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Marshall is on the The Motley Fool’s IT team, which helps Fools out with their hardware and software needs.
By Marshall Mabie
Fools love to compete. And we love to learn.
A lot of us are big sports fans – I am born and raised in the DC Metro area, so I have a certain amount of passion for the local sports teams. When perusing the Washington Post recently, I came across this article by Barry Svrluga, describing the duties and mindset of the Washington Nationals’ support team. It really hit home.
Now, we don’t support million-dollar athletes, but we do support the best financial analysts in the business. And the best Customer Services team. And the best events and facilities staff. We don’t have any Prima Donnas, which is also nice. But our expectations of our service level is very similar to that of the Nat’s support crew – we always want to put our Fools in the best place for them to perform to their expectations.
Competition and learning seem like they are probably pretty helpful in the professional sports arena. We use these principles too, though maybe in a slightly different way.
Competitive is a core value of the Fool, and we constantly challenge ourselves to take care of our Fools better. Much like players asking each other about how they are treated by their respective organizations, we want to make sure that if anyone asks a Fool how their staff is, they can reply that their needs are over-met. It helps us keep Fools, but also helps us attract new ones.
And you can’t be competitive if you don’t learn about not just others, but yourself. Internal surveys, feedback meetings, and honest self-assessment is as important to us as comparing the latest software suite versions.
When it comes down to it, the details really aren’t that important – it’s about attitude. Our job is preparing a highly-skilled performer to do the best they can do. We don’t move luggage, but we do fine-tune our Fools so that they can take care of our customers with the same care.
Over the past few years, the drive to improve Fools’ overall health has become a top priority. In fact, I’d argue that “Health” could rightfully be added to our list of core values. The benefits behind employees’ positive mental and physical well-being are endless, not just in the office but outside, too. We’ve been fortunate enough to employ a full-time “Wellness Fool” since 2010. These folks have inspired even the unhealthiest of our employees to make smarter, better choices, with several success stories to prove their impact.
One of our most-popular fitness-related benefits is our annual health fair…and it’s quickly approaching again. Health fairs have been described as effective ways “to provide valuable health information and screening services to large numbers of employees in a convenient ‘one-stop shop’ format.” This year, Wellness Fool Sam Whiteside hopes to take our wellness fair to a new level, incorporating not only flu shots and biometrics, but also massage therapy; athletic shoe fittings and running analyses; discounted gym memberships; healthy food samples; acupuncture; fitness demonstrations; and a blood donation van.
Though everything at our wellness fair will be optional, participation is always highly encouraged. It was reported in 2013 that only 43% of American organizations hold health fairs and 50% offer screenings. These statistics should be much higher, but it’s never too late to invest in your employees’ health. Whether you want a downsized wellness fair or a huge function, aim to begin the planning process at least four months in advance. These events usually happen during the fall when flu season begins to creep into the picture. Take the first step by talking to your Human Resources manager, and your organization’s health insurance providers, to locate vendor options. And if you choose to offer them, it’s necessary to reach out to the appropriate professionals while flu shots are still available. At a glance, 61% of companies in the US offer on-site flu shots.
Employer-sponsored health days can be life-changing. Just last year, Amy Robach of ABC News agreed to have the first ever live television mammogram for Good Morning America. Robach had delayed her annual mammogram for more than a year and, a week after the live event, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even her doctors admitted that the mammogram had saved her life.
If your company doesn’t put employee health on a pedestal, maybe they should. It’s definitely worth the research. A healthy employee is a happier one, and who knows – an event like a health fair could possibly even change a life.
Whether it’s checking off a grocery list or paying the bills, everyone knows the definition of “errand” all too well. Here at the Fool, we’re familiar with a different kind of chore called “Fool’s Errand,” and it’s definitely not your typical mundane task.
The Fool’s Errand is a special prize — two weeks off and $1,000. So what are the rules? The chosen Fool must leave immediately and have no contact with the office, with the money only available if these guidelines are followed. The generous gift of $1,000 can be used for anything — plane tickets, hotel rooms, skydiving lessons…you name it! Past winners have visited Northern California wineries; Captiva Island, Florida; snowy Vermont; and even the Dominican Republic. Some Fools have simply enjoyed a staycation, but no matter where they go, winners are always encouraged to spend a few hours on our company’s purpose — to help the world invest better. Winners have rebalanced their 401k, managed an educational savings account, or chatted with a parent about retirement preparation.
At the end of each monthly company-wide meeting, approximately ten Fools are chosen at random and entered to win. To be eligible, the Fool must be employed here for at least one year. Names are entered as many times as the number of years each person has worked here, so if a Fool has been around for fifteen years there’s obviously a better chance for a win.
I can assure you that this process isn’t fixed. Names are drawn through a computer generated system, and the live announcement is always entertaining. I once saw the names laid face-down on a table, and a slightly-wonky remote control helicopter chose the winner upon landing. Another time, a Fool member visited with her dogs, and each contender was given a dog treat. Whomever the Labrador ran to first was deemed the winner.
Obviously, the Fool’s Errand fulfills our core value of Fun, but it also fulfills two business purposes. First, even with an unlimited vacation policy, some Fools find it hard to fully disconnect from the office. We want to encourage our employees to take the occasional break. Second, it’s important for any company to be prepared for an employee’s sudden, unexpected absence (illnesses and family emergencies happen). By knowing that we can cover for a Fool who needs to take time off with short notice, we know there are no gaps in our workflow.
If your company would like to try a similar program, you can start small. Maybe offer a random employee a day off as a reward for great work. Show your employees that time off is important — and they’ll return with fresh ideas and greater motivation.
Take a moment to consider an all-too-typical customer service experience. Perhaps you’ve been kept on hold with an automated recording, waiting for a representative that’s headquartered in a large – and very busy – call center. What’s worse is discovering that this electronic guide is actually your only contact, and no live human is even available. Whether it’s a cable company, credit card service, or your phone provider, I feel confident that you’ve been on the losing end of a frustrating customer service experience.
The Fool aims to make its customer service experience far, far better than what people have (sadly) gotten used to. Our hard-working Member Services team is comprised of approximately ten in-house employees, as well as a few contractors who work remotely via email. We are not recordings, but instead real, live voices that are willing and able to assist with any issue that’s presented. Our phones receive anywhere from 100 to 500 calls per day! We take pride in our ability to connect with Fool members on a personal level, while still handling the matters at hand both quickly and efficiently.
Available to help from 9AM-5PM ET Monday through Friday, our group isn’t always able to ride around the office on scooters, attend in-house speaker series, or join a local afternoon brewery tour. While our daily schedules are somewhat constricted, this department strives to enjoy its own Foolish culture. We take the company’s core value “Motley” and make it our own. During our busiest periods, we collaborate to implement strategies that keep our momentum high and stress levels low. We’ve organized pot luck lunches, as well as morning treats for the team – be it a box of donuts, the freshest loaf of pumpkin bread, or Starbucks coffee for all. Our wireless headphones allow for mobility to make one more plate of food or, on a more serious note, take a brief walk for stretching. And speaking of walks, the nearby game room is a nice distraction, as well as a place to spark healthy competition between coworkers on quieter days.
If you’re a Fool in need of some assistance, don’t hesitate to drop us a line at email@example.com! We’re happy to help make your Foolish experience the best it can be.
The Fool is a fun place to work. We believe that life and work cannot be separated, and rather than balancing, we try to integrate them. We want all Fools to think about how they can add fun to their day and how they can love their work. Everyone is encouraged to take time out of their day to socialize, play, exercise, create, or relax.
It’s important to create friendships within the company. Understanding, and maybe even liking, each other is going to make us a better, more productive, and happier company. We ask about friends in our employee engagement survey twice a year.
The number one way that we encourage fun is to ensure that each Fool is actually in a job they love. It’s fun to take a break but we also want people to love what they do. If you ever talk to our Chief Investing Officer, Andy Cross, you will know that he loves investing and it’s fun for him every single day. The same is true of many Fools. Laura, a member of our business intelligence team, loves data – LOVES IT! I’m serious! Just ask her a question about Excel and her excitement could launch the space shuttle.
It thrills us when someone will describe themselves as an investing nerd or a tech geek or marketing dweeb – all a little self-effacing, sure, but it shows that they have a lot of themselves wrapped up in their jobs and have maybe more fun with it than socially acceptable.
Fun also has a very direct business purpose. It decreases burnout, increases collaboration, and improves employee retention – WIN!
1) Do we hire for this value?
Yes. We try through both our application process and in the interview to learn more about you and see your personality. This one is easily misinterpreted by many candidates (please don’t tell me a beer pong story). We do want to know what makes your eyes light up inside and outside of work. I don’t judge what you do for fun – I just want to see that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
2) Will we fire for this value?
This is the value where I get the most questions on our monthly culture tour. I explain at the beginning of the tour that values are ONLY really values if you will hire and fire for them. Everyone nods as we discuss Collaborative, Innovative, Honest and Competitive. Then we get to FUN! It’s easy for our visitors to see that this is a fun atmosphere and to understand why fun could be a desirable value, but I almost always get a sideways glance and either concerned whisper or snarky comment here – “You fire for fun?” It seems unbelievable in a business context – sure you value honesty like that, but fun? Really?
Yes, really. You don’t need to be the person leading the conga line (that’s my job) – but if you are cancerous to the culture and are making your coworkers miserable, our paths will soon diverge.
3) Can you see and feel this value walking through the office?
Yes, fun is probably the easiest value to see as you walk through the office. We have our game room, massage room, and nap room, but it really lives everywhere. From my desk right now I can see 1) large inflatable pool toys (swan, orca, shark, walrus, turtle) 2) a Nerf gun battle 3) several art pieces created by Fools at a happy hour 4) Five board games 5) wizard’s chess, wands and broomsticks (Firebolt and Nimbus) 6) a dozen jester hats.
The other part is just the feeling. As I’m writing the post I hear laughter coming from the tech team sitting next to me – and yes, they are talking about code. Behind me Lee is laughing about an upcoming event that he’s planning. It’s hard to sit here for more than five minutes without hearing fun. I think fun is reason that we are consistently voted one of Washington DC’s best places to work.
4) Is the value referenced frequently? When was the last time?
It’s certainly referenced through the constant laughter and passion of Fools every day, but the purpose of this question is more systemic. How do we ensure that Fun is constant? One of my favorite Culture Club rules is “If you have to make it mandatory, you have failed to make it compelling.” It’s also frequently used as a tie breaker. When there is a decision to make about anything from strategy to time management the kicker question is frequently “Which one is more fun for you? Do that one!”
Please note that our values are not actually rank-ordered. I call this #4 to help blog readers keep track. See the full list of values at Core Values to Live By.
Recently I’ve noticed a few articles popping up claiming that cool offices and no vacation policy are somehow a myth, a scam, a sneaky way for The Man to keep you down. Here was the first line of one recent article: “Don’t be fooled by the perks at all those Silicon Valley (and Alley) offices — it’s all just part of a subtle plot to control employee behavior.” At The Motley Fool we have one of those cool offices and we chose not to enact a vacation policy 20 years ago, so my first reaction is to mail out some peanut butter to go with the author’s jealousy.
The focus of these negative articles is often on the game table, the casual dress, or the non-policy. Those are the outcome of what a cool office is actually about – trust and autonomy. None of the fun of a cool office can be provided without the right culture around it.
At The Fool we put a lot of time and energy in to recruiting the best employees. We are quite picky, we take our time with the hiring process, and we dislike increasing the employee headcount without good reason. When new hires arrive, we trust them to do what they were hired to do. We find that when we get out of the way, people choose their own path and create their own way of getting their work done. They tell us how they like to work and what they need. The fun toys, the desks on wheels, and the flexible hours are all what employees have asked us for. We aren’t scheming to invent ways to control employees, we’re giving them what they want to work effectively and be happy. If your study is finding that people at a company are taking fewer vacations or working longer hours, it isn’t because of the policy. The reason is you haven’t built a culture of trust.
I am reminded of a great line I once heard from Libby Sartain, former Southwest Culture guru, “Every Office has a culture. Every culture isn’t for everyone. Find the culture that fits you.”
At The Motley Fool, we know who we are, we work hard to find people that will add to our culture, and we look for every opportunity to support our team members. We do this because it works. It shows up in all our numbers no matter how you slice them. For instance, we have the highest employee engagement score by far that I’ve ever seen using the Gallup methodology.
We aren’t The Man plotting to keep our team down and take advantage of them. We are Fools working for our employees and doing everything we can to unleash them to do their best work how they’d like to do it.
Honesty has a beautiful simplicity. This straightforward value gives us a framework for making decisions companywide. In a company built on intellectual capital, with the stated purpose of helping the world invest better, honesty is essential.
We chose our words here carefully: Make. Us. Proud. Not “Don’t break the law” or “Tell the truth” or “Call ‘em like you see ‘em.” For us, honesty has to go beyond what is legally defensible.
Honesty also emphasizes the difference between core values and a code of ethics. Our core values serve as fundamental beliefs that we can turn to when making decisions. They should be easy to explain, embrace, and employ as decision-making tools. A code of ethics – although closely related — is generally a more formalized list of do’s and don’ts. It’s almost a *gulp* “policy.”
Now – as promised in my first post, here are the answers to our values questions.
Do we hire for this value?
Yes. How? Certainly, it would be great to have Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, but I’ll admit that the one I ordered from Amazon needs batteries or something. And the last interviewee I used it on wasn’t amused. Maybe he had something to hide…
Instead, I ask prospective employees: Tell me something you’re proud of. A time that you had to be honest when it wasn’t easy. A time that there was a difference between what was right and what was legal.
I also love to hear “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” answers in an interview. It’s virtually impossible to know all of the answers. Be honest about it. I also see red flags sometimes when we ask someone to demonstrate knowledge. Certainly, we don’t try to trick people with these questions, but it’s surprising to me how frequently this happens:
Q: “Are you an investor?”
Q: “Great, tell me about the last stock you bought and why?”
A: “Ummm, well…”
Will we fire for this value?
Can you see and feel this value in our office?
Many of the same ways we encourage collaboration also foster honesty. Everyone’s desk occupies the same open office, and our conference rooms have glass walls and doors. We also build honesty into our services, displaying our returns since recommendation on the front page of our web site. Some are up, some are down — but we don’t cherry-pick the winners. We also display returns for specific recommendations throughout the office, and change the returns as the stock price moves. Some months those are higher; some months, lower.
How often do we talk about this value? When was the last time we did so?
Similar to Innovation, I actually hear “make us proud” more frequently than “core value honesty.” But our CEO has recently taken this value to the next level by hosting a monthly Honest Tea. At this session, which follows our monthly all-company meeting, everyone is encouraged to come and dissent. We want to ensure that we have not only a desire to be honest, but also an outlet for those thoughts.
Please note that our values are not actually rank-ordered. I call this #3 to help blog readers keep track. See the full list of values at Core Values to Live By.
Tom and David Gardner, along with some other incredible Fools, talk about our approach to teaching our members about investing. Get to know our founders and our office in this video. Did you know that most Fools are individual investors who follow The Fool’s own advice?