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Rentalcars: building an Employee Value Proposition that's anything but ordinary.

In today’s competitive market, Employee Value Proposition (EVP) is one of the most talked about topics amongst HR professionals. Rullion’s quest to find out how to build an employer brand the right way, led us to the front door of a company with arguably one of the best EVPs in the North West; Rentalcars.

Anything but ordinary

As soon as you step into Rentalcars.com’s Manchester-based headquarters, it’s impossible not to smile in appreciation of the colourful, creative and inspiring space they call their office. A beach themed canteen, complete with a Mustang-shaped pool table, wall-height TV screen and swings overlooking a bird’s eye view of Piccadilly Gardens are part of everyday life for its employees. Their building, spread across a number of floors, each with a differing theme including “cars in movies” and “cities”, offers Rentalcars’ workforce the opportunity to hold their meetings within the Back to the Future room, the Vegas meeting room or even the Knight Rider room. And who needs white boards and flip charts when, at Rentalcars, you can write straight onto the purpose-made walls?

Rentalscars EVP

But this exciting and somewhat relaxed environment is a far cry from where the organisation was as little as two years ago. Rullion spoke with Head of Talent Acquisition, Lyndsey Henderson, to understand how their EVP has gone from ordinary to “anything but ordinary”, reinventing itself as one of the most attractive brands in the market.

In the beginning...

Rentalcars has experienced significant growth throughout the past few years. When Lyndsey joined four years ago to set up an internal recruitment function, there were 630 employees, a figure which has now almost doubled and sits today at 1200.

“It was great to be able to build up the business so quickly”, told Lyndsey “we filled a large number of technical roles within the first six months and we got to the point where we were virtually sitting on each other’s laps, so we moved buildings.”

Despite the rapid growth there was still a long way to go and for around eighteen months, Lyndsey describes “...bringing people into our offices and we didn’t have a [branded] sign, we had the oldest chairs in the world and no mugs. Candidates would come in for an interview and ask for a glass of water like it was the easiest thing in the world and I’d be running around trying to find someone who had a glass. We had to make a point of telling candidates that the business was successful and we were investing heavily in it.”

Having worked for big brands like Kelloggs, BP, and Unilever, Lyndsey admits taking for granted how much easier it is to work with an established brand; “the marketing agency we worked with [to raise Rentalcar’s profile] was amazed to hear that we didn’t even have a set of brand guidelines in place.”

But, instead of being overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous task ahead, Lyndsey and her Rentalcars colleagues saw this as a unique opportunity to start things up from scratch. “It’s a chance you don’t often get”, she added.

And in the end...

With the rapid expansion of the business, came the inevitable creation of more roles and an increasing need for Rentalcars.com to ensure that its EVP was as attractive as possible for candidates. With the Rentalcars brand being little known in the marketplace, it was crucial that Lyndsey and her team worked to make their organisation an employer of choice.

“In terms of benefits at that time, we didn’t have much. Our salaries were competitive, but in line with the market, and not many people had heard of us, so we needed to think about what was going to make people come here,” she explained. “We’re competing against tech companies who have cool offices, so we needed cool offices to be in the game.”

Today, the offices, and the organisation as a whole, look and feel quite different and most definitely boast a competitive edge. Whilst many companies in the tech space invest in their office environment, Rentalcars also chose to invest just as heavily in their customer service centre. Within this uniquely designed office space, Rentalcars have, amongst other things, a Hacienda themed canteen with fully working juke box, a full-sized swan shaped pedalo in which colleagues can hold meetings and a room designed around the city’s two famous football clubs.

Choosing to edge even further away from a corporate feel, the business has adopted a casual dress code and numerous break-out areas. Lyndsey told us, “We’re relaxed with staff. If they want to play pool, they can play pool. The Euros football matches were all shown and if people want to watch them, they can, so long as there is appropriate cover.” She further explained that there is a feeling that everyone is “in it together”, so nobody wants to be the person who takes the break-out time too far and lets the side down.

And it doesn’t end there. Lyndsey described some of the other benefits of belonging to the Rentalcars brand; “About six months ago, we introduced ‘free drink Fridays’ at Fountain street. Once a month on a Friday afternoon, we finish work a bit early and we use the space in the [beach-themed] canteen to play music, play board games and to have a few drinks – it’s full every time with a couple of hundred people.”

Rentalcars has further added to their EVP through creating a large number of social groups with their employees. Lyndsey told us, “we’ve got people from all over the world who are away from friends and family so we want to help create a network for them – we have everything from a climbing club, to a photography club and mountain biking club”.

The proof’s in the pudding

Whilst some organisations may shy away from this more relaxed approach within the workplace, for Rentalcars it has undoubtedly become an important part of their culture and ultimately, their success.

The proof was in the pudding, so to speak, when the results of a recent employee engagement survey, revealed particularly high scores against the statements ‘I have a good friend at work’ and ‘my team has fun at work’

Lyndsey also added that quite differently from other places she’s worked, teams have lunch together every day. “That’s really nice. I’ve never had that before, where we choose to get together daily for an informal catch up.”

“And our retention is really good at the moment”. A high retention rate, a content and engaged workforce and a business which continues to grow at a substantial rate; what business would not want to be in this position?

Secrets to success

But just how have Rentalcars made such a dramatic transformation to their employer brand and EVP in such a relatively short space of time?

Lyndsey told us that a crucial element of their transition was the defining of the company values, a project that began once Ryan Cheyne joined as People Director from Pets at Home. The phrase “Anything but ordinary” was becoming commonplace throughout the business, and with this in mind, it was agreed that a traditional method, such as an employee survey or collaboration with an external agency just wasn’t going to do.

Without any formal or pre-existing values in place, it was decided that the engagement of all employees was required and a week-long ‘festival’ was arranged. It was hoped that the festival would encourage involvement and would allow everyone to actively voice their thoughts on what the values should be.

Employees dressed in festival attire and daily live music echoed around Rentalcar’s offices, including a string quartet, guitarists and singers. The offices were decorated and people brought in tents. “It’s not every day you get the Directors sat in a tent next to your desk with wellies on”, laughed Lyndsey.

Rentalcars

Activities featured throughout the week-long festival; staff could nominate colleagues for values they had displayed and there was a fancy dress video booth where colleagues were encouraged to speak about why they liked working for the company.

From the thousands of pieces of feedback collated from across the week, the company values were borne. And the best part for Lyndsey? Rentalcars can proudly state that their company values have been defined by their people.

“They’re authentic. We see people taking them on and building them into projects and assessments themselves. I don’t think you’d get that level of engagement if we say ‘here you go; these are the values we’ve developed with an external company.’”

Authenticity and credibility are the key components to developing an employer brand, according to Lyndsey. “Our values include ‘we love having fun’ ‘we love doing things together’ and ‘we love being different’. They’re simple but real and relevant to our organisation. Ultimately we want our employees to be Rentalcars.com people.”

And just as important as developing authentic values, is continuing with that authenticity. “If people find it’s not as you sell it, it gives a false impression and they leave which then gives you a bad reputation in the marketplace”, says Lyndsey. Interviewees who have visited the Rentalcars office during a ‘free drink Friday’ have witnessed the culture in practice for themselves.

Another of Lyndsey’s keys to success is constantly evolving with what it means to be a good employer. “I spend a lot of time online looking at what other companies are doing, reading other people’s articles, reading best practice, looking at books etc., because you can get left behind very easily if you’re not keeping on top of industry trends.” She adds that it can be “very tiring and can mean putting in more hours when you’re trying to get something off the ground, but it pays off in the long run. Our people are happier and our retention’s improved.”

“We’re at the point where people are happy and therefore doing the recruitment for us – we’ve got staff bringing in friends, former colleagues – people must really like it if they’re referring us.”

Rentalcars are also being speculatively approached by individuals on LinkedIn in response to posts. “They say I really like what I’ve seen about your company culture, do you have any opportunities?”

Lyndsey has also pushed for tech meet-ups and actively encourages those in technology positions with the company to speak at them or host them. “We do this regularly to engage with the tech community”, she states. Whilst tech meet-ups may not be relevant to every business, hosting industry appropriate events brings people in to see your premises, raising brand awareness, and can also offer learning opportunities for your staff under your own roof. “We’ve started sharing some of our events on social media, and especially with graduates – they think it’s really cool!”

Finally, Lyndsey advises “if you want it to happen, you have to get your hands dirty.” With both the events and the ‘free drinks Fridays’ there is no designated person to put out the drinks or clear up the pizza boxes. “That’s my penance for suggesting it”, she laughs, “it does take a bit of effort but it’s all very low cost to the business.” And it seems to have paid dividends; “My team say now that it’s much easier to get people to accept an offer than it ever was before”.

For the future

When asked what’s next for Rentalcars.com, Lyndsey did not hesitate to respond, “We don’t take anything for granted – we started without anything and have this fantastic opportunity to build the organisation that we want”.

So, the message is loud and clear that Rentalcars will not be slowing down their efforts any time soon “we’re constantly asking ‘how can we make this better? And there is a real will to keep doing it’” says Lyndsey.

She concludes, “It’s the culture that’s our differentiator and we’re very very aware that we need to keep hold of the people we have – they’re hard to get hold of. I’m not saying we’re perfect at all, but we’re throwing everything we’ve got at pushing the culture forwards and making it a great place to work”.