By Donald Dunphy
“This is not a secret and by no means are we trying to keep it that way,” says NAFA Member Jeffrey A. Hawthorne, CAFM, B.S.B.A. He is the Division Manager for Fleet Management for Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office (PBSO), in Florida. His fleet tied for the top spot in the 100 Best Fleets rankings for 2020 announced in April, and he is only too glad to share the methods that got PBSO there.
"Our success is due to very hard work by an exceptionally talented team and support from our Chain of Command … and comes down to simple ‘common-sense’ strategies and innovative thinking,” Hawthorne explains. Excellence, he says, begins with measuring performance and benchmarks as key metrics in creating a roadmap to success.
Many organizations meet the mark and getting the job done. It’s a different strategy for the best in class, who exceed the standard and then sustain that high level. A championship caliber team is high performance consistently, and that’s exactly what PBSO Fleet has been; excellent for many years.
Rebuild and Re-engineer
It is not easy and takes years of hard work and commitment to stay on top. “We had to undergo nearly a total rebuild, but we did it,” explains Hawthorne. “Our first Top 100 recognition was in 2011 at # 95 and 10 years later, here we are at # 1!
“There were several processes that needed to be re-engineered, so we committed to our journey to excellence and off we went. We first identified several glaring issues, including having inadequate accountability of our pool vehicles, spending too much on accident repairs and decommissioning vehicles before auctioning. We had no real system to track recalls and many were long overdue,” Hawthorne explains. “Our repairs weren’t being aggressively managed, so repairs were taking too long, and our vendors weren’t being held accountable.”
On top of that, he says the amount of inefficient paperwork was needless. The team assessed all the issues and developed and implemented better processes. The organization continues to monitor and adjust the improvements as necessary.
Streamlining the reporting process was implemented through technology. Hawthorne explains, “Technology and fleet data are a priority for us. Leveraging technology is the only way to effectively manage a fleet. We use a fleet management information system, FASTER, and manage the data to make any fleet-related decision. Decisions without data are simply speculation and you cannot run a fleet on speculation.”
In addition to FASTER, Palm Beach collaborates with its IT Department to develop any application or product to enhance the software’s current functionalities and create in-house platforms to help better manage the fleet. Among these purpose-built systems are asset management tools, automated, paperless fuel card and toll pass request applications.
“We are fully equipped with all the current diagnostic tools and equipment with the latest subscriptions from the manufacturers,” Hawthorne adds. “We subscribe to Ford’s and GM’s fleet training to keep current with all model year specific updates, changes, and nuances. We also assess all our ancillary fleet equipment, A/C machines, battery charging testing stations, etc. on an annual basis to ensure we’re current with the latest technology.”
“Mistakes are going to happen, no question about it, and often times due to a lack of training or resources” Hawthorne says. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office takes every mistake and turns it into an opportunity. “First and foremost, training is paramount and must be kept up to date. We are very fortunate in that our agency funds our professional development unconditionally. All our technicians have unlimited access to ASE certifications and also to the manufacturer’s training both online and brick and mortar. Our administrative staff also has access to MS Office Suite training from beginner up to advanced, and we always encourage refresher training as this is a perishable skill. Year over year, this funding has always been a priority for us and will continue to be.”
Hawthorne believes, NAFA’s CAFM program is a cornerstone for high-performance fleets. “It is the foundation; the playbook of fleet management. I am a huge sports fan -- born and raised in Kansas City -- and use sports analogies a lot in my department. No sports team on the planet has ever won the Super Bowl or Championship without fully understanding the rules, which is exactly what the CAFM is -- the rulebook. Just like a coach, you take the rulebook, develop your plays within the rulebook, and you go win the Super Bowl.” Hawthorne’s fleet’s service manager is currently CAFS, and two additional managers will be enrolling in the CAFM program.
"CAFM and NAFA go hand in hand,” Hawthorne believes. “You will not be successful without engaging and fully leveraging both. CAFM gives you the requisite knowledge and NAFA gives you the requisite network. We have a process in PBSO when assessing a process, it’s called, ‘what does the other guy do.’ We never begin implementation without asking the question and querying colleagues on what we’re experiencing as they may have already cracked the code. We have found this to be a very effective strategy and often find that discussing with colleagues may even help develop an even better hybrid process."
Hawthorne calls education and training the ‘X-Factor’ for achievement. “Fleet is ever-evolving and if you’re not learning the latest technology, you are shorting your organization. Stay on top of education, training, and technology, and stay successful in the fight. We use a monthly Manager’s Report that documents individual and team performance of all the core competencies of fleet management,” Hawthorne says.
As a public fleet, PBSO serves the community and engages with the community outside of its core functions in a variety of ways. “One is through our auction and crash management processes as both processes have saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years as a result of aggressive, honest due diligence that holds everyone accountable,” Hawthorne says.
Hawthorne adds that if you want your fleet team to perform at peak, there are six essential elements:
“Use technology for everything and use it to your advantage.
Invest in your team, from the bottom to the top; ask and ask again for funding for your team education and certification.
Invest in your department and continue to purchase tools and technologies that will make you more efficient.
Measure and monitor performance. What gets measured gets done.
Never stop improving your processes and saving your organization money.
And most, most, most importantly, take care of your team. You can have the best playbook on the planet but without a team of dedicated professionals to execute that playbook there is no Super Bowl. They are the reason for our success, a team of exceptionally talented professionals committed to the cause. There is no question, without them, there is no #1.”
Hawthorne concludes, “As we all know, achieving excellence is not an overnight success...just ask the Kansas City Chiefs,” Hawthorne concludes. “It took them 50 years; took us 10 -- and we’re not done yet. We’ve made incredible progress to get to #1, with commitment, resources, teamwork and support.”
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