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Are Your Communication Issues An Excuse for Doing What You Want? (The Million Dollar Question)

Transparency In Performance Management - Should You Coach Talent in Front of Others?

We talk a lot about transparency in organizations.  That usually means the extent to which a leadership team is willing to communicate what's going on downward in the organization.

But - there are some hard knock cultures that think if your employee base desires full transparency, that it comes with some brutal non-negotiables.  One of those non-negotiables might be giving coaching in public.  Case in point - a company called Bridgewater Associates (hedge fund) which approaches transparency with a "cult of personality" flavored after their leader.  More from the New Yorker:

"Dalio (the founder of Bridgewater Associates) asked for another opinion. From the back of the room, a young man dressed in a black sweatshirt started saying that a Chinese slowdown could have a big effect on global supply and demand. Dalio cut him off: “Are you going to answer me knowledgeably or are you going to give me a guess?” The young man, whom I will call Jack, said he would hazard an educated guess. “Don’t do that,” Dalio said. He went on, “You have a tendency to do this. . . . We’ve talked about this before.” After an awkward silence, Jack tried to defend himself, saying that he thought he had been asked to give his views. Dalio didn’t let up. Eventually, the young employee said that he would go away and do some careful calculations.

After the meeting, Dalio told me that the exchange had been typical for Bridgewater, where he encourages people to challenge one another’s views, regardless of rank, in what he calls a culture of “radical transparency.” Dalio had no qualms about upbraiding a junior employee in front of me and dozens of his colleagues. When confusions arise, he said, it is important to discuss them openly, even if that involves publicly pointing out people’s mistakes—a process he referred to as “getting in synch.” He added, “I believe that the biggest problem that humanity faces is an ego sensitivity to finding out whether one is right or wrong and identifying what one’s strengths and weaknesses are.”

As you might expect, this company outlines how to get over everything you thought you knew about how to operate in Corporate America as part of the onboarding process:

"Dalio is serenely convinced that the precepts he relies on in the markets can be applied to other aspects of life, such as career development and management. And he has enough regard for his own views on these subjects to have collected them in print. Before our meeting, he sent me a copy of his “Principles,” a hundred-page text that is required reading for Bridgewater’s new hires. It turned out to be partly a self-help book, partly a management manual, and partly a treatise on the principles of natural selection as they apply to business. “I believe that all successful people operate by principles that help them be successful,” a passage on the second page said. The text was organized into three sections: “5 Steps to Personal Evolution,” “10 Steps to Personal Decision-Making,” and “Management Principles.” The last of the two hundred and seventy-seven management principles was: “Constantly worry about what you are missing. Even if you acknowledge you are a ‘dumb shit’ and are following the principles and are designing around your weaknesses, understand that you might still be missing things. You will be better and be safer this way.”

Dalio’s philosophy has created a workplace that some call creepy. Last year, Dealbreaker, a Wall Street Web site, picked up a copy of the Principles and made fun of a section in which Dalio appeared to compare Bridgewater to a pack of hyenas feeding on a young wildebeest. In March, AR, a magazine that covers hedge funds, quoted a former colleague of Dalio’s saying, “Bridgewater is a cult. It’s isolated, it has a charismatic leader and it has its own dogma.” The authors of the article noted that Dalio’s “emphasis on tearing down an individual’s ego hints at the so-called struggle groups of Maoism,” while his search for “human perfection devoid of emotion resembles the fantasy world in Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead.'

Natural selection. Inclusion of "dumb s**t" in the employee manual. Comparison of company to pack of hyenas.  Too much?  Probably.

But direct and you know what you're in for when you start, and I would assume you'd know those things as part of the hiring process.

360 Transparency. Only available at private, founder-driving companies for sure. 



I say "honesty is awesome" as long as your people

A) Understand what they are getting into (thin skins may not enjoy this culture).

B) Get the proper on-boarding and continuing education on effective ways to give and receive feedback, especially difficult messages.

If you take this route, my opinion is that you need to budget for plenty of team building and face-to-face time to pull it off - otherwise, Silo City.

I forgot who said it, but "Feedback is the breakfast of champions". OK, maybe that sounds a little gung-ho, but there is much truth in it. It's also important that feedback be given in a timely fashion, right? Don't we teach our managers that? I think the only debate here is the audience and "how timely" the feedback should be.

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