For a financial firm based in buttoned-up Alexandria, Virginia, The Motley Fool is anything but conventional. The company, founded in 1993 as a scrappy finance newsletter by brothers David and Tom Gardner, has no dress code, and it permits its employees to hand-pick some personal benefits--say, haircuts--in addition to their standard health care and 401(k) package. No formal titles are awarded at The Motley Fool, whose name is taken from Shakespeare's As You Like It; below the name on each employee's business card is just the tongue-in-cheek shared title, "fool."
The company's unique approach earned it the top spot on Glassdoor's list of the best places to work in 2014. Now The Motley Fool has turned its focus to building a culture that not only makes sure its employees are comfortable and happy, but also are fulfilled by their careers. One major element of that, of course, is compensation--which is why executives encouraged all 300-plus members of the staff to apply for more of it, as part of an official event in July the company dubbed Ask For a Raise Day.
Tom Gardner, the company's chief executive, and Kara Chambers, vice president of people operations, had both seen the copious research illuminating how salary negotiations have played a role in the gender pay gap. Historically, men have asked for raises more frequently than women. Men's requests were met more often, and women risked multiple forms of backlash just for asking.
Gardner and Chambers figured also that extraverts would be more inclined than introverts to instigate the raise process. "We want to try to reduce the bias that can create an obstacle to the success for any member of our team or any of our stakeholders," Gardner says. So he proposed to other executives in June: "What if we flip it open and have everyone ask for a raise?"
By the time Ask For a Raise Day was announced to the team, the concept had evolved to include coaching from Chambers and her departmental colleagues for employees who chose to participate, including an evaluation of their position and a reasonable range of salary--before they even met with their manager to perform the big ask. It also included an incentive: Even employees who didn't succeed in getting their desired raise or promotion (which frequently and naturally became part of the raise conversations) would be awarded $200 for asking.
In the end, about half of the company's employees chose to take part in the pre-ask job counseling and salary analysis, and to sit down with their boss to request a raise. Most of those who participated received raises of between 3 and 10 percent, the company says. Only about one-third walked away with just the $200.
Somewhat surprisingly, all those raises didn't break the bank for The Motley Fool, Chambers says. The seemingly costly new program didn't exceed her department's standard annual budget for compensation reviews. "You don't need a huge budget to do something like this," she says.
One proud raise-recipient was business-intelligence analyst Johnnie Weathersby, a five-year Motley Fool veteran who, at 32 years old, had never asked for a raise before in his entire career. "I had always felt like if deserved a raise I would get one," Weathersby says. "And that didn't just automatically happen."
Gardner, The Motley Fool's co-founder and chief executive, says he appreciated the chance to get employees thinking and talking about their career paths, and the scope of their current jobs. Getting managers and employees to see eye-to-eye about goals is not easy--and this was a step. He says in the future he'd like to see more transparency about salary and goals, so that managers and employees are sitting at the same side of the table, looking at the same data. A manager's mindset, he says, should be: "We want you to be making more money, just like you do--how do we get you there?"
The company is eager to repeat the event in the future. Gardner joked that while he was proud of the Ask For a Raise Day concept, and its catchy title, any future editions would likely take place over a week or a month. It was simply too many meetings in one day.
What was the best outcome? The event actually prevented one employee from leaving the company, according to an executive. The gender breakdown of raise-askers mirrored the composition of the company as a whole. And, in a regularly conducted survey of The Motley Fool employees, to the question "I feel like I'm paid fairly," the positive responses increased by 13 points.
"That was really validating," Chambers says. We'd bet some "Fools" think so, too.