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A Radical Candor Rollout: Interview with Gather

We recently got the chance to talk with another leader who has rolled out Radical Candor on his team, and we wanted to share his experiences with you. Nicholas Miller is the co-founder and CEO of Gather, a company creating event management software for restaurants and other venues. Here’s how he introduced Radical Candor at Gather, and how it has helped them evolve their feedback culture.

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

I first read about the idea of Radical Candor in Kim Scott’s First Round Review article (Radical Candor — The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss), and it stuck with me. After reading about Kim’s success rolling the management style out across teams at multiple companies, I started to consider the positive impact it could have on our team at Gather. So first, I introduced the idea to the leadership team by simply sharing the article. Later, we read the book as a team in our Leadership Team Book Club.

More recently, we’ve incorporated many of the concepts in Radical Candor into our new manager training program. For example, we encourage our managers to empower their teams to “get it right,” not “be right,” and invest in building meaningful relationships with their direct reports.

What was the initial reception like in your company?

We’ve had great reception from the leadership team! The most consistent feedback we received previously was that our managers were only providing feedback during performance reviews, which meant that reviews were approached with apprehension. The idea that “Reviews should be a Summary” instantly struck a chord throughout the company. We now really encourage our managers to provide immediate direct feedback.

We also promote Radical Candor’s approach of constructive feedback in private and praise in public. Though it may seem like common sense, it’s not always obvious that constructive feedback should always be a private discussion. And it’s also a great reminder to focus not just on the things our team can do better, but the things they’re doing well today. Too much focus on improvements is certainly something I’ve been guilty of!

Why is the idea of Radical Candor important for Gather?

We move extremely quickly as a company. Everyone needs to know where they stand at any given moment – meaning managers don’t have time to skirt around the issues. It’s essential that they’re always aligned with their direct reports and the concepts in Radical Candor provide a frame of reference for doing so efficiently and effectively.

Additionally, we love promoting from within whenever we can – and as a result a lot of our middle management is comprised of new managers. We’ve been able to bring new managers up to speed more effectively with a framework for educating new managers on how to effectively develop relationships with direct reports. Basically, Radical Candor has provided a great high-level way to think about being a great manager at Gather.

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

It’s had a significant impact on our team. Overall, it’s encouraged our managers to step outside of their comfort zones, engage in healthy debates, and think about feedback in a different light. It’s helped us open all lines of communication between manager and direct reports, and implementing the concepts in Radical Candor has been a positive experience for everyone.

As an example — we had a situation where one of our managers felt like he was struggling to communicate effectively with his direct reports. He didn’t feel like he was having open, honest conversations, and felt like the root cause could be his communication style. He started using the Care Personally, Challenge Directly chart at the end of conversations with them, asking them to tell him where on the chart they felt the conversation had landed. This led to a greater understanding of his team, stronger relationships with direct reports and, ultimately, a better functioning team.

Another recent example is when I noticed a new direct report of mine didn’t seem to love getting direct feedback from me. To create an open relationship, I asked him to share feedback on how I was doing after every single meeting we were both a part of, including one-on-ones, and then actively solicited it. Slowly, the dialogue evolved into two-way feedback. Now we have more frequent and explicit conversations about feedback than I do with any of my other direct reports!

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

Like anything else, it’s not something you need to introduce all at once. There are a lot of piecemeal concepts that can have an impact on your team, or may even just impact the way you think about certain people operations challenges as you scale.

Gradually rolling out the ideas and concepts in Radical Candor that resonate with you makes it easier for teams to grasp the concepts and gives them the opportunity to put them into action at their own pace.

 

Thanks so much to Nick and Gather for sharing their Radical Candor experiences with us!

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!

Radical Candor and Software Engineers: Interview with ZenHub

We frequently hear about companies who are excited about Radical Candor and trying it out in their organizations. Each time, our first reaction is to ask, “Wow! How’s it working for you? What have you learned? How can we make it easier?” We’ve been chatting with a few different companies to learn about their Radical Candor experiences, and we think their stories and specific contexts can help others as well. So we want to share those experiences with you, so that you can get inspiration and tips for your own Radical Candor rollouts.

We recently learned about ZenHub’s book, Better Software and Stronger Teams, which shares strategies, including Radical Candor, to help software engineering teams become more collaborative. ZenHub is known for building the new standard in developer collaboration tools, and they’ve written about how they apply the principles of Radical Candor to their internal engineering organization.

zenhub-team-photo
The ZenHub Team

 

We talked with ZenHub’s Matt Butler (CEO) and Paige Paquette (Head of Marketing) to learn more:

How was Radical Candor introduced to your team?

We found out about Radical Candor through Kim Scott’s wonderful talk that was featured on First Round Review in 2015. We were already practicing many of its principles internally, and the framework solidified the ideas and gave us a great way to talk about and develop our habits.

We realized that a lot of the time, we were operating in the Ruinous Empathy quadrant — which is to say that we were so focused on being “nice” that we glossed over issues that led to consequences down the line. Learning about the four quadrants that Kim described helped us view our culture at ZenHub through a new lens.

What was the initial reception like on your team?

We’ve always been a low-hierarchy team that tries to keep the workplace as BS-free as possible. However, though every member of our team certainly cared about the work we’re doing together, actually having a critical conversation could be a challenge (we’re in Canada, after all.)

Developers rarely seek out conflict, and engineering meetings have always struggled with this point. We found ourselves holding retrospective meetings that focused on what went well. That’s the easy part. But we were missing the mark on finding out why things went wrong. As a result, we were encountering the same problems again and again without really knowing why.

Legitimizing the simple practice of Radical Candor did a lot to encourage meaningful feedback. We developed our retrospective meetings, a common practice in software teams, in a way that encourages constructive feedback, not finger-pointing. We wrote about how we achieved this in our new book, Better Software and Stronger Teams.

Can you tell us a little bit about retrospective meetings and how you use Radical Candor to structure those meetings?

Retrospective meetings typically happen after a big feature launch, or after what are called “sprints” — a two- to four-week period of work with the goal of shipping valuable code at the end. These meetings are meant to uncover what went well, what could have been done better, and most critically, where things went wrong.

But they can be notoriously difficult because nobody wants to point fingers. We call it the problem of politeness. Without candor, problems have the tendency to snowball, resulting in inaccurate information, late features, and failed software projects. The problem of politeness is costing companies a lot of money.

The problem of politeness is costing companies a lot of money.

The way Kim described Radical Candor as the intersection of “caring personally and being willing to challenge directly” is a really concise way to frame our own internal approach for ensuring feedback is shared.

Two strategies we discuss in our book are “start, stop, and continue” and root cause analysis.

“Start, stop, or continue”
During the meeting, ask each team member to name things they should start, stop, and continue doing. “Continue” items are the things that are helpful but aren’t yet habits.

Root cause analysis
Root cause analysis is a fancy term that means “tracing a problem to its source.” It can help you figure out what happened, why it happened, and what steps you can take to prevent it from happening again.

We apply Radical Candor through each of these two strategies.

What is unique about practicing Radical Candor on an engineering team?

Engineering teams need to be agile, and there are a lot of moving parts — particularly for distributed teams, which are very common these days. Because there are so many moving parts, features can often ship late, over-budget, or not at all, and the reasons why are unclear. Even though we have more collaboration tools than ever — from GitHub, to Slack, to products like ZenHub — it’s still incredibly difficult to find the root causes of problems.

The speed at which agile engineering teams move can make it difficult to slow down and ask the hard questions. It becomes even more difficult when your team is spread over 5 countries and 3 different time zones. That’s why it’s so critical to make space in your hectic development process to reflect.

Radical Candor is particularly helpful to engineering teams because of this hectic process. Being able to give quick, effective feedback without damaging relationships is important for building a high-performing team, and Radical Candor makes that possible. People say what they think instead of letting it build up, unspoken, over time.

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

By fostering a culture of impromptu feedback in our team, we’ve been able to move even faster as an agile company. We get to the root of issues faster, but we also are able to mentor much more effectively.

For example, instead of just commenting on things that are incorrect during code reviews, our team actually puts an incredible amount of detail and discussion into *why* something could be done better. We take mistakes as an opportunity to learn and teach.

In this way, code review has become an engineering mentorship tool for us, which is really unique. We even see interns improving the code of our most senior team members, which is unheard of at some companies.

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

The most effective practices are the ones that you can make habits. Radical Candor is one of those practices. Nothing is required besides a little effort and consideration, so consider making the effort.

When someone provides feedback, make a point not to point fingers or introduce shame. By celebrating feedback when it’s given, whether positive or negative, you’re setting an example and building a culture for others to follow.

 


Has your team or company introduced Radical Candor? We’d love to hear about your experiences and feature them here! Get in touch.

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