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Rolling Out Radical Candor: Part One

We love working closely with teams rolling out Radical Candor, and offer coaching, training and customized workshops. We can help teach you to:

  • share the ideas with your team and learn how to tell your feedback stories;
  • practice key skills like soliciting feedback, offering meaningful praise, and giving helpful criticism; and
  • create a culture of guidance so that all the burden of feedback doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

We also work with leaders to help you build more cohesive teams and to achieve results collaboratively. Let us know how we can support you.

We love doing this work so much and care so deeply about these ideas that we would do it for free if we could. Alas, we need to keep body and soul together. However, to help organizations that don’t have budget for Candor Coaches, we are offering a free “roll-your-own-Radical Candor-rollout.”

Here is our recommended Order of Operations (part 1 of 2-part series):

Step 1. Share your stories.

Explain Radical Candor to your team so they understand what you’re up to. You can also ask them to read the book, show them videos from the Radical Candor website, or from the series we created with Amazon, Day One: Insights for Entrepreneurs.

But it’s best if you explain it in your own words. What is your version of the “um” story or the “Bob” story? Tell your stories to your team. Show some vulnerability. Your personal stories will explain, better than any management theory, what you really mean and show why you really mean it. That’s why I told all those personal stories in this book. Your stories will mean a lot more to your team than mine do, because they mean something to you.  

Step 2. Solicit feedback: Prove you can take it before you start dishing it out.

Start asking your team to criticize you. Review “soliciting impromptu guidance” in Chapter Six. And remember, don’t let people off the hook when they don’t say much—because they won’t, at first. Embrace the discomfort to move past it. Pay close attention if you aren’t getting any criticism.

If you want, you can copy the Radical Candor framework in Chapter Two and track who’s saying what to you there. Just because people aren’t criticizing you doesn’t mean they think you’re perfect. If you realize that you’re not getting any criticism, try Michael Dearing’s “Orange Box” technique (see “orange box” in Radical Candor, Chapter Six).

Soliciting guidance, especially criticism, is not something you do once and check off your list — this will now be something you do daily. But it’ll happen in little one- to two-minute conversations, not in meetings you have to add to your calendar. It’s something to be conscious of, not something to schedule. It will feel strange at first, but once you get in the habit, it’ll feel weird not to do it. You won’t ever “move on” from getting guidance any more than you’ll ever move on from having to drink water or brush your teeth. But don’t stop there.

Step 3. Growth Management: Career Conversations.

In order to build a great team, you need to understand what motivates each team member, and how each person’s job fits into their life goals. A leader at Apple had a good way to think about different types of ambition: rock stars are solid as a rock, and a force for stability at work (think Rock of Gibraltar, not Bruce Springsteen), while superstars are highly-ambitious change agents, constantly seeking new opportunities.

The most important thing you can do for your team collectively is to understand what growth trajectory each team member wants to be on at a given time, and whether that matches the needs and opportunities of the overall team. Learn more about our Growth Management philosophy in First Round Capital’s Warning: This is Not Your Grandfather’s Talent Planning.

To be successful at growth management, we recommend a series of three Career Conversations you’ll have with each team member. Begin with people you’ve been working with the longest. (Review “Career Conversations” in Chapter Seven and The Problem with Career Conversations Today for more background.)

When done well, these conversations should connect a person’s past – gaining a detailed understanding of who they are and what motivates them at work through their life story – with their future – the wildest dreams they have for themselves at the pinnacle of their career.

Conversation 1: Learn what motivates your team member, what they value, the things that drive them; their Life Story.

Conversation 2: Understand where someone wants to be at the pinnacle of their career; their Dreams.

Conversation 3: Plan for the present with a Career Action Plan.

“We have to understand the past and the future in order to know what to do in the present, what to do right now.”

Like getting criticism from your team, Career Conversations are not something you do once and check off the list. Remember, people change, their growth trajectory changes, and you need to change with them! That’s why 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.

Step 4 / Ongoing: Perfect your 1:1 conversations.

In parallel — because it will take you at least three to six weeks to get through these three Career Conversations with everyone on your team, since you want to leave a week or two between each of the three conversations — make sure you are having meaningful 1:1 conversations with your direct reports.

First, make sure you actually have the meetings! We have to start at the beginning here, because it’s simply not the case that all managers are holding regular 1:1s. 1:1s are quiet, focused collaboration time for employees and bosses to connect. It’s also the most important chance for you to hear from your employee, and it’s their time, not yours. (Review 1:1 conversations in Chapter Eight and How to Have Effective 1:1s.)

It’s equally important for you to figure out how to enjoy the conversations. If you feel like they are “calendar clutter,” your approach is not going to work. Quit thinking of them as meetings and began treating them as if you are having lunch or coffee with somebody you are genuinely eager to get to know better.

If scheduling them over a meal helps, make them periodic lunches. If you and your direct report like to walk and there’s a good place to take a walk near the office, make them walking meetings.

If you are a morning person, schedule them in the morning. If you are a person who has an energy dip at 2 P.M., don’t schedule them at 2 P.M. You have a lot of meetings, so you can optimize the 1:1 time and location for your energy. Just don’t be a jerk about it. You may like to wake up at 5 A.M. and go to the gym. Don’t expect the people who work for you to meet you there.

After you have explained Radical Candor, asked for guidance, had career conversations, and improved your 1:1 conversations, you’ll notice that you are earning your team’s trust and building a better culture.


Step 5. Give Guidance — Praise & Criticism — but make sure to focus on the good stuff.

Now you’re ready to start improving the way you give impromptu praise and criticism. Remember, impromptu guidance happens best in one- to two-minute conversations. (Review “Giving impromptu guidance” in Chapter Six.) Make sure you gauge your guidance. (Review “Gauge your impromptu guidance. Get a baseline, track your improvements” in Chapter Six.)

You may think you’re being radically candid, but one person may not have heard any criticism at all, another may have heard it as ruinously empathetic, and yet another as obnoxious aggression. You have to adjust for each individual. You have to be not just self-aware but relationally- and culturally-aware.

Step 6. Take a deep breath. Assess.

How’s it going? What’s working? What’s not working? Who can you talk to? Can your boss help? Your team? A mentor outside of work? A coach? Others from the Radical Candor community? Would you like to ask me a question?

Don’t try to do more new things until you feel 1) you’ve made good progress on the fundamental building block of management: getting and giving guidance, 2) you’ve gotten to know your direct reports better through your Career Conversations, and 3) you’re happy with your 1:1s.

Stay tuned for Part II…and keep us posted on what’s working, what’s not, and how we can help!

An Open Letter to James Damore

James, you’ve touched the third rail that is gender. I’m writing not to add to the abuse pouring down on you, but because I believe that third rail is hurting not just you but all of us. I’m writing an open letter because I know that there are a lot of others who believe what you believe but are remaining silent. I think this stuff is better out in the open.

I’ll admit as a liberal, a woman, and a former Googler who led a 700-person team, I can knowledgeably – and vehemently – disagree with most of what you wrote.

But, I’m also glad you wrote it. Seriously. When you say what you really think, you give others a chance to challenge your thinking. And in return I promise to be open to giving you a chance to change my thinking.

Let’s start with where we agree: “We all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow.” Amen!

I also agree that “Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology.” I have several conservative friends at Google. While I don’t share their politics, I hate the reality that they often feel invisible and unable to speak their minds. This shouldn’t happen at a global champion of free expression that prides itself on building a reasonable culture where people are expected to disagree and argue fiercely and respectfully. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and pretty much every leader I know there is deeply committed to making sure everyone has a voice at Google. But they’ve got a ways to go; I have total confidence openness to diverse views will continue to improve there. Conservative Googlers have both Sundar and you to thank for that.

If you have views but can’t give voice to them you don’t have a sense of psychological safety. Getting fired certainly didn’t contribute to your feeling of psychological safety. I care about psychological safety in general, and your psychological safety in particular. I wish you’d had a boss or a mentor who could have helped you to find a more productive way to express yourself, and to challenge some of your views.

To that end, and in the spirit of Radical Candor, I’d like to explain where I think you mis-stepped, and to offer some ideas for how you can find a way to share your opinions more productively in the future. In general, it’s better to criticize in private, but when an issue is so public an open letter will scale. However, I’m also happy to have a private conversation.

Of course, you probably thought you wrote in the spirit of Radical Candor as well. But Radical Candor gets measured at the other person’s ear, not at your mouth.

When you make an argument that shows no concern for the people you’re talking to, and exhibits little awareness that your argument is more an ensemble of opinion than proven science or fact, others will experience your words as Obnoxious Aggression.  This makes them reluctant to engage in productive conversation with you—you’ve lost credibility and hurt your relationships all in one fell swoop.

In what you wrote, you didn’t quite come out and say that you thought the gender problem in tech is that women are stupider and more neurotic than men.  But you came pretty damn close–“the left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences)” and “Women, on average, have more neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).”

When writing about IQ, you alluded one body of research showing men have a higher IQ, but failed to acknowledge the other body of research that shows they don’t. More importantly, the real world suggests IQ doesn’t matter in the way you assert that it does. As EO Wilson wrote, “Isn’t the cutting edge a place only for geniuses? No, fortunately…in most fields most of the time, extreme brightness may be a detriment.”

When you imply that the problem with women in tech is the size of the female brain, you are ignoring both your intellect and your emotional intelligence. I have no doubt you are a rational thinker, and that you are a decent human being, but what you wrote about IQ/neuroticism and their role in the small percentage of female tech leaders was neither smart nor true.

Of course, you are far, far from alone in your assumptions. My own son asserted that boys were smarter than girls when he was six. He now understands that’s not accurate and the dangers of gross generalizations and prejudice. I just hope I’ve educated him with love, not by pressing his hand to the third rail. Perhaps you have some advice for me there?

I would be interested in having a conversation about whether or not it makes sense to mandate unconscious bias training for all promotion committees, and a number of other suggestions you make. BUT I’m not eager to have that conversation with a person who indicated, perhaps without meaning to or even really believing it, that I’m likely to be stupider and more neurotic than he is.

Not being obnoxious doesn’t mean you have to become Ruinously Empathetic, as you indicated in what you wrote. I agree that it’s a terrible mistake to be so concerned for somebody else’s feelings that you can’t point out a problem when you see one. But thinking you must choose between Obnoxious Aggression and Ruinous Empathy is just a false dichotomy. You don’t.

Of course much worse than caring so much we don’t challenge or challenging so hard we forget to care is Manipulative Insincerity, what happens when we neither care nor challenge but fume silently. And all too often the current climate of gender politics pushes both men and women to be manipulatively insincere on the topic. I am guessing that is in part what you were reacting to and why you wrote as you did. In today’s legal climate, it’s hardly surprising that Google fired you for writing what you did; if your words had gone unchallenged many people would have felt the company was not doing enough to prevent a hostile work environment. I’ll confess I wouldn’t want to work as your peer or your employee after what you wrote. However, my offer of coaching does stand if you’d like it. That’s because I believe the laws that have been put in place to protect women from discrimination sometimes make open conversations in which we explore ideas (and get some things wrong) too dangerous. That is a shame and I’d like to find a way forward. And get your thoughts on that as well.

You don’t have to become emotionally unengaged to avoid Ruinous Empathy. When you pretend the emotional factors that govern all of us–even you–don’t exist, you don’t become more rational, you just fall prey to self-deception and become a worse communicator. You don’t need to choose between your mind and your emotions. You can be the master of both. You can care and challenge.

Google’s founders showed how to do that at a company meeting in 2004 when an engineer asked why Google’s executives were spending so much time getting a daycare set up. Why was it such a priority? There were a lot of abstract reasons given, but the best answer was Larry’s. He said, to the best of my memory, “Well, Susan just returned from maternity leave. We love working with her, and if she wants to come back to work, we want to make it as easy as possible for her.” Susan figured out how to make brand advertising work at Google, a multi-billion- dollar business, and she’s now CEO of YouTube. I’d say that explaining the decision through an anecdote was more effective than stats, and that building the daycare center paid off, wouldn’t you?

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