To Be Successful at Growth Management, You Need to Know How To Have Radically Candid Career Conversations
Helping each person on your team grow in the direction of their dreams is part…
Radical Candor is based on two dimensions — the ability to care about your employees and the people who work with you while also being willing to challenge them.
While some managers use fear to get results, a recent survey from Gallup of 10,000 people in non-leadership roles found that what employees most want in a leader is trust, compassion, stability and hope.
“Leaders who inspire those four things have a comparatively higher proportion of engaged customers, higher productivity and higher profitability,” Gallup noted.
“And not coincidentally, when followers trust their leaders, one in two are engaged. When followers don’t trust their leaders, only one in 12 are engaged.”
And disengaged employees lead to a culture of quiet quitting — doing the bare minimum at work and not going above and beyond.
According to a recent piece in Harvard Business Review by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, “Quiet quitting is usually less about an employee’s willingness to work harder and more creatively, and more about a manager’s ability to build a relationship with their employees where they are not counting the minutes until quitting time.”
Caring personally at its core is common human decency.”
At Radical Candor, we call this commitment to building relationships Care Personally. Caring personally about the people who work for you doesn’t mean over-sharing personal details of your life with those around you who may not want to hear them, or who may be made uncomfortable by them.
It doesn’t mean being friends with your employees and meeting them for happy hour. Caring personally at its is core common human decency.
It means you care about the people who work for you enough to get to know what they want out of work and life (you can do this by having Career Conversations) and you take steps to help enable their success.
It’s not enough to simply have empathy. You also have to take action to get to compassion (empathy + action = compassion), or as Gallup explains, turn the nouns “trust, hope, compassion, recognition, development” into verbs.
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When I first became a newspaper editor in my 20s, I managed a team of reporters and I had no idea what I was doing. None.
The job was exhausting, and low paying and I just wanted my employees to do their work and not complain. I figured they knew what they signed up for. After all, I reasoned, no one takes a job that pays less than a living wage unless they are passionate about it or have no other options.
Since the job required a level of expertise and skill I assumed they, like me, were desperate to make it as journalists no matter what.
I lacked compassion for my reporters because when I was in their role I wrote twice as many stories, worked longer hours and was paid less. I thought they should be grateful they had it better than I did.
Needless to say, this was not the right approach and I didn’t have enough experience managing people to know better.
Fast forward 10 years and I found myself managing a team of marketing and communications contractors for a membership organization. By that time I had suffered through plenty of bad bosses and I’d had the painful realization that I’d also failed my reporters a decade earlier.
I was determined not to make the same mistakes this time around.
The department I managed had an endless mountain of work — some of it beyond tedious — and limited resources. I knew that in order to be successful and get things accomplished, I had to give my team opportunities that would motivate them and help them learn and grow in addition to assigning the boring work that needed to get done no matter what.
I had zero support from my boss with this initiative (who just thought they should do whatever I assigned them and be quiet), but I did it anyways. Just because my boss wasn’t caring personally about me didn’t mean I couldn’t care personally about my team.
When people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to embrace their role on the team and focus on getting results.” — Kim Scott
I fought to get them more money. I recognized them publicly for the immense amount of work they were doing. I always tried to match what I was assigning them with what they were interested in.
For instance, I knew one person was building a food-writing portfolio so any foodie assignments were likely to go to her. Another person wanted to be a designer but had a mostly administrative role so I gave her opportunities to work on design projects to develop her portfolio and grow her skills.
And another was traveling around the world as a digital nomad and wanted as much work as possible to fund their adventures, so all of the overflow work went to them.
And while working for that organization was one of the most stressful and toxic experiences of my career, working alongside my team was the reward that kept me there long after I should have left.
Not only did we meet all of our goals, but we also launched new projects and balanced the marketing budget for the first time ever. This 100% could not have happened had I not taken the time to get to know each person on my team and assign them work based on their strengths and aspirations.
I can say without a doubt that the quality of work we delivered was excellent and each person felt cared for, heard and acknowledged because I consciously created an environment of psychological safety on my team. They knew I had their backs.
Coined by author and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety refers to feeling heard and acknowledged versus fearing you will be retaliated against.
Establishing psychological safety and cognitive and emotional trust allows people to give candid feedback, openly admit mistakes and actively learn from each other.
Radical Candor Author and Co-Founder Kim Scott says:
“It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on your praise and criticism; tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again; embrace their role on the team; and focus on getting results.”
When I compare my two management experience side by side, Kim’s statement is 100% accurate.
While I wasn’t mean to my first team of full-time employees, I didn’t show any care for them either. This led to people quitting via email never to be heard from again and a reporter plagiarizing a story because she was too afraid to tell me she’d skipped a city council meeting where an important announcement had been made.
When I showed I truly cared for my second team I was rewarded with a group of people who — despite being contractors with no loyalty to the organization — went above and beyond to deliver top-notch work and who weren’t afraid to come to me with both professional and personal problems.
And while I was unable to fix the structural problems in the organization, I tried my best to act as what Kim calls a shit umbrella for my team versus a shit funnel to shield them from the worst of the toxic culture.
Kim explains that Challenging Directly is giving people the kind of heads up that underlies basic human decency.
The motivation to Challenge Directly is mostly altruistic — to help another person and the team as a collective flourish.
“I’m telling you this because I want to help you develop the skills you need to succeed and because it’s not fair to your peers if I don’t tell you.”
It doesn’t mean being brutally honest. Criticism should be kind and clear, humble and helpful. You may be wrong, and you want the other person to tell you if you are. Communicate your intent to be helpful as clearly as you communicate the feedback itself.
Have the conversation in private and in person (if possible) so you can pay attention to the other person’s body language. If you can’t meet in person, the next best option is video. Just like when you’re breaking up with someone, we beg of you, don’t have these conversations in text, over email… and especially not in Slack.
To make sure you’re not criticizing someone’s personality when delivering criticism, you can follow the CORE framework:
C — Context (Cite the specific situation.)
O — Observation (Describe what was said or done.)
R — Result (What is the most meaningful consequence to you and to them?)
E — nExt stEps (What are the expected next steps?)
Here’s some helpful CORE criticism that Kim Scott received from her boss: “After the meeting when I told you that you said ‘um’ a lot and recommended a speech coach,” (context), “you made a brush-off gesture” (observation). “This makes me feel like you weren’t hearing me and won’t go to the speech coach I’m recommending, which would be a shame because if you stop saying um so much you’ll be more effective” (result). “Go to the damn speech coach! (nExt stEps).”
Frequent feedback (praise and criticism) is the atomic building block of management. To be a great boss you have to give frequent feedback. Praise is the best way of letting people know what to do more of. Criticism lets them know what to do less of.
You can do this a few times a week during two-minute impromptu conversations. If you work in a remote or hybrid environment, and you don’t want to cold call people, send a text first and ask for a second to chat, or use collaboration tools like Slack or Donut, a virtual personal connection tool.
“Impromptu feedback is something you can squeeze in between meetings in two minutes or less,” says Kim.
“The best feedback (both praise and criticism) I’ve gotten in my life generally happened in super-quick conversations between meetings or standing waiting for a light to change. Getting and giving impromptu feedback is more like brushing and flossing than getting a root canal. Don’t schedule it. Just ask for it and offer it consistently and immediately when it’s needed, and maybe you won’t ever have to get a root canal.”
Saving someone from an unnecessary proverbial root canal is the embodiment of empathy in action.
Learn how to roll out Radical Candor on your team >>
Need help practicing Radical Candor? Then you need The Feedback Loop (think Groundhog Day meets The Office), a 5-episode workplace comedy series starring David Alan Grier that brings to life Radical Candor’s simple framework for navigating candid conversations.
You’ll get an hour of hilarious content about a team whose feedback fails are costing them business; improv-inspired exercises to teach everyone the skills they need to work better together, and after-episode action plans you can put into practice immediately to up your helpful feedback EQ.
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