One of the aspects of my job that I enjoy is the managing others. I’m fortunate to have had this opportunity inside and outside of the work environment. Before business school, I took on responsibility in managing others and I’ve held a bevvy of positions in undergrad and grad school as a leader and manager and have always tried to be the best version of a manager that I would want for myself.
One of my mantras of which I try to practice is to deliver honest feedback in a way that shows compassion and care for others. Jeff Weiner calls this managing compassionately, and Kim Scott calls this radical candor. In a recent interview with First Round Review (Sidenote: I highly encourage you to start reading FRR) outlined her approach to managing and leading at companies like Google and Apple. Her mission: “Create bullshit free zones where people love their work and working together.”
Throughout the article, Kim articulates her approach to managing teams, and in her own words, “The single most important thing a boss can do, is focus on guidance: giving it, receiving it, and encouraging it.”
The kind of feedback she is referring to is radical candor. To illustrate her point, Scott recounts an interaction with Sheryl Sandberg, where Sheryl initially asked Scott if she wanted some professional help with her presentation skills. It wasn’t until Sandberg said, “‘You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’” It worked – Scott heard the message loud and clear, and signed up for the speaking coach.
At many points in our lives, the phrase “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is appropriate for maintaining civility and respect, but when it comes to managing others and delivering feedback it’s not very helpful.
So, how can you actually practice radical candor in a way that’s not only effective, but that doesn’t hurt or offend the people that work for you?
1) Give a Damn – Scott recounts that part of the reason why she took what Sheryl said to heart was because she knew that Sheryl cared about personally and professionally, and demonstrated it through both actions and words. When you make it known through your actions and words that you care for your people, they’ll be more likely to understand what you’re saying is for their own good, and not meant personally.
2) Make it Accepted and Expected – One of Scott’s biggest mistakes was not delivering radical candor towards a team member until it was too late. This team member was very nice but not good at his job, and was impacting the entire team. Scott realized she was being unfair to the rest of her team, and when she finally sat down this team member to fire him, all he could muster in return was “Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ To avoid this, you need to create a culture and environment where radical feedback is not only accepted but also expected. Getting honest feedback, especially negative feedback may not be easy to handle, but it should not come as a surprise.
3) Do it everyday – Just like inculcating a positive habit, the key to ingraining radical candor in your work environment is consistency. Scott urges managers to not only practice radical feedback everyday, but to create a reinforcement mechanism so others understand the importance of it’s nature. She says, ““Get a couple of stickers, one color for praise and one color for criticism, and ask people to put stickers where they think your last interaction was on the graph. You’ll be surprised how clear people will be with you about their reactions to the kind of guidance you’re giving them.”
Scott says, “I would argue that criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation. If you’re like me and believe Scott’s point, trying out radical candor with your team is worth a shot.