A happy staff is a productive staff. Thus, keeping employee morale up should be a high priority for any fleet manager. Public sector fleets, in particular, have been challenged with the task of coming up with creative - and more importantly, inexpensive - ways to ensure team productivity remains high even when budgets are low. Fleet managers from among the top public sector fleets in the country prove it doesn't take much more than strong leadership, effective communication, and a little recognition to keep operations running smoothly.  


Leverage the 'Limelight'

No employee in their right mind would probably ever turn down a raise, but it doesn't necessarily mean they need a financial incentive to do their job well.

According to Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator for the City of Columbus, Ohio, "The most effective people are not really motivated by money. People are motivated by recognition. In other words, get out of your office, go see men on the floor, thank them personally, and let them know how much you appreciate their hard work."

2011 marks the City of Columbus' (Ohio) fourth straight year to earn the ASE Blue Seal. It is the largest Blue Seal municipality in the U.S.

2011 marks the City of Columbus' (Ohio) fourth straight year to earn the ASE Blue Seal. It is the largest Blue Seal municipality in the U.S.

Columbus' fleet staff of 130 (84 of which are technicians) holds more than 475 ASE certifications, 46 Master ASE certifications, 89 EVT certifications, and seven Master EVT certifications. Employees were recognized in the November/December 2010 issue of GF and were paid a visit by the chief of staff and city council members, who shook their hands, expressed their appreciation of the hard work they do for the City, and posed for a group photo.

"We're talking about mechanics on the floor meeting with the chief of staff and the mayor. It's huge. I get more out of that than I do writing them a check for $1,000," Reagan said.

City of Troy, Mich., technicians wear uniforms with patches identifying them as the No. 1 fleet in the 2010 100 Best Fleets program.

City of Troy, Mich., technicians wear uniforms with patches identifying them as the No. 1 fleet in the 2010 100 Best Fleets program.

The City of Troy, Mich., which earned the top spot in the 2010 "100 Best Fleets" program, has also gained recognition from City officials. Once the fleet was recognized as a top fleet, Fleet Superintendent Sam Lamerato bought uniform polo shirts and had them embroidered with the 100 Best Fleet logo on the chests and patches on the sleeves. Decked out in their new shirts, the staff attended a council meeting and was recognized.

"All the people in our fleet who could make it that night marched up to the front, introduced themselves, and shared their number of years of service. The council stood up and applauded them, as well as the audience," Lamerato recalled.

As "icing on the cake," the staff even received a letter from state senators recognizing them as a top fleet. "I made sure each one of those individuals got a copy," Lamerato said.

Paul Condran, equipment maintenance manager at the City of Culver City, Calif., also makes sure his staff gets attention from City leaders. In addition to three paid days off and/or $500, Condran puts the "Employee of the Year" in front of the City Council and the City Civil Service Commission. "I write a nice letter, and the program has been so well received that our HR department has modeled it for other City departments," Condran said. "Employee of the Quarter" is another program in place at Culver City, with the employee receiving one paid day off instead of three. Employee of the Year recipients also have their name engraved on a brass name plate featured on a plaque, with photos of the current winners of the quarter on a display board.

Many fleet employees at Palm Beach County, Fla., have managed to impress leadership outside the shop as well. According to Doug Weichman, director of fleet management, his employees have received as much as $2,500 from the annual Golden Palm Award promoted by the county administrator. The program rewards County employees for innovative ideas, going above and beyond, cost savings, and dedication.

Receiving attention on special days, such as birthdays, is also a pleasant surprise for staff that shouldn't be overlooked. Greetings cards, personalized photos, and even just an announcement on the bulletin board are all simple gestures fleet managers do that help brighten an employee's day and give him or her that extra lift to perform better.

The City of Santa Ana, Calif., recognizes the value of its employees' ideas and encourages feedback through an Innovation Incentive Program.

The City of Santa Ana, Calif., recognizes the value of its employees' ideas and encourages feedback through an Innovation Incentive Program.

'Feed' Their Egos

One of the most popular and relatively simple staff-pleasers cited by fleet managers is food.

"Food is easy. It's always kind of the glue that keeps people together. [A meal] is a good forum to bring people together," said Rick Longobart, facilities and fleet manager for the City of Santa Ana, Calif. At Santa Ana, fleet gets together for a "breakfast with the boss." Supervisor administrative staff brings breakfast food and everyone gets together and discusses a lighthearted issue.

Culver City prefers to do lunch. Condran started a program late last year called "Toss with the Boss." Once a month, he spends two planned lunch hours with his employees. "The idea is you can 'toss it' around with the boss, talk about whatever's on your mind, ask any questions - whether it's work-related or football or family. No good guys, no bad guys...no preconceived notions or ideas. It's an open forum. I've had four meetings now and my lunchroom is packed."

At the end of lunch, employees draw a number from a bag, and winners get a small prize such as a thermos, a hat and T-shirt, or a pen and pencil set. Condran supplies the prizes, which may be gifts he's attained or items he buys. "It's been very successful - something so simple. It keeps me in the view of my staff, and it's good for me, too. And it forces me to make sure I'm on the shop floor with my teams and they get to see me and spend time with me because we're always so busy." 

The City of Moline, Ill.'s fleet also tries to squeeze in time to get together, especially for holidays. Fleet Manager J.D. Schulte gathers the team several times a year to share meals between shifts since oftentimes they only get a few minutes to communicate in passing. "Around the holidays, we'll try to set up a time when we split up what we're going to buy and have a little cookout and get together. We've done Thanksgiving meals in the past. It's just a good way to get together and have everybody socialize and not make every conversation we have about work."

With fleet managers supplying the food, employees get a chance to experience the appreciation first-hand.

The City of Troy does a potluck luncheon and everyone brings their favorite dishes. Lamerato usually brings the main dish. "We talk and we laugh. We talk about the good times and obviously we talk about some of the bad times. You make light of the bad times and you try to think about more of the good times. I think that's important. When you don't have surplus funding, you get creative."

Larry Campbell, fleet manager for the City of Fort Wayne, Ind., finds food a great morale booster for his staff. In addition to "Donut Day" every Friday, after battling a recent snow emergency requiring 12-hour shifts, Campbell bought pizza for his guys. "After it's all over with, we just want to be able to say thank you. We know it's snowing and everyone's tired, but they can at least take their lunch break and enjoy some pizza. Just to help boost the morale."

Even better than having the boss buy food for the staff is when they actually cook it, too. In the summer, Campbell said management cooks for the staff. "We try to do that a couple times. We don't get to do that enough. In those situations, we usually cover the cost of the meat and do carry-ins. The guys request baked goods from my wife for that event. You'd be amazed. It's just something that simple...the little things."

Palm Beach County Fleet Management Division also hosts an Annual Employee Appreciation Luncheon where the management team cooks lunch for the employees to thank them for all their efforts during the past year. "Individual praise and thanking employees is part of the management team philosophy," Weichman said.

And when food comes unexpectedly, it's also a special treat for staff. One of the City of Troy's customers whose truck had been repaired came back an hour and a half later with donuts for the staff. "It didn't cost us anything, but it was a pick-up for the guys. It puts a smile on their faces," said Lamerato.[PAGEBREAK]

The City of Troy, Mich., earned the No. 1 spot in the 100 Best Fleets program in 2010. Several technicians have been employed 25 years.

The City of Troy, Mich., earned the No. 1 spot in the 100 Best Fleets program in 2010. Several technicians have been employed 25 years.

Invest in Your Staff

Training should remain a primary component of the fleet operation, said Reagan of Columbus. "When one is training, then one is investing in their people. That bodes well for the organization as well as the employee. It boosts morale in that a guy gets the time off from the floor and spends time learning something new. They realize the [organization] is investing in them because they care about them, and they want them to be the best at their vocation."

While pay increases are not an option for many these days, some fleets are able to offer a small monetary incentive for employees who advance in their ­profession.

The City of Troy has an ASE program in place that provides certified technicians a monthly $100 certification stipend for a total of $1,200 per year.

Palm Beach County offers ASE-certified employees an extra $8 per pay period (26 pay periods per year) for each certification. According to Weichman, the County now has many master technicians under the ASE program and some with 30-plus certifications earning more than an additional $6,000 per year. "The knowledge they achieve to get these certifications normally makes them better at their job, more efficient, and they take great pride in this, which is all management tries to achieve. And it keeps productivity and morale up." Management employees also get paid to get certified, which established a high level of competency and pride. The County currently has seven CAFMs and one CEM working in management within the Division. 

Polk County, Fla., has also had an incentive program in place for 12 years that adds to employee salaries for each ASE and EVT certification attained, according to Bob Stanton, director of Polk County Fleet Management. 

Palm Beach County also provides staff the opportunity, when available, to work at the next level in the organization. "Over the past five years, every promotion was pretty much done from in-house so employees know they have a career path if they apply themselves and are positive and productive," said Weichman. The County schedules and pays for job-related training and certifications and also reimburses employees to continue their formal education. One County technician was able to progress through an informal mentoring program and was promoted three times; he is currently working in management. He also earned a bachelor's degree in ­public administration and is working on his master's.

With a 25-percent cut throughout the City in all professional development, Moline's staff has had to become more creative in how it does some of its training. The fleet facility has a large training room that can house 20-25 technicians and has been used as a training venue for a number of vendors. In exchange, Moline's fleet staff receives training free of charge. One vendor requested to use the facility for another class because it helped raise attendance. "They said a lot of times they can't get folks from a national tire store to go to a class at another tire store for training because they consider them competitors," said Schulte. "We're the city, and everybody I guess feels welcome here, and no one feels we're a competitive ­vendor." 

As a result, the Moline fleet has been able to capitalize on technical training. Schulte said the response from his staff has been great. "They know we all had to absorb budget cuts, so it's nice that each technician averaged 88 hours of professional development for the year. So they didn't see a major cut; it's just that they're doing a little bit more training in-house than off-site."

Culver City, Calif., has Employee of the Year and Employee of the Quarter programs for its staff. Employees of the Quarter have their photos displayed on a plaque, along with the names of each year's annual winners.

Culver City, Calif., has Employee of the Year and Employee of the Quarter programs for its staff. Employees of the Quarter have their photos displayed on a plaque, along with the names of each year's annual winners.

Provide a Comfortable Environment

With so many hours of the day spent on the job, employees should feel comfortable while at work.

"Sometimes it's not necessarily all about the money, but the environment they work in," according to Longobart of Santa Ana. "So you can certainly motivate them by giving them a good environment to work in, and a good environment to work in doesn't necessarily have to be a $20 million facility."

 "If people are coming to work more often than not, if people are happy while they're here more often than not, and if you provide a work environment that's clean, safe, and pleasant, people will want to work better for you and for each other," said Condran of Culver City, which has a productivity goal of 74-percent wrench time throughout the year. "We've been able to capture higher than what the industry standard says because we have a high productivity standard." The City has an attendance program that rewards employees who go six months without any unexcused absences. They get a $75 gift card, lunch with Condran, and become eligible for Employee of the Year.

"We try to make it where it's fun to come to work," said Campbell of Fort Wayne. "Part of that is keeping a clean facility. If you don't keep a clean facility, you see the morale go down. It gives them a brighter outlook."

Besides keeping the facility clean, he also stressed the importance of keeping it up to standards. "It takes a beating, especially with the type of equipment that we have coming in and out. If you work in a drab area, it does lower the morale. A fresh paint coat goes a long way. You'd be surprised what sunshine does for morale, too." The department recently replaced its windows because wind was getting through. "That made a big difference. There was a big boost of morale," he said.

Schulte of Moline said his department has tried to make working third shifts a little more desirable. For the past three years, third-shift workers do four 10-hour days, so they work four nights a week instead of five. "That seems to make a big difference for them. It's been very well received because there aren't a whole lot of things to make it exciting to work nights," he said.

City of Moline, Ill., Fleet Manager J.D. Schulte (bottom right) empowers his employees to make decisions that impact their workload and environment. Their experience ranges from 10-30 years.

City of Moline, Ill., Fleet Manager J.D. Schulte (bottom right) empowers his employees to make decisions that impact their workload and environment. Their experience ranges from 10-30 years.

Empower Employees

Many technicians take pride in their craft, often spending a long career in the shop building up years of experience.

Now in his 21st year with the City of Moline, Schulte said two of his eight technicians have been employed longer than him - one with 30 years under his belt and another with 24. Only one is not ASE certified. "Our folks here in the shop definitely know they're decision makers. My philosophy is just to turn them loose and let them make these kinds of decisions that impact their workload and their environment, and they consult me when needed." Schulte himself started as a technician before moving to the office setting in 2001. "When I was on the shop floor, I liked the feeling of being in control of some of the work and I remember how valued I felt because of that, so I've tried to give that same kind of empowerment to these guys."

Lamerato of Troy, a 29-year fleet manager who also worked his way up from the shop floor, has a couple of technicians in his 15-member staff that have been around for a few decades. Lamerato encourages his staff to provide input on equipment for the shop. In March, he plans to take some staff to a tool show. "It's on a Saturday - they go on their own time - but we go around as a group to a huge tool show warehouse and we end up buying $6,000-$8,000 worth of tools for the shop. We use their input to tell us what we need to do our job more efficiently. For them to tell me what tool they will use to do their job more efficiently makes more sense to me. It's them taking ownership of that tool to make sure that tool is used properly as well."

Campbell at the City of Fort Wayne also requests input from his staff regarding shop equipment. "If there's a tool out there that can make their job easier or faster, or more efficient, we purchase that. That makes a big difference." Some employees requested additional safety equipment, which Campbell agreed to as long as there was enough in the budget. "They're more at ease with their job because of that," he explained. 

Enabling staff to engage in any type of decision-making is ideal for enhancing their commitment to the team and to their performance.

Culver City has developed a peer-to-peer award program. "Basically it's an award given by one employee to another; I have nothing to do with it," said Condran. Employees who collect six peer-to-peers receive a $75 American Express gift card, along with their choice of a division jacket or hat. The idea was suggested by one of the technicians, whose wife had a boss-to-peer award at her work. Condran wanted to leave himself out of it, so they came up with the peer-to-peer concept.

Santa Ana also values employee input and created an Innovation Incentive Program that rewards employees for coming up with good ideas for the fleet. A protocol was developed to ensure the idea makes it up the chain of command and doesn't get lost by an immediate supervisor along the way to management. Employees are recognized and thanked for putting forth the effort to produce an idea. If management feels the idea is valuable enough to implement, a committee discusses and reviews it further, and if it is implemented, it raises the stake of how the employee would be recognized. If any monetary savings were met, the employee would get something tangible like a gift card or hat or shirt, as opposed to just a memo. "That way, it gives that person the confidence that if they come up with a good idea, it doesn't get squished...and it continues to foster good ideas from the organization, which could save money or even time or just efficiencies," said Longobart.[PAGEBREAK]

Fleet staff at Palm Beach County, Fla., hold more than 30 ASE certifications, seven CAFM designations, and one CEM.

Fleet staff at Palm Beach County, Fla., hold more than 30 ASE certifications, seven CAFM designations, and one CEM.

Keep Communication Open

Communicating openly and honestly and promoting teamwork can help build a strong team culture and keep employee spirits high.

"There's no such thing as bad communication; there's only lack of communication," said Condran of Culver City. "If people are left to wonder about things, that's how the rumor mill gets churned up and that can really break down morale." At Culver City, a "read" board is on display next to the employee time clock, and everyone is expected to read it when they get into work each day to make sure they're up to date on any important information.

"I try to do our meetings on Friday just because if there's something on their mind, I don't want them mulling over it the whole weekend," said Lamerato of Troy. "Get it out in the open, get it on the table, and discuss it. There's no hurt feelings. If an employee is having a tough time at home trying to make a decision that's affecting his home life as well, he brings that to work with him." Lamerato encourages staff to watch city council meetings, get on the Web, and get the facts about what's going in the City. "They hear horrible things happening with other departments. We try to counter all that negativity with facts."

In addition to weekly meetings, fleets also communicate via e-mail and newsletters. With 11 satellite operations, Polk County also uses Go to Meeting, a Web conference and online meeting service.

The City of Santa Ana uses a Facebook-like business application called Rypple, a web-based software designed to help keep teams on track. According to Longobart, "it breaks down the silos and barriers of communication." Each staff member has a profile and can communicate and give feedback to one another. It also helps track each individual's progress on projects. As the manager, Longobart can track staff progress throughout the calendar year. Messages can also be sent from Rypple to any e-mail recipient even if they are not signed on to the application.

Be an Effective Leader

As a former technician, Schulte of Moline sees his role as fleet manager as an opportunity to lead by example.

Schulte is an ASE Master Auto and ASE Master Truck technician and continues to keep his certifications up. "A lot of the guys in the shop tell me they like the fact that I keep all my certification stuff on the board along with the other technicians. One of the technicians said, 'That way, when people come in here they still know where you came from and that you're one of us.' So I thought, if those guys are recognizing it, then I still make sure I go in every five years and get myself recertified because it means something to them."

Lamerato also strives to uphold expectations from his staff and expects 100 percent from them. "I tell my employees, I'm going to stay here as long as it takes to get the job done, and we're going to get it done in the most efficient way possible." He also tries to stay positive. "The fleet manager needs to come to work with a positive attitude. If you've had a rough day, don't let it spread to your division."

According to Stanton at Polk County, fleet managers must be multi-dimensional. "Don't make the mistake of thinking just a working knowledge of vehicle maintenance is the path to success; that alone is indeed the path to failure. Fleet managers must know finance, interpersonal relations, be confident in both top-down and bottom-up communications, entrepreneurial, and above all, be a servant leader to their staff. The more well-rounded, the better," he said.

Showing your staff respect should also be a top priority. "Treat them with respect and how you would want to be treated. Look at it this way: There's not one of us who is strong in every area. Out of the 26, we're very strong because of all the different talents," said Campbell of Fort Wayne.

Condran of Culver City shares the same attitude. "We have different jobs, different levels of responsibility, but at the end of the day, like I tell them, this does not say 'Paul Condran's Fleet Department.' This says the 'City of Culver City.' We can't ever lose sight of that, and that fact becomes our priority and our opportunity to shine."

Most importantly, fleet managers must possess strong listening skills. "That is the hardest thing," said Longobart. Being able to "actually [listen] to someone without in your mind trying to come up with an answer before they're even done talking is hard to overcome. Empathy, listening, communication, understanding, and concise information as to what you're trying to achieve are all key successes to becoming a good manager in this type of industry."

Maintaining an open-door policy has helped Reagan eliminate grievances per annum at the City of Columbus. "Management doesn't have to like what [employees] have to say, but they do have to listen because every employee has a voice. My door always remains open. That is what we live by from the management standpoint so that we always have open dialogue between the labor and management," he said. "By doing that, it's creating a wonderful relationship. We work together to complete the task and just keep the vehicles in good repair and treat folks well."


  • Larry Campbell, CPFP, fleet manager, City of Fort Wayne, Ind. E-mail: larry.campbell@ci.ft-wayne.in.us
  • Paul Condran, equipment maintenance manager, City of Culver City, Calif. E-mail: paul.condran@culvercity.org
  • Sam Lamerato, CPFP, fleet superintendent, City of Troy. Mich. E-mail: lameratosp@troymi.gov
  • Rick Longobart, facilities and fleet manager, City of Santa Ana, Calif. E-mail: RLongobart@santa-ana.org
  • Kelly Reagan, fleet administrator, City of Columbus, Ohio. E-mail: KWReagan@columbus.gov
  • J.D. Schulte, CPFP, fleet manager, City of Moline, Ill. E-mail: jschulte@moline.il.us 
  • Bob Stanton, CPM, CPFP, director, Polk County (Fla.) Fleet Management. E-mail: BobStanton@polk-county.net
  • Doug Weichman, CAFM, director of fleet management, Palm Beach County, Fla. E-mail: dweichma@pbcgov.org

Originally posted on Government Fleet

About the author
Grace Suizo

Grace Suizo

Former Senior Editor

Grace Suizo is a former senior editor of Bobit Business Media. She was previously known as Grace Lauron.

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