brag about your accomplishments to whomever will listen; just keep in mind that there is always room for improvement.
- Competition fosters productivity: Enter your fleet accomplishments into the various awards that are available to see how your fleet stacks up against others in the country.
Those are also some of the reasons why the government fleet trade group NAFA (formerly known as the National Association of Fleet Administrators) created the “Beyond Fleet” program, which it expects to start making available to its membership this year. “We recognize that fleet managers need resources to sharpen their communication skills not just with other departments but mayors, council board members, even the general public,” explains Phil Russo, NAFA’s executive director.
“In the past, there’s been a need to ‘sell’ the value of the fleet internally because of the rise of outsourcing efforts,” he adds. “Nowadays, though, with the economy down and municipal budgets so tight, such outreach offers a way to explain to the municipality as a whole how the fleet can be critical to helping various government entities solve bottom-line issues.”
Along with stock PowerPoint presentation formats, letters, access to webinars and other communication resources, NAFA plans to make a group of 10 to 12 of its veteran fleet management members available as “mentors” to help coach their peers in communication and outreach efforts. That includes helping them understand how politics plays a role in municipal operations and how to navigate the “corridors of power,” Russo says.
“For too long, the fleet department has been the silent partner in helping government get its various jobs done,” he stresses. “It’s high time to realize that it’s next to impossible to do all the government is required to do without a super-efficient fleet.”
That calls in part for fleet managers to teach their peers within a municipality about the cost of new vehicles versus repairs or the value of sharing equipment within departments rather than each buying their own units. “Fleets must become more than simply a line item on a municipality’s budget — not just for their own sake but for the sake of the municipality’s fiscal health as a whole,” Russo says. “Fleet managers need to become part of the budget conversation to find ways to get their voice heard within the ‘inner circle’ guiding municipal strategy, so they can bring their knowledge and resources to the table in the hope of helping the municipality as a whole function more efficiently and at a lower cost.”
- Read the sidebar "Can fleets help fill in state revenue shortfalls?" for more on the critical role fleet managers play in helping states meet their budget goals.
Sean Kilcarr is senior editor at Fleet Owner, an American City & County sister publication.