2007 – Workers find their voice on the internet
Andy Taylor, the chief executive and chairman of Enterprise
Rent-A-Car was in London last week. I had written about
the company a number of times in the past and was keen to
Enterprise uses an interesting customer-feedback measure
and links the results to staff promotions. It ensures that
employees are focused on keeping customers happy.
The service ethic has helped to build Enterprise in to
North America’s largest car rental company with more
than $9bn in revenues in the past year and 64,000 employees.
Its home-grown management formula and staff training regime
has been lauded in textbooks, including a new book, Exceeding
Customer Expectations by Kirk Kazanjian*.
But not every member of staff has been happy working for
Enterprise. A while back I came across a US-based web site
This is a site that enables employees to rate their companies,
awarding them plus or minus points depending on how much
they love or loath their jobs.
Some 242 reviews the last time I looked - the list grows
longer every week – tell a very different story about
the company. It is very much a minority viewpoint but it
is one that should be read alongside that in the textbooks.
The feedback puts the business in fifth place on the “I
hate my job” list”. Many of the comments are
detailed criticisms that make some damming claims about
sales policies. It’s clear that some of these former
employees do indeed care about their customers to the extent
that they are questioning specific tactics designed to increase
“Any criticism at all of the company we absolutely
want to hear,” says Mr Taylor. “The customer
or employee we are most disappointed with is the one who
leaves and doesn’t talk to us. We want to learn from
every case where we fell short,” he says.
The good news for Enterprise is that this list is packed
with enough “learning opportunities” to keep
its managers busy for weeks.
I'm confident that Enterprise is the kind of company that
can deal with criticism positively. But that doesn't mean
it is going to change its style. This is a family-owned
company, reared on homespun mid-western values. If you work
hard, have the right attitude and learn the business you
will go far at Enterprise on a traditional promotion ladder.
But this is car rental. It's not the film industry. It's
not glamour work. You start at the bottom and that means
washing cars from time to time. “I still wash cars,
haven't got a problem with that,” says Mr Taylor.
But it seems that some of the graduates who have entered
the business may not feel the same way.
I'm not saying that the website grousing about Enterprise
is unfair. But I am saying that too many young people are
focusing so much on their education - encouraged by parents,
like myself, who want the best for them - that they forget
that hard work is still necessary in this world. A good
education should not make us believe we are exempt from
Later the same day I heard H. Lee Scott, chief executive
and president of Wal-Mart Stores speaking in Whitehall at
an event organised for the Prince of Wales's Business and
the Environment Programme.
Mr Scott speaks with all the fervour of a convert. I can't
recall the number of times he used the word “sustainability”,
going so far as to hope that “we will make sustainability....sustainable”.
Now the message is going out to all the employees, called
“associates” at Wal-Mart.
But his sermon had failed to trickle down to the chauffeurs
of various company bosses in the audience whose gas-guzzling
company cars I saw outside, ticking over steadily to ensure
that everything was warm for their passengers when it was
time to leave. Mind you, a chauffeur-driven Mercedes is
easily sustainable on a top company boardroom salary.
Wal-Mart is in eighth place on the JobVent "I hate
my job" list but that is based on only 82 reviews.
“Not many given that we have 1.8m employees,”
said the Wal-Mart executive sitting next to me when I told
her about the site.
She has a point; 82 out of 1.8m is a drop in the ocean
but companies cannot afford to be sniffy about these web
sites. They are growing in popularity and they offer the
same kind of independence and collective voice that led
to the growth of trade unions.
I was surprised that neither Mr Taylor nor the Wal-Mart
executive knew about the JobVent lists. Yes, such sites
will be visited by malcontents, but many of the comments
go far beyond simple bad-mouthing. There are reasoned, detailed
appraisals in there that should be treated like gold dust
by managements who profess to care about their employees’
Earlier in the week I had met Jonathan Austin, managing
director of Best Companies, who wants the star ratings that
he introduced a few months back to become as sought-after
among employers as the Michelin stars that are awarded to
The Best Companies star system is based on measures of
employee engagement. This is a little different from JobVent
since it only rates businesses that have sought its ratings.
But it is independent nevertheless. Mr Austin noted the
growing importance of external employee-based rankings in
helping potential candidates make informed choices about
The Best Companies staff survey has a few telling questions
that can reveal a lot about an employer. One of these is
the proposition that senior managers “do a lot of
talking but not much listening”. Employees often agree
with that one, it says.
Another revealing area of questioning is the extent to
which companies are willing to give something back to the
communities they serve. The point here, says Best Companies,
is to ensure that employees are involved in such work.
Both Enterprise and Wal-Mart have good records in this
respect. Wal-Mart was galvanised in to helping communities
devastated by Hurricane Katrina. “Hurricane Katrina
changed Wal-Mart for ever, and it changed us for the better,”
said Mr Scott. Enterprise has created a foundation to which
it sets aside 1.25 per cent of annual pre-tax profits for
charitable work, including reforestation programmes.
This kind of giving, however, does not cut much ice among
employees who feel they are poorly rewarded and complaints
about pay tend to feature highly on the JobVent site.
At the top of its “hate list” is United Stationers,
North America’s largest wholesale distributor of business
products. The company has collected twice as many “minus
marks” as the next on the list. Yet here is another
company with strong financial performance in defiance of
the comments posted by disgruntled employees.
JobVent, however, is not just about airing complaints.
It has an “I love my job” list too, headed by
Meditech, a health care systems company. Like Enterprise,
it too promotes from within, but its reviews are mostly
It stands to reason that people will visit such sites
so that, if they feel moved to apply, at the job interview
they can address some informed questions to the recruiting
company. We can all see the dirty washing now. This means
that companies must get used to the idea that the selection
interview is no longer the desperate candidate facing the
grand inquisitor. The tables are turning.
* Exceeding Customer Expectations, by Kirk Kazanjian,
is published by Currency Doubleday.
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