What People Really Think
Ray Dalio has a fascinating TED talk. Dalio is not sales guy. Dalio is a certified nerd and a very successful CEO of a well-established hedge fund business. Dalio’s burning question is, “Sure, I’m the CEO and I have an opinion. But how do I know my opinion is right?”
To answer this, he’s created an algorithm-based process to help him see the truth. And he combines this process with a mindset that invites everyone in his firm to participate. When his firm has a big question to tackle—like the impact of the Federal Reserve’s recent actions on market trends–they solicit opinions from everyone. And I mean everyone.
Sure, I have an opinion. But how do I know my opinion is right?
From the 24-year-old fresh out of a college, to the senior leaders with years of experience. Everyone gets to say what they think. And everyone gets to say what they think of other people’s opinions.
Imagine this level of participation for a moment.
Then picture the resulting data– a massive pile of perspectives, predictions and opinions. Dalio firm tracks each person’s opinions via computer, and then runs it through an algorithm that weighs the collective responses using criteria that predicts “believability.”
Everyone gets to say what they think. Imagine this level of participation for a moment.
This data-heavy approach is something most people don’t have the tools or time to attempt. But Dalio’s mindset is what I find interesting. He knows the value of collective decision-making. But he doesn’t want to do it as a consensus exercise, or a simple meritocracy.
He wants to gather opinions from everyone he hires. And then qualify the collective opinion.
To do this, he lets everyone participate. He even has a special name for this mindset. He calls it “radical transparency.”
And he believes that if everyone gets to express what they are really thinking…the team gets stronger, their bonds get stronger, and their collective decision-making power gets stronger.
The curious part is that Dalio’s performance numbers say he’s onto something.
The team gets stronger, their bonds get stronger, and their collective decision-making power gets stronger.
What happens when you picture this idea of radical participation in your own company? Just entertain the idea for a moment. What can you imagine if everyone got a chance to speak? Do you have visions of Armageddon? Or people weeping at their desks? Is it intriguing to you? Are you wondering what you would discover?
Now, being careful with what we say is smart thing. It’s a natural safety move. It keeps from alienating our colleagues, challenging authority, and losing our jobs. Unless, of course, we work in a culture (like Dalio’s) that explicitly wants to hear the truth.
Are you wondering what you would discover?
But even Dalio doesn’t insist on a free-for-all. Not everyone gets to say what they think to everyone all the time. He has a process for capturing input when he wants it. But what’s key… is that he has a process for it.
Building a process is the primary thrust of the work we do with companies. We build a process and a structure that gives a voice to the insights and opinions of people throughout the organization. Like Dalio’s tool, this process tells employees that their opinions are valuable. And it can capture the insights of the decision-making team as well as the sole decision-maker, so that vital decisions can be made quickly…with sufficient context and insight.
What’s key…is that he has a process for it.
Why is this powerful? Take a recent training we did with 150 hospital supervisors in a non-profit hospital. These professionals were committed to their hospital. They were highly qualified and spent all of their time “in the trenches” of the company. As such, they had strong opinions on the real problems their organization was facing around scheduling, patient care, and how to keep key staff before they were tempted to go work somewhere else.
These supervisors were also very energetic about participating in solving these issues. But no one in upper management had asked for their input or insight. And they had no way to feel comfortable just knocking on the door and sitting down with the “powers that be.”
They had strong opinions on the real problems their organization was facing around scheduling, patient care, and keeping key staff.
They didn’t know how to start a conversation, and they had absolutely no reason to believe their insights would be welcomed. When we introduced the idea that they could be included in a decision-making team…the invitation was mind-blowing to them.
So how can you begin to blow the minds of your own staff? What kind of insights might you glean from your people if you had a structure for capturing them? Most importantly, what you could do as a result?
What kind of insights might you glean from your people if you had a structure for capturing them? Most importantly, what you could do as a result?
To take you one step closer, consider these ideas:
1. Take one major decision your company is facing that you need to make in the next 6 months. Now consider who you might naturally consult to make this decision.
Think of these people as your decision-making team.
Now answer these questions:
a. Is this “team” the same team that you usually consult? Why or why not?
b. Who else from outside your regular sphere could be included to give you information and context?
2. Think about the people who work one level down in your organization. How often are they included in the major decisions that face your company? Do you have a process for collecting their insights and ideas? If not, what can you put into place? If so, how well is this process working? What do people say about it?
3. Imagine inviting employee to “speak their minds” and share personal insights on a couple of critical issues facing your company. What do you expect might happen? What do you fear might happen? How can you test these assumptions on a small scale?