“I can see clearly now … Gone are the dark clouds that held me blind.” – Johnny Nash, singer/songwriter
What if all of your professional warts and foibles – great or small – were fodder for discussion at work?
What if they were out there for all to see, almost as soon as they happened? How would you feel? Would you be yourself? Would you leave and find another job?
If you worked at Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-based financial firm managing close to $150 billion in global investments, you wouldn’t have to wonder. Founder Ray Daglio sees Bridgewater’s culture of radical transparency as a major factor in the company’s success. He’s even written a manifesto about it.
Bridgewater is an extreme example of a transparent culture, and the company’s inner workings are well-documented. So what makes Bridgewater different from other employers?
Here are two examples:
- If managers come together to discuss your performance, behavior, or capabilities, you will either be in the room or a video of the meeting will be made available to you. Those in the meeting will be frank in their assessments because the goal is to help you improve your performance.
- Employees use an app on their smartphones to rate an interaction with a co-worker immediately after it happens. It’s seen as a more scientific way to correct and eliminate errors.
Bridgewater is an example of what Harvard business professors Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey, and their colleagues call a Deliberately Developmental Organization. In other words, professional development is baked deeply into the culture. But is Bridgewater an oddity or the beginning of a trend? We see evidence that it may be the latter.
Remember when the phrase, “knowledge is power” was the watchword in business? The idea was that people would be wise to manage and even hoard knowledge if they wanted to advance in their careers.
Today, with the growth in social media, people share and share – and share even more.
The outlets available for “publishing” words and images can seem endless: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, Kik, and more. The sense of privacy that many of us once had now seems out of fashion. The concept of too much information, or TMI as it’s often called, seems to have disappeared.
At the beginning of the social media revolution, many people – myself included – tried to keep their online interactions with work and personal friends separate. But the lists blended over time, and our segmentation strategy fell apart.
All of this sharing has changed not only our expectation of privacy but also the value we place on it. As we grow more comfortable with an increasingly transparent world, we start to blur the line between our public and private selves.
Does this integration mean we’ll be more open to a public assessment of our actions and beliefs? If so, perhaps there is no such thing as TMI.
In addition to Bridgewater, other companies, as well as governments, have experienced radical transparency – but not because they chose it.
WikiLeaks claims to have published more than 10 million of what it calls “the world’s most persecuted documents.” A lesser degree of transparency can be found on websites like glassdoor.com, where you can learn what people think about their employers. Other sites like the Mini-Microsoft blog focus on one company.
While Bridgewater certainly is an organization that has wholeheartedly embraced radical transparency, a scan of its reviews on glassdoor.com reveal that radical transparency may not work for everyone. And a recent New York Times article noted that the practice of recording meetings is seen as liberating (“no more secrets”) by some and oppressive (“no privacy”) by others.
The move to greater transparency has been around for some time. The Open Books Management movement that makes a company’s financials available to all employees dates back more than 30 years. Sales organizations have long used leader boards to display individual performance.
Given these broad trends toward greater transparency in our government and organizations, plus the blending of our personal and professional lives,
Bridgewater may not be a vanguard nor an oddity, but instead an experiment that explores the boundaries of radical transparency in practice with lessons for the future of all organizations regardless of how transparent they become.