Growth in Fools without Growth in Headcount

Fools working together

Fools working togetherThe Motley Fool is a team of around 250 people.  Because we are an awesome workplace most of those 250 people will tell you that they plan to work here for the rest of their lives.  As a result, right now we are running with less than 2% unwanted turnover.

That can create some high class challenges.  One challenge is that without turnover, there may not be new jobs opening up frequently. We meet this challenge head on in a number of ways I’m quite proud of.

Make no mistake – our company is growing.  We have grown every year since our inception in 1993.  We work hard to grow in every way but one – headcount.  As a business grows and headcount doesn’t, we ask more of everyone.  It’s just that way by definition…and with the math. With smart work, we can get you doing the “more” by making sure that your passion and skills are layered into your job. My goal is that your job is expanding in ways that gets you charged up to come to work every day.

I purposely note that “new jobs” don’t open up frequently.  We aren’t believers in “jobs” and job descriptions.  We talk about roles.  We all play many roles in our lives including at work.  By understanding and examining the existing and new roles at The Fool, we can find great opportunity.

Some of my favorite roles are the ones you play on project teams.  We love to create teams to tackle anything we see.  There are tons of benefits of cross-functional teams of Fools.  The one I am highlighting here is the opportunity to be a leader, a visionary, a strategist, etc.  In other words you can step out of some of your regular roles and try your hand at something different on a whole new project.  You may be a data processor by day and then suddenly be leading a team to understand what is happening with mobile right now to better serve our members.

Every industry is dynamic.  Looking to what is changing in your industry is another area for opportunity.  Suddenly an area like mobile exists where it didn’t previously.  Many companies would look to create a new job around mobile and add headcount.  But, we look to see if this is an area where we can enhance someone’s role who is already here.

I am also fascinated by the stage any company is in.  We love Les McKeown’s Predictable Success model.  Whatever stage your company is in can be a time for heroes.  If you are in cost cutting mode, that quiet accountant may be thrust into the spotlight and leading in ways she hadn’t previously.  We look to see where our business is, what skillz are needed to lead in that cycle, and who internally has the relevant skillz to step up.

We have a vibrant and strategically important internal university that we call FoolU. I recently asked one of our editors what she most enjoyed about coming to work.  Her answer was teaching a writing class.  FoolU is staffed by Fools.  We find teaching can be one of the most rewarding and productive roles anyone can play.

The constant search for new opportunities for Fools requires us to be immersed in who Fools are, what skillz they have, and where their passions are.  When we are able to marry that passion and skill with an area of value creation, we all win.  The culture team at The Fool is on a constant and never-ending search for those wins.

NERF Wars – What, your office doesn’t have those?

NERF

NERF Are NERF wars in the office still cool?

I guess really we could ask if they ever truly were. I have noticed a resurgence in our office in the recent weeks, and am reminded of the business value behind them. Yup, I said business value behind NERF wars.

There certainly is no value in the act of a NERF war. Inevitably someone gets hit int he face with an errant shot. There are disturbing screams of joy, satisfaction, or fear. NERF darts are found in random places like coffee cups and trash receptacles. So, where is the business value, again?

Foam attacks?

My take on it:

1) Camaraderie. Bands of Fools teaming together to attack one another. We are in this together.

2) No Hierarchy. A great reminder that no one is a sacred cow.

3) Laughter & Fun. It seems just when I am taking myself or my day too seriously, I am reminded that we should always be having some fun.

4) Inexpensive. I don’t always need big bonuses or fancy parties. A random NERF gun war is fun, collaborative, and gets the energy up in the office.

I am off right now to search Fool.com to see if NERF is a public company. I think they are making a comeback.

April Fools’ Day is Our Foolish Holiday!

April Fools' Day is Our Foolish Holiday

April Fools' Day is Our Foolish Holiday April Fools’ Day is always a bit of a celebration around here.  What company could enjoy the day more than us?  We will have some fun in the office, but the most outward sign of our celebration is our April Fools’ Day joke posted on our site.

This year, our joke was that our company was going public!

Check out the video from April 1st here: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/04/01/the-no-1-reason-to-invest-in-the-motley-fools-ipo-.aspx 

Our April Fool’s Day joke provides some giggles and  teaches important lessons about investing and business.

We talk more about our joke and about those lessons here: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/04/02/revealed-the-motley-fool-isnt-really-going-public-.aspx?source=ihpsitth0000001

Fast Company Gives The Fool Media Love, Too!

Happy Employees

Happy Employees Lydia Dishman from Fast Company asked some Fools about our Fool’s Errand and our vacation policy. Take a look down the page to read what they said about it all:

Unlimited Vacation Doesn’t Create Slackers–It Ensures Productivity

By tossing the two-week standard in favor of an honor system with unlimited time off, some companies are seeing an exponential rise in productivity. Now, they just have to be mindful of staff burnout.

Sharon Rosenblatt confesses she suffers from self-diagnosed workplace paranoia – and even her company’s unrestricted vacation policy sometimes (negatively) affects her psyche.

A contractor who serves as communications and accessibility support at Accessibility Partners, Rosenblatt operates under the edict, “as long as you get your work done, it doesn’t matter where you do it.” Sounds nice – but what it can mean is checking email multiple times per day on weekends and on vacation. “I once wrote part of a federal proposal response while I was stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge because my client extended our services into my vacation time.”

Sound familiar?

Though Rosenblatt asserts her guilt trips are self-generated, a recent study of more than 5,600 workers conducted by CareerBuilder found that 12% of participants say they feel guilty that they’re not at work while they’re on vacation.

Of the majority of workers planning some time away from work, three in 10 aim to take the office with them on vacation. Thirty percent reported they will contact work on their time off, up from 25% in 2010, according to CareerBuilder.

Is it any wonder then, that plenty of businesses like Accessibility Partners, IBM, and Netflix have sent their vacation policies packing? The concept unlimited time off hasn’t reduced workplaces to chaotic anarchies. Instead, it’s created more efficiency, at least according to Dharmesh Shah, cofounder and CTO of Hubspot.

Shah says Hubspot doesn’t track anyone’s time off, so it’s hard to know if the policy makes people more or less wary of taking vacation. “One thing we are pretty sure about is that it’s a less stressful way to manage it,” he says. Rather than hoard days for times when they really need it, then scramble to take days at the end of the year (or fight for extra pay for time not taken), Shah says Hubspot’s open, unlimited vacation policy makes all of these problems go away. “Employees take the vacation when they need it and we don’t have a spike of vacations at specific points of time,” he explains.

Rosenblatt points out that Accessibility Partners employs many people with disabilities. “I feel that it only increases productivity because it allows people to work when they’re able, and not in a conventional 9-5, five days a week schedule.”

Hubspot’s had this plan (or lack thereof) in place for two years, thanks to CEO Brian Halligan’s desire to disrupt the dinosaur corporate culture depicted in Bravo TV’s Mad Men. Laura “@Pistachio” Fitton says that since HubSpot implemented the policy, the company has been ranked as the #2 fastest-growing software company on the Inc. 500.

GoHealthInsurance.com also implemented an unlimited vacation policy, in keeping with the company’s free-spirited culture, which includes a (hopefully tongue in cheek) “no pants and purple hats” dress code, i.e.: no policy at all. With a business model similar to Priceline, the company recorded a 200% increase in growth this year.

Michael Mahoney, vice president of Consumer Marketing and seven-year veteran of GoHealthInsurance.com, says it actually was a deciding factor when he took the job. “I think it really helps instill in new employees the same values we had during the first years at our company,” he says. Mahoney contends employees schedule vacation more strategically based on their workload. “When you consider when you can best take vacation as opposed to when you must, you end up able to take time off without affecting performance.”

Which often means people are actually on the clock more than ever. Shah admits that he works from home “a lot,” often putting in odd hours: “Until about 2 a.m. every night, and just about every weekend.” Fitton, founder of the Twitter app store Oneforty, which was acquired by Hubspot, was actually using a day off for emergency childcare during this interview–hardly a day at the beach.

Likewise, Mahoney says, “I’m working harder than ever, but I probably will take a few more days off this year,” though some of his colleagues have taken weeks off to go overseas. While Rosenblatt has taken “off” over a month, she says, “I always feel pressure to work even harder when I get back, even if there isn’t more work.”

Worker bees may be buzzing happily, but eventually everyone needs a real break. That’s why the 17-year-old Motley Fool, a multimedia financial-services company, established “The Fool’s Errand” five years ago. Spokesperson Alison Southwick says it’s a monthly ritual where, at a meeting of all 250 employees, one name is drawn from a hat. That person must take off two consecutive weeks sometime in the ensuing month. Southwick says it’s purpose is twofold. “First, it helps make sure that people ARE taking time off, clearing their heads, and recharging their batteries. Second, it helps us fight against single points of failure within the company. When you suddenly take two weeks off, you need to make sure that other people around you understand what you do so that the company doesn’t come to a screeching halt if you’re gone,” she explains.

But, mostly, it is fun. “Imagine being told you must take two weeks off right away. It’s two weeks to do whatever you want: tackle a life-long dream, learn something new, or just relax at home,” Southwick says.

The Motley Fool’s Head “People Fool” Lee Burbage asserts, “The idea of vacation days is a flawed concept from the start. Fools have the freedom to plan their lives how it works best. We trust them to understand the demands of their role and plan accordingly. If you have a big deadline or target date for a project, then you probably know that would be a good day to be at the office.”

Mahoney agrees. Unlimited vacation fosters productivity and loyalty because it favors results over input. “We don’t judge employees based on the number of lines of code they write, but instead on the impact their innovative ideas have on our users,” he says. “If we trust employees to make the right decisions with the time they spend at work in pursuit of our aggressive goals, we can trust them to make responsible decisions about when they choose to take time off of work.”

Mahoney maintains he “absolutely loves” what he does, so you’ll always find him working. “I think that holds true for most of our employees. As a fast-growing technology company, we do work extremely hard in pursuit of very aggressive goals and timelines. That said, when employees want to take time off, we want to help them do that in any way possible.”

More Washington Post Love – Fools Visit Honest Tea

Honest Fool Tea

Honest Fool Tea

Olga Khazan from The Washington Post writes an article about a Foolish visit to Honest Tea:

To learn new business ideas, Motley Fool

tours Honest Tea,

Dogfish Head and others

Seth Goldman is a successful business owner, having grown beverage company Honest Tea from a scrappy Bethesda start-up to a flourishing subsidiary of Coca-Cola. But on one recent Thursday, Goldman found himself working as a tour guide.

“And this is our wall of discontinued products,” he said, gesturing toward a shelf holding dozens of bottles of now-defunct beverages. “We think of them as branches on a tree. Some thrive and some don’t, but those that don’t fertilize the ground for the others.”

Absorbing his words were a team of 10 employees from the Motley Fool, an Alexandria-based company that provides investment advice. In an attempt to glean best practices from other businesses, for the past few months Motley Fool’s executives have been sending teams of the company’s employees on a “Great Idea Hunt” to area companies.

The field trips are part of Motley Fool’s overall educational mission — the company has a “university” where employees instruct each other, and the executives regularly invite other business owners to staff luncheons in order to pick their brains. (Motley Fool contributes a column to Capital Business, On Small Business’s parent publication.)

“We’ve gotten really good at learning from each other, and I wanted to add an outside learning component to that,” said Matt Trogdon, whose role at the company is to connect Motley Fool employees — they call themselves “Fools” — with mentors from other businesses. “The more influences you can get, the smarter you can get.”

The groups are visiting companies such as Affinity Lab, National Geographic and even Delaware’s Dogfish Head brewery, documenting their voyages and making videos to be shown at an April company meeting.

Each business was chosen for a different reason — Dogfish won for its storied positive office culture; at National Geographic, a chief sustainability officer will show the Fools how to green-ify an office building. Despite the differences between their industries, Trogdon said his company shares a similar culture to Honest Tea.

“Honest Tea is trying to be transparent about what they put in their drinks,” he said. “At Motley Fool we are trying to be more transparent by providing advice people can understand.”
A frugal tradition

Back at Honest Tea, the Fools gathered around an island in the company’s kitchen, where one fridge holds employee sack lunches and the other holds test batches of Honest Tea’s new formulations. A product developer stirred red potato powder into a jar of water to show how the company tints its organic teas without artificial coloring.

Goldman passed out tiny cups of a new green tea formula, adding that the company doesn’t rely much on focus groups.

“Everyone has a say in product development,” explained Debra Schwartz, vice president of human resources at Honest Tea. “We literally go from desk to desk so that people can try new products.”

Their spartan approach quickly became a theme throughout the presentation. On trips, employees are usually asked to share hotel rooms. In a video message, one worker said he slept in his car to escape his roommate’s snoring.

“It points to what a young, entrepreneurial business they are,” said Vienna DeGiacomo, who works in blogger relations at the Motley Fool. “They’re always looking at the bottom line. Sleeping in the car, though, that’s not something I’d want to do.”

Honest Tea also leaves its employees well enough alone for most of the day (the majority work remotely.) All company updates, holiday and other announcements come in a once-daily newsletter they call “Afternoon Tea” — a concept that appealed to the Fools.

“We were inspired by their afternoon tea idea and may try to come up with something similar,” Trogdon said.
Maintaining the culture

At one point, a Fool asked if the company culture had changed since Honest Tea was acquired by Coca-Cola in 2011. Schwartz said both companies knew what they were getting into and haven’t butted heads much.

“You can think of the Coke deal as a three-year engagement: We got engaged in 2008, and we got married in 2011,” Schwartz said. “By the time we made the final deal with Coke, they knew we left the dishes in the sink, and we knew they left the cap off the toothpaste. It’s my job to maintain our culture — if that means pushing back on them, that’s what it means.”

Goldman, who refers to himself as “Tea-E-O” instead of CEO, told the story of how he once stood up to Coca-Cola executives when they asked Honest Tea to remove the words “no high fructose corn syrup” from its juice packages. Goldman refused, and Coke execs eventually gave in.

“I like that they’re unyielding in the face of the industry,” said Rex Moore, a stock analyst with Motley Fool. Many of Honest Tea’s competitors have rolled out lower-sugar and lower-calorie products as the company has become more prominent. Honest Teas have between zero and 40 calories per 8-ounce serving, fewer than some other brands.

“They have the industry bending to the way they’re doing instead,” Moore added. “It did help remind us that it’s something we’re always going to have to watch as we grow — staying true to what we are.”

 

Washington Post On Fool Health

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.

Love The Mission, It Is the Most Important Thing

I came in this morning to find love notes on my desk.  They were not uncomfortably from co-workers Max and Rebekah who sit next to me.  Instead they were from Motley Fool customers.  Some random Fools had taken the time to print out lovely feedback we had received and print them on cards.  They snuck in early this am and left every Fool employee different cards and candy on their desk.

I believe people come to work and love it for 4 ranked reasons.

1. A Mission They Believe In

2. A Challenge Every Day

3. People They Love

4. Great Culture

Little reminders that you are delivering on the number one reason people come to work is a powerful thing.

Finding Writers from Our Own Community – Brilliant!

Smiles at the Holiday Party

Smiles at the Holiday Party Many consumer-facing companies have the advantage of being able to hire from within their customer bases, and The Motley Fool is like them in that way. That is amazing actually. We can find people who are already passionate about what we do – they see the value in educating and helping others invest. Think about the value, though, that those customers also bring to you – having a new hire that knows and loves your business is like having a fashionista work in a retail store; the passion for clothes helps the store. The passion our members have for investing easily translates into strong employees. Our favorite candidates are the ones who are working with us on our message boards, live chats, and online feedback loops – those Fools out there that are already tapped into what we do on a day-to-day basis, and love it.

Even with all of that knowledge and online presence with us on Fool.com and with our subscription-based newsletters, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a transition. Knowing The Motley Fool as a member is different from knowing us as an employee. It is sometimes hard to know a company like The Motley Fool, where our culture and internal community is of the highest importance. Therefore, we believe all of our hires benefit from spending time in our office, swimming in the flow, dancing to the rhythms of our jester drums, and eating Mary’s ridiculously scrumptious baked goods. It helps them understand our Foolish culture and be an accurate, passionate representative of that culture out in the world. With this thought in mind, it is an especially hard decision to hire freelance writers who will work in their Sponge Bob slippers from the comfort of their own home. So, even for our freelance writing positions, we have an in-house development program. We ask our pajama-wearing, home-working Fools to come hang with us for four to six months, learn our unique approach to investing, and connect with us in ways only attainable in our office. This idea comes as a surprise to most freelance writers, but they all agree that it is time and money well spent. After graduation from our in-house freelance writing program, we know that they are Foolish through-and-through, and welcome them to come back periodically to get a fresh dose of that crazy thing we define as Foolishness.

There is just something special about great cultures that need to be experienced in person.  I think I just claimed our culture as “great”.  Hmmmm…a tad cocky perhaps.  But, l can’t help it.  I love this place.

By the way, if you dig this, and feel like you have the writing chops and investing knowledge to help us produce articles for Fool.com, take a look at the job posting for the Contributor Writer Development Program in the right nav for more details. We are currently hiring. If you’re hired, plan for cupcakes. Maybe throw a few extra workouts into your schedule. We’re just saying, it’s tasty around here.

Crazy Interviews

Chicken suit

Chicken suitHave you ever had a Dumbledore-esque rapper show up during a job interview – complete with a white wig, Dumbledore hat, glasses, track suit, and a Dumbledore monogrammed gold chain?

No?

Have you ever been to a job interview on Halloween? You should try it sometime.

What about seeing a person in a chicken suit running around with hula hoops? That happens more than you’d think!

What about having a job interview on April Fool’s Day – a holiday like none other at The Fool?

Let’s just say we’ve had to tell a few of our candidates that it WAS NOT an April Fool’s joke when we had to push back an interview start time.

I find that the best days to conduct interviews are when Fool HQ has something crazy going on.

At The Motley Fool, that happens a lot. It is fun to see how candidates react when I conduct their interview dressed as Dumbledore on Halloween. (Yes, that was me.) We’ve had Fool interviewers with their child in tow, dogs in the room, and meetings in stairwells. It is best for candidates to see what life is really like in the office, and it is great for us to see how they react to our craziness.

I also like to see how candidates deal with mix-ups and change-ups in their schedule. Whether it is challenges with their travel or a day of juggling conference rooms, candidates can face a number of tests. Some candidates are clearly frustrated and impatient – not a good sign. Others roll with the punches. When real Fool life is present in obvious ways during interviews, we get an even better sense of a candidate’s fit.

One of our best hires had two interviews outside during a fire alarm. Others have had interviews where they’ve had to help complete a project or come up with ideas for a Fool event, and they’ve been our most creative Fools yet.

When I interviewed 13 years ago, I stood in a storage closet over a foosball table. I saw first-hand how the Fool rolled and I loved it. Coming from a stogy banking environment, I knew this laid-back, get-it-done place was for me.

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.