Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.
Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, cites principles as his key to success.
Meaningful relationships are invaluable for building and sustaining a culture of excellence, because they create the trust and support that people need to push each other to do great things. If the overwhelming majority of people care about having an excellent community, they will take care of it, which will yield both better work and better relationships. Relationships have to be genuine, not forced; at the same time, the culture of the community will have a big influence on how people value relationships and how they behave with each other. To me, a meaningful relationship is one in which people care enough about each other to be there whenever someone needs support and they enjoy each other's company so much that they can have great times together both inside and outside of work. I literally love many of the people I work with, and I respect them deeply.
I have often been asked whether relationships at Bridgewater are more like those of a family or those of a team, the implication being that in a family there is unconditional love and a permanent relationship, while in a team the attachment is only as strong as the person's contribution. Before answering this question, I want to emphasize that either is good by me, because both families and teams provide meaningful relationships and that neither is anything like a typical job at a typical company, where the relationships are primarily utilitarian. But to answer the question directly, I wanted Bridgewater to be like a family business in which family members have to perform excellently or be cut. If I had a family business and a family member wasn't performing well, I would want to let them go because I believe that it isn't good for either the family member (because staying in a job they're not suited to stands in the way of their personal evolution) or the company (because it holds back the whole community). That's tough love.
To give you an idea of how Bridgewater's culture developed and how it's different from what you'd find at most companies, I will tell you about how we handled benefits in our early days. When the company was just me and a small group of people, I didn't provide employees with health insurance; I assumed that they would buy it on their own. But I did want to help the people I shared my life with during their times of need. If someone I worked with got seriously sick and couldn't afford proper care, what was I going to do, stand by and not help them? Of course I'd help them financially, to whatever extent I could. So when I did begin providing health insurance to my employees, I felt that I was insuring myself against the money I knew I'd give them if they were injured or fell ill as much as I was insuring them.
Because I wanted to make certain that they received the best care possible, the policies I provided allowed them to go to any doctor they chose and spend whatever amount was required. On the other hand, I didn't protect them against the little things. For example, I didn't provide dental insurance any more than I provided car insurance, because I felt that it was their own responsibility to protect their teeth, just as it was their own responsibility to take care of their car. If they needed dental insurance, they could pay for it out of their own pocket. My main point is that I didn't approach benefits in the impersonal, transactional way most companies do, but more like something I provided for my family. I was more than generous with some things and expected people to take personal responsibility for others.
When I treated my employees like extended family, I found that they typically behaved the same way with each other and our community as a whole, which was much more special than having a strictly quid pro quo relationship. I can't tell you how many people would do anything in their power to help our community/company and wouldn't want to work anywhere else. This is invaluable.
As Bridgewater grew, my ability to have quality personal contact with everyone faded, but this wasn't a problem because the broader community embraced this way of being with each other. This didn't just happen; we did a lot to help it along. For example, we put into place a policy that we would pay for half of practically any activities that people want to do together up to a set cap (we now support more than a hundred clubs and athletic and common-interest groups); we paid for food and drink for those who hosted potluck dinners at their houses; and we bought a house that employees can use for events and celebrations. We have Christmas, Halloween, Fourth of July, and other parties that often include family members. Eventually, others who valued this kind of relationship took responsibility for it and it spread to become a cultural norm so that I could just sit back and watch beauty happen.
What about the person who doesn't give a damn about all of this meaningful relationship stuff, who just wants to go into work, do a good job, and receive fair compensation? Is that okay? Sure it is, and it's common for a significant percentage of employees. Not everyone feels the same or is expected to feel the same about the community. It's totally okay to opt out. We have all sorts of people and respect whatever they want to do on their own time, as long as they abide by the law and are considerate. But these are not the folks who will provide the community with the skeletal strength of commitment that is essential for it to be extraordinary over very long periods of time.
No matter how much one tries to create a culture of meaningful relationships, the organization is bound to have some bad (intentionally harmful) people in it. Being there isn't good for them or the company so it's best to find out who they are and remove them. We have found that the higher the percentage of people who really care about the organization, the fewer the number of bad people there are, because the people who really care protect the community against them. We have also found that our radical transparency helps make it clearer which are which.