You Don’t Have to Hate Your Job (Really!)

Employee Engagement

Employee EngagementBy Laurie Street

The Motley Fool isn’t the only company that has built a fantastic culture, but sadly there aren’t enough of us. Countless studies show that employees are lacking engaging and healthy work environments. An interesting New York Times piece, Why You Hate Work, digs deeper into these disadvantages, mentioning faults that stem from the rise in digital technology, increased competitiveness, and our post-recession economy.

Author Tony Schwartz argues simple solutions that, if introduced, could make a huge difference in corporate environments. His suggestions ring true during a time when workplaces actually have the opportunity to evolve. It’s not necessarily a world of suits, ties, and strict regulations anymore.

In Schwartz’s opinion, companies should measure employees not hourly but by the value that they create. He explains, “To the extent possible, let them decide where to do their work, and when to do it, as long as they meet deadlines.” Trust is a huge component, and The Fool’s flexible scheduling speaks to Schwartz’s point. We throw traditional 9-5 calendars to the wind by allowing our employees to manage their own time. With this flexibility comes the expectation that employees are striving to produce their highest quality of work. Because everyone has different work styles, we also offer quiet spaces that offer a break from our open office, as well as the tools to work from home.

We believe in transparency, a point that Schwartz addresses in his column. He notes, “…seek to define all jobs in ways that feel meaningful and significant to people.” Fools are encouraged to establish honest relationships with their managers, making it easy to communicate about goals, projects, and ideas. If a Fool isn’t happy, our People Team wants to help. We organize feedback sessions to connect with Fools about their job path and progress, and recently implemented an internal reward service that allows Fools to publicly recognize others with “gold” for a job well done. Gold can be spent on gift cards for a variety of stores, and the entire process makes receiving Fools feel happy and valued.

However, it’s an unfortunate fact that all workplaces can’t — or will not try — to implement a progressive culture for employees. In addition to cynicism and anger, decreased energy is a common symptom of workplace unhappiness. To combat these signs, Schwartz suggests using 15-25 minutes for rest or an outdoor walk to increase productivity and alertness. The warmer weather has inspired a Fool Walking Group, which takes 30-minute outdoor strolls twice a week. We also have the Reading Room, a quiet space for better concentration that doubles as a place to take a power nap. Our culture encourages Fools to be comfortable enough to always take the necessary time for rest.

Schwartz’s article is one of many that shows how corporate cultures are changing. The Fool is on top of preserving Foolishness, from showing appreciation to our employees to trying out new, fun ideas in the office. Hating your job is the last thing The Fool would ever want, and we’re constantly on the search for ways to top the happiness scale.

We’ll Send You on a Fool’s Errand — In a Good Way!

Fool's Errand

Fool's ErrandBy Laurie Street

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.

CEO Tom Gardner Now a LinkedIn “Influencer”

LinkedIn Influencer

LinkedIn Influencer
Motley Fool CEO and co-founder Tom Gardner has joined the LinkedIn “Influencer” program. Gardner published his first “Influencer” post, titled “Half Your Employees Hate Their Jobs,” on Wednesday. The post, co-written with Motley Fool columnist Morgan Housel, highlighted three changes organizations should make to improve their workplace cultures.

“Peter Drucker said that culture eats strategy for breakfast,” Gardner wrote. “Get your fork and knife and let’s get to work!”

By joining the “Influencer” program, Gardner enters a community of the world’s most profound and impactful thinkers. Notable LinkedIn “Influencers” include Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates, and more. Gardner plans to write broadly about investing, general business, and other issues he and Motley Fool employees hold dear.

“We’re thrilled for Tom to become a LinkedIn ‘Influencer,’” Fool spokesperson Adrienne Perryman said. “We have a ton of respect for the community LinkedIn has created, and having Tom as a part of it will certainly help us further our mission of helping the world invest better.”

Gardner’s “Influencer” page can be found here, and a full list of “Influencers” can be found here.

Matt Trogdon and Tom Gardner own shares of LinkedIn. The Motley Fool recommends LinkedIn. The Motley Fool owns shares of LinkedIn. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

We’re Looking For Summer 2014 Interns!

Summer at The Fool

Summer at The FoolAre you a college or grad student looking for an amazing summer internship? We’re currently looking for talented, curious, motivated students who want to spend this summer at The Fool! This is an 8-week paid internship where you’ll get to work on great projects with great people…and you’ll never have to wear a tie (unless you lose a bet or something). You’ll work in our Alexandria, VA, office, located just outside of Washington, DC.

If you’re interested in investing, writing, international studies, web analytics, software development, or retention marketing, we want to learn more about you! Find out more about our specific internship openings and submit your application by January 31, 2014.

Want to learn more? Some of last year’s interns were happy to share their Foolish experience!

Core Value #4 : Fun – Revel in Your Work

Fun

FunThe 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.

Match Office Perks to Your Culture

Cool Office

Cool OfficeRecently 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.

Core Value #2 — Innovative: Search For a Better Solution. Then Top It.

Innovative

InnovativeThe term innovation drums up images of world-changing ideas or inventions.  Certainly we at The Fool want to change the world, but innovation is more about making everything better every day and embracing change.  It’s constantly searching for ways to “Top It!”

We want Fools to relentlessly search for better solutions and try new things.  Fools should make small, thoughtful changes and double down on the winner and learn from the losers. One of our favorite books is Little Bets by Peter Sims. It reinforces our “test and learn” mentality, and I highly recommend it.

Big innovation comes in big steps and small steps, and we always want to be walking forward.

Even our vocabulary and cultural habits embrace and push an innovative spirit.  I hear these phrases almost every day: “test and learn,” “fail fast,” “try stuff,” “top it,” ”small bet,” “minimum viable product.”  I have heard or said each of these terms in the past 48 hours.

We want Fools to be bold and, most of all, to focus on solving the real problems. “Top It!” is a phrase that is a constant reminder to build a better solution.  It’s easy to criticize an idea and lose sight of the problem you are trying to solve.  In an instant any Fool can reframe the conversation with that two-word term – TOP IT – and we are back on track to focus on the problem we’re trying to solve.

Here are my honest answers to questions I referenced in my first post about core values:

1)        Do we hire for this value?

Yes.  We are looking for people that want to make those small bets and top it with us.  In an interview we want to hear about a time that you saw a problem and just made it better.  We want to hear your ideas for our company or the job you seek.  You don’t have to have solved world hunger, but show us that you like to test and learn and are open to change.

 2)      Will we fire for this value?

I credit Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh with putting this question in my head and pushing the idea that core values are ONLY real if they actually drive action in your organization.  You demonstrate their importance if you are willing to take action to increase their presence and also to eliminate blockers to their success.  If an employee is a blocker to innovation and change, it just doesn’t work. 

3)      Can you see and feel this value walking through the office?

Yes.  We are constantly innovating in our physical space, too.  If you come to our Intergalactic HQ in Alexandria, VA for a culture tour you’ll see that our 5th floor is completely mobile.  All of our desks are on wheels and if you come two months in a row it will look different the second time.  Things change pretty quickly around here.

4)      Is the value referenced frequently?  When was the last time?

I actually received an email from our Chief Performance Officer while I was writing this blog post.  It’s important to note that innovation as a core value is for everyone.  It’s not something that is expected of just the marketing, investing, product, or culture team.  Everyone is expected to innovate within their role and top it.  This is note was about our bonus payouts and innovation in accounting and employee ownership:

“I’d like to tell you about an experimental opportunity for your bonus payout that’s new this year. Like everything at The Fool, seeking innovation is a constant in our culture.  Heck, it’s a core value.  And, for the first time ever, we’re putting the power of choice in your hands in an innovative way…”

Also pretty cool that we’re encouraging employee ownership – I think.

Now – I encourage you to TOP IT!  How do you drive innovation in your company? Give me some ideas in the comments.

Does Your Company Have Core Values to Live By?

Core Values

Core ValuesWow!  You actually opened a post with the title “core values?”  I’m a little surprised.  Many people look at “core values” and roll their eyes.  After all, most companies have them and they are generally very nice, very aspirational…and very stale.

You can imagine that they were created by a strange consultant with trendy glasses, who smelled like Mountain Dew and Altoids, who came to the office and spent a day in a conference room – or maybe a result of that executive retreat a few years ago where we all heard Alex got a little tipsy and crashed the golf cart.

But, so what? What do they really mean when push comes to shove?  How do you use them?

At their worst, Core Values are corporate jargon and a company joke – Enron, after all, had values of respect, integrity, communication, and excellence.

But used in the right way, they can be amazing – dare I say magical!  They can allow a company to develop a culture that exists without a lot of oversight.

At The Fool we really do try to live our core values every single day.  And they’re a little different than your typical corporate buzz words.  Here they are – created by a broad section of Fools from several departments and tenures.

You can see them on the wall as soon as you walk through the front door on our culture tour. But they don’t live there – they live in our culture and in each Fool’s daily actions.

Be Foolish!

  • Collaborative – Do great things together.
  • Innovative – Search for a better solution. Then top it!
  • Fun – Revel in your work.
  • Honest – Make us proud.
  • Competitive – Play fair, play hard, play to win.
  • Motley – Make Foolishness your own. Share your core value _____________.

Okay, great – but how do you know you are living them?  What about the pushing and shoving I mentioned earlier? For me it’s about these four questions, and I ask myself these questions frequently for each value:

  1. Do we hire for this value?
  2. Will we fire for this value?
  3. Can you see and feel this value walking through the office?
  4. Is the value referenced frequently?  Really? When was the last time?

In the next couple of posts I’ll answer these questions for each value to give you a greater sense of what they mean and how they simultaneously drive and reflect the culture of The Fool.

Set Aside a Day for Financial Planning

Financial Planning Day

Financial Planning DayLast week, The Fool held a company-wide financial health day. Fools had the opportunity to attend classes on subjects like retirement planning and negotiating, and could meet one-on-one with our in-house financial planner, Robert Brokamp.

Robert blogs for Get Rich Slowly, and wrote a post about how your company can encourage employees to take a day to iron out their finances (or how you can set aside a day for this on your own). Check it out here!

By setting aside just a few hours to set up automatic payments, plan for emergencies, create a budget, and start saving for retirement, you can rest easy knowing your finances are taken care of!