A Culture of Trust

Trust is Key

Trust is Key You may have read a lot about Motley Fool corporate culture.  Although it manifests itself in many ways, at the heart of our craziness we are building culture of trust.

Unlimited vacation?  Yes.  We trust you to manage your workflow and cover your projects. We also trust that you will manage your time off in a way that makes you happy and doesn’t disadvantage your team.

NCAA Tournament in the office?  Yes.  We show the games in the office every year and encourage you to watch with your co-workers.  We trust that you will still get your job done, and that if there is an emergency, you’ll take care of it.

There is a business purpose behind this culture of trust.  Obviously it makes our Fools happy, improves recruiting, and leads to great employee retention and a healthy office environment.  I hope that’s pretty obvious.

But the part that many people don’t understand is that trust=speed.  Professional trust is very closely related to productivity and output.

Trust in the workplace leads to faster decisions, higher collaboration, and greater autonomy. In a high trust relationship, you focus on the future, and everything moves faster.  You can say the wrong thing and still be understood.  You can make a mistake and recover quickly – and your team will help you.

In a low trust relationship, the focus is on the past, mistakes are hashed and rehashed, time is wasted choosing the right words, and then reversing them.  Your ability to cover yourself overshadows the need to move forward and focus on the future, and your team will blame you.

Trust isn’t just a feel good term, it’s a productivity boon and a competitive advantage.

If you find yourself wordsmithing your emails and agonizing that they will be misconstrued or working under the CYA (Cover You’re A$$) system, you should probably take a step back and first address T-R-U-S-T.

If you are looking at your own corporate culture – reinforcing, rebuilding, reframing – don’t start with fun.  Start with trust.

 

Olympics Are Increasing Productivity

XBox as a sport?

XBox as a sport?Is the Olympics killing your business? Every two years, companies worry about the drop in productivity that might happen if employees focus too much on watching television and checking medal counts online. Even without the distraction of a major televised sporting event, lots of companies discourage time away from one’s desk. If you’ve been keeping up with this blog at all, you’ve probably already guessed that the Fool does things differently!

Obviously, companies want to get the most value out of each of their employees. But creating a culture of non-stop, nose-to-the-grindstone working isn’t going to accomplish that. Quite the opposite – a seemingly counterintuitive approach that allows for breaks will actually make your employees work harder and get more done. It’s science!

Study after study has proven that the best and most sustainable way to work is to take short breaks throughout the day. This system also works well when studying for a test – taking a breather after a burst of uninterrupted studying allows your brain to retain more information. And since sitting all day apparently will kill you, the occasional 10-minute stroll around the office park has even more benefits than helping clear your head.

Beyond just taking a break on your own, gathering around the water cooler with your colleagues goes far beyond looping you in on office gossip. It makes a company, overall, a happier place to work. And employees are still more productive than they would be without breaks!

At the Fool, we have televisions all over the office. Whether it’s the Olympics, March Madness, or presidential election coverage, Fools are welcome to take a break and watch some TV. It creates a more fun and trusting environment, and makes us all closer to each other!

So the next time your employees are gathered around the break room television cheering on Michael Phelps, you should join them. You’ll bond, you’ll relax, and you’ll return to your desk ready to tackle your work.

Washington Post On Fool Health

Ben Sterling and Billy Blanks

The Fool got some great love from Vicky Hallett at the Washington Post today: 

The Motley Fool might be the healthiest workplace in Washington

Don’t pity the Motley Fool. And certainly don’t pity Ben Sterling, a 29-year-old who’s been with the financial services company in Alexandria since 2007. When he decided to quit his software-testing job to follow his dream of becoming a personal trainer, his bosses asked him to stay on as the trainer for the office’s 200 employees. His title for the past year: the Wellness Fool.

As the first person to fill the position, he’s been responsible for managing all of the company’s wellness initiatives, which include health fairs, subsidized visits from a masseuse (it’s $5 for 20 minutes, $10 for 40), exercise activities and a vending machine overhaul.

“We’re trying to get people on the right path,” says Sterling, who knows what it’s like to stray. It was his personal experience of losing 50 pounds in college that inspired him to pursue fitness professionally.

Back when he arrived at the Fool, Sterling learned that the company encourages the creation of clubs. There’s one for knitting, another for wine. Sterling formed the fitness club and began leading boot-camp-style classes. With his new job, that’s evolved into Foolish Fitness, hour-long exercise sessions he holds five times a week in a conference room.

“There are tons of amazing benefits here, but this is by far the best one,” says 35-year-old Liz Cherry, who works in marketing. (Those other benefits include unlimited paid vacation, by the way.) She hasn’t had much time to get to the gym since having a baby, but she can always make it to a class down the hall at 4 p.m. And she feels even better knowing there’s encouragement from the top. “The CEO gave us permission,” Cherry says. “If he’s hired Ben, he wants us to do it.”

It’s easy to see why. Forty-year-old Vivek Karandikar, a database administrator, credits Sterling’s classes for motivating him to accomplish things he never would have done on his own. Committing to the exercise program has allowed him to get off of several medications.

For co-workers who’d prefer free one-on-one training, Sterling does that, too, at the office or at nearby Jungle’s Gym (where the company reserves the basketball courts on certain mornings). He can’t feasibly meet with everyone weekly but instead focuses the sessions on developing fitness plans. He checks back every four to six weeks and adjusts exercises accordingly.

Between the classes and individual training sessions, he’s worked with more than half of the employees in the office.

Stocking up

Everyone on staff has tasted the fruits of another of his labors: the healthy fridges. There used to be crackers, chips, candy and cookies for the taking scattered all over the office, but now twice a week Sterling stocks two fridges full of an assortment of goodies from Whole Foods Market: wraps, Greek yogurt, bowls of fruit, string cheese, hummus and veggies. “It’s all free,” he says. “They can take food whenever they want to. We just ask people not to abuse it.”

Still hungry? The vending machines also look different these days. Although you can still find some naughty stuff, it’s no longer subsidized by the company. Candy used to cost a quarter, Sterling says. Now, it’s a buck. That money has gone to help lower the cost of better choices. One machine is entirely stocked with discounted smarter snacks, including bags ofPirate’s Booty for 50 cents and Clif Bars for 75 cents.

The next step

The Fool also has some competing, less healthy traditions (pizza day and cake day, for example), but overall Sterling has found that the biggest barrier to progress is that his co-workers are mostly active, happy people already. A nurse who came to the most recent health fair to perform screenings told Sterling that it was the healthiest company she’d ever seen.

So though it’s been easy to connect with most employees, Sterling’s goal for 2012 is to reach out to every single one of them. He recently started a meditation program, and attendance has grown from month to month. He’s considering targeting specific teams with fitness classes. And he hopes to lure in stragglers with monthly challenges.

The first one, in February, was called “Stand and Deliver.” “Any time the phone rings, you make a call, send an e-mail or get an e-mail, you stand up,” Sterling explains. If you manage to stick to the challenge for a whole day, you tell him and get entered for a chance to win gift cards at the end of the month. The more days you do it, the better your odds of winning.

Of course, if you work at the Motley Fool, it sounds as if you’ll already feel like a winner.

You Have Fun at Work? Why, Yes!

Sun Always Shines When U R Cool

Sun Always Shines When U R CoolThere are things in life that are hard to describe — the way you feel on a sunny day as you walk around town, or the way you absolutely love and must have your daily or weekly Starbucks run — yet these things are the small moments that make your days inordinately better. Some of these things make you want to jump out of bed in the morning and start your day — again, for me, that’s coffee. (Can you tell I adore coffee?) But there is something else that makes my days inordinately better and makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning, and I bet you won’t guess it.

Go ahead.

Try.

I will give you a few seconds…

It’s work!

Yes, work — that thing most of you dread come Monday morning. And even more than work, I can’t wait to get to work so I can see my co-workers. Yes, I actually love my co-workers! (Seems a little different than the norm? I also love my in-laws; yes, I said I love my in-laws.) But should it be such a surprise to say that you love something most people hate?

Both our head of people and dean of Motley Fool University spoke at TEDx about the work/life balance and how there really isn’t so much of a line between work and life anymore. They added that our ideal of work/life balance is one that was placed on us in the 1950s and is severely outdated. And I agree. So why not make our work lives as fun as our life lives? Some of you out there may think to yourselves, “Yeah, OK, this sounds great. But I don’t think I can make it work.” Honestly, why not at least try to make it better? What’s the worst that could happen — you come out with the same situation and the same feeling you have about your job as you do right now? Surely that’s a risk you are willing to take, right?

So here’s what I can do — I will give you the recipe for what works with us. You start with a firm foundation of trust. Then you add in more trust. Layer in hard work, collaboration, and actually listening to what your co-workers say instead of just waiting to talk yourself. Sprinkle in laughter, daily — tell a joke, talk about Gossip Girl, or even about the way that one of your co-workers puts the word “the” in front of things he isn’t sure about. To top it off, you must want to help each other out. I don’t know how many times one of my co-workers has asked me, “Is there anything I can help you with or take off your plate?” And I appreciate them every time they ask.

While this is just my basic recipe, it works for us in the Culture Club. You see, at The Motley Fool, our co-workers are not just people we have to sit next to for eight hours a day — they are our work family. And if you don’t believe us, come pay us a visit sometime.

A Gift You Don’t Want for the Holidays

Fool Fitness
Fool FitnessThe major weight gains, for most people, occur between Halloween and New Year’s. For Fools, we think of all the Halloween candy we have in the office when our kids come through to trick-or-treat. We have to consider the Thanksgiving feast we provide during our all-hands monthly meeting. And don’t even get me started about the desserts and booze at the Fool holiday party. Like you, most Fools start “letting themselves go” for the holidays because they know New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner. Mix that with the fact that our bodies naturally preserve fat during winter months to stay warm and we’re outside less because of the cold, equals a recipe for weight gain.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can still enjoy all the holidays have to offer while keeping the weight and fat off, without the guilt!

Weight and fat gain is all about calories consumed vs. calories expended; if you know you will be indulging one evening, work that much harder in the gym that day. No time for exercise? (Yeah, right — that’s another blog post.) Enjoy some goodies in moderation by taking a smaller plate, or enjoy that buffet just once, or focus on socializing instead of just eating and eating. If you get started on an exercise plan before New Year’s hits, not only can you enjoy splurging every so often during the holidays, you’ll also be on a good track post-holiday season into the new year. Go ahead and enjoy the holidays guilt-free, as long as you do so in moderation while staying active.

Potential, Giving Your Best, and Leading by Example

Marine Corps Marathon runners

Marine Corps Marathon runners There is a scene in Facing the Giants that I love. WARNING: inspirational sports clip. It’s about 5 minutes long — go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait right here and sing “American Pie” — it’s about that long.

…jester sang for the king and queen … Chevy to the levy … the day the music died…

Back? OK.

Two great quotes that I want you dwell on for a minute: “I want you to do it blindfolded. … Because I don’t want you giving up at a certain point when you can go farther,” and, “You are the most influential member of this team. If you walk around defeated, so will they.”

There are two people to think about here — the coach and the player.

As a player, are you creating artificial boundaries? Do you realize how your boundaries influence your team? No one is going to try to go farther than the best player. It seems impossible. When they see you stretching, they will reach, too.

As a coach do you know who your influencers are? Are you aware of their message to the rest of your team? Are they aware? Can you see potential that they don’t? What is your equivalent of the blindfold?

ROI Development Projects

Fool Racing Team

At The Fool we are big fans of giving out special projects.  There are so many benefits including but not limited to enhancing roles, learning what Fools can do, testing new concepts, seeing how people can stretch, collaboration, stretching resources, and more.  One key element is that special projects make an impact.  When a project has a real, difference making outcome a Fool will be more bought in to the project.  This is also a great use of company time.  Having people learn while accomplishing something critical for the company makes everyone happy.

Note: People like to volunteer for projects as opposed to being told what to do.  This is true form Kindergarten to the board room.

Wedding Anniversaries Take A Back Seat

Foolish Couple

An anniversary at work should be a bigger deal than a wedding anniversary.  Sure, getting married is a monumental event. But, recently a co-worker and I figured out I had spent more time with him than my wife in the last 13 years at The Fool. So, shouldn’t I celebrate that even more than the time I spent with my wife?

Here we call that special work day a Fooliversary.  We have 2 main components to a typical Fooliversary.  First, on your
Fooliversary you receive balloons that state the number of years you have been with the company.  This is a great visible
sign to everyone that you have sold out to the Foolish man.  We enjoy wandering by each other’s desks, noting the big day, and giving congratulations.

The second part of our Fooliversary is the gift that goes along with the balloon(s).  Sure we could go for the traditional watch or lapel pin. I remember when I received my 2 year gift at Bank of America.  It was a business card holder AND a clock.  Yes, two very functional items in one!  OK, that was an awful attempt by B of A to say Thank You.  The big part of that gift was that it meant I could now take a full 10 days off from work unlike The Fool where we have no vacation policy.  But, I digress.  The gift we award at the Fool is to provide an experience.

We believe that creating shared experiences is a powerful way to foster collaboration and friendship. We provide experiences like movies, front row seats to a game, cooking class, overnight stays, and travel abroad. With each year your experience gets bigger.  Then we can bond over the years. “Oh, you are celebrating your 3 year Fooliversary.  I remember when I got mine.  I was front row at Lady Gaga.”

So, we go with a visible sign and a shared experience to recognize what we believe is a big deal – a long term commitment to The Fool, Our Mission, Our Friends, and Our Customers.

Laughter Makes Everything Better

Foolyween 2000

Recently I had a day without meetings and found I was missing them.  I realized that I actually look forward to going to meetings.  I couldn’t help but wonder why any sane person would enjoy meetings so much.  After dismissing the idea that I was losing my mind I realized I was addicted and needed my fix.  I needed to get to meetings to see my friends and laugh.  I missed the high of a good belly laugh.

There are many constants at the Fool.  but, one is that you won’t attend meetings without laughing.  We simply have a good time in whatever we do – even meetings.  That is not to say our meetings are unproductive.  I’d say we are more focused than most at ensuring our meetings have clear outcomes.  We are able to balance the needs at hand while still entertaining each other.

A day without meetings might be a day with less laughter.  I certainly have favorite Fools who can get the best laughs.  But, it is often the Fools you don’t expect who break out the one liner that gets the giggles that won’t stop.  Adding some fun and laughter to meetings is nothing but an improvement.