Market Trends

Fleet Operations Exist to Support User Departments, Not Vice Versa

February 1, 2015

by Mike Antich - Also by this author

In years past, the fleet department existed in a realm of its own. In those days, the management of other departments often didn't fully understand the nuances of fleet management other than the driver received a new vehicle every 36 months. Fleet managers of that era were the "kings" and "queens" of their own realms; however, that reality no longer exists. This is a hard transition for many long-time fleet managers. These fleet managers lament they used to be in "control," but now "share" responsibility, requiring approvals or buy-in from every affected department. As a result, what in the past were straightforward decisions now require inordinate discussion that no longer gets completed in a timely manner.

Furthermore, some fleet managers view their jobs being unduly influenced by unreasonable user groups. This is the wrong mind set. Fleet operations must be closely aligned with user departments. Interdepartmental cooperation is an integral part of fleet management. A fleet manager must establish a relationship with every department touched by fleet to address their needs, keep them informed, and gain buy-in with fleet policy. However, in the real world, not every department manager is a team player.

As a result, there are the inevitable interdepartmental conflicts, typically driven by the challenge of balancing HR/driver requirements vs. finance/accounting department requirements that are often at odds with one another. A number of fleet managers I know criticize this involvement of "non-fleet" managers, rather than seeking ways to partner and gain their support by educating them about fleet management. Fleet managers must learn to be diplomats, because interdepartmental conflict can have a corrosive effect on how departments work with fleet operations.

Meeting the Objectives of Internal Customers

What is your No. 1 goal as fleet manager? In my mind, the only answer is to better serve internal customers. I've said it a number of times in my editorials, but I can't say it enough: The reason fleet operations exist is to support user departments. To be considered a best-in-class fleet operation, you must have excellent interdepartmental relationships; however, this is easier said than done.

The reality is interdepartmental friction is an unfortunate fact of life, especially those involving "territorial" issues, which are not open to discussion or compromise. But, if we are honest with ourselves, internal customers are too often treated as a captive audience to whom policy can be dictated. As a professional, your job is to minimize the friction – from both sides.

All great fleet managers realize internal customers aren’t their nemesis; in fact, they are the very people who justify their positions. Since your primary objective is to manage the fleet to support the objectives of the user groups, it requires a management mind set to view all work from the internal customers' perspective. The bottom line is that an unhappy customer represents a deficiency in your department’s customer service performance.

Here’s another question to contemplate: What is your No. 2 goal as fleet manager? Although answers will vary, in my mind, your top secondary goal is to continually listen to all user departments, especially the "squeaky wheels," and understand their objectives and concerns. Based on my decades of experience, best-in-class fleet managers establish cooperative, working relationships with all internal user groups that rely on fleet operations, no matter how challenging the personalities of some individuals.

When user department problems are identified, seek to resolve them in a timely manner. On the other hand, there must also be user accountability. Creating a beneficial relationship with a contentious user department is not a one-way street, with all the give coming from fleet. User departments must be active partners in meeting management mandates to modify fleet composition, reduce fuel consumption, and increase utilization levels.

It is difficult to change an entrenched end-user culture to be open to alternatives, such as downsizing to smaller vehicles and eliminating underutilized assets. Unfortunately, these changes invariably require direct involvement by senior management, which requires resolving differences with a "hammer." To minimize the need to use a "big stick." you need to get other managers to see what you see, because when the time comes to implement a new fleet initiative, you will have already gained the trust of these departmental peers. To stay abreast of the management turnover in these departments, it is incumbent upon fleet managers to learn and understand the operational requirements of these user departments.

Fleet's Role in the Corporate Hierarchy

In the final analysis, fleet managers must focus on meeting the needs of their internal customers by establishing a cooperative, working relationship with all corporate functions associated with fleet. Fleet management, by its very function, should be one of the most important departments in any corporate hierarchy. Fleet managers play a pivotal role that intersects with most major corporate functions, such as HR, sales, procurement, risk management, legal, sustainability, finance, and administrative services. However, a fleet manager’s focus must be on the customer. Think about it. Without internal fleet customer groups, there would be no need for fleet managers.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]


  1. 1. Tim C King [ February 02, 2015 @ 12:50PM ]

    Referring to customers as "users" is generally a sign of a Fleet that doesn't understand their role in providing customer services to client groups. The term "users" is from an era where customers didn't have choice. For many Fleets today, that is no longer the case.

    Another symptom of the use of this term is that many of a Fleet's customers go completely unidentified and thus overlooked. For example, the subject of one of your last articles was the importance of the executive or owners. These are a customer group every bit as important as the "users". For a Fleet that wants to excel, there are other important customer groups such as the ancillary, and, the regulatory customers. They may not pay for the services, but their positive assessment of the services provided is critical to a Fleet's success.

    This is one of the subjects of "FLEET SERVICES - Redefining Success" to be published this Spring by SAE International.


  2. 2. Steve Kibler [ February 04, 2015 @ 09:09AM ]

    Great article Mike. In all the years I’ve known you and read your astute articles, I’ve never disagreed with your sage observations. Yes, fleet managers must share responsibility with customers. To do this successfully they must earn the trust of their customers and make recommendations that are in the best interest of the company. Fleet operations must align their core services differently with each customer department. This feels wrong to us “Ol timers” but it's the natural evolution of customer service to always take the path of success and satisfaction – for the customer not fleet management.
    I’ve concluded though that fleet managers are NEVER in “control”, they are little more than internal ambassadors helping to steer what are sometimes ignorant fleet preferences or choices. This is a continuous tight rope walk. If the customer makes a poor decision, the fleet manager is the safety net and helps them pick up the pieces and move on. If the fleet manager makes a poor decision, the customer generally cuts the safety net by never trusting their expertise again. If you make the department head happy, you probably upset the operators.
    As Dr. Seuss said: “Be who you are and say what you want, ‘cause those that mind - don’t matter and those that matter - don’t mind.” In the end, if we feel that we made a difference, then we succeeded.

  3. 3. William Forsythe - CAFM [ February 09, 2015 @ 01:34PM ]

    Fleet Managers not immersed in “interdepartmental conflicts” in today’s era of Fleet Management are missing great opportunities to promote their value to the company.

    When these disagreements ascend is when Fleet Managers should be stepping up to provide real solutions to meet business objectives. Only by fully hearing and understanding the other person's viewpoint can mutual resolutions be found. One of the most advantageous concepts in change management is communicating the features and benefits behind Fleet decisions to stakeholders. Clearing stating not just the “how” but the “why” with the goals you are striving to obtain not only will help gain their support but build a strong working relationship.

    I think you said it best that “fleet managers need to establish cooperative, working relationships with all internal user groups.” When building the working relationships, always make the top priority to be honest and sincere with colleagues. As many of us know, trust can take a long time to build, yet only a moment to be totally lost through one selfish act. The business relationships you make today through trust will serve you well in the long run.

    Too often Fleet Managers get caught up in their personal intentions that we forget the true function of the position. HR, sales, procurement, risk management, legal, finance are all entwined with Fleet operations in one way or another. Sustaining these relationships is imperative to the success of any business.

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