In this episode of Rule Breaker Investing, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner brings on Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage, two resident Fool culture experts, to share some free* tips, tricks, and games for a better workplace. Random pairings, little surprises, smart one-on-one meetings, active listening, team-building games, wellness competitions that don't injure employees, a little extra time off -- and we're just getting started. Tune in for many more Foolish tips on fostering workplace cultures that people love.
*OK, some of the tips might cost a tiny bit of money, but when you consider how much they'll pay off, they're basically free!
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 Dec. 4, 2019.
David Gardner: Workplace culture never seemed like a cool thing. Hey, to most people, it wasn't even a thing, let alone cool, until, perhaps, a show like The Office comes along in 2005 and dominates the ratings for nine seasons, and for which NBC streaming recently paid $500 million in order to stream its reruns. $500 million to watch a hilariously dysfunctional workplace like the ones that you and I dream of not having to work in -- although Dunder Mifflin looks a lot more fun than most offices I've actually visited. So, I think it's fair to say that workplace culture is not just a thing, and not just a cool thing. It's a very valuable thing. It's the place in which many adults spend 40 or more hours of their weeks, one precious week after another, for almost their whole lives. So, wouldn't you like to make yours better?
This week's podcast is my sixth episode in four years devoted entirely to workplace culture. I have two of the best culture builders I know, world-class Conscious Capitalists, back for a return visit -- Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage will be bringing you once again 10 fresh and original tips for how you can improve your workplace culture. And not only that, even better, this time Kara and Lee promised me that every one of these is completely -- well, mostly -- free. They cost nothing! They only await your attention and commitment, your willingness to try something new, take a risk. Maybe it fails, but maybe it works. Company Culture Tips Vol 6, back with the dynamic duo that originated the series, only on this week's Rule Breaker Investing.
And welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing! This week, it's Rule Breaker company culturing. I'm not sure that's the right participle. But, I'm back here with two of my favorite Fools -- Kara Chambers and Lee Burbage. Kara, Lee, welcome.
Kara Chambers: Thank you for having us!
Lee Burbage: Yeah, thanks for having us!
Gardner: Well, you both were just on last week's show. We taped it a couple of weeks ago, because it was the week before Thanksgiving, but we talked about how, in December, we were going to talk about company culture. I decided, let's start December off with that conversation.
Kara, I'm not going to say you promised --
Chambers: I did.
Gardner: -- that all of these 10 company culture tips we're covering this week are free. I'm not going to say you promised that.
Chambers: I did, probably. I said low-cost. Almost free.
Gardner: Yeah, Lee and Kara, I think you said low-cost, but I heard the free part. And anytime I hear free, I want to make that the name of the podcast. So I'm pretty sure Rick, who titles most of our podcasts, will call this something like Company Culture Tips Vol 6: Free stuff. We've learned the power of the word free. Dan Ariely who once came here and spoke at Fool HQ, the wonderful behavioral economist, he wrote a great book called Predictably Irrational, and in chapter three, well, he entitles it The Cost of Zero Cost. He talks about how the words free and zero hold powerful allure over the human psychology. So, I thought, let's call this free. Lee?
Burbage: Yes, I mean, it is practically free. I think when you look at these tips in relation to the total spend on employee salaries and marketing and all the other costs to a business, it's pretty darn close to free. How about that?
Gardner: Yeah, I agree with you. So we're going to call it free with an asterisk, but really just free. And I think that's fun, because it's a reminder from both of you, who have so consciously thought about our culture and grown it over just about a couple decades now for you both -- I think that things we can share out that anyone can do if they just have the will, or the imagination, because they're free, that is powerful. So, I sure hope that, of the 10 tips you share, at least one of them is going to speak to every single person listening today if they're in or connected to a workplace. Can you make that promise, Kara?
Gardner: Yes. Awesome. Good. We're about to change lives this week.
Burbage: I'm ready.
Gardner: I like we do that just about every week, but especially when you both come back and we speak to the workplace. As I tried to say at the start of the show, it's very valuable. It's underrated, until, maybe, Steve Carell showed up. But these days, I think all of us recognize, not just as entrepreneurs and business people, which we are, but as investors as well, picking stocks, which we are, too, picking companies that have great cultures, you're probably going to do better as an investor.
Alright, Kara, I see you are warming up tip No. 1. Before we go there, let me just briefly preview what's going to happen on next week's podcast, because how could I not talk about games? Next week, it's all about games. Now, one thing I've tried to do in past years on the podcast is provide some of my favorite board game and card game ideas for maybe around the tree this year. For anybody celebrating the holidays, looking for gifts, I love to give my holiday games list. I'm also going to be reviewing Five Stocks to Put Under the Tree. Yep, that's a five-stock sampler I picked a few years ago. We're going to see how that game is playing out. And then finally, I'm going to have the lead developers on our new mobile game app here at The Motley Fool. The name of the game is Investor Island. Now, some of you know this. You helped us beta tested as Stock Star a year ago or so now. Well, don't tell anybody -- well, you can if you want -- it's now out on the App Store. We've kind of done a soft launch. So if you're a gamer, and a listener of this podcast, you should know, you can show up at any app store, type in Investor Island, and begin playing along with us. Who knows? Maybe you and I will send some fireballs back and forth at each other's statues, having fun with the stock market as well. So, the lead developers of our Investor Island mobile game app will share some of their tips for our new game next week. So, yeah, next week, games, games, games.
And there's probably a little game here or there in this top 10 list.
Burbage: For sure.
Gardner: Even the idea of a top 10 list is kind of its own game-y framework. And we've been rocking this, Kara and Lee, we've done six episodes. One of them was about our motley, so it wasn't, but the other five, including this, have 10 tips each for corporate culture. So, if you are inspired by anything that Kara or Lee or say today and you want to hear more, feel free to go back and listen to some of their other amazing lists of great tips to help out your workplace.
With that said, the others might not have been free, these are! Kara, let's get started. Free Company Culture Tip No. 1.
Chambers: This was inspired by you. We are big fans of random pairings and groupings here at The Fool.
Gardner: Ooh, randomness!
Chambers: We have a lot of techies and investors who are introverted, so getting people just to get together and mix and cross-pollinate really, it doesn't always happen naturally. So, what we've found is, whenever we can, we try to give people opportunities to pair up or group up at random. I won't leave without adding an app --
Gardner: Because, Kara, your motley here, which I assume hasn't changed, is "there's an app for that."
Chambers: So you'll hear me mention, yes, there's an app for that.
Gardner: You always an app. OK, keep going. What is this one called?
Chambers: I will shout out to Donut. It's inexpensive. It's a Slack plugin that randomly pairs you to have coffee with a random somebody, maybe in Australia, so you could just meet them via Zoom. I went around and recruited some of our most introverted people, saying, "Hey, this is way easier than walking up to a stranger at a happy hour." And some of them never miss it. Anyway, that is one technical way of doing so.
But, things like, if you're having a team lunch or a group dinner, we will mix up the seating. It's free to pull names out of a hat. This being the holiday season, Secret Santa always works, too. But when we pull a name, we've had ways of saying, "You're going to pull a name, and then go find out what makes this person special. Find out what they do really well and go tell them." So, it's a great icebreaker. It's a great way for people to connect.
But what we found is, no matter what we're doing here, breaking people into random groups -- which can be done with free or almost free, crumpled up pieces of paper, or a cool app, or anything like that. I'm a big fan of random groupings and pairings.
Gardner: Thank you very much, and thanks for saying that I love randomness, because you know that I do. On the four apps at the bottom of my tray, like the always-on tray on my smartphone, on the bottom right is a 20-sided dice app, because I'm randomizing alarming amounts on any given day, week or month. The Donut app is fun. Now, I have to admit, I hadn't been doing this, but then I was like, "I should be doing this." So, all I do is, on Slack, with Donut plugged in, I just go in and I sign up. And then, at the start of the month, that's how I think you set it -- I think it can be set at different intervals -- I just get a Slack note saying, "Hey, you're going to have coffee with ____, one of our fellow employees." As you mentioned, this might be an employee in Australia, in which case, we have virtual coffees in front of our monitors. Or, it might be, in my case, my good friend Tom King, a relatively new analyst here at The Motley Fool. Tom and I are having a random coffee this December. Really love the random pairings.
I know Fool's Errand, which we've talked about in years past, in which we randomize an employee to take a two-week break from the company, paid, would be another great example of randomizing. I always randomized people -- as new Fools, they come and have a coffee with me and I interview each one, but I randomize the order in which we do that. Random is fun!
Chambers: Yeah, it adds a little unexpected in there.
Gardner: It's a game-y element. I said I was talking about games next week, but I said we'd have some games this week. Donut is a good game. Lee, any thoughts on this one?
Burbage: I would just say, sometimes randomness takes a little bit of programming. One of Kara's superpowers is --
Chambers: You're letting my secret out!
Gardner: I want to know, I don't think I know!
Burbage: -- assigning people seats at our annual company gathering.
Gardner: Oh, that's who's doing that!
Burbage: It's a random group of people, but they have been assigned. So, one tip I would give is, if you're having gatherings and you're talking about, "Should we have assigned seats or not?" I would highly encourage assigned seats, and you pick the random seat pairings, if you will. Otherwise, people will tend to sit with people they already know and talk about the same things.
Gardner: So true.
Chambers: The randomness means, if I throw it into a randomizer and see it's all the same people from the same team who happen to be randomized sitting together, I will fix it, quote-unquote.
Gardner: You'll rerandomize, perhaps.
Chambers: Yes, I will rerandomize until I feel like it's right.
Gardner: OK, good. That sounds free to me. I love that one because it has a game element as well. It runs through our culture in various ways. And I hope, whoever you are, wherever you're listening to us from, I hope that makes sense to you, and you see a way to make things a little bit more fun in your office. I love it, how it creates juxtapositions that wouldn't otherwise happen. It breaks up groups. It gives you new conversations. Love it. OK, good one. No. 1.
I'm not going to say these get better. Do these get better? Was that the best and we led off with that, or was that the worst?
Burbage: Kara's are all better than mine.
Gardner: OK. I know we're bouncing it back and forth. Lee, No. 2?
Burbage: No. 2 I'm titling small surprises. I will admit, there's a tiny cost to doing these.
Gardner: It's still free though, right?
Burbage: Practically free. I've got a couple examples of really understanding what it is that gets people excited. Oftentimes, it's a small thing. We have someone on our team, for instance, who loves the 100 Grand candy bar. Which is delicious. And, it turns out, in our area, not always available everywhere. You'd think, with that big brand ... So, I try to pay attention to when I see it in the store, and I spend the small amount of money to have it. And every once in a while, I will just sneak it onto this person's desk so that when they come in, they're like, "Oh, it's my favorite candy bar that is not that often available to me!"
As a group, Kara and I, we probably had a team of about 12 of us at this time -- I booked a fake meeting, and instead of a meeting, I said, "We're all going to walk to 7-11, and everyone is allowed to purchase one item from 7-11," which is more challenging than you'd think. 7-11 has a lot of stuff in there. But it's so fun. You're like a kid again. Some people are grabbing ice cream sandwiches, others grabbing the Red Bull, someone else, the really bad sunglasses. And we just had a really fun time as a group. We took a group photo.
So, I personally like to look for those little, small moments where, for little to no cost, we can do something fun that's outside of the normal work day. Little surprises.
Chambers: I had no idea you were the 100 Grand fairy until right now.
Burbage: [laughs] Really?
Chambers: Yes. That's true. I had no idea that was you.
Burbage: There may be a few of us, I don't know.
Gardner: Kara, are you the one who loves the 100 Grand bar?
Chambers: It is not me. But I wouldn't turn one away.
Gardner: This one, of all of them, maybe, feels the most anti-corporate in the sense of, that's something you could just be doing anywhere, in a household or a company, college, any kind of environment. And I think a lot of it is just, I guess, having the focus to remember things like that, to remember how special small surprises are.
Burbage: Time can slip by so quickly. You'll realize, "Wow, it's been eight months since I've done anything like that." I think you're right, having the focus to just think about those little things. Your brother Tom is excellent in this zone. I probably learned that from him, of just knowing when to give people something small and special, and shows that you've been listening. Like, this Fool realizes that I know that she likes 100 Grand, and that tells her that I know her and I care about her as a person.
Gardner: That's great. Alright, well, I'm not scoring you, but if I were, I'd say it's tied right now. This is not competitive, though. I think you came up with these together. So I'm going to drop the whole scoring thing. This is not a thing for this podcast.
Kara, No. 3. I see it shorthand, deliberate one-on-ones. Could you please explain?
Chambers: Those are free. And I think they're one of the most underrated ways to improve your culture, is to just sit down and ask people their opinions. It sounds way less exciting than a $100,000 bar. If you bring one, it'll probably be better. But I bet somehow, at some point, Lee found out what people's favorite candy bar was.
You're catching me at a time when we're doing our engagement surveys. We get together around this time of year and we meet and we're like, what's our big program, next action? Can I look closer at this data? We've talked about this in prior podcasts. Really, I'm just saying, just sit down with each person on your team and ask them what they think, and frame it in a way like, "I really want to hear from you personally."
It's not the most exciting, it feels obvious, but so few people do this. At least try to make sure you're doing this once a week. Again, there's nothing you need to buy. You just need to book your calendar and spend some time. It doesn't need to be over-programmed. But I will say, one of the key things driving great culture is great conversations.
Gardner: Give me a starter's guide. If I haven't done that before, maybe I'm not comfortable, I'm not quite sure how to do that well, and I'm hearing these world-class culture professionals tell me that deliberate one-on-ones is a thing, and it's free. And I sure agree with that. How about one, two, or three tips to do that in a way that's going to succeed?
Chambers: I read this in a book called The Coaching Habit, which I love. Start with just, "What's on your mind?" And then wait.
Gardner: It's as simple as that?
Chambers: It can be really hard. I'm not very good at doing this. And then wait until the person starts talking. Then you say, "And what else?" And you just continue. Starting with that is helpful. You don't need anything big. I found that really helpful if I don't know where to start, is to just say, "What's on your mind right now?"
And be really patient. We have a Fool here named Rob. He teaches active listening. You would be surprised how incredibly difficult it is to wait those 10 seconds, right? And not be like, "Let me tell you what's on my mind," or something like that. I can do that with my one-on-ones tomorrow.
Gardner: So, part of the tip there is, you put it out there and you don't say anything. You are actively listening. I'm clearly not an experienced active listener, because I'm asking noob questions about active listening.
Chambers: It's so hard. And that's why I use the word deliberate. I am going to focus myself on doing that today.
Burbage: If I could sneak in, David, and maybe a break protocol, and slide in No. 4 right here?
Gardner: Let's go.
Burbage: Kara and I talked beforehand about, is this the same one? And I said, no, these are two different tips, but they are definitely related.
At least once or twice a year, I would take one of those one-on-ones and purposely step back from what often ends up being more of a day-to-day discussion. When a manager and employee are talking, oftentimes it's more task-oriented. "What project are you working on? When's it going to get done? When can I get my stuff?" That sort of thing. And it's actually a lot rarer for a manager to ask just, "How are you doing? Where do you want to go with your career? What are the next steps? How can I help you? What's one thing that I can do to help you better?" So, asking those bigger-picture questions about longer-term things that are less to do with the day-to-day, we find, is incredibly impactful. The number one thing we hear from people is, "Thanks for asking." So, just the act of asking actually helps in engagement and so forth. And then, what I find is, you'll learn so much, and there's lots of good to-do's from a check-in like that.
Gardner: Wow. You've entitled this one dreamy check-ins. I guess the dream there is that you wouldn't think that people would care, your boss would care about what you're after. I sure hope our listeners do, and those that they report to or report to them do. But maybe a lot of the world doesn't, so this comes across as a surprise for a lot of people.
Burbage: My guess is they all work very hard, your listeners, right? That's what we see here at The Fool. People are working hard. They've got a lot on their plate, and they're really focused in on those things. So, it does take a little focus in a different area to step back and say, "Let's just take a small break and talk about you and where you're headed and how I can help."
Gardner: Alright, so, No. 1 was random pairings. No. 2, small surprises. No. 3, deliberate one-on-ones. And No. 4, dreamy check-ins. Before we get to No. 5 ...
I'm just going to take a quick moment out to brag. Lee and Kara, I believe that you are too humble to do this. But I, as the proud entrepreneur who, with my brother Tom, helped found this company 27 years ago, I am not that humble. Twice a year, we survey our whole company. And we get upwards of an 80% response rate. We ask them, are you engaged at work? Do you love what you do? Do you love who you're doing it with? Those kinds of questions. And three of those questions, which are ... ?
Chambers: I'm proud to work here.
Gardner: No. 1.
Chambers: I would recommend working here.
Gardner: No. 2.
Chamber: I generally feel positive at work.
Gardner: Those three, taken together, we look and we blend everybody's answer. And we call that our engagement rate. And the rate of engagement of The Motley Fool as of last week -- we just took it fresh -- was 91%.
Now, the reason I want to brag a little bit is because Gallup does this engagement survey of the average American corporation -- maybe Dunder Mifflin included -- and Gallup revealed last year, 2018, the highest engagement rate in American corporate history since the 20 years or so that they've been taking the survey. Guess what the rate is. I know you both know, but I'm asking rhetorically of our listeners. Guess what it is. It's 38%. The all-time high.
So, my brother Tom -- I always swipe this, this is one of his many great anecdotes, and I love this one. He talks about the boat that we're all in as a corporation. We each have a paddle, and there are 10 of us in the American corporate boat. At its all-time high, now America has four of the 10 paddlers paddling forward, which is good. In that same canoe, there are about four others that have the paddle on their lap. They're not disengaged, but they're not actively engaged. They're just kind of along for the ride. And then, two or three people in the back are actively paddling backwards, actively disengaged at the companies they work for. So, all-time highs in America -- we take pride in our workplace here in America -- and yet, that's what the boat looks like.
Lee and Kara, this is not the How I Built This podcast. I hope that you both will be invited on that at some point and talk about building one of the world's best corporate cultures. But, to the extent we're channeling that for just a minute or two here, how have you built a culture where nine of our 10 employees are paddling forward, and one dude's got the paddle on his lap in the back? Kara?
Chambers: I'd say it's just from constant improvement and paying attention. I know your brother Tom reads every single comment and talks about it at our all-hands. I think that's a really big one. And so, I think it's an openness to be willing to hear feedback and willing to adapt as we go. I'm going combine this, too -- at a lot of our all-hands, our employees will write something into our surveys and say something like, "How are we going to scale our culture when we're bigger and bigger?" And I always get up and say, "The fact that you're asking that tells me that you care enough to preserve this culture." And so, I think it's just a group effort.
Gardner: Lee, what else? I learned, by the way, from a smart person to say -- and just wait 10 seconds, sometimes -- and say, "What else?"
Burbage: [laughs] I would say, it's a powerful thing to have a score, a metric. Oftentimes out there in the world, with culture, at least early in my career, it was a hard thing to say, "Are things working or not?" Thank you to Gallup and our partner Culture Amp and other companies like that, that helped us find what I think are some powerful ways to measure if the things we're doing are working or not. It's not perfect, but directionally correct. So, having a score that then we can go back and try to improve, it's a game we're playing, David, and who doesn't love to play that game and to win?
Gardner: Thank you very much, Lee. So, nine out of 10 paddling forward. Our boat is moving swiftly. It is a delight to be on board this ship of Fools.
Let's get now to free company culture tip No. 5. Kara.
Chambers: This is perfectly timed. Google Sheets, I was thinking about, in past podcasts, we've talked about testing and learning things. Some of our best things we've tested into have been managed in a Google Sheet. So, I'd like to give a little shout out. Before we had Culture Amp, we just ran our surveys through Google Forms. That's free. Our 360 feedback was also done in Google Forms. Our wellness signup, our classes that you're taking -- we're going to get to wellness in a few minutes -- sign-up sheets. They're free, and they're easy. Games, scorekeeping. They're all just done in this free -- that's where my head was. I almost always add that as a disclaimer. You don't need an app, you can just use Google Sheets. If you're working with data like that, I think it's just a really good way to test it. We talked about this being free. A lot of blocks for people are not even necessarily about the money, but it's about getting approval to get money. If you want to test something, it's just easier to say, "I'm going to just stand it up and duct tape it together with Google Sheets." I'm famous for doing that a little too long.
So, what I said was, I added to almost every disclaimer of how to make some of our programming free is, just try it in Google Sheets. Try your surveys, try your randomizer, try that. Everyone can use it. So, shout out to Google Sheets.
Gardner: Google Sheets are your friend. Lee, are Google Sheets your friend?
Burbage: They are my friend. Good thing I'm also friends with Kara, because she knows all the technology. She's constantly out there looking for what's the next thing that's going to help us. We do laugh together often about how much easier our life is today because of tools like that. There's so much out there to take advantage of. It can be overwhelming, but starting with something simple and basic that you already have, pretty fun.
Gardner: So those are five free things -- yes, darn it, they're free! Even that 7-11 trip, that was free, right?
Burbage: Darn close!
Gardner: Enough. Alright, so we're at halftime, but there's no marching band, and there's no dudes jumping on a trampoline, dunking the ball after a 360. No, we're just going right through halftime to point No. 6. Lee.
Burbage: Point No. 6 you'll love, and I feel like I'm continuing to preview next week. This one I've titled play games.
Gardner: Thank you!
Burbage: I'm thinking companywide. We do take time as a culture to stop what we're doing and just have fun together. I've listed a few of my favorites. One of my favorites -- I thought I invented this, but then I heard some other companies doing it. I don't know, maybe I'll take credit. But, every couple years, we give out some small supplies to every department in the company. And each area of the building builds their own mini golf hole. And then Fools take a break, we all walk around the office, and play each other's mini golf holes. And the team is laughing together, you're playing some ridiculous mini golf that's been built out of, like, a piece of rope and whatever was in your garbage can. It also gets you walking around the office and meeting some people you might not normally interact with.
We play a game called Assassin every couple years, where you're slowly whittling down through the office of people that you have to virtually kill. I believe we use a sticker.
Gardner: Right. You get, randomly, somebody's name, and you have to go kill them. And how do you kill them?
Burbage: You put a sticker on them. We have some rules about how to put that sticker on them. It's a small sticker. And then, once you've killed them, then they give you the person they were supposed to get. And by the end of the day, you've got, like, Rick and Steve chasing each other around the office trying to put a sticker on each other to win the Assassin game.
Gardner: [laughs] And they've got 100 dots on them each or something.
Rich Engdahl: I never make it past the first round.
Chambers: Me neither.
Burbage: The last one I'll throw out is, if you're not into running all around the office, one of our favorites is just a simple pub quiz. There's plenty of sites online that, for free, will help you build your own --
Gardner: Did you say free, Lee?
Burbage: I did say free.
Gardner: Keep going.
Burbage: Plenty of places online where you can build your own pub quiz. Lots of times, the questions are about other people that work in the office, but they don't have to be. They could be about the show The Office. But, just getting together, dividing up into random teams, and playing a pub quiz. Just having fun, laughing, doing things together, playing games. It really builds a sense of camaraderie that will carry into difficult decision-making and hard projects and all those things that are part of our daily lives.
Gardner: So, OK, maybe a sub-theme this week are games, which I love. I think that's great. I would say that games, just gamer thinking in and around the offices. Hiring gamers. Yeah, they happen to be techies, they happen to be marketing people -- they love games. I'm going to say we over-index there, Kara. I know that you both help us hire a lot. I don't know that we specifically try to hire gamers, but it seems like we over-index toward gamers?
Chambers: I think they may self-select in here. It's possible. And, I will say, I am not a gamer, but this is just accessible enough for me. The rules of Assassin, Lee explained in two minutes. I can do that. So, one of the points is, it should be accessible for everybody.
Gardner: Yeah. Earlier, you previewed, you used the word wellness briefly. Now, that's obviously a very important word, not just here in our offices, but for the world at large. Again, this will be the last time -- I hope -- that I brag this podcast, but I did see a headline in the Washington Post last year that said, "The Motley Fool is Washington D.C.'s healthiest company." That made me really proud. I don't think I'm contributing, necessarily, unless high cholesterol counts, but outside of that --
Burbage: You look great, David.
Gardner: Thank you, Lee. You look even better. But wellness is obviously a major trend in workplaces and in our society. I've even heard people like my cranky friend Mac Greer -- we know him, we love him -- I think he says he doesn't even like the word wellness. He feels like it's this jargon that's taken over. But apart from what word we're using, Kara, what is free company culture tip No. 7?
Chambers: Wellness challenges. One of the best things about our wellness person, Sam Whiteside, is she's very good at making wellness challenges that are accessible to everybody. I think your cranky friend Mac Greer was at spin class with her, by the way.
Gardner: [laughs] Wearing, probably, Lycra, and rocking the word wellness, because he was trying to fit it.
Chambers: Yes. But, I tell all new hires, whether it's just trying to get yourself to stand more, or to perfect your triathlon time, there's all types here. Wellness is great for work. It really improves your mood. If you're a knowledge worker -- which most of us are -- it's good for your brain. It improves your cognitive functioning, no matter how healthy you are.
We have a variety. They're based in Google Sheets. They're largely based on the honor system, which is key. If you really want to lie to get a $10 gift card, or just some applause, go for it. That's fine. One of our other themes is about trust.
But, our wellness challenges, again, they'll be things like pushups, and you put them in a sheet, and you can watch everybody. And it's fun, because we're a global company. You see people in London, before you even got up, did like 50 pushups, and it's going around the world.
Gardner: And you said they're typing it into a free Google Sheet?
Chambers: Google Sheets. It's live. It totals. We've got some of our business intelligence people writing really cool formulas to get a leaderboard going. Last month, it was random acts of kindness. It could be getting 30 minutes of exercise, eating five servings of vegetables in a day. They're accessible to everybody. Not all of us are athletic, definitely. But I think they're great for just having some fun. It's a nice mix of that gamification and competitiveness, mixing it up. But what we found is, you don't need, again, fancy software. You don't need apps. You can do this for free. You can get groups of people together to challenge each other and encourage each other as part of your culture.
Most people will say to me, "We couldn't afford to have a wellness person at our company." But, you could afford to have a push up contest, or steps, or a random acts of kindness contest. Minutes of mindfulness, yoga. There's all kinds of ways you can do that. I would say, no matter where you are in the world, encouraging your co-workers to get healthy with you helps.
Gardner: Lee, what's been your favorite wellness challenge here at The Fool?
Burbage: For me, I love pushups, so I've enjoyed the push up challenge. I would just emphasize, too, that these are personal challenges that we all go in together and support each other. What we're logging in is, you're only competing against yourself. I would caution against making it an actual competition. We have done that in the past, and some people almost died.
Gardner: You mean the "eat as much as you can, as many hot dogs," didn't we have a hot dog eating contest?
Burbage: We had hot dogs. We also had a Fool who -- I think you're not supposed to eat more than a certain amount of fruits and vegetables. There's actually a limit that the body can take. And a Fool came to me and said, "I figured out I can eat more than that." And I realized, "We've gone too far."
Chambers: [laughs] Yeah, this was before we had a wellness person. I made our first wellness challenge. You got points for spending time outdoors, which was healthy, for eating fruits and vegetables. We added five different elements. Spending time outdoors, this guy went and camped for four days. We went a little too far.
Burbage: So, not a competition. Personal challenges, where you support each other.
Gardner: Yeah, and as somebody who does more like 50 pushups rather than 500 pushups, it's all about, can you do 51, if you're me? That's great.
Chambers: And, wall pushups count, thankfully for me.
Gardner: Now, before we get to No. 8, I want to turn the tables a little bit. I can imagine some of us are listening to this going, "Wow, that just sounds amazing. I am on a factory line eight hours out of the day, every working day. It sounds great to be able to walk and go outside and play Assassin around the office, but it couldn't ever work in my culture." I know that you both are connected to the greater world of human resources. Some people still say HR. I've always preferred culture. There's a huge industry out there trying to make it better. But not every company is the same. Some are hardcore manufacturing, for example. Some have security concerns. What's a bit of wisdom or some Foolishness that you would share at a conference when you hear people raise their hands and say, "We could never do that here"?
Chambers: I think our best ones have been not time-based, where you have to take a break from your work. They're just things you can do, like, as you're going on break, and you're switching shifts, maybe you pull a random name out of a hat that, when you're on your break -- I'm making this up as I go -- of someone to do a random act of kindness for, or something like that.
We can also go overkill if you're trying to take people away from their work too much.
Gardner: Yeah, we're probably in danger of sounding like that after seven tips that include as much of the fun that is part of our corporate culture. But obviously, we play hard, we work hard, and we get a lot of important stuff done here. Every culture is different. I think part of it, Lee, is we just need to suit our culture to what our business is and what makes sense. We're weird here at The Motley Fool. We know that. Not everybody is as weird as we are. But everybody has imagination and can do it better.
Burbage: Yeah. I think a lot of the things, if you look inside what we're doing, we're talking about being kind to one another, caring. There are easy ways to do that, whether it's just writing a small note. I'm putting myself on that manufacturing floor. Maybe it's a bit of a routine job that I'm doing every day. Today, I've walked in, and there's a little handwritten note just on my workstation, or by the machine that I'm working, and it's from Bob three machines down. It's like, "Hey, dude, I've been watching you, you're kicking butt. You're really doing a great job, and I appreciate you." How good does that feel? I mean, honestly, I feel good saying that inside, and I've just made those people up.
Gardner: Yeah. And, well, that was tip No. 2, small surprises. Rewind, dear listener, if you don't still remember Lee's excellent small surprises point. Thank you. Thank you both.
I do want to make it really clear -- every office, every workplace is different. What works for us might not work for you, and vice versa. But I hope that at least one of these things, all of which have worked for us, would work for you, whoever you are.
And, by the way, at the end of this month, we'll have, as always, our mailbag. I'd love to hear back from some of you in terms of whether we've influenced your culture, whether it makes sense to listen to us, and whether you want to influence us by sharing back some of your best tips. In fact, one of the things I'll often ask at my new Fool coffee with my new Fools who come in, they've been, maybe, here a month, we have a 90-minute coffee together. And I'll say, "Hey, what did you do where you just came from that was awesome that we could think about starting to do here?" So many of the things that you're sharing, the 50 or so tips across all these episodes, these are things that we've built up over 27 years of listening, trying, failing, succeeding, building. Every context is different.
Alright, let's go back to you. No. 8.
Burbage: This is one of my favorites on the list and one of my favorite things in the office. Seasonally, this is the perfect timing, because it launched this week. Actually, it's on all the time in some aspects. And that's free package reception and delivery here in the office.
What we noticed was, we already have a reception desk that's set up to send and receive packages. A lot of our employees live in apartments or condos, or maybe in areas where they don't want their packages sitting outside or packages coming during the day. And we thought, "Hey, we're already sending and receiving packages. Why not let employees send and receive packages right here using our facilities?" If you'd like to send a package or if you want to get your packages mailed, we fully encourage you to have all of your packages shipped here to the office. We have a great tool called Envoy that automates that process and makes it very easy for our receptionist --
Gardner: Is this an app? What is Envoy?
Burbage: It's a software that you do purchase, it does cost, but you don't have to do it that way. We haven't always had Envoy.
Gardner: It's nearly free.
Burbage: Nearly free. And this time of year, we do something special, which is, we set up a gift wrapping station with all the things that you need to wrap packages. If you're receiving holiday gifts, you can have them shipped to the office. And then you can go over to our gift wrapping station and wrap your gifts and so forth here at the office. Maybe you want to have a surprise for someone, so you want to have it wrapped at the office and not at home. It already existed here, it was just a matter of us opening up something that we were already doing to let employees use it as well.
Gardner: We never hear from this guy enough across the glass, Rich Engdahl. Rick, do you use our gift wrapping station and our package delivery here at The Fool?
Engdahl: Absolutely. It's one of my favorite little benefits here. I have a lot of favorite little benefits here at The Fool, but when that gift wrapping station is here, and I'm doing my last-minute shopping on Amazon, and they all come in, and I can just wrap them here and bring them home and throw them right under the tree, it's awesome.
Gardner: It does add a little bit more of a surprise, doesn't it?
Engdahl: Yeah, and it just makes it so much easier for me. Otherwise I have to go home and then find the paper. It's so much easier, so much better. I love it. Thank you!
Gardner: Awesome, thank you! Alright, free company culture tip No. 9. Kara.
Chambers: I got this one, trust, which is about letting people choose their own terms. As you all may know, we don't have a dress code. We don't have a schedule, we don't have a vacation policy.
Gardner: We've talked about that in episodes past. It sounds weird to a lot of the world.
Chambers: It is, but people crave that autonomy. I like that we led into this episode talking about The Office. A lot of The Office is about how to get around all the rules. People were making an effort, and they were spending their time trying to create rules and get around the rules. So, indirectly, it'll save you money to not worry about publishing your memo about dress codes or being at your desk at 8AM because people are watching. So, for us, it's a lot about extending trust, treating people like they're adults if you hire well. You're setting an example, and good things will follow.
Gardner: From day one, I'd say, we have defaulted to trust. It made a lot of sense, since it started with a couple of brothers who trusted each other, and then they started hiring their friends. Presumably, Tom and I trusted our friends. We do. And then, lots more people, all of whom also became our friends. So, trust is, I think, at the heart of The Motley Fool. Wear what you want, work when you want. Choose your own priorities.
Lee, did you come from a trust-based workplace prior to The Motley Fool?
Burbage: It's funny, I thought I did. I sold myself in the interview process as, "I worked someplace very similar to this, it's called Bank of America." It turns out, I think, actually, we were fairly progressive in the world of banking. But, I was a young professional at that time, and banking in and of itself is not a lot of autonomy, not nearly what we enjoy here. What I saw there, and what we enjoy here, is a lot of HR people in particular in the world are very busy creating rules and enforcing them. For Kara and I, I know in particular, that's not the kind of work that we enjoy. We enjoy supporting people, setting people free to do the things that they love to do. Making sure you love coming to work every day, that's a lot more fun to do as an HR professional than being the rules police. It's actually our least favorite part of our jobs. Maybe it's a cheat, because that's the way Kara and I also like to work, that we enjoy working for you and your brother, that we get to do the fun parts of HR.
Gardner: Now, Lee, I remember, when you passed your first work anniversary at Bank of America -- which, by the way, is a pretty amazing company. We're definitely not besmirching --
Burbage: Yeah, I don't mean to disparage --
Gardner: -- a company that's much, much larger and does a lot more in this world than our company does. But, what was the talisman, the gift that you were given upon your first anniversary at Bank America?
Burbage: I believe the first thing I got in my year one was a tie pin. I don't think people wear tie pins. I wasn't even sure what it was. Year two was a business card holder. The great part about it was, it had a tiny clock on the back. So, while you, sitting at my desk, saw my business card, I saw the clock.
Gardner: [laughs] Perhaps, to keep with our theme here, those things weren't free. I can only imagine how many business card holders Bank of America was buying. Turns out, maybe you could have done something even cheaper if you're the HR person there that would be more appreciated for year one or year two.
Burbage: Last week, or maybe earlier this week, on December 1st was my 21st Fooliversary.
Gardner: Thank you! That's incredible.
Burbage: I celebrated it here. I got something free for that that felt pretty good, and that was, a fellow Fool walked up and said, "Hey, everybody, it's Lee's 21st Fooliversary!" And the 30 or so people sitting around me applauded. Turns out, applause is free, and that felt pretty good, and a lot better than a tie pen. Again, not to disparage Bank of America. Great place to work, too.
Gardner: [laughs] Alright, take us home here, Lee. Company culture tip, this one's free, too, No. 10.
Burbage: No. 10 is called extra time. When we made this list, I was laughing inside my own head that it was the last one on the list, and it was about time. I'm a self-entertained unit. Extra time.
You'll find yourself as a leader, or as a teammate, people sometimes need a little extra time. We see it when you've gone away on your parental leave, and you're coming back to work, and something maybe with day care hasn't gone right. It's hard to schedule those things, and you need an extra day or two before you come back. Or, maybe someone has died. You're grieving. People deal with that in different ways, and you don't realize, "Geez, I really could use just one more day, or a little more time," or, "I need some flexibility in my life to deal with something." In the moment, it can feel like such a big deal as a boss. Like, "Oh my gosh, another day? You've already been out for six months," or what have you. But in the long term scope of a business, the company is not going to remember that extra day.
Gardner: So true.
Burbage: But that extra day, for someone who has lost someone very close to them, or they're dealing with a small baby, that's such a big deal. Extremely low to zero cost for the company to give someone an extra day when they need it, but very impactful for the individual.
Gardner: I'm thinking of a senior-level higher that we made this fall. This is somebody who worked really hard at another organization. She said, "Can I come to work a little later than you all thought my start date would be, because while I was ready to start in January, I'd really appreciate if I could just spend a few weeks in transition just reconnecting with my family." And so we said, "Sure. Go ahead. Come back February 14. Come back on Valentine's Day and start then." I think that's a great example. I feel as if that time, for her to feel like she can transition, reconnect with her family, prior to her starting here, that's something she'll always remember. And for us, 10 years from now, we will not remember that start date. It won't matter much at all to us.
Of course, if you allow things to drag out too much, it would be very inefficient. So there's always going to be some golden mean with all of our points. You can't over-trust people to the point that they don't earn your trust back. All of these things have accountability tied to them as well, even extra vacation or not counting your hours. Built into that is the accountability of the system. But really, it's based on trust, as you said earlier, Kara.
Burbage: Yeah. And I would say, what we find, David, is the vast majority of the people in your work community are going to treat all of these things with great respect. And too often, businesses worry about the small minority that may take advantage of things. You don't want to find yourself building policies up to try to protect yourself against the small minority that then hurts the majority. You'd rather do the opposite. Do amazing things to take care of the vast majority of the people that work with your company, and then deal with the one-offs as they come.
Gardner: So well said. So, there you have it. 10 more improve your company culture tips. Every one of these free*, from my friends, Kara and Lee.
Kara, I think I did mention this a few weeks ago, because it was such a wonderful moment at our big corporate annual off-site, which we call Foolapalooza, which happened in November. But since you're here, I want you to tell the story. What I want to point out before we talk about the snowball fight that you touched off among our 350-plus employees, I want to point out that what you're about to say ties together three of the tips that we've already heard this week. The first, random pairings. There's some randomness here. The second, small surprises. Surprises coming to people who received their snowball. And then, No. 6, play games. This was a game. So, a game with random pairings and small surprises. What was the snowball fight that you touched off a month ago?
Chambers: We were inspired by a company called LifeLabs that used snowballs as a really free randomization way to work. We combined with what we like to call reverse gossip. I heard that from a podcast with Gretchen Rubin, which is saying good things about people behind their back. If we're all sitting here, and we're like, "You know who's great? Rick." He's looking at us from behind the glass.
Gardner: He is pretty great.
Chambers: He's very creative, he gets our culture. So, we got up and we encouraged people at our all-hands to take out a sheet of paper and write that person's name down, and then a sentence or two about why that person is great. Why have you been saying good things about them? We have about 100 new hires this year. It was a way to say, who should you know, if you have to get 400 people? Then we surprised everybody by having them stand up and crumple those notes into a paper ball.
Gardner: Yeah, what? I mean, you just wrote down the name of somebody that you appreciate and what you appreciate about them. The next thing you do is, you practically rip the piece of paper up. But you don't. But, you crumple it.
Chambers: We crumpled it into a ball. And the way we randomized was to have everybody have a snowball fight. And it was a very unseasonably cold day in that room, which made it even more fun. We just had the whole room just, literally, if you can imagine your third grade classroom having a crumpled paper snowball fight for a few minutes. The goal was, when the music ended, you had to find whatever piece of paper was closest to you and unwrap it. And that included some random person's name and something kind that was said about them. And so your job over the next two days was to find that person and tell them what you heard about them. This created a lot of wonderful interactions, a lot of positivity.
One thing we noticed, people were taking pictures of these couple pieces of paper and posting them, and we could barely read them, but the sentiment was there. And then, that helped people win prizes for our next random drawing. So we had an element of winning prizes on top of that. So, there was some gamification, gratitude, and randomization, which is some of our favorite things.
Burbage: Just to reiterate that, Kara took an idea from another company. They did it slightly differently. She added in the things that we wanted and made it our own, made it very Foolish. I think our hope for all the listeners is, you don't have to do things the same way that we do or other companies, but hopefully we've inspired you with some element that you can think, "Well, that's interesting. You know what I could do to make that work here?" And go.
Gardner: Well, Lee and Kara, I want to thank you both again, for coming back for your sixth episode. We do this once or twice a year. It's always special. I just bet that every single person listening heard at least one thing that they could either put into practice in their own professional life or share with somebody who's working in a workplace that could be made better just like ours could be made better. That's why, selfishly, I mentioned earlier, mailbag at the end of the month, I would love to be showered with snowballs of ideas about ways that we could improve The Motley Fool culture. And, indeed, just as I do every mailbag, I'll share out the best ones so we can all learn further.
Kara, Lee, thank you!
Burbage: Thanks for having us!
Chambers: Thank you!
Gardner: All right, well, you already heard it earlier -- coming up next week games, games, games. My holiday games list, for those looking for gifts in December. We'll be reviewing Five Stocks to Put Under the Tree, and see whether we're winning that game. And finally, we'll be showing off our new mobile game, Investor Island. You can go to your favorite app store, tap in the search Investor Island. You'll find us. It's a free game, free. Download it, have fun. Maybe I'll see you in-app. In the meantime, we'll see each other next week. Fool on!