Employee Engagement Success – How United Rentals Beat the Odds

Craig A. Pintoff
Craig A. Pintoff,
Senior Vice President – Human Resources,
United Rentals

There’s no question that employee engagement is one of the toughest challenges facing U.S. companies today. As seen in the 2013 “State of the American Workplace Report” by Gallup, the statistics are pretty dismal – 70 percent of U.S. workers just don’t like their job. Similar data was uncovered by Root in its 2013 workplace study, which found that more than 54 percent of employees feel frustrated about work and 40 percent say they don’t get the company vision or have never seen it. That’s a lot of unsatisfied, or just plain disconnected, people. But, just because so many organizations are getting it wrong doesn’t mean some aren’t doing it well.

This month we were fortunate enough to sit down with a company that is doing things very right – United Rentals. Their recent survey results reveal that United Rentals is scoring well ahead of North American and high-performance benchmarks in most categories, including engagement, safety, well-being, and compensation.

Here’s what Craig Pintoff, senior vice president of human resources at United Rentals, had to say about his company’s employee engagement success:

Our company recently completed its most significant change. In April 2012, we merged with our biggest competitor to create the world’s largest equipment rental provider, with more than 800 rental locations in 49 states and 10 Canadian provinces. Because this was such a massive undertaking, essentially all of 2012 was dedicated to the integration of the two businesses. Our leaders were on the road non-stop to ensure the new organization would be the best of the best – choosing the best locations, developing the best processes, tapping the best people, and utilizing the best technologies to create a new and improved United Rentals.

As we became one unified corporation, we knew we needed to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to our people, business, and customers. And we wanted to do something different when it came to educating everyone on the company’s new vision. So, we partnered with Root to create the “Building Futures” Strategic Learning Map® module. The goal of the module was to initially give all of our managers the information they needed – details on the what, why, and how of the company strategy – along with the tools to properly communicate the mission of the new United Rentals to their teams.

We unveiled the module at our Annual Management Meeting in January 2013, which marked the first time that all 1,000 United Rentals managers were in the same room since the merger. We handed out the Strategic Learning Map® materials to each attendee, and spent two hours of the two-day meeting reviewing and discussing these tools; it was probably the most impactful two hours we spent together. We then asked managers to conduct in-person Learning Map® trainings with their team members within 30 days. By early February 2013, our nearly 12,000-person workforce had gone through the training – ensuring that we kicked off the New Year as a cohesive unit.

And it worked. Our employees got on board. They supported the new company and also shared a lot of positive feedback about the Strategic Learning Map® module; people felt this type of learning was more engaging, more interactive, and more impactful than a traditional PowerPoint presentation. Simply put, the Learning Map® experience resonated with our workforce and was critical in educating all employees on the vision of the company as we moved into a new chapter.

Post-Merger Success

We regularly conduct an employee engagement survey, and in October (2013) we worked with Towers Watson to do the latest iteration. While I was aware of certain positive indicators, such as the fact that we were experiencing our lowest turnover in company history and enjoying a rising stock price, I was shocked when the results revealed that our employee engagement numbers were higher than ever. In fact, we ranked higher than the North American benchmarks in every category – and higher than the highest performance benchmarks (which require exceptional scores in both engagement and financials) in every category but one. In any scenario, but especially following a massive merger, these results are pretty phenomenal.

While it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly why employee engagement levels have grown so much, I believe our leadership team deserves a lot of credit. They have built a company culture that values our people and continuously offers opportunities for discussion, feedback, and interaction – whether it be through regular town hall meetings, online forums and affinity groups, or out-of-the box trainings like our “Building Futures” Strategic Learning Map® visual.

So, we decided to do it again. In January 2014, we worked with Root to create four workshops for our Annual Management Meeting – which included videos, two Strategic Learning Map® modules, and a customized United Rentals game. Following the success at the meeting, we are currently rolling out two of the workshops to all employees. These are just some of the ways we’re working to sustain the positive culture, to help employees remain connected to the company, and to foster strong relationships between managers and their people. So far the results speak for themselves!

Tips for Employee Engagement Success

  1. Establish Two-Way Communication. It’s important to initiate conversations and ask your people questions; invite them to be part of the solution. When you create relationships with your team and discuss how their contributions matter, they become engaged.
  2. Everyone Must Feel Valued. All employees need to know how they uniquely contribute to the organization’s success. If an employee understands how he or she fits in, you will see a tangible impact on engagement. If employees feel lost in a bureaucracy and don’t see how their work contributes to the business, people won’t be engaged. It’s that simple.
  3. Make Sure They are Receptive. Communicate information in a way that resonates. If your people like to literally voice their opinions, hold town hall meetings with plenty of Q&A time. If they work remotely, create online communities so it’s easy for them to get information and share feedback. The trick is to figure out how people want to receive and give information.
  4. Be Committed to Transparency. Be honest with your people. If you survey your organization’s engagement levels, share the results – good and bad. Make sure there are forums for employees to raise issues.
  5. Support Their Interests. By getting involved with charities that are valued by your people, from local initiatives to global causes, you will build a company they are proud to work for.

About the author

Craig Pintoff was promoted to senior vice president, human resources in April 2011. He joined United Rentals in 2003 as director-legal affairs, with responsibility for leading the human resources division of the company’s legal department. He was named to position of vice president-human resources in 2005. Prior to joining the company, Mr. Pintoff was chief benefits and employment counsel for Crompton Corporation in Connecticut. Previously, he was an attorney for White & Case LLP in Manhattan, specializing in executive compensation, employee benefits, employment law, and mergers and acquisitions.