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Radical Candor in Digital Services: Interview with ThreeSixtyEight

Back in December, we learned about another company that has committed to a culture of Radical Candor. ThreeSixtyEight is a digital services company that specializes in creating beautiful design and brand experiences for their clients, and they have made Radical Candor a core value, both for internal and client interactions.

Kenny Nguyen, the CEO, reached out to us via Twitter to share his company’s mascot:

We were so excited by the ThreeSixtyEight “Radical Condor” mascot and wanted to learn more about how the company thinks about and approaches Radical Candor.

Here’s our conversation with Kenny:

How did you hear about Radical Candor, and how did you introduce it to your team?

We learned about Radical Candor in early 2016 during the merging of Big Fish Presentations and Hatchit to become ThreeSixtyEight. During the time researching about better company processes, we stumbled upon the Radical Candor article from First Round Capital. Upon reading the article from Kim, we knew we had to incorporate this principle somehow into our culture.

As a company, we held a “vision day”, when we revealed to all team members where we plan to take the company and what new processes will be introduced. Part of the focus of that day was company culture, and we integrated Radical Candor then.

The ThreeSixtyEight Team

What was the initial reception like in your company? Any early internal successes or failures you can talk about?

The ideas were revelationary at first, as some people tend to think you can’t Challenge Directly at the same time that you show you Care Personally. There were some people who suggested that instead of calling it Radical Candor, people should just go ahead and tell others how they feel without putting a label on the interaction. In theory that sounds reasonable, but in action it’s a bit harder to do. You tend to forget that it’s ok to be candid with someone – whether you’re an intern or the CEO of the company. Labeling it creates a reassurance that it is ok and encouraged.

We learned that in order to maximize the impact of Radical Candor, we had to own the term and make sure that everyone in the organization had a voice. This was shown in particular example when Tara, who was one of our interns at the time (now a strategist for ThreeSixtyEight), confronted me on my reason for not paying interns. We had a great discussion and after hearing her viewpoint, we now pay all our interns! She told me she was nervous to talk to me at first but having discussed Radical Candor, she felt reassured that I would listen.

Why is the idea of Radical Candor so important in your line of work?

We work in the creative + marketing industry where ideas and execution are everything. If you think someone’s idea is [bad], then you need to be able to say so. If you don’t speak up confidently against the bad ideas in our field, people will relentlessly defend the ideas they believe are great.

An example of this came up in our weekly marketing meetings at ThreeSixtyEight. In a recent meeting, our strategists, CSO, sales team, and marketing staff converged to discuss ways we can market our internal brand and provide meaningful content with events for the community.

Currently, we are starting a quarterly mini-conference series called Assembly Required that highlights the talent of Louisiana while also providing “TED-esque” like presentations featuring various leaders in different industries. While the team was onboard with this event, they were not onboard with my idea of starting a monthly “town-hall” series between the quarterly events. My thought was to maintain the momentum of Assembly Required.

My team knew I didn’t have the time, and despite my full confidence of us being able to execute, I needed the team to tell me “hell no.” They knew the quality of all the events would diminish due to lack of time and focus on getting just Assembly Required right. THAT is the type of team you need…one that checks you, even for the good ideas!

So you practice Radical Candor with your clients, too?

All the time – especially in the presentation space with Big Fish Presentations.

We recently just helped Nationwide Insurance’s information architecture department create a departmental presentation process that reduces time spent creating presentations and allows more time to be focused on collaborative discussions. During the opening workshop with Nationwide, it was clear that everyone was pretty attached to their existing processes. I had to show that I cared about their perspective, but I also needed to challenge their ideas and challenge them to throw out old practices that weren’t working.

When we coach presenters, Radical Candor is also extremely important. We often work with executives that are used to being told how great they are. But our job is to help them improve. They need a team like us to tell them what they need to hear. We challenge them: “Yeah you’re great, but how can we make you greater?” This approach of being able to challenge the client confidently and positively has been why a little company in Baton Rouge has been able to pick up national clientele like General Electric, Nationwide, NASA, Unilever, Verizon, and McGraw-Hill.

We often work with executives that are used to being told how great they are. But our job is to help them improve.

What has been the impact of Radical Candor on your team?

Well, for one thing, we are much more open to sharing our thoughts on projects and being upfront with each other on quality control. This has resulted in our team being closer and more accountable as people know that others will speak up if they aren’t doing their job.

The Radical Condor mascot that we created as a play on Radical Candor is to show our appreciation. We even created stickers that we can put on our laptops as a proud badge and reminder:

What recommendations do you have for other teams that want to start introducing Radical Candor?

I’ll break it down into three recommendations:

  1. It applies to everyone: You have to let Radical Candor apply to everyone in the organization. If an intern can’t give the CEO proper criticism to help the CEO become better, you are limiting the potential of the most powerful asset of any organization – the people.
  2. Own it regularly: If you are a team leader, you should be able to take criticism as well as deliver it on a regular basis. Asking your team every week, “what should I be doing that I’m not doing and what am I doing that I shouldn’t?” can consistently help you to become a better manager. We have our team leaders ask that question regularly.
  3. Do it fast: When delivering feedback, you do not want to wait till a performance review to check someone. I mean think about it. How would you feel like if you did something wrong and heard about it three months later? That’s such a long time to correlate an event with a reprimand. With Radical Candor, feedback should be specific and fresh to help the person improve immediately!

If an intern can’t give the CEO proper criticism to help the CEO become better, you are limiting the potential of the most powerful asset of any organization – the people.

Thanks to Kenny for sharing ThreeSixtyEight’s Radical Candor story and the Radical Condor with us. Check out ThreeSixtyEight’s world of digital, culture, and strategy on their blog.

Does your company use Radical Candor? Share your story with us!