- Radical Candor (Highlights: [[Radical Candor Highlights]])
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Radical Candor Highlights
Highlights from my reading of Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, by Kim Scott.
“At Apple we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”
At Apple, as at Google, a boss’s ability to achieve results had a lot more to do with listening and seeking to understand than it did with telling people what to do; more to do with debating than directing; more to do with pushing people to decide than with being the decider; more to do with persuading than with giving orders; more to do with learning than with knowing.
The point is, rather, that if you are someone who is most comfortable communicating in that way, you have to build relationships of trust that can support it, and you have to hire people who can adapt to your style.
the relationships you have with the handful of people who report directly to you will have an enormous impact on the results your team achieves.
you lead a big organization, you can’t have a relationship with everybody. But the relationships you have with your direct reports will impact the relationships they have with their direct reports. The ripple effect will go a long way toward creating—or destroying—a positive culture. Relationships may not scale, but culture does.
If you implement every single idea, tool, and technique in this book, the time you dedicate to managing your team will come to approximately ten hours a week, and those ten hours should save you enormous lost time and headaches later. I’ll also suggest you block out about fifteen hours a week for you to think and execute independently in your area of expertise. That leaves another fifteen hours in a forty-hour work week. Hopefully you can claim them as your own, though if you’re like me you’ll have to use most of them to deal with the unpredictable.
Gender, racial, and cultural differences do make having Radically Candid relationships harder. It’s scary to be Radically Candid with those who look like us. It’s scarier when people look different, speak a different language, or practice a different religion. We are all more likely to be “ruinously empathetic” or “obnoxiously aggressive” or “manipulatively insincere” toward people who are different from us. Learning how to push ourselves and others past this discomfort, to relate to our shared humanity, can make a huge difference.
what do bosses/managers/leaders do? Go to meetings? Send emails? Tell people what to do? Dream up strategies and expect other people to execute them? It’s tempting to suspect them of doing a whole lot of nothing. Ultimately, though, bosses are responsible for results. They achieve these results not by doing all the work themselves but by guiding the people on their teams. Bosses guide a team to achieve results.
People dread feedback. They dread getting it, both the praise, which can feel patronizing, and especially the criticism.
Building a cohesive team means figuring out the right people for the right roles: hiring, firing, promoting. But once you’ve got the right people in the right jobs, how do you keep them motivated? Particularly in Silicon Valley, the questions sound like this: why does everyone always want the next job when they haven’t even mastered the job they have yet?
Many managers are perpetually frustrated that it seems harder than it should be to get things done. We just doubled the size of the team, but the results are not twice as good. In fact, they are worse.
Very few people focus first on the central difficulty of management that Ryan hit on: establishing a trusting relationship with each person who reports directly to you.
Many things get in the way, though: power dynamics first and foremost, but also fear of conflict, worry about the boundaries of what’s appropriate or “professional,” fear of losing credibility, time pressure.
You strengthen your relationships by learning the best ways to get, give, and encourage guidance; by putting the right people in the right roles on your team; and by achieving results collectively that you couldn’t dream of individually.
The first dimension is about being 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.
And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them that you care when you’re the boss. This dimension I call “Challenge Directly.”
“Radical Candor” is what happens when you put “Care Personally” and “Challenge Directly” together.
It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to 1) accept and act on your praise and criticism; 2) tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; 3) engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again; 4) embrace their role on the team; and 5) focus on getting results.
communicate clearly enough so that there’s no room for interpretation, but also humbly.
Implicit with candor is that you’re simply offering your view of what’s going on and that you expect people to offer theirs.
Now I realized the question that led me to study Russian literature—why some people live productively and joyfully while others feel, as Marx put it, alienated from their labor—was central to a boss’s job. In fact, part of my job was to figure out how to create more joy and less misery. My humanity was an attribute, not a liability, to being effective.
“Bring your whole self to work.”
This often means modeling the behavior yourself by showing some vulnerability to the people who report to you—or just admitting when you’re having a bad day—and creating a safe space for others to do the same. In addition to the obsessive devotion
When they become a boss, some people consciously or unconsciously begin to feel they’re better or smarter than the people who work for them. That attitude makes it impossible to be a kick-ass boss; it just makes people want to kick your ass.
Of course, if you are a boss, there is some hierarchy involved. There’s no use pretending otherwise. Just remember that being a boss is a job, not a value judgment.
Caring personally is about doing things you already know how to do. It’s about acknowledging that we are all people with lives and aspirations that extend beyond those related to our shared work. It’s about finding time for real conversations; about getting to know each other at a human level; about learning what’s important to people; about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work—and what has the opposite effect.
The source of everything respectable in man either as an intellectual or as a moral being [is] that his errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes, by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is to be interpreted.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell once remarked that being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.1 You have to accept that sometimes people on your team will be mad at you. In fact, if nobody is ever mad at you, you probably aren’t challenging your team enough.
Eliminate the phrase “don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary—it’s insulting. Instead, offer to help fix the problem. But don’t pretend it isn’t a problem just to try to make somebody feel better. In the end, caring personally about people even as you challenge them will build the best relationships of your career.
The hardest part of building this trust is inviting people to challenge you, just as directly as you are challenging them. You have to encourage them to challenge you directly enough that you may be the one who feels upset or angry.
But if you stick to it, you’ll find that you learn a great deal about yourself and how people perceive you. This knowledge will unfailingly allow you and your team to achieve better results.
Sensing this, Russ said, “If we have the data about what works, let’s look at the data, but if all we have are opinions, let’s use yours,” borrowing from Jim Barksdale of Netscape, but offering the opposite prescription.
“See, that’s the difference between us—you think we’re fightin’, and I think we’re finally talkin’!”
Radical Candor is also not an invitation to nitpick.
good rule of thumb for any relationship is to leave three unimportant things unsaid each day.
We have to be constantly aware of the fact that what seemed Radically Candid to one person or team may feel too obnoxious (or too touchy-feely) to another.
I was raised in the American South, where people will do almost anything to avoid conflict or argument.
She did so immediately, so that the problem didn’t hurt my reputation at Google. She made sure to point out the positive things I’d accomplished in the presentation, and what’s more, she did so thoroughly and sincerely—there was no attempt at “sandwiching” the criticism between bogus positives. Her first approach was gentle but direct. When it became clear that I wasn’t hearing her, she became more direct, but even then she was careful not to “personalize,” not to make it about some essential trait. She said I “sounded” stupid rather than I was stupid. And I wasn’t in this alone: she offered tangible help.
“It’s not mean. It’s clear!”
Radically Candid praise
Giving meaningful praise is hard.
“The other day I gave you a hard time about leaving early for practice, and I then felt bad about it,” I began. “Because in fact I really admire that you are a Little League coach. You do as good a job integrating your work and your life as anyone I know. I always wonder if I’m spending enough time with my kids, and the example you set by coaching helps me do better. Also, the things you’ve learned from the Positive Coaching Alliance have been enormously helpful in our work.”
Radically Candid criticism
The secret to winning, he said, is to point out to great players what they could have done better, even when they have just won a game.
But here’s a paradox of being a good boss. Most people prefer the challenging “jerk” to the boss whose “niceness” gets in the way of candor. I once read an article that claimed most people would rather work for a “competent asshole” than a “nice incompetent.” This article was a useful expression of the Catch-22 that worried me about being a boss. Of course I didn’t want to be incompetent. Nor did I want to be an asshole.
When bosses criticize others to humiliate them rather than to help them improve, or permit personalized attacks among team members, or discourage praise as “babysitting people’s egos,” their behavior feels obnoxiously aggressive to the people around him.
Obnoxiously aggressive criticism
Blaming people’s internal essence rather than their external behavior leaves no room for change.
I’m not proud to admit that I was a silent party to this. I was standing right there when Ned told my friend that he looked like a fool, and I didn’t say anything. Nor did I say anything later to Ned in private. Why? Because I had already dismissed Ned as an asshole, and therefore deemed him not worth talking to. So I was making the fundamental attribution error, and my behavior was “manipulatively insincere.” I’m still ashamed of that. If ever anyone needed a dose of Radical Candor, it was Ned.
Remember, Obnoxious Aggression is a behavior, not a personality trait. Nobody is a bona fide asshole all the time.
The first problem with my email was that it wasn’t humble.
I just made a bunch of assumptions and concluded—wrongly, as it turned out—that Larry was more concerned with making money than he was with Google’s mission.
My other miscalculation was criticizing Larry in a public forum, rather than in private, which would have been the respectful thing to do. And worst of all, I personalized. I should have been talking about the AdSense policy, but instead I attacked Larry’s character, implicitly accusing him of being greedy and hypocritical.
Obnoxiously aggressive praise
MANIPULATIVELY INSINCERE GUIDANCE happens when you don’t care enough about a person to challenge directly.
Worrying about whether or not they give a damn about you, however, is not “caring personally” about them, and it’s likely to push you in the wrong direction on the “challenge directly” axis. That’s not going to help your team achieve great results, or take a step in the direction of their dreams. Let go of vanity and care personally. But if you don’t care, don’t waste your time and everyone else’s by trying to fake it.
Manipulatively insincere praise
When you behave badly and get called out for it, an all-too-natural response is to become less genuine and more political—to move from Obnoxious Aggression to a worse place, Manipulative Insincerity.
THERE’S A RUSSIAN anecdote about a guy who has to amputate his dog’s tail but loves him so much that he cuts it off an inch each day, rather than all at once. His desire to spare the dog pain and suffering only leads to more pain and suffering. Don’t allow yourself to become that kind of boss!
Ruinous Empathy can also prevent a boss from asking for criticism. Typically, when a boss asks an employee for criticism, the employee feels awkward at best, afraid at worst.
They’re pleasant to work with, but as time goes by their employees start to realize that the only guidance they’ve received is “good job” and other vaguely positive comments.
They know they’ve done some things wrong, but they’re not sure what, exactly. Their direct reports never know where they stand, and they aren’t being given an opportunity to learn or grow; they often stall or get fired.
Ruinously empathetic praise
My friend’s suggestion to managers who worked at his company: when giving praise, investigate until you really understand who did what and why it was so great.
My advice is to start by explaining the idea and then asking people to be Radically Candid with you. Start by getting feedback, in other words, not by dishing it out. Then when you do start giving it, start with praise, not criticism.
Start by asking for criticism, not by giving it Don’t dish it out before you show you can take it
Bosses get Radically Candid guidance from their teams not merely by being open to criticism but by actively soliciting it.
If you see somebody criticizing a peer inappropriately, say something. But if somebody criticizes you inappropriately, your job is to listen with the intent to understand and then to reward the candor.
“What could I do or stop doing that would make your lives better?” and then counted to six in my head, somebody would say something.
They laughed, and, fearing I might just paint a red box somewhere, somebody opened up just a tiny bit. It wasn’t much, frankly—a complaint about the tea in the office—but I rewarded the candor handsomely. I thanked the person publicly, I sent a handwritten note, I approved funds to make sure there was better tea, and I made sure everyone knew that there was better tea now because somebody had complained about it in the meeting. Later, more substantive issues got raised.
Balance praise and criticism Worry more about praise, less about criticism—but above all be sincere
We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, more from criticism than from praise. Why, then, is it important to give more praise than criticism? Several reasons. First, it guides people in the right direction. It’s just as important to let people know what to do more of as what to do less of.
the best praise does a lot more than just make people feel good. It can actually challenge them directly.
If I’m not firing you, it means you’re doing fine.
“How long do you spend making sure you have all the facts right before you criticize somebody? How long do you spend making sure you have all the facts right before you praise somebody?” Ideally you’d spend just as long getting the facts right for praise as for criticism.
“to do it very clearly and to articulate why … and to get them back on track.”
How do you criticize without discouraging the person?
ask for criticism before giving it, and offer more praise than criticism. Be humble, helpful, offer guidance in person and immediately, praise in public, criticize in private, and don’t personalize.
the need for honest communication doesn’t always wait until you’ve built a close personal relationship, and even a near-stranger’s silence invites more awkwardness and mistrust than saying,
Then you were told some version of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Well, now it’s your job to say it. And if you are a boss or a person in a position of some authority, it’s not just your job. It’s your moral obligation. Just say it!
To keep a team cohesive, you need both rock stars and superstars, she explained. Rock stars are solid as a rock. Think the Rock of Gibraltar, not Bruce Springsteen. The rock stars love their work. They have found their groove. They don’t want the next job if it will take them away from their craft. Not all artists want to own a gallery; in fact, most don’t. If you honor and reward the rock stars, they’ll become the people you most rely on. If you promote them into roles they don’t want or aren’t suited for, however, you’ll lose them—or, even worse, wind up firing them. Superstars, on the other hand, need to be challenged and given new opportunities to grow constantly.
Instead of asking an implicitly judgmental question like, “Is this a person with high or low potential?” we encouraged managers to ask themselves questions like, “What growth trajectory does each person on my team want to be on right now?”
The axes of this framework are past performance and future growth trajectories.
The expected results for a given quarter or year are ideally set by the employee; they should be as objective and as measurable as possible.
The intangibles are usually impossible to measure but not too hard to describe, and so expectations should be clear here as well. Performance is not a permanent label.
Only when you get to know your direct reports well enough to know why they care about their work, what they hope to get out of their careers, and where they are in the present moment in time can you put the right people in the right roles and assign the right projects to the right people.
and plenty of managers are on a gradual growth trajectory. Nor should steep growth be thought of as narrowly as “promotion.” It’s about having an increased impact over time.
Take having a child. Sometimes the financial burden of parenthood spurs ambition; sometimes the desire to get home in time to play with young children spurs a desire for more predictability.
Generally, an ambition or a commitment outside of work enhances a person’s value to the team—that means you get, say, a great artist as your graphic designer, as long as you don’t insist that the artist get on the fast track at work.
IT’S A BASIC axiom that people do better work when they find that work meaningful. I don’t disagree with this basic premise. However, bosses who take this to mean that it is their job to provide purpose tend to overstep.
A wise man once told me, “Only about five percent of people have a real vocation in life, and they confuse the hell out of the rest of us.”
Which brings us back to the main point of this chapter: your job is not to provide purpose but instead to get to know each of your direct reports well enough to understand how each one derives meaning from their work.
“That’s like saying, to have a good marriage, marry the right person and then avoid spending any time with them. Ridiculous, right?”
Every minute you spend with somebody who does great work pays off in the team’s results much more than time spent with somebody who’s failing. Ignore these people and you won’t, in short, be managing
It often requires you to help do the work, rather than just advising. It requires that you ask a lot of questions and challenge people—that you roll up your own sleeves.
Managers often devote more time to those who are struggling than to those who are succeeding. But that’s not fair to those who are succeeding—nor is it good for the team as a whole. Moving from great to stunningly great is more inspiring for everyone than moving from bad to mediocre.
the best way to manage rock stars,
The key is to recognize their contribution in other ways. It may be a bonus or a raise. Or, if they like public speaking, get them to present at your all-hands meetings or other big events. If they like teaching, get them to help new people learn their roles faster. Or if they are shy, make sure that you and others on the team thank them privately for the work they do. Consider, carefully, tenure awards. If your organization gives performance ratings and/or bonuses, make sure they are fair to the rock stars.
If one person is doing much better work than others on the team, it seems obvious they should get a better rating and a higher bonus.
But when ratings are primarily used to justify future promotions, rather than to recognize past performance, this doesn’t happen.
Ecclesiastes: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
Keep them challenged (and figure out who’ll replace them when they move on)
The best way to keep superstars happy is to challenge them and make sure they are constantly learning. Give them new opportunities, even when it is sometimes more work than seems feasible for one person to do. Figure out what the next job for them will be. Build an intellectual partnership with them. Find them mentors from outside your team or organization—people who have even more to offer than you do.
But make sure you don’t get too dependent on them; ask them to teach others on the team to do their job, because they won’t stay in their existing role for long. I often thought of these people as shooting stars—my team and I were lucky to have them in our orbit for a little while, but trying to hold them there was futile.
In many ways, your job as the boss is to set and uphold a quality bar. That can feel harsh in the short term, but in the long run the only thing that is meaner is lowering the bar. Don’t get sucked into Ruinous Empathy when managing people who are doing OK but not great! Everybody can excel somewhere. And to build a great team that achieves exceptional results, everybody needs to be doing great work. Accepting mediocrity isn’t good for anybody.
Is it time to fire her?
have you given her Radically Candid guidance, do you understand the impact of Peggy’s performance on her colleagues, and have you sought advice from others?
Just because the person is not good at the job they do for you doesn’t mean there isn’t another job out there they could be great at. I know that this can sound very Pollyanna-ish, so before our meeting, I try to imagine specifically what that job might be. I also try to reframe the problem, for both me and the person I’m firing: it’s not the person who sucks, it’s the job that sucks—at least for this person. What job would be great for that person? Can I help by making an introduction? 2.
In practice, morale has always improved once I’ve removed a poor performer, whereas I’ve sometimes lost the people I most wanted to keep by hanging on to a low performer for too long.
Another mistake that bosses sometimes make is to dump too much on a person all at once, setting them up to fail. Sometimes managers simply have unreasonable expectations about what one human being can do. Other times, managers map their own capacity onto the people who work for them. They forget that a person with ten years less experience than they have simply doesn’t know certain things.
My biggest concern with the terms “rock star” and “superstar” is that you’ll use them as permanent labels for people. Please do not!
Make sure that you are seeing each person on your team with fresh eyes every day.
At a time when we were obviously in need of big changes, it had seemed like it was the fastest way forward, but it wasn’t. First, because I didn’t involve my team in decision-making; I just made the decisions myself. Second, because even after making them I didn’t take the time to explain why or to persuade the team I’d made good decisions. So, instead of executing on decisions they
didn’t agree with or even understand, my team dissolved, and I wasn’t going to improve our results until I rebuilt it.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
When run effectively, the GSD wheel will enable your team to achieve more collectively than anyone could ever dream of achieving individually—to burst the bounds of your brain. First, you have to listen to the ideas that people on your team have and create a culture in which they listen to each other. Next, you have create space in which ideas can be sharpened and clarified, to make sure these ideas don’t get crushed before everyone fully understands their potential usefulness.
But just because an idea is easy to understand doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Next, you have to debate ideas and test them more rigorously. Then you need to decide—quickly, but not too quickly. Since not everyone will have been involved in the listen-clarify-debate-decide part of the cycle for every idea, the next step is to bring the broader team along. You have to persuade those who weren’t involved in a decision that it was a good one, so that everyone can execute it effectively. Then, having executed, you have to learn from the results, whether or not you did the right thing, and start the whole process over again.
they are designed to be cycled through quickly.
You have to find a way to listen that fits your personal style, and then create a culture in which everyone listens to each other, so that all the burden of listening doesn’t fall on you.
one of my students in the Managing at Apple class said that he tried to make sure to spend at least ten minutes in every one-on-one meeting listening silently, without reacting in any way. He would keep his facial expression and body language totally neutral.
“I heard the things I didn’t want to hear,” my student said, validating Tim’s technique. “If I gave any reaction at all, people would often tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I found that they were much more likely to say what they really thought—even if it wasn’t what I was hoping to hear—when I was careful not to show what I thought.”
It’s hard enough to get yourself to listen to your team members and let them know you are listening; getting them to listen to one another is even harder. The keys are 1) have a simple system for employees to use to generate ideas and voice complaints, 2) make sure that at least some of the issues raised are quickly addressed, and 3) regularly offer explanations as to why the other issues aren’t being addressed.
If you can build a culture where people listen to one another, they will start to fix things you as the boss never even knew were broken.
ONCE YOU’VE CREATED a culture of listening, the next step is to push yourself and your direct reports to understand and convey thoughts and ideas more clearly.
Trying to solve a problem that hasn’t been clearly defined is not
likely to result in a good solution; debating a half-baked idea is likely to kill it. As the boss, you are the editor, not the author.
Part of your job as the boss is to help people think through their ideas before submitting them to the rough-and-tumble of debate.
What details do you need to include to make it easy for them to understand—and, more importantly, what details can you leave out?
don’t allow people to attribute ownership to ideas, and don’t get hijacked by how others who aren’t in the room might (or might not) feel.
For example, I could have suggested the people whose differences he was having a hard time reconciling try to wrap it up over a meal or a walk, or that they switch roles and argue for each other’s positions.
to be legitimately persuasive a speaker must address the audience’s emotions but also establish the credibility and share the logic of the argument.
Aristotle’s elements of rhetoric—pathos, logos, and ethos, which I’ll translate loosely as emotion, logic, and credibility.7
Be humble and invoke a “we” not an “I” whenever possible.
“Dad! Bad news and good news. Bad news: you’re on the Yahoo! Finance list of five worst CEO’s this year. Good news: you’re number five.”
think a lot of Dick’s mental toughness came from his ability to stay centered, to do things like block two hours of think-time on his calendar every day.
relationships don’t scale, culture does.
In life, I learned that too much emphasis on shareholder value actually destroys value, as well as morale.
Instead, I learned to focus first on staying centered myself, so that I could build real relationships with each of the people who worked for me.
Be relentlessly insistent on bringing your fullest and best self to work—and taking it back home again.
Here’s what I need to do to stay centered: sleep eight hours, exercise for forty-five minutes, and have both breakfast and dinner with my family. If I skip one or two of those things for a day or two, it’s OK. But that’s the routine. Also, every so often I need to read a novel (ideally one a week), go away for a romantic weekend with my husband (ideally four times a year), and take a two-week vacation with siblings and parents (once a year). If I can manage to do those things, I can usually stay centered no matter what storms are raging around me. If I can’t manage to do those things, I’ll usually go a little nutty even if everything is pretty serene all around me.
That’s why the first rule of building the kind of relationship with the people that will make them feel free at work is to lay down unilateral authority.
Holding regular 1:1s in which your direct report sets the agenda and you ask questions is a good way to begin building trust. (See “1:1 Conversations,” chapter eight.) The way you ask for criticism and react when you get it goes a long way toward building trust—or destroying it. (See “Soliciting Impromptu Guidance,” chapter six.) Having annual “career conversations” is also an excellent way to strengthen your relationship with each person who reports directly to you (see chapter seven).
The fastest path to artificial relationships at work, and to the gravitational pull of organizational mediocrity, is to insist that everyone have the same worldview before building relationships with them. A radically candid relationship starts with the basic respect and common decency that every human being owes each other, regardless of worldview.
Many people cross a dangerous emotional boundary when they become the boss. They try to manage other people’s emotions. This is a big overstep.
first, find something in the criticism you can agree with, to signal that you’re open to criticism. Then, check for understanding—repeat what you heard back to the person to make sure you got it. Then, let them know you want to think about what they said, and schedule a time to talk about it again. It’s essential that you do get back to it. The key then is to explain exactly why you disagree. If you can’t make a change, giving the employee a thoughtful, respectful explanation of why not, is the best reward you can offer for their Radical Candor.
Tell them you’d welcome Radical Candor, but you’d prefer Obnoxious Aggression to silence. Print out the Radical Candor framework here), and when you’re having a conversation and you feel like somebody is pulling their punches, point to Radical Candor and ask them to go there.
a technique called “situation behavior impact” to help leaders be more precise and therefore less arrogant when giving feedback. This simple technique reminds you to describe three things when giving feedback: 1) the situation you saw, 2) the behavior (i.e., what the person did, either good or bad), and 3) the impact you observed. This helps you avoid making judgments about the person’s intelligence, common sense, innate goodness, or other personal attributes. When you pass blanket judgments, your guidance sounds arrogant.
For example, in your own words, say something like, “I’m going to describe a
problem I see; I may be wrong, and if I am I hope you’ll tell me; if I’m not I hope my bringing it up will help you fix it.”
And again, the same principle goes for praise. Don’t say, “She is really smart.” Say, “She just gave the clearest explanation I’ve ever heard of why users don’t like that feature.” By explicitly describing what was good or what was bad, you are helping a person do more of what’s good and less of what’s bad—and to see the difference.
Finally, there is a difference between saying it right away and nitpicking. If it’s not important, don’t say it right away or at all.
impromptu guidance really, truly is something you can squeeze in between meetings in three minutes or less.
If you have five direct reports and you want to offer each praise three times a week and criticism once a week, this is far more impromptu feedback than most managers offer. And it will just take you a maximum of sixty minutes per week—all those minutes grabbed from the time you’d otherwise spend just walking between meetings. But doing it does require energy and consciousness.
Don’t let the formal processes—the 1:1 meetings, annual or biannual performance reviews, or employee happiness surveys—take over. They are meant to reinforce, not substitute, what we do every day. You’d never let the fact that you go to the dentist for a cleaning a couple times a year prevent you from brushing your teeth every day. Don’t use performance reviews as an excuse not to give impromptu in-person feedback.
I found that praising people at a public all-hands meeting was a great way to share significant accomplishments. However, I often found that following up in person at a 1:1 carried more emotional weight, and following up with an email to the whole team carried more lasting weight.
When you’re praising people, your goal is to let them know what they did well as clearly as possible and in the way that will make them feel best—not the way you’d like to hear it. When you care personally about each individual working for you, when you’ve taken the time to get to know each person, being aware of these preferences is natural.
So whenever I praised in public I would explain that I wasn’t doing so because the person wanted public praise, but so that everybody could learn from what had happened.
He stopped saying, “You’re wrong,” and instead learned to say, “I think that’s wrong.” “I think” was humbler, and saying “that” instead of “you” didn’t personalize. People started to be more receptive to his criticism.
One woman I worked with had body odor to the point that it undermined her effectiveness. But how to raise the issue? I tried hard to make the conversation about her colleagues’ noses, not her armpits. She wasn’t American, but we were working in the U.S., so I laughed a little bit about American culture. I tried not to be prescriptive about the solution—maybe she had an allergic reaction to deodorant, or a health concern—but I did make clear that the status quo was undermining her otherwise strong performance. She looked embarrassed, but she fixed the problem. Five years later, she wrote me a note thanking me.
If somebody feels you were unnecessarily harsh, they should put a criticism sticker in the Obnoxious Aggression quadrant. If they feel you pulled your punches, they’ll put a criticism sticker in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant. If they feel you dished out too many meaningless “atta boy”s or “good job”s or “I’m so proud of you”s just to make them feel better, they’ll put a praise sticker in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant. If they feel you told them they did a good job but then told somebody else they did a bad job, then they put a praise sticker in the Manipulative Insincerity quadrant.
In my experience, most bosses fear being jerks but employees fear their bosses are not shooting straight.
You can’t “fix” yourself once and for all; you have to manage yourself, daily.
pretty much all managers are middle managers—is that you often wind up responsible for executing decisions that you disagree with.
Do you use words like “abrasive,” “shrill,” “screechy,” or “bossy,” that are rarely used to describe a man? If so, you may be about to fall into the trap.
One manager I know does this by simply asking each person on the team to give their peers a √ −, √, √ +. Most people get a √, and if they do that’s the end of the conversation. If one person gives a peer a √ − or a √ +, he asks a couple more questions. This takes about five minutes out of everyone’s 1:1 time twice a year, right before performance reviews, and offers him a great sanity check to make sure he’s being fair and seeing a broader perspective.
Plus, managers, especially new managers, will consciously or unconsciously seek to repress criticism rather than to encourage it.
Sheryl decided to address this company-wide anxiety about so-called “career growth”. “You need a long-term vision and an eighteen-month plan,” she advised.
People knew what they wanted. Russ felt it was a boss’s job to help them articulate it, and then achieve it.
“What about another vision,” Russ asked. “A CAD—crazy-ass dream.”
When Sarah talked about previous transitions she’d made—quitting one sport and focusing on another, for example—Russ asked more questions. By the end of the conversation, he understood much better what motivated Sarah at work. He then wrote down each of her motivators (e.g., “financial independence,” “environmentalism,” “hard work,” “leadership”) and explained how the stories she’d told him about her life had led him
Now, Russ was ready for the task of connecting what Sarah was doing right now to what she wanted to be doing at the very peak of her career. Russ, who’s very analytical, put each of Sarah’s dreams into columns. Next, he asked Sarah what skills she thought were most important to achieve each dream. Finally, he asked Sarah what skills she felt she had the most competence in.
Together, she and Russ came up with a plan to make sure she got increased management responsibility and also some mentorship from other great leaders at Google. While making the plan, it also became evident that Sarah could get the management experience faster by staying at Google than by leaving. Furthermore, Russ, her immediate boss, was one of the best managers in the company. Sarah decided to stay at Google for a few more years, where she became an enormously effective leader. She was getting the skills she needed, and saving money for her spirulina ranch. The work she was doing, which had seemed so separate from what she really wanted out of life, now made a lot more sense to her.
The first conversation is designed to learn what motivates each person who reports directly to you.
“Starting with kindergarten, tell me about your life.”
Then, he advised each manager to focus on changes that people had made and to understand why they’d made those choices. Values often get revealed in moments of change.
You’ve done something to show you care, and—invariably, after a conversation like that—you do care more. Next, you’re already better equipped to figure out what kinds of opportunities would be helpful for each person. Finally, you’re more prepared for the next conversation. When you understand what motivates a person and why, you’re much better able to understand their dreams.
The second conversation moves from understanding what motivates people to understanding the person’s dreams—what they want to achieve at the apex of their career, how they imagine life at its best to feel.
But retention was the by-product—satisfying, meaningful work and productive relationships with the boss were the primary goals of Russ’s “career conversation” process.
“What do you want the pinnacle of your career to look like?” Because most people don’t really know what they want to do when they “grow up,” Russ suggests encouraging people to come up with three to five different dreams for the future. This allows employees to include the dream they think you want to hear as well as those that are far closer to their hearts.
Ask each direct report to create a document with three to five columns; title each with the names of the dreams they described in the last conversation. Then, list the skills needed as rows. Show how important each skill is to each dream, and what their level of competency is in that skill. Generally, it will become very
Now, your job as the boss is to help them think about how they can acquire those skills: what are the projects you can put them on, whom can you introduce them to, what are the options for education?
The final part of Russ’s second conversation involves making sure that the person’s dreams are aligned with the values they have expressed. For example, “If ‘hard work’ is a core value, why is one of your dreams to retire early?”
Conversation three: eighteen-month plan
Last, Russ taught managers to get people to begin asking themselves the following questions: “What do I need to learn in order to move in the direction of my dreams? How should I prioritize the things I need to learn? Whom can I learn from?” How can I change my role to learn it? Once people were clear on what they wanted to learn next, it was much easier for managers to identify opportunities at work that would help them develop skills in the next six to eighteen months that would take them in the direction of at least one of their dreams. This translation of current work to future dreams was far more inspiring for people than “Here’s how you climb the next rung on the ladder.”
Here’s what to do: make a list of how the person’s role can change to help them learn the skills needed to achieve each dream; whom they can learn from; and
classes they could take or books they could read. Then, next to each item, note who does what by when—and make sure you have some action items.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary … If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Job description: define team “fit” as rigorously as you define “skills” to minimize bias.
Try to describe your culture in three to four words. It could be “detail-oriented,” “quirky,” and “blunt.” Or maybe it’s “big picture,” “straightlaced,” and “polite.” Whatever you choose, be disciplined about interviewing for those things.
Four people is about the right size for an interview committee. Ideally, the interviewing committee is diverse. If you’re a female candidate, it can be off-putting if everyone who interviews you is male.
I love stories, so my whole interview technique is just to ask people to “give me the oral version of your résumé.”
I know, you’re busy and you don’t have time to write everything down. Here’s a tip: schedule an hour, interview for forty-five minutes, and write for fifteen. This arrangement will force you to have a more focused interview and to make a better recommendation about whom to hire.
team where everyone loves their job and loves working together. You can build a team like that if you have career conversations with each of the people on your team, create growth-management plans for each person who works for you once a year, hire the right people, fire the appropriate people, promote the right people, and reward the people who are doing great work but who shouldn’t be promoted, and offer yourself as a partner to your direct reports.
An effective staff meeting has three goals: it reviews how things have gone the previous week, allows people to share important updates, and forces the team to clarify the most important decisions and debates for the coming week. That’s it. It shouldn’t be the place to have debates or make decisions. Your job is to establish a consistent agenda, insist that people stick to it, and corral people who go on for too long or who go off on tangents.
Here’s the agenda that I’ve found to be most effective: Learn: review key metrics (twenty minutes) Listen: put updates in a shared document (fifteen minutes) Clarify: identify key decisions & debates (thirty minutes)
Clarify: identify key decisions/debates (30 minutes). What are the one or two most important decisions and the single most important debate your team needs to take on that week? If your team is fewer than twenty or so people, you can probably just list them and decide/debate in an ad hoc way.
It’s shocking how fast the decisions that some people make start to seem mysterious or even nefarious to people who weren’t close to the process.
Another reason why measuring activities and visualizing workflows is important is that when a business is doing really well, it’s hard to tell from the results who’s along for the ride and who’s actually making things happen. Similarly, when the economy is tanking due to factors beyond anyone’s control, if you just measure results it’s hard to know who’s doing a great job bailing out your boat and who’s simply panicking or making the situation worse. Friends of mine who worked at Yahoo! and AOL have told me that when things were going well, whole teams would get richly rewarded; but when they started going badly, nobody had any idea what to do. They’d just been measuring the results, and they didn’t understand what had been driving them or what to do when the results turned bad.
Measuring activities will also create more respect between teams. It’s always surprising how quick one team is to assume that another team sits around doing nothing, and how much resentment builds up over this. When you can see from a Kanban board what people are doing, respect tends to flow pretty naturally.
In some ways, becoming a boss is like getting arrested. Everything you say or do can and will be used against you.
it’s a good idea to do one round of “career conversations” a year with each of your direct reports during your 1:1 time.
If you take every suggestion recommended in this book, the total time required is about ten hours a week, five of which are 1:1 meetings that you’re probably already holding anyway.
It was simply not possible to be a scintillating bundle of joy on the weekend when I’d spent the five previous days doing mind-numbing work that was being overseen by a Dementor.
There is nothing leaders can do that will more quickly create the conditions for psychological safety than to solicit criticism themselves, and to respond well to it.
They found that the five key dynamics for successful teams included: Psychological Safety, Dependability, Structure & Clarity, Meaning, and Impact. But psychological safety was by far the most important of the five dynamics, because it’s the foundation of the other four.3
When a boss sets aside time each week for 1:1 meetings and asks for feedback at the end of each 1:1, employees come to expect this as “normal.” Establishing a regular routine signals to them that you will be asking for feedback, and makes them more generally mindful about what you might do better or change in order to make them more effective.
It prompted me to start asking about exactly that: “In the last week, when would you have preferred that I be more or less involved in your work?”
“What could I do or stop doing?” If they can’t think of anything, encourage them to think a bit more. Warn them you’ll ask them again next week, and don’t forget to ask again.
“I worry that sometimes I interrupt people before they’ve had a chance to express themselves adequately. When have you seen me do that? Will you flag it for me if you see me do it next week?”
In the last week, when would you have preferred that I be more or less involved in your work? Tell me why I’m off base here. What’s something I could have done differently this week to make your job easier? How could I best support your professional development right now? What’s something I’ve done in the last week that made it difficult to work with me? What’s a blind spot of mine that you have noticed? The most important thing you can do for both of us is to tell me when I’ve screwed up. I feel like I didn’t do as well as I could have in that meeting, but I’m not sure what I did wrong. Can you help me figure it out?
I’m really trying to do X better. I know in theory it’s a problem but I’m not always aware in the moment. Can you help me by pointing it out when you see it?
The biannual or annual review is performance management, which is different from developmental feedback! Radical Candor is mostly about developmental feedback, which has to occur regularly—ideally every week—in impromptu two-minute chats. You risk undermining all of your hard work spent making your culture more
Radical Candor is mostly about developmental feedback, which has to occur regularly—ideally every week—in impromptu two-minute chats. You risk undermining all of your hard work spent making your culture more Radically Candid if you conflate development and performance management.
Radically Candid if you conflate development and performance management.
separate development conversations and performance management.
Good performance management is fundamentally about results, fairness, retention, and transparency.
Results. Is the person achieving their goals, doing what they are supposed to do? Do they have the skills or domain expertise necessary to be effective in their role? Teamwork. How well does the person work with others to get the results? Do they help others succeed, or leave the proverbial trail of dead bodies in their wake? Do they exhibit Radical Candor, both challenging directly and caring personally? Innovation. Does this person come up with new ideas that change the game, or help the team do old work in a new, better way? Innovation is not just about step-function ideas that result in, say, the iPhone. It’s also about incremental ideas. For example, the employee who figures out that programmable keypads will allow the team to answer routine customer-support questions more quickly, allowing them to focus on work that is more interesting and impactful.
Efficiency. Does this person work productively and quickly and contribute to the team’s ability to do so? For example, the employee who can do the work asked of them a little more quickly than others, and who shows others how they do it.
Ratings guide variable compensation, promotions, and terminations. The ratings should make the reasoning behind these decisions more transparent to employees, lead managers to calibrate carefully, and generally make the whole process feel simple, transparent, and fair.
It’s also important to manage the natural reaction to ratings: dwelling on the negative instead of the positive.
So it’s important to emphasize that the employee isn’t alone, the manager will help them improve. It’s also important to look for opportunities to adjust a person’s role to fit their strengths (or offer them a role for which they are better suited). Of course there’s a risk the person will be terminated if they can’t achieve at least a basic level of proficiency in a given area.
Rather than trying to push someone to improve in an area where they are OK for Now, focus on giving them more work they are Great at. Give people work that plays to their strengths, rather than killing their spirit by pushing them to do more things they are not great at doing.
It’s not unusual for managers to focus all their efforts on plugging weaknesses rather than helping people do more work they are great at and love. This can be highly counterproductive.
Part of what guides Radical Candor is a hope that people will excel in meaningful work. So what does this mean for people who consistently do OK for Now work in all categories but never show much improvement? Ideally, these people should be helped to find a role where they can excel. And nobody whose work is rated OK for Now should be promoted.
A condition for promotion should be a majority of Great ratings consistently over time.
My experience is that at any given time there are at least 5 percent of people who probably need the kind of strong wake-up call that the lowest rating delivers.
A Great rating means you want to give people outsized rewards because you want to compensate them fairly (they accomplished more than others!) and retain them. In general, I’ve found that group comprises roughly (very roughly) 15 percent of a team.
percent of your population getting an OK for Now and 40 percent getting a Good rating.
However, I do recommend making the distribution you expect to see transparent to the organization. If you don’t, calibrations (see here) will become opaque and excessively frustrating.
A calibration is a meeting in which a group of managers get together and make sure they are all rating people in the same way—that one is not a “hard” grader while another is an “easy” grader.
When managers have too much unilateral decision-making it’s bad for results, and it is a disaster for a boss’s ability to have a Radically Candid relationship with their employees. There are few things worse for a relationship than unilateral power.
The Edge of Chaos,
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