Just over a decade ago, family-owned Enterprise Rent-A-Car was an up-and-comer, a billion-dollar company with 1,200 branch locations and less than 10,000 employees. By 2002, it had mushroomed to become the largest car rental company in North America, with $6.5 billion in revenues, 50,000 employees, 5,500 branch locations, and a growing presence overseas.

Three challenges faced Andrew Taylor, chairman and CEO of the St. Louis-based company founded by his father: one, Taylor knew Enterprise was growing far too quickly to rely on “tribal knowledge” to guide the behaviors of its passionately entrepreneurial employee team – subjecting the company to individual interpretation across five countries; two, various warning signs – including a rash of localized lawsuits – made it clear that Enterprise did not have a baseline understanding of its brand strength in the local communities served by its 79 geographic operating groups, making it vulnerable to further threats; and three, Taylor knew these challenges could not be tackled from corporate headquarters alone: they demanded the buy-in and action of his management team.

Taylor knew the best way to engage this key audience was the Enterprise Way: Positive competition and reward for performance. Fleishman-Hillard’s assignment was to help the company launch an award program tied to its founding values and develop a communications campaign to drive the competition. And the firm was given just one month to create the program. One year and hundreds of values-driven best practices later, this award has become a performance-based Holy Grail of achievement for Enterprise and its 50,000 employees.

The objectives were to protect Enterprise’s founding culture and broaden outreach in diversity recruitment; enhance Enterprise’s profile in local communities by creating richer, deeper initiatives tied to the company’s values at the group level; and to engage employees in helping drive the Enterprise corporate social responsibility platform.

The strategy: initiate an internal brand and culture protection program to align performance with the company’s founding values and renewed emphasis on CSR; create an award competition underscoring the business case for protecting the company’s reputation as well as a commitment to the founding family’s values; inspire enthusiastic participation, positive competition and a robust exchange of best practices.

The PR team conducted an audit of GMs, which revealed that virtually every operating group lacked formal programs, plans or goals in such areas as business practices, diversity recruitment, and community outreach. It also ran focus groups, which showed employees did not have a clear understanding of the company’s position on key aspects of corporate social responsibility, such as diversity and community relations. Less than half of all employees surveyed felt Enterprise was actively involved in the community. Less than two-thirds believed that all levels of management worked to communicate consistently.

Departing from conventional thinking that values are best operationalized through training and compliance programs, Taylor believed that Enterprise would gain greater success in engaging his senior leaders by leading a spirited competition with recognition and reward for performance and with one month to execute, a core Fleishman-Hillard/Enterprise team assembled to plan a comprehensive program and its launch. The team met daily to review research, to keep Enterprise leadership briefed and prepared, to develop a strategic plan and to create a full multimedia program.

FH worked closely with Enterprise executive leadership to develop a communications program linking the company’s newly-articulated founding values, its CSR platform, and the judging criteria for a new company award program. This included transforming a rough “balance model” of the CSR platform into a simple and compelling icon – the Enterprise “cultural compass” – whose points each represent a strategic, behavioral area of focus linked to the company’s values. The award, named in honor of Enterprise founder Jack C. Taylor, was visually branded with this cultural compass.

In a presentation that received a standing ovation, CEO Taylor launched the award competition at an annual gathering of the company’s top corporate leaders, including GMs, using a multimedia presentation to establish the award as the bridge between his father’s founding vision and the company’s future growth and success.

Immediately following the kickoff, GMs received materials to help them better understand the award process and to help them enlist their teams in the competition. To sustain momentum, GMs receive a monthly newsletter, Compass Points, that helps them compete more effectively for the award. To heighten the “covet factor,” the awards were presented to GMs by the Taylor family and announced to all employees the following day. The winners and their achievements were prominently featured in the company’s flagship magazine and all other traditional vehicles.

A “100 best practices” booklet was published and distributed to every group with communications encouraging them to share and exchange ideas throughout the year.

A dedicated intranet site launched in October 2004. It is driving an even better exchange of best practices and will allow GMs to submit their applications online in 2005.

The 2004 employee survey – the first to assess the values initiative – showed an impressive 92 percent of employees said they understood the company’s founding values and 84 percent said they believed the values were lived at the branch/department level. Operating groups companywide reached out to 600 community partners to enrich diversity recruitment efforts, and implemented 176 diversity training programs. And the percentage of women in the workforce increased from 35.5 percent to 37 percent and the percentage of minority employees grew from 23.5 percent to 25.5 percent – gains that outstripped the company’s overall employment growth.

Active relationships with local Urban League affiliates increased from seven to 60 – strongly bolstering Enterprise’s corporate partnership with the National Urban League. The company reached out to an additional 1,323 community groups and organizations to either begin or strengthen strategic local relationships. In addition to every group supporting its local United Way chapter, groups provided volunteer time or contributions to an additional 953 charitable organizations across the United States and Canada, as well as overseas.

Internally, work/life balance went from being an almost taboo subject to being actively addressed by every group: 69 groups reported instituting flex scheduling; 54 actively communicated the importance of work/life balance to employees. Also, every operating group instituted a formal business practices program and 72 groups supported them with training, communications, and employee feedback mechanisms.