2 Simple Keys to Getting the Best Out of Your Employees

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The human resources department can play a key role in helping define a company's culture. Taking their cues from the top executives, they're going to devise policies, disseminating ideas, creating and enforcing standards of conduct that, if effective, can set the tone in a workplace. But often, there's a disconnect between the goals and policies, and the results that HR teams are hoping to achieve. If you think that's a problem where you work, it may be time for some inspired rule breaking -- which, as it happens, is a specialty of Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner. His company consistently earns "best workplace" accolades, so it's fair to assume he and his team have figured a few things out on this front.

In this episode of his Rule Breaker Investing podcast, David invited Motley Fool people team all-stars Lee Burbage and Kara Chambers on to talk about 10 ways this company's workplace culture breaks the rules -- and yours should, too. In this segment, they dispense a pair of concepts that may require bosses to think counterintuitively. First, remember that people want to do great work. If you give them that chance, you won't need to crack the whip, or rely on disconnected perks. Relatedly, they explain why creating a culture of trust about time is a winning strategy. At The Motley Fool, there's nobody limiting people's vacation time, sick time, leave time, or anything else. And that unlimited time-off policy -- though Lee dislikes describing it quite that way -- works better than you'd imagine.

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To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on April 10, 2019.

Kara Chambers: No. 2 is people want to do great work. It sounds obvious, but really, some of HR practices assume people want to do very little work. We've found in our careers here, that's almost never true. People want to do great work. This has been proven by friend of The Fool Daniel Pink and his book Drive. You don't need to create all kinds of crazy incentive plans to get people to just do work. People come in and they're excited. They like being recognized. They like feeling like they're part of something, they're part of a higher purpose. So you look for that when you're recruiting. Again, very few people come to work wanting to take advantage. They want to come to work and do something great. And it's our job, we feel, to tap into that.

David Gardner: I was looking at companies, studying it for stock research purposes recently. I watched one of their videos. They're talking about how a lot of their employees are people who, if you look at their background outside of work, they're volunteering for things. This particular company pointed that out as a hallmark or a strength of its culture, that it's typically attracting people who just raise their hand and volunteer for stuff. Does that also sound like something that would work well here at The Fool? Probably at any workplace.

Chambers: That that is very typical here. Fools have talents and things that they do out in the world. They're committed. They're musicians, they're athletes, they have many, many talents. We see them every year at our annual meeting and we're always surprised by them.

Gardner: [laughs] Right. We have some incredible dancers here at The Motley Fool, I'll say that.

Lee Burbage: Oh, yes! I think it's an interesting maybe secret about a great place to work. A lot of people think it's about the perks or things like that. In actuality, it is about the work. People want to work someplace that they believe in what they're doing, and they want to work hard, and they want to be challenged every day. If you can provide those things, people are pretty stoked.

Gardner: Boy, that is a true bit of Foolish wisdom. Thank you for underlining that one, Lee. As Kara just said, people want to do great work. You're right -- so often, the conversations about the perks... at our company, for years and years, you all have helped oversee this, we've done stuff like, we don't count your vacation days, or you don't have to show up at nine o'clock. I don't know if that's one of our future points.

We'll get to that a little bit more. But the main point is, it's just about the nature of the work. It's not the perks. It's not that exciting to me that we don't count vacation days, but it sounds like a perk. It sounds attractive. Journalists will pick up on that and write about that as a hallmark of The Motley Fool culture. But really, it's doing that great work.

All right, No. 3.

Burbage: You've teed me up perfectly. No. 3 is about our culture of trust. We do get a lot of PR about not tracking vacation, not tracking time off. I'm actually on a personal mission. You mentioned the media. Often, this article is written about unlimited vacation.

Gardner: Yes, that phrase.

Burbage: Yes. I am anti-"unlimited." What we do is, we just trust people to manage their own time. It turns out, if you do a really good job recruiting and you hire amazing people, they can handle their own schedule. Of course, any hardworking, intelligent person will realize they can't take an unlimited amount of time off. At some point, you do need to do the work. But we've found that we don't need to manage that. We just simply trust people. They own it. That sort of freedom to manage your own time is a big deal here.

Gardner: Now, did we ever have a leave policy? Kara, did we throw that away? Is that something we had? Or have we never had one?

Chambers: Never had one!

Gardner: Right. That makes it easier to break the rules, doesn't it? When you're not having to actually change the rules, you just made it that way at the start.

Burbage: Yeah, for sure. I will say that Kara and I have each counseled many companies who've wanted to move to this. They have lots of questions. We've gotten on the phone with boards of directors, it's been such a big deal. And the feedback is always the same. Just do it! And then they call us and say, "Oh, my gosh, that was easy!" It's not that complicated to just stop tracking.

Gardner: If I'm hearing you, and I'm in a workplace -- and many of us are -- where there is a leave policy, what's a positive step? I mean, you all are basically, among many other things, human resources professionals. You understand how people think about work and how they approach you. What would be a constructive step that I could take to try to get my manager or even my boss or CEO to consider changing to a no leave policy?

Chambers: I would try and testing it out. See if one department might test it out. Find out how it goes. That's the first thing that's coming into my mind. I see companies step away from having leave instead of, "These are sick days. These your vacation days. Get a doctor's note. You have to bring in a note." I think companies stepping away from that is at least one step in the right direction.

Gardner: Before we move on to No. 3, I think one of the truisms that makes a policy, or in this case, no policy like this work, is if there is a sense of trust in the workplace. I know that word underlines and runs underneath a lot of how we think about culture and a lot of the ways we break the rules. But you have to have, don't you, you have to default to trust and have trust just there in your workplace in order to say, "Hey, we don't need a leave policy."

Burbage: The rules and the policies in themselves create a culture that doesn't have trust. The more policies and rules you have, the more you're saying to people, "We don't trust you." I have two teenage boys, and I like to use their school as an example of life. There's so many rules at school, and they definitely don't feel trusted to go to the bathroom or to leave your locker unlocked, that sort of thing. I think we're seeing a change in that in the world. I find, the more rules you have, the more you're sending a signal, "I don't trust you."

Gardner: Well put!

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