By Mark Boada, Executive Editor
Rocky Buoy shies away from taking personal credit. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that San Luis Obispo County, California’s 1,080-unit fleet — the one he’s been managing for the last 11 years — tied for first place in this year’s 100 Best Fleets award program.
“I champion for my customers and my employees, but don’t say I am a champion, please don’t use that word,” he instructed me in a one-hour telephone interview. But what he is comfortable saying is that he believes that his team-oriented leadership style has made a difference.
And what a difference his 100 Best Fleets application reveals, in just about every aspect of fleet performance and practices. Here are some key highlights:
- 99 percent customer satisfaction.
- 9 percent vehicle availability, and 0.11 percent vehicle downtime (net of accident repairs).
- 96 percent of all repairs completed in less than 24 hours.
- 87 percent compliance with scheduled preventive maintenance.
- Repair costs 35 percent below local retail market, and fuel costs 18 percent lower.
- 84 electrified vehicles (BEVs and hybrids), reducing fuel usage by 31,000 gallons, fuel spend by 37 percent and C02 emissions by 17 percent.
- 20 percent increase in vehicle remarketing revenue by moving from local brick and mortar auctions to national online platforms.
- $300,000 in cumulative grants and rebates to acquire electrified vehicles and install some 30 recharging stations in three locations.
- Extensive use of digital technology for work order processing at every technician’s work station, diagnostic tools, vehicle GPS, shared drives, Wi-Fi, and video calls for parts ordering from a national supplier.
If you ask Buoy how his fleet racked up such impressive results, he points first not to himself but his department of 12 employees (he makes it 13).
“We all understand that we are an internal service provider, and that our job is to help the other departments accomplish their goals. We have a very committed workforce that knows what our objectives are, believe in our cause and will all do whatever they can to make it happen,” he said.
Team leadership approach
But it wasn’t necessarily always that way. Several years after he was appointed, Buoy wasn’t happy with the number of unscheduled repairs his shop mechanics were doing. “I don’t remember the exact numbers, but the industry benchmark is four scheduled PMs to every unscheduled repair, and I didn’t like our numbers.” Along with that, the fleet’s vehicle availability and the number of repair call-backs were under par.
So, he launched a multi-year campaign to improve PM inspections and emphasize getting repairs done right the first time. First step was to share performance metrics with his entire department, then set goals and, finally, measure performance while looking for repeat problems that required additional attention. But instead of focusing on mistakes that individuals were making, he only shared performance metrics at the team level in their monthly meetings.
“What I really wanted to do was to show these guys what a great culture is like. You start by raising the bar of expectations and then let your troops manage themselves to reach it. You don’t need to call them out individually. They each know if their performance is letting the team down and they don’t want to do that. So, they raise their performance, and it keeps snowballing until you end up with a work environment where everybody’s got each other’s back.
“It takes years to get there, but over time they reached the point where they all work great together and they’re all for the common cause.”
His Navy training
Buoy attributes his management style to the lessons he learned in the Navy. He served 20 years in its construction battalions, referred to as “SeaBees,” and rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer, the equivalent of a sergeant in the other services. With each promotion, he received additional technical and leadership training, which focuses on team performance and teaches what motivates people to perform at a high level.
“When you’re in the military, you want your fire team to be the best in the squad, and if you’re the squad leader you want your squad to be the best squad in the platoon so you have the opportunity to become a platoon commander. And the way to do that is to take care of your troops. As fleet manager, my job is to take care of my troops. I have a lot of bosses above and below me, but my primary job is to take care if my troops.”
Instead of singling out underperformers, Buoy believes the proper role of leaders is to train and coach the people they oversee. “If a guy isn’t measuring up, a true leader isn’t going to take him aside and slap him on the side of the head or single him out. The guy already knows, and you simply want him to get on board with the rest of the group. So, what you need to do is to inspire, coach and develop him into being their best.”
Facilitating self-esteem and belonging
Underlying that management style is a belief Buoy shares that everybody wants to succeed at what they do.
“No one takes a job and says to himself, ‘I want to fail.’ No, he wants to succeed and wants to do a better job. So, if someone in my department is underperforming, it’s my fault or the supervisor’s fault, we’re not doing something right. Either we’re not letting him know that his mistakes are expensive, or he doesn’t have the right training or we’re not recognizing that something else is wrong. But he wants to do a better job. Never forget that your guys want to do their job.”
Now that his department has achieved excellent grades, Buoy believes its performance is sustainable. “Our mindset now is one of continuous process improvement. We seek ideas for improvement from everybody, have implemented a lot of them, and we celebrate our successes. As a result, people here enjoy coming to work. So, yes, I think we can continue what we’ve accomplished.”
For Buoy, you motivate the people you manage by providing what they need. “I don’t mean by that their food and shelter – that’s obvious. But what I mean is self-esteem, belonging, a sense of accomplishment. And if you can be the provider for these human needs, wants and desires, then you will have a group of people who are 100 percent devoted to the cause.”