How to Create a Volunteering and Career-Growth Culture

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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 discuss 10 ways this company's workplace culture breaks the rules -- and yours should too. In this segment, they talk about a trio of related points. First, people don't like to be told what to do -- but they love to be able to volunteer. And if you want to keep folks for the long term, the key is letting them evolve at their jobs -- because bored, talented people are going to start updating their resumes. Another part of The Motley Fool's solution to that problem is a project culture, and they'll explain just what that means. And as a bonus, they'll talk about why they favor a culture of free communication across the enterprise.

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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.

Lee Burbage: What Kara and I have found is, for the most part, people don't really like to be told what to do. You maybe mentioned this earlier, people like to volunteer. People like to raise their hand. They like to make their own decisions about what they want to do. We've had a lot of success in recent years of posting projects. If you have something interesting that you need to get done, you haven't had time or you need some specific expertise, we've opened up some Slack channels, emails, this sort of thing where you can post opportunities, and people can raise their hand. It's a fascinating thing. You would think that people who are A-players, who are really busy, couldn't possibly find time to do anything else. But it turns out, if it's something that they volunteered for, that they're passionate about, they will make the time and they'll do it well.

David Gardner: Alright. So, No. 7: no one likes to be told what to do. In particular, posting projects and seeing who has some side-of-desk time and interest, and if they volunteered, as Lee said, Kara, probably they're going to be committed to it if they volunteered. Do you have an example of a project recently that popped up?

Kara Chambers: I'm realizing as I'm thinking about, it's not so recent. It's a couple of years old. But the same philosophy. We had an employee that was a techie. He had this real passion for fitness and wellness. He said, "I think this company should have a wellness person." So he started just teaching CrossFit classes at night and talking to people and doing his day job. That eventually turned into a full-time job. He wound up moving away, and we did wind up saying, "We do have a need for a full-time wellness person," and we've had one ever since. But, that's an example of somebody who said, "This is something I'm doing on the side. I'm really passionate about it. I want to add to our culture."

Gardner: Love that one. That's really how The Motley Fool got its wellness program started. I'd say within the city, we've been called the fittest company in Washington, D.C.

Burbage: And the state of Virginia.

Gardner: And the state of Virginia most recently.

Chambers: And we did how many push-ups last month, as part of our contest?

Burbage: 256,000.

Gardner: That's incredible! I did about 75 to 100 for our company.

Chambers: Me, too.

Burbage: I did 5,001. I'm pretty stoked about that.

Gardner: That's great!

Burbage: We have even more recent examples. We find our member services team is particularly interested in this area because they have access to a lot of customer data and information and they get excited about things they're learning. Then we found them working on projects in other parts of the business where they can apply the knowledge that they're learning. We see a lot of people start in member services and move to other parts of the company.

Gardner: You bet. No. 8.

Chamber: No. 8: We want employees for life. This is the last job you'll ever have. I love this one! We talked about Fools navigating their careers. One of the things our coaches do, and one of my favorite parts of my job, is helping people navigate their different types of roles and ups and downs and twists and turns. Technology changes. People change. The market changes. People are constantly moving around. They're posting projects or everything else. I've had this conversation three times this week, of someone saying, "If I have to do this for the long term, I think it's going to get old. I see this as my next step in my career, but I don't see myself doing this forever." That's a typical sign for Fools, for someone who's really good at their job.

We always say when we have career development conversations, it's never about the type of person you are. It's about, where are you now? What's your situation? What opportunities are there for you next?

Gardner: Now, it certainly helps when you're growing. Not every organization out there is growing in the way that we are right now. I think we're adding about 25% to our workforce this year, which for The Motley Fool is a lot of growth. We were a little bit more staid over the last 10 years. We're accelerating. Now, a lot of us are working at really big companies that might even be downsizing or smaller charities, let's say, that have a stable workforce of 15 people that doesn't change much. So it's probably true, Kara, that you need to grow in order to have people stay with you and make that the last job they ever have.

Chambers: Yeah, and there's ways of getting scrappy about it, too. I think our coaching was an example. That's an area of something people are interested in, to be a coach. It's an opportunity they picked up at the side of their desk to learn to be a better mentor and leader. That was a skill they needed when they eventually were leading a team. So I think that there's some ways you can navigate around that.

Gardner: So again, our 10 tips this week, 10 ways that The Motley Fool breaks the rules of workplace culture and how you can, too. This one, No. 8, seems almost the most contrary of all when we talk about challenging conventional wisdom. Lee, isn't it the cliche these days that, millennials are going to come, they're going to work one or two years, then have six different jobs in their first 10 years? Who would actually want to go to work for a place at almost any age where that's the last place you'd ever be? Supposedly, our culture doesn't work that way.

Burbage: It really changes the discussion in a lot of fun ways when you can have a really long-term view. I think it aligns well with the way that we invest. Yeah, we're not day-trading jobs here. We're thinking for the long term. But there's companies out there like LinkedIn that are great companies, but they find their focus is helping people move from job to job. We just approach it differently. We want you to come here and work here forever. Kara and I are here to help you try to navigate that.

Gardner: And you're living demonstrations -- 13 and 20 years isn't forever, but I don't think you're leaving anytime soon. I hope not!

Burbage: I hope not!

Gardner: Because we have to do the sixth volume of this series at some point in the year so ahead. But I mean, yeah, you're great living examples. I think we punch above our weight class when it comes to being a 26-year-old company with a surprisingly high percentage of people who've been here at least 10-plus years.

Alright, well, we have two more, No. 9 and No. 10. I know your setup for the next one. Lee. What's No. 9?

Burbage: No. 9 is really building on the previous two. We are a project culture. What does that mean? What it means is, we joke internally that we are going to destroy your resume if we come to work here. It's because there's not a very clear ladder to climb, where you're going to move from Assistant Vice President to Vice President to what have you. Instead, because we have this long-term view of your career, when you talk to Fools, the question more is, what project are you working on? And we hope that people are like, "Oh, let me tell you about the project I'm on right now." So we look for people to be on a project that they're passionate about. As they move up in the organization, what does move up mean? It means starting to define your own projects, starting to get a bigger budget to do the things that you want to do, starting to get your own resources. The language inside The Motley Fool is about, what big project are you on? What value are you creating? What difference are you making? As opposed to what you might see on a traditional resume.

Gardner: I love the idea that we're destroying people's resumes, because that means they'll never leave. Right?

Burbage: That's right! They can't!

Gardner: I guess you're saying that because you're implying that you're just involved in a whole bunch of different projects over the course of time, and people can't read progression in your resume. It's unclear exactly who you are and what you're doing at the company. Is that destroying someone's resume?

Burbage: Yeah, you're following your passion. You're doing the things that you love, as opposed to, I think a lot of jobs were -- you'll hear as a recruiter, why didn't you advance in these two years? You're, "It's been 18 months. I have to move to the next level." We just don't have that kind of pressure here. We want you to be happy and adding value.

Gardner: Every week, I look through the glass at my friend Rick Engdahl, our producer, the producer of Rule Breaker Investing. Rick, I'm just curious, would you say that we've destroyed your resume here at the company? You've done a lot of different things over your years here at The Fool.

Rick Engdahl: I've been here for almost 20 years now. I cannot remember the last time I updated my resume, if that counts as destroying it. It does not exist!

Gardner: [laughs] Well, Rick, you've done brand work for us. I know you've worked on a lot of projects. I know you're a producer today. You're also our photographer around The Fool. Seems like, with a lot of new hires coming this year, you're being called on to take good-looking shots of all of our employees. What don't you do here at The Fool?

Engdahl: I don't say no, apparently. That whole thing about raising your hand for side of desk projects, I believe that's how this podcast started.

Chambers: That's really true!

Gardner: That is actually true! All Motley Fool podcasts started largely because of some combination of Chris Hill and maybe one or two others -- Steve Broido/ Mac Greer. A couple of people said, "Hey, we should just start doing podcasts." And 10 years now ago, it started that way. I just raised my hand a few years ago and said, "I'd like to do a podcast!" Rick said, "I'll produce it!" We are a project culture.

Before we close with No. 10, let me just ask, when you're a project culture, what does that imply about your structure? A lot of people have organizational charts, org charts, things where it would be maybe hard to be a project culture if you're bound to boxes connected to each other on a piece of paper or a PowerPoint. How are we structured? Is there any implication, if I'm listening to us, can I follow our advice or not based on the org chart that I work under?

Burbage: You have to free yourself from some of those types of tools. Instead, we go for, you need to still have some company goals. Your company needs to provide some direction so people are moving in the right way. Surround yourself with maybe different types of tools. We use Trello here, as an example of a great project management tool. But there's a lot of good ones out there. If you're a project culture, it turns out there's a whole industry of project management tools that we use. In fact, Kara and I as HR professionals are more drawn -- Kara smiled at me when I said 'HR professionals.'

We're more drawn toward project management tools, the things that maybe a scrum master or traditional project manager would use as opposed to some of the more traditional HR tools.

Gardner: Trello, you mentioned yet another one of those tools that we adopted early on. These days, it's owned by Atlassian, which I know some of our listeners, as Rule Breaker members, will know has been a very successful stock pick for Motley Fool Rule Breakers. Atlassian, the Australian-based company, today owns Trello, and does a lot of good work in this world, including helping investors make money over time.

Alright, well, Kara, bring it all home for us. No. 10.

Chambers: No. 10 is internal culture carriers that don't have to be HR. It's a lot about communication. There's no rules we have about who can send a note to the whole company. For instance, we have a colleague that is not in HR and he will host a horror movie marathon --

Gardner: Throughout the month of October, every year, a different movie every single day.

Chambers: It is the only way I consume a horror movie, is in a conference room. But this is a business intelligence analyst. It's not sanctioned by HR. It's announced across the company. We reward that. We want people to be culture carriers. It's leadership here. We do not have rules about who's allowed to invite the whole company to a thing. If it is your --

Gardner: Passion project.

Chambers: Yes. Cookie bake-off, customer service --

Burbage: Gummy bear tasting.

Chambers: There's a sandwich club where they just debate on whether something is a sandwich, I think.

Engdahl: They also provided waffle bowls. Club Sandwich does more than just debate.

Chambers: Yeah, they consume waffle bowls. I believe the consensus was a waffle bowl was a sandwich. We can leave that to the internet decide. So for us, that sense of community is also online, as you see at The Fool. But we don't try and be the police over that.

Gardner: Again, here, very rule-breaking. I can imagine it wouldn't necessarily work for every workplace, but the idea that anyone can post any communication anywhere, anytime, that is very capital Foolish.

Burbage: Pretty big night last night. One of our Fools who is a big University of Virginia fan, his team won. He posted to the entire company his joy. I think we all just emoji-ed happy. We were stoked for him. I was excited to share in his joy.

Gardner: Yeah, I think he selfied from the stadium in Minneapolis.

Burbage: He did.

Gardner: It was great! This is, of course, taped on Tuesday afternoons, which we tend to do on Rule Breaker Investing, so you're hearing this on Wednesday or later in the week. We're referring to the college basketball national championship game, won by the University of Virginia, not so far away from Alexandria in Charlottesville, Virginia. Congratulations to all our Wahoowa friends!

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 no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Atlassian. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.