Insights

Company Culture: What’s Working in 2022

Whether you’re a business owner or a new employee, Motley Fool culture heroes Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage are back as guests on the Rule Breaker Investing podcast with 10 tips to help make your workplace flourish.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool’s free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on June 8, 2022.

David Gardner: For a couple of decades, my friends Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage have led the Motley Fool’s Culture and People team, and eight times previously on this podcast — about once a year — they’ve joined me to share out our best ideas about how to make your workplace more successful, more fun, more Foolish. Hoping of course always to hear back from you as well some further ways in which we might improve ours. You see, the sharing works both ways, that’s what mailbag is for.

I feel like the last couple of years of this series have focused, understandably, on the pandemic and best practices for how to work virtually, back to the most desperate times of 2020.

Then last year, talking about the new normal — in fact, that’s what we called Volume 8, which we recorded last May 2021: “The New Normal.” Have you settled in anything normal these days, dear Fool? Hybrid for some still. Virtual for others. Back to the office, too, full time for some. But apart from guessing at or evolving into or living through what work looks like through the end of the pandemic, I thought it was time to get past that a bit — return this series, if you will, to its own “normal.” It’s time to have back our dynamic duo, Kara and Lee, to join me this week to give what amounts to simply our best new thoughts and new practices here in 2022. Think about it: What great thing could you be doing or trying at your office as a result of what you hear this week — only on Rule Breaker Investing.

Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing, which spends about, I’d hope at least one-third of its time on investing and one-third on life and the other one-third is on business. Certainly, something that’s always meant so much, not just to me or my brother Tom, but so many Fools — and I don’t just mean our employees. I mean so many investing Fools, so many of us do look at the businesses themselves, whether they’re ones we’re working at trying to make better day-to-day culture happen, which really helps results, or if you’re looking at somebody else’s business, thinking about investing in that business culture, corporate culture, workplace culture — these things are deep and rich terms.

This is rich soil that we have planted often in, and we’ve watched some of our plants grow up into beautiful things that we like to share out on this series. Then, other things we usually plant but they don’t work out so well. We still will feature some of our gaffes like I do with bad stock picks, but my friends Kara and Lee, I don’t know whether they’ll have anything that they want to share that didn’t work in the last year this week.

But really, as I mentioned at the top, we’re focused on what we’re thinking about and trying here in 2022, somewhat apart from pandemic tinge, somewhat standing on its own. What’s going to work five years from now as a new idea or a new practice in your culture that would’ve worked five years ago? I haven’t asked them to angle it all the way that way, but I think that’s mostly how this will sound and feel this week.

Before I welcome on Kara and Lee, I want to mention that, of course, the mailbag at the end of every month for this podcast is an excellent opportunity for you, I would say, not just to hear your reactions to what you’re about to hear us present this week, but we’d also really love tips, pointers, awesome practices that you have seen in your workplaces. So much of what we’ve done at the Fool in lots of different ways, we’ve learned from our members, and tried based on your great insights and thoughts. Please note that the mailbag awaits your great thoughts at the end of this month.

But without further ado let me welcome back Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage. Kara and Lee, welcome back.

Kara Chambers: Thanks for having us.

Lee Burbage: Thanks so much.

David Gardner: Now Lee, I see you clearly working from home as I am, your room is a lot more attractive, I think, or your Zoom camera than mine, I’ve got a mess behind me. But Kara, you are not where I’m used to seeing you these last couple of episodes we’ve done together. Where are you today? It’s a spare wall behind you.

Kara Chambers: Yes. I am in a conference room at the Alexandria office of The Motley Fool.

David Gardner: Amazing.

Kara Chambers: I’m happy to see all my friends.

David Gardner: That’s great. It’s clearly not a sound studio. Lee and me we’re all still bubbling through with a headset wherever we are, we’re not in official studios. But Kara, it’s just delightful to think and know that you’re back to what’s been the original Fool HQ.

Kara Chambers: I did the old-school conference room hunt, looking for a place to plug in my computer. Some were really cold, some were too noisy, and it’s like, I’m learning again. See some faces in here. Just for the audience out there, we’re slowly testing our way in the logistics after having no one in here for two years, so if I couldn’t find a plug or whatever, it probably would have been true, but our support teams are incredible here, so everything is working perfectly.

David Gardner: Lee, it was June 1 I think that we opened it up. So it was last week for employees in our Colorado offices, our Alexandria offices to — if they want to … not just anybody who wants to, because we’re doing it piecemeal. I know, in particular, people who’ve raised their hands said, “I really would love to be back in the office,” for whatever reason.

Lee Burbage: We were calling this our soft launch, and partly because I always wanted to be part of a soft launch — I always feel like that’s so cool. I want to go to a restaurant and be there for the soft launch because you’re friends with the owner or something, so we gave it a fun name. But really, like Kara said, it’s been two years since we’ve been in there, so we just needed to see what was broken, what was working, and we’re easing people back in. I think by the end of the month, we’ll be opening up to any Fool that wants to come into an office with some regularity — they should be able to. So we’ll see. It’s going to be a fun adventure.

David Gardner: Kara, did I hear you mention that you bumped into Chris Hill as you got your headset and came back to this random conference room?

Kara Chambers: Just outside the door right there.

David Gardner: Excellent.

Kara Chambers: Lots of friends of this show have been rolling through.

David Gardner: Well thanks a lot. You two have been wonderful friends of this show, this is the ninth in our episodic series “Company Culture Tips.” I think I’ve talked enough about what we’re going to do this week, so without further ado, I think we should just get right into it.

Pretty normal — each of you have thought about what are some of the workplace practices, things we’re trying out, insights that we have that we can share out, and it’s a list of 10 every time, and you tend to bounce it back and forth. Let me start by asking: Who is up first this go-round?

Lee Burbage: That’s me, Mr. Gardner — I will be going first.

David Gardner: Company Culture Tip — Lee, No. 1.

Lee Burbage: For this list, Kara and I have gone with the theme of progress and growth and I love this first tip because it’s the way, what I’ll call, a lot of traditional companies would mark progress and growth, and that’s with job titles. We are a company that is traditionally not filled with job titles. It’s not something that we talk about or place a lot of value on in our company. But what we’ve seen in recent years is we’ve been growing and so it’s been getting a little bit harder to know who to contact and who does what. We recognize that with the passage of time people do want to be able to markdown what it is they’re doing so we rolled out a new concept, something that we call “My Role.”

My Role, I think, is pretty fun, pretty Foolish — it is a 60-character limit, and so you can write whatever you want with a maximum of 60 characters that says, what is your role here at The Motley Fool? People have been having fun trying to fit into that window. Exactly what do you do here? It’s great, it’s easy for us to be able to communicate with one another where we’re focused. To be able to find people and know who does what and who to ask questions of. My Role came from an idea that Kara had, which was we have a Slack channel called “Which Fool.” People would go into that Slack channel and they would ask: Which Fool does this? Which Fool does that? We find My Role is the answer to that question. We’re pretty excited about not going to a traditional title structure such as, “I’m an assistant vice president; now I’m a vice president,” which I find largely meaningless, and more what it is that you do here.

David Gardner: That’s fun for me to think about. Mine’s still going to be Chief Rule Breaker, which I think fits in 60 characters. But I do know one of the criticisms that we got sometimes from external partners or people that we were meeting with back in the day, Lee, because we were the anti job title company. So — I’m making this up, but we’d have like “Chief Cow Wrangler,” and people would come and meet with us and go, “I’m sorry, you’re Chief Cow [Wrangler] … but [laughs] what do you actually do here?” Often, ostensibly, job titles are for the person him or herself, to be able to say, “I am the assistant vice president to the treasurer,” but a lot of the purpose of a job title is for others to know who the heck you are and what you’re doing. It sounds like that’s the spirit of this, Lee. Where does the 60 characters reside? Like, how do we use that or do that? Am I Googling you, or is it on Slack? Forget about the Motley Fool here, I’m thinking about everybody listening to us. How do you make best use of somebody’s role like that?

Lee Burbage: Right now, My Role is purely internal. We have it on our intranet that people can search through our HR system. It’s more about functioning around internally. I will say in doing something like that, what Kara and I love to do is exactly what you said, which is: What’s the intent of this, and can we do it a better way? We did try was to think about what is the intent of a job title? I would say that job title structure in the world today isn’t largely helpful because the vice president of one company can mean [laughs] something very different somewhere else. When we backed off to the intent, it wasn’t that we were against job titles, in general — we felt like the current world structure doesn’t work very well, so what could? We toyed around with it a little bit and landed on this 60-character limit of describing where you’re focused and what you’re excited about.

David Gardner: In your notes, prior to this podcast, where you shared with me, and some of the points we’ll be talking about, either of you included the phrase “a robot made your job title.” Could you please explain that before we move on to No 2.?

Lee Burbage: Sure. So we wanted to encourage people to fill out My Role. [laughs] If you’ve listened to us on prior podcasts, I’d never like to make anything mandatory. I’d like to make it compelling. Kara and Tom Conner, who works with her, had the great idea of, well, what would be compelling is if we filled out your My Role out for you, and we did it badly. You see these things on Google where a robot will rewrite a song or things like that, so Tom Conner wrote a little script that would write your My Role for you.

David Gardner: Wow.

Lee Burbage: Our hope was people would read that and be like, “Well, that’s wrong, I want to fix it.” [laughs] That was our way of making that compelling and not mandatory.

David Gardner: Excellent. That’s a little of the secret sauce for tip No. 1. Okay, thank you for that, Lee. Kara let’s go to Company Culture Tip No. 2.

Kara Chambers: All right. Company Culture Tip No. 2 is the non-linear career path, which has always been true at the Fool. We thought progress is a good topic today, because the world of work is changing. We are currently working on building a tool internally called Journey, which will help people see each other’s resumes, so to speak, and watch for the experience they have, the skills they want to learn, just building those connections. We’ve been working with a third party on building it out, but it gives you a little quiz about what you want to learn in your career. It will tag you and others on what your expertise are and what skills you can teach and what skills you want to learn. It’s been a fun project.

Initially, when we took it on two years ago, we started with, well, how the heck are we going to do that? We don’t have job titles. [laughs] But our partners, called Flow of Work, they were able to do some AI building of people’s LinkedIn profiles and departments and roles. They used some science to start building this out, and we’re still in the stage of machine learning.

David Gardner: The purpose of this, Kara, is to enable people to ultimately learn from others in terms of what their career path looked like at the Fool and therefore, what mine might look like. I guess the implication is that some people have been around for a while, might have really interesting career paths or a traditional surprising, and so getting to hear some of those stories and connect with it, turns out that could be you too — is that it?

Kara Chambers: Yes. They started it with a bunch of interviews with our more senior people. We have the most interesting career paths of who has done what, to start feeding it and show some examples. We learned a lot about where people came from and how they started here or there. I think it’s funny — Lee and I probably have the most traditional career paths [laughs] than anyone here at the Fool. [laughs] We’ve seen that. We used to talk about this, and we’re like “Everyone else seems to have a non-linear career path except for us two.” But there’s probably some quirkiness in there and some job-crafting which we’re going to get to. But yeah, typically at the Fool, you see people — this goes back to my recruiting days, I used to ask people, “How did you get here?” Almost everyone would tell you an interesting story, an interesting narrative of how they started. We’re just in the process of collecting those.

David Gardner: I think part of the reason this feels relevant for us — and I hope for others listening to us, but I never know how crazy we appear to other businesses and other entrepreneurs listening to us worldwide right now. But I’m thinking in part, if you’ve been a start-up in the last five to 30 years, you’ve had the internet, you’ve had lots of new approaches to work. And then a pandemic came, too. What is a normal career path probably has changed, but most of all for smaller organizations, it seems less likely that there are very rigid traditional career paths. Kara, I’m assuming the larger the company is, the more you need some structured career-pathing, is that fair?

Kara Chambers: I think that’s how you scale, and one of the reasons we’re building this tool is it used to happen very informally, because we were very small and you just kind of slowly started collecting things and we’ll talk about that more. Collecting projects and starting to take on things informally. But we’ve found with people being more distributed, us getting bigger, those opportunities weren’t happening as equitably as we would want. Because of that informality, we realized — we’re getting bigger, but we didn’t want to create a formal career path. Instead, we wanted to capitalize on this non-linear, project-based career path.

David Gardner: Thank you, Kara, I’m going to turn to Lee for Company Culture Tip No. 3. Lee, before you present that, a lot of people obviously may not know how many employees we have today and they’re trying to think about their own organization. I think size matters here in terms of what you can do, what’s practical at six versus 60 versus … where are we today?

Lee Burbage: 625.

David Gardner: Then there are some listening to us with 6,250 or 63,000 employees. Pick your employees and try to take away from this week whatever makes most sense for your organization. Lee, what is Company Culture Tip No. 3?

Lee Burbage: I love this one because it’s not something necessarily unique to The Motley Fool, but something I think probably at least a lot of HR professionals know. But it’s one of those things that, gosh, it’s so easy to forget and then I’m reminded, “Oh my gosh, that’s right. That is true.” This is that. Some years ago, we set up an internal university with some great advice from our board member at the time, Steve Kerr. And what we found is what you read, which is that the teachers in our internal university actually got more out of it than even the students. [laughs] There’s something about stepping into that role that gets you to focus your thoughts or organize your thinking. You have to put things together. We found, out of the surveys following that university, the teachers, some of them were saying, “This is the favorite part of my job.” So we created the sideline work that people were doing in addition to their daily role, then it actually become their favorite thing.

Today, we see that we have a vibrant coaching program, which we’ve talked about on this show before. We have about 10% of our Fools today act as a coach to other Fools, so that’s 60 plus people. We’ve heard from some of them [that] being a coach is one of the favorite parts of their job. When you think about progress and growth in a career, your mind tends to stay boxed into “What is my current role? What am I doing?” But there’s so many other opportunities to get involved at companies that can become a very rich part of your progress and growth. So we really try to encourage side projects — again, taking on a teaching role, taking on a coaching role, being a leader in one of our ERGs, that sort of thing. There are opportunities for growth and progress beyond your day-to-day work.

David Gardner: You just rocked an acronym. Typically on this podcast. Lee, if you don’t have your knuckles rapped for introducing an acronym without mentioning it, the host will at least say something like, “Lee, could you just remind us what an ERG is, for a lot of us?”

Lee Burbage: Yes. An ERG is an Employee Resource Group and they are fairly new to the Motley Fool. We hired during the pandemic, a new chief diversity officer, Rachel Williams. She’s an amazing person and she has helped us launch, really, affinity groups inside the Fool, so people that can get together and have a voice. That’s a powerful thing, especially at a company of 625. You don’t want to be the one person advocating for blonde people. Then everyone knows, “oh, that was Kara.” You can have power and getting groups together — yes, employee resource groups, which are fairly new to the Motley Fool — but we’re already seeing it’s just going to be awesome.

David Gardner: Thank you, Lee. Coaching and teaching. We had the head of Pixar University — yeah, Pixar had an internal university back in the day, probably still does — gave us some great advice back then. It strikes me that not every organization necessarily has the resources or the time to build something like an internal learning program. Now I think you both would say as much as you can, you should. But even if you can’t offer a more formal opportunity to teach, it seems, Lee, as if anybody could actually raise their hand and say, “I’d like to coach. I’d like to coach young employees, new employees, I’d like to coach female employees.” Whatever it is. I’m always trying to make sure that we can offer something anyone can use. Even if you don’t have the resources for our internal university, Lee, you can be a coach, and I just learned from you that the coaches, that’s like their favorite thing about their job at the Fool.

Lee Burbage: Some of them, yes. Actually, I say university, that sounds complicated. We’ve had incredible fun and incredible effectiveness going out to Fools and saying, “Hey, is anybody really good at something and would be interested in teaching others?” All it takes is for them to set up a Zoom call. We’ve had everything from DJ class to butchering class. How to make drinks, how to sew. Tapping into your employees and skills they may already have that they’d be excited to teach others, especially in the virtual world, that makes for a great class and creates an opportunity again for them to progress and grow and meet new people.

David Gardner: That’s wonderful. Well, you both have done such a great job of emphasizing bringing your whole self to work, whoever you are, at whatever company, at least at our company. I can see that people are getting to bring their hobbies, things they love, getting share around with their fellow employees, and Kara, maybe that will start to become some of the 60-word job titles people include in what they do, as a coach and teacher as well.

Let’s move on to Company Culture Tip No. 4: Kara Chambers?

Kara Chambers: I’m going to build on what Lee was just talking about, our coaching program. The reason we picked growth and progress as our topic is we’re very focused on that right now, which I will explain more a bit. We just spent time with our coaches, helping them coach. Your coach, I like to say, functions as a guidance counselor. A lot of Fools move around in a non-linear career path. They have a different manager every year. They have not built that rapport yet. They may have come from a culture where you wouldn’t talk directly about it. A lot of people hanging on to be asked by their boss what they want to do the next five years.

A coach is there to help you unravel that and unpack that. I remember we had an all-hands couple of months ago, and I heard somebody say, “Well, if you asked 600 people what growth looks like for them, you’re going to get 600 different answers.” [laughs] We want those 600 different answers. It isn’t to be “vice president of this” — right, that wouldn’t happen here. But what does that really mean? Does that mean… I spend a lot of time talking about “What decisions do you want to be making?” with my coachees. And also, coaching is one of my favorite parts of my job. So, the coaches are there to help you… we try to teach them to ask really good questions when someone says, “I’m looking for more growth in my career.” What does that really look like? How does that sound? And we could have these interesting conversations about it.

Getting coaches to really get people to pause and think. I remember, when we were researching this Journey project — we heard people only see their boss’s job and the job they didn’t get. That’s the only two opportunities they can see. It’s like, there’s only two. So really, there’s hundreds, there’s probably thousands at the Fool, there are ones you can make up and create yourself.

So tip No. 4 is be coachable. As Lee just mentioned, being a coach can feel really rewarding and feel like progress, a coach or a teacher. But being coached is really helpful for your progress because it helps you navigate the career path, the non-linear path. At the Fool, we have a coaching program, as Lee mentioned, and we find a lot of Fools get a lot of value around the conversations they have with their coach.

David Gardner: Thank you for that. It strikes me, Kara, that a lot of us, as kids, starting sometimes with — I don’t know, Micro league soccer? — we know coaches as sports figures. And then people in the executive ranks today, this is a fairly important business today: executive coaching. You hear that a lot, between those though, there’s all the rest of us, and we’re not Micro league soccer kids anymore. We might also not be a CEO, but wow, coaching is very vital, and I think it’s a growing industry and I’m glad that you’re highlighting the importance of that. Not just to the coach, No. 3, but to the coachee, of course. No. 4. Lee, take us forward — Company Culture Tip No. 5.

Lee Burbage: No. 5 is job for life mindset. What I mean by this is — again, in a traditional world and workforce, I think LinkedIn feeds into this. You go into a job thinking about building your resume, adding to your LinkedIn profile, and climbing that corporate ladder. When people start at The Motley Fool, I meet with them on the very first day — I meet with all new Fools on their first day as part of orientation, and I tell them, “Our hope is that this is the last job you’ll ever have.” We have that mindset for employees. Sometimes it takes people a little time to get used to it, but once you embrace the idea that you’ll work at The Motley Fool for the rest of your life, and you stop worrying about adding things to your resume or updating your LinkedIn profile, then you really start to just think about, what’s the work I want to be doing? What’s the impact I want to be making? You’re less concerned about progress in terms of job titles and career ladders, and more concerned about progress and growth as a person, and the impact you are making on our company and for our members.

David Gardner: Lee, we’re always trying to make these series as relevant-seeming, as applicable, as practicable for any employee who’s listening or any employer who’s listening. I guess a little pushback I have on this one for you is: How many other companies in your experience say something like that to first-day employees and/or really have that as part of their culture? If we’re rare in that field, how am I to learn from that if I’m not working at a company that has Lee Burbage say that to me the day that I start?

Lee Burbage: Let me boldly say, David, that I think we are unique, but I think we’re right. I’ll sum it up by … think about how much time and energy and effort companies put into finding, recruiting, and hiring incredible talent. So if you can keep that talent for a long period of time, maybe their entire career, I think that investment really pays off. When you have high turnover, then you’re constantly having to rinse and repeat, spend money and energy in recruiting, hiring, training up, and then having to do that again. I prefer to take that same budget for recruiting and invest it in the people that are already here to keep and retain them. So it does take some work and focus on the company side to keep people. That’s important, but that’s something that Kara and our teams focus on, just trying to keep people here and keep our turnover very low. So I do think we’re unique, but it’s pretty awesome.

David Gardner: I love to see it as an investor looking at companies. Not every company reports its employee churn, and some industries are just naturally going to have more or less churn than others, but who are the best employers, where the companies that people love, not just to work, but to stay, because they love to work there. That does seem like such an advantage across a number of dynamics. Thank you for sharing No. 5, job for life mindset. Lee, let’s move to Company Culture Tip number 6. Kara?

Kara Chambers: Culture Tip No. 6 is find your own metrics and this is where we get a little Meta. Our big metric on our team is our engagement survey. We use a tool called Culture Amp, which generates an algorithm that tells us what’s most important to Fools and their happiness right now. And what’s most important to Fools and their happiness right now is making progress in their career. So Lee and I are knee-deep in this understanding this. This is why we were ready for this.

David Gardner: Hence the “progress in growth” theme to this particular podcast. Got it.

Kara Chambers: Yeah, it’s gotten us to explore this a lot more. As we said, the Fool has grown. We’ve been remote, but I see every article I read about the future of work and the changing workforce, there this a challenge around the world. But in a meta way, again, progress can mean different things to different people. But it also means making progress day to day, and knowing what you’re going after, having goals. For us, we love having these metrics that we can track and prioritize and move toward. Wherever you are in your job, if you are feeling stuck or lacking progress, I think it’s just helpful to go identify what your version of the engagement survey is. But for us, we know what it is. It’s pretty standard. But we know we always have a measuring stick that we drive ourselves. I think what can make for really satisfying work is to make progress every day. We talk about progress as in “years-long career progress,” but it’s also day to day, “better this week than it was last week.” That’s where I talk about finding your own metrics. So if no one’s giving them to you, it’s fun to go out and find your own, and track yourself.

David Gardner: Classic business line is: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” So the more that somebody, whether we’re talking, again, about the employer — and you shared how important our engagement survey twice a year is for us at the Fool — but also as an employee, maybe the metric that you’re performing to is very self-evident. Maybe it’s a sales metric of some kind. But the more that you could make it your own in a meta-like way, the more you could … this is too meta, and I don’t think anybody should do this. But the number of times you smiled today at work, if you could actually be that self-conscious, note that, and then see if you could do it once more tomorrow. It’s not just about fake smiling. It’s about giving yourself reason to smile. Again, this is not a metric anybody should adopt. But the point is, making your own metric that makes sense for you, and helps you make progress above and beyond whatever the company might be asking of you. I think that’s next level. Down the stretch we come — 7, 8, 9, and 10. Let’s go to Company Culture Tip No. 7, Lee Burbage.

Lee Burbage: No. 7 is encourage side-of-desk projects. This is a fun one. This is another thing that I will say to people during orientation or early on in their career at the Fool, is that we’ve noticed it takes, and this is broad strokes, around six months to figure out your job. What we’ve noticed is within six months, you are starting to figure out your job, and like, OK, I got this, and you start to create a little bandwidth because of that. I encourage people to pay attention to what it is they want to do with their bandwidth. Because what happens here in our culture is, you can get involved in other projects around the company, other people’s jobs, and everybody loves help. You can get involved with someone else’s project, and then what happens is over time that extra little bandwidth can get bigger and bigger, and it could become an area that you then want to pivot to as more full-time work. It’s something that piqued your interest.

Or vice versa — maybe you get involved in it and you’re like, “Well, that’s not interesting.” Side of desk projects are a way to test out other things that might interest you, and to prove yourself to other departments. I tell people, “Hey, if that’s an area that you’re interested in and a role opens up there, wouldn’t it be fun if you’re the automatic choice because you’ve already been working in that zone and proven yourself out?” So I highly encourage people to get involved in that way. And we’re lucky that we have a company culture that encourages it. We have a Fool here who is one of our lawyers named Harry, and I was talking to him — I check in with new Fools after about six months and I was asking him, “How’s it going?”

He said, “Well, there’s one thing that’s interesting here that sort of freaks me out,” and I’m like, “Wow, Harry, what is that?” He’s like, “When I walk up to people and talk to them at their desk, they’re really happy to talk to me and engage with me and answer any question.”

I was like, “Harry why is that weird?” He’s like, “You don’t understand because you’ve worked here so long, Lee, that at a lot of companies, you can’t just walk up and talk to people and get involved in their work. They’re defensive about that.” He just was weirded out at first, and then just loves how easy it is in our culture to go talk to other people, find out about their work, ask them questions, and then actually get involved in one of their projects that could someday become part of your real career.

David Gardner: Love that example. Lee, thank you for that and I am a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” person. That’s a strength and a weakness. So when I first heard you give this tip, I was thinking, what side-of-desk project do I need to start or lead or do? But really, a big part of the spirit is asking others what theirs is and say, I’d love to help, or how could I help? I guess the very nature of the phrase “side of desk” means it’s not really official, like I assume, Kara or Lee, is there an official list of side of desk projects at our company that I could see and sign up for? I’m not necessarily suggesting we should do that because then maybe it’s not side of desk anymore. But that’s interesting.

Lee Burbage: Well, it’s interesting that you asked that, David,  and Kara has envisioned this already. It doesn’t exist yet, so we didn’t put it on the list, but we’re building it. It’s called the opportunity marketplace. It’s going to be part of the Journey tool that Kara and her team are building, and so we don’t have it yet, so I can’t really talk about how amazing it is because it doesn’t exist. [laughs] But our hope is that it will be something that people can put side-of-desk projects out there. We have a belief that everybody has, I don’t know, 30, 40, 50 things on their to-do list. Let’s say you can only ever get to like ten. There’s somebody out there who wants to do 11 and 12 for you. You want it to get done. That would be amazing and enriching for them, and they’d enjoy it. Trying to figure out how to match people with things that are real, that do need to get done, that are on your to-do list but you just haven’t quite gotten to, that someone else does have time for and would love to do, that’s a dream that we’ve had. We’ve tried a few tools, but we haven’t quite cracked the code.

David Gardner: Alright, Company Culture Tip No. 8, Kara.

Kara Chambers: No. 8 is check in often. Frequency matters. I think I touched a little bit about shorter-term, day-to-day progress. The example I’ll use is, at the Fool, we do our compensation reviews quarterly, and I say this in onboarding, because everybody thinks that’s bonkers. But what we’ve learned over the years is, it’s made it easier because it’s more familiar. It doesn’t mean everybody gets a raise every quarter, but it just means someone’s looking at your comp every quarter. So when you’re in that non-linear career path and you’re taking on bigger responsibilities, there’s someone that has their eye on you at least once a quarter, and you don’t necessarily have to have quarterly comp reviews.

But I’m just saying frequent check-ins, like setting goals, setting progress, and not waiting a whole year — most things, quarterly is a nice pace for things like that, where three months is enough time for something to show up and something to make a difference. It just gives the leader who’s reviewing compensation for us, when we’re doing that quarterly check-in, to just look. For me to coach that leader through, “Has anyone’s roles changed in the past?” And because things do change often, they don’t have to wait a whole year, and think about it, and keep track of it. It’s quarterly pace. What we found is it makes the cycle faster rather than slower. That was a pleasant surprise for us.

David Gardner: Kara, obviously, on a lot of people’s minds these days, investors listening to this podcast: inflation, I’m assuming that if the value of a dollar is cheapening and prices are going up, whether it’s the gas pump or carton of milk, I’m assuming comp reviews that occur quarterly as opposed to I don’t know, every other year, feel more relevant right now. I’m I right?

Kara Chambers: Yes. I would say, what I like about it is I can help a leader say “not yet” to someone, and they only have to wait three months for us to revisit, so that’s one thing I really like about it. Rather than waiting “not this year.” We have a little time to adjust and relax, to where more frequent rewards are helpful to you like a small amount year, maybe a bonus here or a raise then — something like that. You’re right, the macro market, when I answer this question for empolyees, I talk about cost of living versus cost of labor. They move in the same direction, but they’re not one and the same. We have these conversations often. But for me, because we have these quarterly conversations, they’re quicker. And you remember that you had it three months ago. We don’t have to wait, and rehash everything you said a year ago, and go look it up and forget about it. But absolutely, the external market makes a big difference right now. But for us, it helps us to think about cost of labor versus cost of living as a little bit different.

David Gardner: A few years ago, you all helped oversaw — I think this was my brother Tom’s dream idea, and you helped to put it into play, and it was “Ask for a Raise Day,” and I think we made some waves, maybe got written up here or there for what had happened. Lee or Kara, could you briefly summarize what happened then, what we’ve learned, and whether we might ever do that again?

Kara Chambers: Yes. “Ask for a Raise Day” was in 2018, and this was your brother Tom’s idea. It really spent a lot time of getting people to talk about compensation. We talk about this on onboarding a lot, is getting people past that discomfort of just asking, and having that conversation because we think everyone should, because the market’s changing, your job is changing all the time. What we learned from that was clearing up a lot of misunderstandings, a lot of things that went left unsaid that were pretty easy fixes. Because Tom had the plan where you got $200 just for asking.

David Gardner: Just for asking, you literally got paid.

Kara Chambers: It was so funny, so many of the conversations I had were the person saying, “I would never ask, I never want to feel ungrateful.” So they did, because of the $200. The other piece I said to managers, because not every manager like this, because they had to be pushed to [laughs] ask their manager, and it’s uncomfortable. Every manager in life is going to be put in an uncomfortable situation. But usually that person’s upset already, they’ve got another offer, you’ve got to break down walls to fix it. Why not have that conversation now when the stakes are low?

The stakes were way lower than when they typically happen out in the world as someone’s getting ready to leave and there are counteroffers. I think that by lowering the stakes, we learned so much. And then we spent, I would say, the last four years really standardizing the way we talk about compensation a lot. We got some new technical systems into place. We moved to that quarterly. Sometimes I would talk to someone, and they’d be like, no one has talked to me about my competition in two years or something. Or they were afraid to talk about it, and things would happen, they wouldn’t ask. What we found it’s just clearing up some … by pushing people to having a slightly uncomfortable talk, we saved ourselves from future really uncomfortable talks.

David Gardner: Well, I think some of the stereotypes are that men ask more frequently than women for raises, or extroverts, Lee, ask more frequently than introverts. Did we find that those stereotypes played out?

Lee Burbage: In general, we did consider that when we rolled this out. We want to help any person who might be nervous about that conversation. And if you look at all the things that we’re talking about, we’re trying to create more touchpoints. Coaches checking in, great manager one-on-ones, getting you to openly talk about comp. Too often in the world, people in their jobs tend to stew on things. They start to assume that things that aren’t happening are signals: I didn’t get that role. I didn’t get a raise. Or, I’m not getting the advancement that I want. I’m not making progress. They just sit quietly for 18 months and all of a sudden they come in and resign.

Well, at the Motley Fool, in that 18 months, we hope we’ve had probably six different times that we’ve checked in with you and asked you how are things going? What can we do to help you? Everything’s on the table, let’s talk about it. We try to get to those conversations just like Kara is describing before they become a problem. Then we try to help people navigate out and away from them. The chances that we have everyone’s compensation at the company correct all the time is zero. If you know that going in, of course, you should ask. Sometimes we will make mistakes. Sometimes you won’t like to answer we give you, like “Actually no, you are overpaid.” But at least we have that conversation and you understand the rationale behind it and that there’s not some secret world where Kara is secretly trying to keep your comp down or something. There’s nothing nefarious in what we’re doing. We’re people just like you trying to do the best job we can. Let’s talk about it.

David Gardner: It’s often said that marriages fail most of all because of a lack of communication. If you think of yourself as, well, at least we’re trying to marry you, we’re saying “job for life,” we say even to our first-day employees, so yeah, communications seem awfully important. Well, let’s keep moving Lee onto Company Culture Tip No. 9.

Lee Burbage: Okay. No. 9 is a culture of transparency. This is a bonus, because this is going to be a tip, I think, if you’re running a company or if you’re on the inside, or if you’re an individual looking at progress and growth. Something incredible that we have at the company is this culture of transparency around our financials. If you work at The Motley Fool, we try to do a really strong job of telling you exactly how the business is going, what our metrics are, what our new initiatives are, and what the latest business strategy is.

There are a lot of really good things out of that. But one of them is, as people are looking to do side-of-desk projects or make a career change or progress, we want them going in the direction of the company’s strategy. Side-of-desk projects that are left “untethered” is a word that Kara and I like, could be running off in the wrong direction. That’s not going to be great for the company, and hey, by the way, that’s not going to be great for you in your career individually. As a company, if you’re transparent with business strategy and financials, then it will help individuals ensure that the work that they’re doing, the progress they’re making, and the growth they’re trying to make in their career will be in the direction that we want as a company toward our business strategy. In that scenario, the business will win and individuals will win.

David Gardner: Lee and/or Kara, each of you worked at least one other place before the Motley Fool. We prize transparency, always have at the Fool. And again, both internally for our own business, but of course, externally, I tend and always have tended to favor companies that are transparent themselves when I’m looking at their financials, or thinking about whether I’d want to be an investor in that business for a long period of time. Transparency has always been a capital-T word for us at The Motley Fool. But I have to bet — we’re the only company I’ve ever worked for. How unusual is that based on your past experiences?

Lee Burbage: I started off working for Bank of America before coming here for seven-plus years. I won’t pick on Bank of America, but I will say in general, I think it’s rare because people underestimate how much employees can understand, retain, value, and want to know how the company is doing. I think it can be easy for senior executives to sit back and be like, “Wow, these financials, this is complicated.” But we take the time to really dig in and not only provide how the company is doing but also provide opportunities for education if you don’t understand, for instance, what an acronym means or things like that. I think the whole company is better if you default to “Everybody would love to know how things are going. They’re all pretty smart here and capable of understanding these metrics.” At Bank of America, I think we probably could have done a better job of helping front-line employees get in and really understand the financials and the business strategy.

Kara Chambers: Building on what Lee said, I would say, I’ve had other jobs where they give you the basic information. I too worked at a bank, PNC Bank. They give you a stock price or something. But at The Motley Fool, because we are who we are, and our job is to help people understand the complicated financial information, we put the effort in. We really make it accessible and understandable and contextualize it. We have such a great comps team that works on that. I think for the Fool, we hire people that want to understand it, because we are The Motley Fool and we have people internally that we want to teach. It’s the best of both worlds.

David Gardner: Apparently we’re hiring people [laughs] specifically for our HR People and Culture [laughs] teams from big banks who I think felt, Lee, burned by their past experiences with, I don’t know big banks?

Lee Burbage: Well, I feel like the question was framed negatively, so I had to say. But it’s funny: I tell young people sometimes, young professionals, that a big company can be a great first job because they really have figured out exactly how to do training and development really at scale. Believe me, I learned so much at Bank of America, and there’s a lot of things that they were doing then that were pretty incredible, and it’s been 20-some years since I’ve worked there, too. I’m sure a lot has changed. Although when I go into the branch, it sure looks similar. [laughs]

David Gardner: Excellent. Well, speaking of learning, you’ve been helping us learn a lot, both of you, thank you, this week and I think we’ve arrived at Company Culture Tip No. 10, the final tip. Kara, have you saved the best for last?

Kara Chambers: I would say this is one zone that I really love working on, and it’s not even ours specifically, but I thought it was such good advice that I’ve been working for years on doing this. So I’ll go for it.

David Gardner: Good enough. Go for it.

Kara Chambers: No. 10 is do what you do best. This is from a classic Gallup question. We’ve been asking for, I want to say 14 years, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day, and a guy named Marcus Buckingham wrote a whole book on this that I just read, and he does this wonderful job of saying: Doing what you do best, it’s every day, it should be about 20%. And he uses this metaphor called The Red Thread. You’ve got the fabric of your day that’s greys and blacks and browns, and then there’s this red thread that’s following through the things that you really love. And we just taught a class on this: It’s the things to get you in flow state. It’s the things that you naturally volunteer for and are naturally good at. That’s where you’re going to see more progress in your career, when you’re really in that zone, and I think the learning I just had was, it doesn’t have to be every day. I don’t really like formatting PowerPoint bullet points every day, but as long as I’m doing something fun like coaching or coming up with new ideas, something I really enjoy. That’s a lot of satisfaction. So I love that Red Thread metaphor, and I also will steal another one that I like from there. Your career is not a ladder, it’s a scavenger hunt for those red threads, so you’re being intentional about, where are my red threads today? What are the things that I love doing? And doing more of that, because you’re going to excel there because you’re going to be drawn to it and that will be your practice to do better. So I did lift that from elsewhere, but because I’ve been following that question for like 15 years, I’m just intrigued by it, and I continue to push on it through our coaching programs and our engagement surveys, of really understanding that when I go out and coach people. So I just closed with someone else’s stuff, but it’s really good stuff, we’d like to learn from the world.

David Gardner: Absolutely. Do you have an opportunity to do what you do best every day at work? That is indeed from the Gallup 12, the questions that Gallup has been asking workplaces and people in workplaces for a long time now, and that one has always been a big question for us internally, and I love you pulling the Red Thread through that question. Kara, your reputation around the Fool — well, you have several, they’re all good. One of them is, well, it’s your Motley: “There’s an app for that.” That’s your way of letting all of us know that you are very actively looking for tools and things that we can use at the Fool.

But Kara, another of your positive reputations around the Fool, is that you appreciate — I do too — personality tests of all different kinds, and you’re always on the hunt (speaking of scavenger hunts) for another good one that could be useful. And I think most of us recognize that not every personality test, even like Myers-Briggs, one of the most popular, they’re not always deeply respected by scientists themselves, but I’ve never cared too much about that because they really give us platforms to have conversations around common things. They really are bridges for us to explain who we are to other people and hear back from them. So “There’s an app for that,” but there’s also often a personality test in some way, shape, or form for that. And Kara, for strengths, I think of Clifton Strengths.

Kara Chambers: Yeah. It all comes from the same place, and so I think when I looked at that — you’re right, a lot of my coaches, they can’t really articulate their strengths, so most of us aren’t good at it, and so it gives you some language. “This scientific thing told me I was great at coming up with future ideas” or something. And so therefore, it gets people a little bit more comfortable articulating them, and so if you don’t know what your Red Threads are, it’s a good starting point because there are 34. Gallup Clifton Strengths is fun. I tell everybody these tests are not magically reading your mind. You are answering questions about yourself [laughs]. You’re telling a computer what you think about yourself. But there’s something going on there. You’re thinking, it’s your self-perception, it’s the decisions you are making, and so I use it a lot as a coaching tool, but to me, I’ve learned over the years it’s a jumping-off point. No two are the same in there.

David Gardner: Yeah, well, doing what you do best, often, you probably are an expert on that yourself. Sometimes, we have blind spots or others can let us know, Lee, you really are a better juggler than you realize. Juggling is a great strength for you, Lee, you should juggle more. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Lee, do you juggle?

Lee Burbage: I did juggle a lot when I was younger. In fact, I owned a unicycle and I used to ride my unicycle and juggle. Yes.

David Gardner: See, I never knew that. I don’t think Kara did either. A man of many talents, but my Clifton Strengths: strategic, futuristic, positivity, belief, and responsibility. I’m looking at the report just as we speak. I don’t necessarily have that committed to memory. I needed to Google that while we were talking. But yeah, that’s a good example of one of the many ways you can try to figure out what are the strengths that you have, and then, to your point, Kara, trying to do what you do best every day. So a great one to close on.

Well, I would love it if we could summarize our 10 tips at close. But before we do that, I just want to mention next week’s podcast for Rule Breaker Investing, we will be doing a Review-a-Palooza episode.

We will be revisiting three past five-stock samplers, all of which were picked in the last few years, which means if you’re already guessing, you’re right, which means they’re down. It’s going to be a bloody week next week on Rule Breaker Investing. If you enjoy slow-motion train wrecks, or if you find yourself wanting to feel a little bit of summer schadenfreude, please listen in next week. Of course, we have fun and we learn from both our winners and our losers, and we will be talking about some of both next week. Well then, to conclude, we’ve presented this week 10 more Company Culture Tips. It was Lee and then Kara, and I think we should summarize them in that order from No. 1 to No. 10. Lee, take us away.

Lee Burbage: No. 1 was My Role. We don’t have job titles here.

Kara Chambers: No. 2 was the non-linear career path. We are a project culture.

Lee Burbage: No. 3 was coaching and teaching can provide growth opportunities outside of your role.

Kara Chambers: No. 4 was be coachable, and be coached.

Lee Burbage: No. 5, job-for-life mindset.

Kara Chambers: No. 6, find your own metrics.

Lee Burbage: No. 7, side-of-desk projects are supported and encouraged.

Kara Chambers: No. 8, check in often and frequently on your goals.

Lee Burbage: No. 9, culture of transparency.

Kara Chambers: No. 10, do what you do best every day.

David Gardner: One of the things that you both do best is come on this podcast and present not just your beliefs or our findings, but actually the things that you’ve put into play for real, for reals, in our company over the years, sharing that back out to others, hoping that we can make you smarter, happier, and richer, whether as an employee or as an employer. Kara and Lee, thank you so much for joining me once again for Volume 9 of Company Culture Tips. And, you know, team, I say number 10 — and we’ve talked about this a little bit — I think number 10, which we’ll do at the end of this year maybe, should be the greatest hits. We’ve now done nine of these, and each time, I think I’ve asked you to bring 10, which you have. So if my math is correct, I believe that you have presented something like 90 [laughs] different culture tips over the course of these last seven years. So I think we deserve ourselves a greatest-hits podcast. So I think Volume 10, it’s going to be whichever are the 10 most important that you want to share, maybe toward the end of this year. Are you both willing to come back for a tenth?

Lee Burbage: Absolutely. Now, remember, David, you told us we only ever had to have one good one to make it successful. So there’s got to be one good one in there.

David Gardner: Yeah, we always hope each of these podcasts, this being the ninth, at least one good one, sometime during that hour or so. I hope we did it once again this week. I will mention, probably, love to have you both back at the end of this month when we get some good feedback, some Mailbag questions, and again, I hope some tips, because how many great workplaces can we learn from? The answer is [an] infinite number of great other workplaces, and so I’m hoping we’ll have some new ideas that we can share and discuss together at the end of this month.

In the meantime, for Kara Chambers and for Lee Burbage — Kara, Lee, thank you…

Lee Burbage: Thanks, David.

Kara Chambers: Thank you.

David Gardner: Thank you most of all for suffering Fools gladly this week, a delight. We hope you have a great week. Fool on!

Bank of America is an advertising partner of The Ascent, a Motley Fool company. David Gardner has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Kara Chambers has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Lee Burbage has positions in Bank of America. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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