Bridgewater Associates employ over 1,700 people in their management of US$125 billion in assets that support pension funds, endowments, banks and governments.
Their innovative approach to investing led to new ways of handling currency trading, asset pricing, and risk parity, and to do this they followed an innovative approach to corporate culture.
Ray Dalio founded Bridgewater Associates in 1975 and by 2005 he had developed what he refers to as ‘Principles’, a company handbook which gave his unique view on how people should behave to develop their best selves and how the organisation should operate to facilitate this.
One of Dalio’s principles focuses on the need to embrace reality and then deal with that reality.
On one level the principle is comfortable for many to take on board, with it’s aim of pursuing reality and a need to address this in order to progress.
Once you’ve understood the reality of the situation, and you have a dream of something bigger or better, and put it together with good old fashioned determination, then you’re opportunities for success increase immeasurably. That’s something we can all get behind.
Do you think of a better way of doing something at work? Do you want to lose 10 pounds in order to fit into the clothes you did five years ago? Do you want to learn a new language so that the next time you go on holiday you can actually order a meal without having to use your native tongue?
These are our dreams.
Do you understand that it’s difficult to change the behaviour of your colleagues at work, but that they also want to do things better? Are you aware that you’ll need to get them all on board in order to make progress, and that this will take a period of time?
Are you honest enough to know that you won’t immediately stop eating burger and fries, and that you do enjoy a glass of wine at the weekend? Do you know that you’ve not done any regular exercise for years, and that you can’t afford to join the gym?
Do you acknowledge that with your commute to work you can’t make it in time to attend an evening class in Spanish? Are you acutely aware of the fact that you can’t remember anything from your high school language lessons?
These are your realities.
Do you want to achieve? To make a difference? To change something round? And are willing to do something about it?
This is your determination.
Bringing all these together you soon realise that you’ll be making great strides at work, looking slimmer than you have in years, and chatting away to the waiter on your next weekend break.
This is what your successful life looks like.
At Bridgewater they take this approach to understanding reality to what many see as an extreme, through an approach called ‘radical transparency’.
Dalio says “The most important things I want are meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And I believe that the way to get those is through radical truth and radical transparency. In order to be successful, we have to have independent thinkers — so independent that they’ll bet against the consensus. You have to put your honest thoughts on the table.”
But people are wary of honesty in the workplace, which is why Dalio says that the two questions you need to ask of your team are:
- Should I tell you what I really think?
- Can you be free to tell me what you really think?
It’s this drive towards honesty that makes many feel uncomfortable, and you can perhaps understand why. How would you answer these questions:
- Would you tell your boss that the way they handled the team meeting was wrong and has had a negative impact on the team?
- Would you tell the person you sit next to each day in the office that their body odour is impacting on your comfort at work?
- Would you be happy to tell anyone who asks how much your salary is?
- Would you be willing to tell the team that you’re thinking of restructuring and there might be job losses?
The list of questions is endless, but in an environment of radical transparency these are the questions that help shape the reality. If you can do these things, and then deal with the outcomes of it, then you’ll have a much clearer understanding of your reality, which in turn allows you to make informed decisions on what to do next.
It’s certainly not without its issues.
Bridgewater operate a programme of employees assessing each other on over 100 attributes, sometimes during the course of a meeting, with a real-time iPad app (read more). Are you in a place where you want to hear immediately what others might be thinking?And how do you go about finding team members who will happily fit into an environment as open as this?
Ultimately, the question is, where do you draw the line of what you should be open about?
I’ve never encountered radical transparency in my working life, but have helped push organisations forward in getting more openness and honesty in order to move forward through the reality of their situation.
From recording meetings and sharing them across the organisation, and weekly 1–2–1s where both work and personal lives are covered, down to ensuring that even the basics of a sprint retrospective for a development team are used to surface issues and highlight successes, it all helps.
Without the understanding of reality how can you make the decisions needed that will drive you, and your organisation forward?
How transparent do you want to be with yourself and with your colleagues?
Examples of organisational transparency: