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Intern at US asset management firm says she was rated on a ‘microscopic’ level by a dot system

Tan KW
Publish date: Tue, 25 Jun 2024, 12:51 PM
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Daria Rose was interning at Ray Dalio’s Bridgwater Associates when her friend threw a plastic water bottle into a regular trash can instead of the recycling bin. The friend got a ping on her report card: someone had witnessed the action and marked her down.

Rose, a Harvard graduate, interned twice at the hedge fund giant in 2017 and 2018 and described the experience as akin to a Black Mirror episode.

She revealed that the Dalio-founded firm operates a real-time dot system, with colleagues encouraged to rank each other on a daily basis for qualities like humility, assertiveness, composure, and more. If someone didn’t like how you behaved in a meeting, you got a negative red dot - if they liked your approach, a green dot would appear on your report card.

Rose added that the amalgamation of dots then went onto individual reports, which were named ‘baseball cards’. This would give individuals and their managers an overview of how the individual was performing and any areas for improvement.

On top of that, the iPad-wielding staff also had a ‘pain button’ on their screens, Rose explained, meaning any time they experienced discomfort, they could report the situation and write a reflection about how it could be improved in the future.

If the set-up sounds familiar, look no further than Netflix.

In 2016, a Black Mirror episode named Nosedive followed the story of a woman navigating a world of constant ratings.

Positive interaction with anyone - barista, colleague, taxi driver - resulted in a positive score, while negative responses lowered your overall rating (and therefore value).

Yet, while the ranking method might seem somewhat dystopian, Rose wrote in an essay for Business Insider that the system massively helped her performance.

Rating system was a hit for former intern

Indeed, Rose loved the experience so much that if the student hadn’t gone to law school, she would have taken a permanent role with the organisation, which has US$124bil in assets under management (per Forbes).

Rose said: "In each meeting, we’d each have an iPad in front of us, showing a list of everyone else present. Throughout the meeting, we’d give people dots for things like humility, composure, willingness to touch a nerve, openmindedness, and assertiveness. By the end of the meeting, our whole screen would just be filled with dots - some red, some green. It could get distracting sometimes - like: ‘Who gave me a three?’ - but we’d try to ignore it and stay in the moment."

Despite the distraction Rose, who went on to appear on the 26th season of The Bachelor, said the system actually made meetings more efficient.

"Because we were constantly being evaluated on what we said, people were way more conscious when speaking," she explained. "Instead of talking just to talk, people tried to make their points succinct and easily understandable, or they’d get a negative dot. This criticism wasn’t just limited to peers or supervisees. We were also encouraged to give dots to our bosses, managers, and even CEOs."

While the setup might have been uncomfortable for staffers getting to grips with the system, it could go some way toward reducing the so-called ‘meeting madness’ sweeping corporate America.

Studies have shown that over 70% of senior managers think meetings are unproductive and inefficient, with 92% of employees saying meetings are costly and a waste of time.

"With the dot system at Bridgewater, if there was an issue, we’d know that day, and it’d be diagnosed that week," Rose adds. "I miss that part about it."

‘Microscopic’ attention and no gossiping

While Rose was aware that she was constantly being evaluated by her peers, it wasn’t until her friend was marked down for not recycling properly that she appreciated how closely they were being watched.

"I don’t know who saw her, but someone gave her a negative dot," Rose recalled. “It made me realise: ‘Wow, people really do care on a microscopic level and they’re paying attention to you’.”

Bridgewater did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

And any staff hoping to vent offline to colleagues can think again, gossiping at the firm - founded by billionaire entrepreneur Dalio in 1975 - is strictly banned.

Rose said the rule was hugely helpful: "When I got my full-time offer to join Bridgewater, my manager sent me the tape of them deliberating and I got to hear what they genuinely thought about me while I wasn’t in the room."

The Harvard and Yale alumni worked at Bridgewater under Dalio, though the founder handed sole CEO-ship to Nir Bar Dea in 2023. Whether the dot system remains in place under Bar Dea is not confirmed.

 

 - NY TIMES

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