Marilyn Rawlings was senior budget analyst with the Lee County Administration Office of Management and Budget when she was assigned to prepare the county's fleet-services department for privatization. After her investigation, though, the county decided to retain the office of Lee County Fleet Management.
That was 11 years ago and Rawlings, a schoolteacher and guidance counselor by education, stepped into the fleet-manager role. Since then, she has encouraged and developed and rewarded her employees until they delivered a complete reversal of the fleet-department's fortunes, transforming a $1.5 million annual budget deficit into a neatly balanced budget complete with a fully funded vehicle-replacement program.
"When I started this job, the extent of my knowledge of vehicles was that the big pedal makes it go, and the small pedal makes it stop," Rawlings admits. "I clearly did not possess the technical knowledge to run an equipment shop, so I knew that I needed people who did possess that knowledge on my side."
Lee County is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country and the fleet has more than doubled in size in 10 years. Rawlings has had to find and hire technicians, but she says hiring good people is not the hardest task.
"If I can get somebody to jump ship for 25 cents more per hour, they will leave me just as easily if somebody else offers them 25 cents more than I'm paying," Rawlings explains. "It takes more than money to keep the really good technicians.
"Equipment managers think they have to pay the most and give the best benefits to get and keep the best people," she adds. "Nobody has a better reputation for that than the government. But I'm here to tell you, people won't lay everything they've got on the line just for a paycheck."
Rawlings has motivated technicians to help improve fleet processes and meet county goals by, as she says, "making people feel like they're part of a team that's accomplishing big things.
"I want to equip my people with the best skills that they can get," Rawlings says.
For example, the shop needed one more technician certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) to earn the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence. Only two technicians weren't yet certified. Rawlings asked them why they hadn't tried to get the certification, and each told her that he is "not very good at taking tests."
Rawlings encouraged both of the techs to take a chance for the good of the Fleet Management team in a simple way. She went to them individually and said, "do you want to be the fleet hero?
"I explained that we have this goal to be an ASE Blue Seal shop and we need just one more technician to get ASE certified in order to make it," Rawlings says. "I told them, 'when we make it, we're going to have a big barbecue here at the shop and get a big cake made. On the top, in the frosting, it's going to say 'thank you' and then it's going to have the name of the guy whose certification made us eligible for the Blue Seal.'"
Both of the test-averse techs took the test and were certified by ASE. The shop earned ASE's Blue Seal, and two of Rawlings' people achieved something that they thought was out of reach.
Rawlings encourages her employees to develop a personal-growth plan. She provides a form that describes what the plan should include. A major part of the plan is setting goals.
"I tell them to bring me one goal that is so far out that they're not sure they can do it," Rawlings says. She works hard to help people attain those goals. "I want people to see that they can accomplish things that they don't think they can do."
Of course there's selfish motivation — she wants people to shake off preconceptions and do extraordinary work. It was probably wise to tie a financial incentive to her first big challenge.
Based on fleet expenses during the privatization evaluation, she figured out how many billable hours the shop would have to work to balance the budget. They were falling considerably short.
"I told them how many hours they needed to work and told them they had to get there, but that didn't help much," Rawlings remembers. "Then we instituted a bonus program for each work team if all the people on the team met their hours deadline.
"People started to come up with ideas to bring their hours up . . . started working as a team."
Eventually the department met its goal. Rawlings had already begun inventing additional ways to reward employees for doing a great job.
She created an Employee of the Month program that rewards the recipient with a $100 bonus and recognition throughout the organization.
"A person has to have taken no vacation or sick time during the month, had no reworks, and 100-percent customer satisfaction," Rawlings says. "I make the final decision, but the person's co-workers or supervisor have to nominate them."
The person that submits the nomination is recognized, and the nomination form is circulated.
There is also what's called the "ABCD Award" (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Award), which is a simple way to acknowledge people's extra efforts. Once again, it's an