Why Smart Bosses' Default Choice Is Generosity

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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 talk about a core policy at the company: "Default to generous." That means just what it sounds like, but when it comes to treating your people right, the benefits far outweigh the expenses.

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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. 4 is, default to generous, it'll pay off in the long run. This is one of my favorites. It's something I've learned in my career here, hopefully I started out with. It's been proven more and more. I was just talking to a Fool today, saying, "I'm so grateful that The Fool gave me this opportunity, this flexibility, I really want to work harder for you." I hear that almost every day. It's funny, because you don't even think about it now when you do it, but just making sure people feel like, not only do we trust you, but we want to take care of you, you're part of our family. Going in with a mindset that someone will be taking advantage of you or taking from you is really just going to put both parties on the defensive, and it will denigrate the relationship. So, for us, I hear a lot of defaulting to generous. When I come back and check with my team, we check each other, and say, "Hey, are we defaulting to generous on this one?" And you'll see, those people will come back in the long term.

An example I heard elsewhere, at Google, Laszlo Bock, friend of the Fool, came to talk to us --

David Gardner: Former head of Google's people and culture.

Chambers: Yes. He said they offered a very, very generous maternity leave policy, which we matched, I believe. They said people don't have a child every year for a 25-year career. It's usually a short amount of time to offer a generous parental leave policy, and then that person has a great relationship with the company coming back. I think we matched that. It was very philosophically aligned with how we did it.

Gardner: OK. So, default to generous. And I have to say in my life, the person that I think of as probably the most generous person that I know happens to be my brother Tom, who's the CEO of The Motley Fool. I think it makes it easier to default to generous if, in fact, at the top of the organization, whoever it is, is a very generous person. How important is that? Let's give the guy a little love.

Chambers: You just outed our secret! [laughs]

Gardner: Yes. Tom is extremely generous. One of the great gestures over the years that I look back on with pride was during the really tough times in the Great Recession, 2008 and 2009, we froze, we stopped, matching employees' contributions to 401(k). I remember Tom with the whole company and his leadership saying, "We need to do this just to keep control of our own finances. This is important for us as a company. We can't do it." But then, Lee, as we came out of it in 2010, we announced, "Not only are we going to unfreeze, but we're going to go back and recompensate you as if you had maxed out your match all the way through." We did that, right?

Lee Burbage: Yes. Including market returns.

Gardner: That was really great! In fact, I think that night we were on ABC's Nightly News as an example of a company that had done something really special. I, anyway, look back on that with pride. But, that's about defaulting to generosity.

Now, Kara, you mentioned Google's generous maternity policy. We've matched it. I think a lot of people are wondering, "Well, what does a generous parental policy look like?" So, how do we do it today at The Fool?

Chambers: I'm not sure what Google's is now. But ours is 16 weeks for either parent's parental leave. For us, we also added, it starts when the baby comes home. Sometimes we've had people with their babies in the NICU, and they were there a little longer. We were able to stretch that out a little bit longer. Again, defaulting to generous. How much are those two or three weeks going to matter in the long term of the health of your family?

Gardner: That's a great example, and a very important one for us here at The Fool. I wish we'd had that, Lee, back when you and I were having kids. You and I have been here 20 years or so. I don't remember that policy early days of The Fool.

Burbage: It's another good example of, we're always learning and changing and growing. There'll be some things that we do today that we're going to look back five years from now and be like, "I can't believe we did it that way." Right? We're always looking for places where we need to reinvent things or reimagine what we're doing.

Gardner: One of our cultural traits, one of our values really here at The Motley Fool, is topping it, and just always looking to improve.

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