What if there was a technology that could tell you how everyone thought you did in the meeting, even if your performance was trash? For some of us, this knowledge would fuel our nightmares. But at hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, this real-time online feedback is welcomed and encouraged, no matter if you’re addressing it to your colleague or to the CEO.
In his TED talk about his company’s feedback tools, Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio tells the story about how an employee critiqued him in a companywide email: “Ray, you deserve a ‘D-‘ for your performance today in the meeting … you did not prepare at all well.” Instead of reacting negatively, he saw it as “great,” a lesson of “idea meritocracy” that he preaches as key to his company’s success.
One firm believes radical transparency is the key to success
Dalio has written extensively about how he manages his firm under a long list of principles. Principle No. 72? “Hold people accountable and appreciate them holding you accountable.”
As part of this accountability process, employees at Bridgewater can publicly rate each other’s meeting performance through a proprietary iPad app known as Dot Collector. Employees can choose from a list of preset attributes known as “dots” to evaluate how “assertive and open-minded” or how “willing to touch the nerve” you’re acting in a professional setting. Through this app, there’s no hiding from your opinion. Every dot is public.
Dalio said the public accountability of seeing your opinion listed with everyone else’s is what keeps the evaluations professional, not personal. “We do it because it eliminates what I believe to be one of the greatest tragedies of mankind, and that is people arrogantly, naïvely holding opinions in their minds that are wrong, and acting on them,” he said about why the company uses Dot Collector.
The app is guided by proprietary algorithms that will use the dots to create “a pointillist painting of what people are like and how they think,” says Dalio. From there, the dots are used to make decisions at the company like “what responsibilities to give [employees] and to weigh our decisions based on people’s merits.”
It’s important to recognize, however, that transparency doesn’t always work as a feedback tool. As writer Daniel Spielberger discusses in Real Life magazine, transparency rings hollow when there’s a gap “between knowledge and corresponding action.” “Transparency too often becomes an attempt to self-immunize, and commentary stands in for action. If spectatorship feels a game, the prize is, more often than not, attention,” he wrote. When every action can be documented, it allows your voice to be heard, but that’s not the same as being listened to. For transparency to work, your words need to matter and lead to action.
For Bridgewater, public real-time feedback does lead to money-backed action. Bridgewater is one of the world’s largest hedge funds, and Dalio has linked the company’s financial success to its transparency principles. Dalio said that radical transparency leads to successful collective-decision making, which is “why we’ve made more money for our clients than any other hedge fund in existence,” according to Dalio.