Trust is a cornerstone for team collaboration in virtually all entrepreneurial ventures. You can’t just demand that trust happen: It must be built into your culture, usually from the very start.
Take The Motley Fool, which was founded by two brothers in 1993 and has grown from a bootstrapping startup to a 290-person organization. Motley Fool’s story is a great example of how a small company can create trust from the start and cultivate it over time as a core value, in part by incorporating clever management techniques that empower employees.
According to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person stays at a job for just under four-and-a-half years. At The Motley Fool, the goal is to get employees to stay for life. How do they do it? I recently spoke to Lee Burbage, chief people officer at The Motley Fool, to learn more about how the company fosters an environment that creates a loyal workforce -- and how other entrepreneurs can replicate it.
You say that trust is key between leaders and employees. How do you build that kind of culture in your organization?
It’s about modeling the behavior you expect. Our employees make their own schedules. They decide when they take vacation. It’s also in the acts we do. 2008 was a lean year. We told employees: We have to cut costs. Layoffs are off the table, but everything else is on the table. For 2008, we did not have a 401(k) match. In 2009, things were back in the upswing. We went back, and based on returns participants would have gotten in the marketplace during the year we missed, we put that money back into their accounts. Things like that go far for building trust.
Another key aspect of trust is cultivating talent. You’ve said that people should get promoted after a year. What processes do you use to ensure that your people are all moving up at that rate?
We are serious about traditional HR practices. However, we do them slightly differently. Every four months, we plot every person and discuss every person on a grid of performance versus potential. We have a proprietary tool to help manage that process and capture all of that information. We can then use it in our one-on-one meetings. I look at every person as a long-term project. We use Basecamp, which is a project management tool. I have 290 projects and they are all live. We can take notes on individuals when we’re in meetings with them. Being able to present the data in an user-friendly way helps others to make decisions on promotion and movement.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are looking to maximize their own talent?
I would first ask where they are getting their advice. You need a team of people. You should have a board of directors. Highly successful people have a team to support them. We do this at the Fool in a few ways. One is around communication: How you are promoting yourself and building your brand? Another one is: How are you getting on the next project you are going to love? Who is helping you navigate the next project? A third is: Are you focused on the right areas for your talent?
What are some of the fun perks that you provide at The Motley Fool and how have they impacted the employees lives and added to the culture of trust?
We have very low turnover. We believe strongly that this is the last job anyone is going to want to have. It’s freeing when you think in terms of a long term. One area that we are huge on is wellness. When you work here and think of working here for your entire career, we want you to be healthy. We have a full-time wellness coach to help choose healthy foods. We have healthy snacks. Fruit and vegetables are available at all times. Autonomy is also huge for us. We have no vacation policy -- we have done that for 20 years. We let people decide when they come to work and how much time they take off. It’s kind of ridiculous that companies trust people with millions of dollars but not their vacation. We also offer manicures and haircuts. And when you join the company, you get $1,000 to invest and you are taught by experts in house.
So how much vacation time do people end up taking?
We get asked this a lot. We don’t have any idea, because we don’ttrack it. We have lost the ability to track it. I don’t think it’s realistic to track. We are transparent and we have a monthly meeting where we go through all our financials. Our goal is for you to know everything all the time. One of the fun things we do is at the end of the meeting is draw a name out of the hat. The number of years you have been in the company determines the number of times your name is in the hat. If chosen, you have to take two weeks off in the next month. This is our way of making people know we are serious about people taking time off.
We have a wall for people to share what they have done in their time off. You get $1,500 to use on the trip. Every perk has an underlying business reason. Having no vacation policy is about treating people with respect and trust.