David Simpson

Thoughts on "Radical Candor"

Posted on May 19, 2017

I have to confess, up until now "candor" isn't a word that I’ve thought much about. That changed after reading a new book titled "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott.

If you haven’t ever heard her name, Kim Scott is a heavy hitter in Silicon Valley, where she spends time managing people at Twitter, Shyp, and many more successful tech companies. The book caters to those who are managers and is focused on how you treat people.

Before I dig into my thoughts, one of the first things I did out of curiosity was check with my good friend, Merriam-Webster, for the different definitions for the word Candor.

Here is what I found:

  1. the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness: The candor of the speech impressed the audience.
  2. freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality: to consider an issue with candor.
  3. Obsolete. kindliness.
  4. Obsolete. purity.

The Two Dimensions

I would generally summarize the book by saying it takes a teaching and mentoring approach to people management, based on the traditional school of thought that managers primarily exist to help the people on their team. The advice she provides is both practical and actionable, with specific advice for running 1:1s and team meetings, and how to encourage focused conversations where people strive to improve themselves as well as helping the people around them.

There are two main dimensions that she describes.

“The first dimension is about more than ‘just professional.’ It’s about giving a damn, sharing more than just your work self, and encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same. It’s not enough to care only about people’s ability to perform a job. To have a good relationship, you have to be your whole self and care about each of the people who work for you as a human being. It’s not just business; it is personal, and deeply personal. I call this dimension ‘Care Personally.”

“The second dimension involves telling people when their work isn’t good enough — and when it is; when they are not going to get that new role they wanted, or when you’re going to hire a new boss ‘over’ them; when the results don’t justify further investment in what they’re working on. Delivering hard feedback, making hard calls about who does what on a team, and holding a high bar for results — isn’t that obviously the job of any manager? And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them you care when you’re the boss. This dimension I call ‘Challenge Directly.”

I completely agree with her in regard to the importance of understanding the difference between "Obnoxious Aggression" and "Radical Candor." She further explains, “Radically Candid criticism is an important part of the culture at both Google and Apple, but it takes very different forms at the two companies. Google emphasizes caring personally more than challenging directly, so I’d describe criticism there as Radical Candid with a twist of Ruinous Empathy. Apple does the opposite, so I’d describe its culture of criticism as Radical Candor with a twist of Obnoxious Aggression.”

The Questions Matter

The next big takeaway for me from the book was that asking the right questions effectively, and at the right time is among the most important and least appreciated skills, especially in regard to managers. It was also really interesting to learn from some of the data she provides, that face-to-face conversations, tone of voice, and body language determine 80-85% of the perceived impact; however, what is actually said to the person is only about 15-20%.

Here are a few of the examples questions that Kim recommends to supervisors when they are interested in feedback from an underperforming direct report:

  • “I know you are determined to produce the results we need.
  • “What can I do to make that easier for you?”
  • “What do you need that you don’t have now?”
  • “Have there been any unexpected problems?”
  • "Any pleasant surprises?”
  • “To what extent do you feel limited by someone or something else?”
  • “Is there something else you would much rather be doing?”

The most effective and enjoyable managers have the background, skills, experience, and temperament to know when and how to give recognition when it has actually been earned, and also when and how to provide constructive criticism when it is needed most.

In my opinion, some of the best advice that Kim gives in the book focuses on the “when” and “how” of each situation, and actionable advice on how to become better.

Memorable snippets from the book

This book is packed with insightful lines from Kim and other smart managers. Here are some of the memorable quotes that resonated with me:

"It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on your praise and criticism, tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well, engage in this same behavior with one another ... embrace their role on the team, and focus on getting results"

"When you're the boss, it's awkward to ask your direct reports to tell you frankly what they think of your performance, even more awkward for them than it is for you. To help, I [ask] ... 'Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?' ... It is essential that you ... commit to sticking with the conversation until you have a genuine response. One technique is to count to six before saying anything else, forcing them to endure the silence. The goal is not to bully but to insist on a candid discussion ... Then listen with the intent to understand ... Once you've asked your question and embraced the discomfort and understood the criticism, you have to follow up by showing that you welcome it. You have to reward the candor if you want to get more of it ... Make a chance as soon as possible ... show you're trying."

"If you can absorb the blows, the members of your team are more likely to be good bosses to their employees when they have them ... The rewards of watching people you care about flourish and then help others flourish."

"The ultimate goal of Radical Candor is to achieve results collaboratively that you could never achieve individually ... A culture of guidance ... An exemplary team ... self-correcting quality whereby most problems are solved before you are even aware of them ... Don't start by bossing people. They'll just hate you. Start by listening to them."

Not into reading?

I understand that not everyone is into reading, lucky for us, we have YouTube and Kim has does many speaking engagements. Here is one of my favorites from a FirstRound Review talk.

My Recommendation: BUY

Even if you don't manage people today, or you are just getting started as a designer, this is still a great book to learn about how to build strong work relationships. Don't hesitate to head over to Amazon and get this delivered with Prime in two days, or downloaded to your favorite e-book reader!

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

The end

What do you think?

Do you have any questions or comments (positive or negative!) about this article? Don't be shy, I'd love to hear from you, ping me on Twitter.

Tweet @Simpson