Radical Transparency – “To me a meaningful relationship is open and honest in a way that lets people be straight with each other. I never valued relationships where people put on a facade of politeness and don’t say what they think. I wanted to be around people who needed what I needed. I spoke frankly and I expected those around me to speak frankly. To me that’s what strong and productive relationships look like. Operating any other way would be unproductive and unethical.”

Ray Dalio (founder of investment firm Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds)

Person A lodges a complaint with HR about person B. Person B is approached by HR and a grievance process begins. Bad feeling festers, rumour mills abound and the toxic work environment is fuelled…

Two ultra successful leaders have shown there is another way…their terms for it are Authentic or Radical Transparency but would it work in your company? What is the price of not being transparent?

Challenging Conversations

Recently I posted a blog about a piece of work we did with a local government client. One of the key findings of working with the leadership team was around employee well-being and its affect on performance. In particular, this involved highlighting the need for employees to have a ‘Psychological Safe Space’ or put more simply to feel like they could be themselves in work without having to put on their ‘work persona’.

For this client, it took a realisation that well-being and productivity are not on opposite sides so they don’t need to be balanced. They are in fact on the same side and so increase one and you increase the other.

There was a great deal of initial resistance, but eventually we managed to get down to the realities of their current circumstances and issues (as with other client companies the initial ‘defensive’ response was that they were very open and honest but this, at best, was a dramatic over estimation).

The main specific focus in this case, was to increase and open up honest, challenging conversations amongst staff to avoid rumours and discontent developing beneath the surface of appearances.

Radical Transparency – Arianna Huffington

Following on from this case study and our work with this client, I heard a very interesting piece on the same subject by Arianna Huffington during a podcast she recorded with Tim Ferris (see author of the four hour work week etc.)

Huffington (Forbes top 10 list of the worlds most powerful women, creator of the Huffington Post and now Thrive Global) highlighted her approach to inducting new personnel to her company. She believes that the old operating mode of HR does not produce the best results in today’s workplace and has a huge impact on people’s wellbeing and performance.

Huffington described her ethos on work and culture in her company, which included something called Radical Transparency. For her, Radical Transparency is a no nonsense approach and non-negotiable expectation of her staff to have challenging conversations and air their views, even if this includes people coming in her own office and venting!

The pay off is that by giving this freedom to people Huffington will not tolerate people talking behind people’s backs and sniping at each other, which in some cases could be a sacking offence.

Radical Transparency – Ray Dalio

Another example of Radical Transparency in action is at Ray Dalio’s (great book called – Principles) Bridgewater Associates. Bridgewater, through the leadership of Dalio, has adopted many practices, which would seem out of the ordinary but the extreme success of the company speaks for itself.

Dalio believes that mistakes are good things if they are made in the pursuit of learning, punishing people for mistakes is bad because they then hide things. For him Radical Transparency ensures there is no spin in the company.

“Our unique success is the direct result of our unique way of being. We want an idea meritocracy in which meaningful work and meaningful relationships are pursued through radical truth and radical transparency. We require people to be extremely open, air disagreements, test each other’s logic, and view discovering mistakes and weaknesses as a good thing that leads to improvement and innovation. It is by continually striving together for the highest levels of truth and excellence that we create meaningful work and meaningful relationships” – Bridgewater

(I have included at this link the Ray Dalio – Ted Talk – How to build a company where the best ideas win)

Could this be the new way of working in the future?

The Radical Transparency approach is not an easy option (as attested to by Dalio) but the evidence shows that in the long run it can build trust and cohesion. I think its true to say that when articulated many people will logically agree this type of approach has a far better chance of ensuring a more productive and less toxic work environment (as it would with just about most relationships).

Working openly can go against natural instincts and the challenge is – can people get past their emotional responses (in the example’s given many people have fallen short). These companies ‘live’ their culture. Yes it is a challenge but they face it head on and deeply ingrained behaviours result.

Working in Bridgewater has been likened in the media as being part of the intellectual Navy SEAL’s. It certainly appears that for the people who embrace their unique culture the benefits are huge.

For most business even going part way to more honest, open and challenging conversations, with agreement to learn from mistakes, will have a huge impact on employee wellbeing and subsequent performance.

At the moment many businesses purport to live the virtues of their culture. They spend a great deal of time and effort and money honing their message. How much this is actually embraced by employees, managers and leaders at all levels is the question…


3rg work with people and organisations who are serious about performance. We offer practical, experienced based solutions to complex business challenges. Through our range of leadership courses, coaching programmes and workshops we help organisations build high performance, winning teams. 


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