What does it mean to Challenge Directly?

The concept of Challenge Directly 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 instead of promoting them; when the results don’t justify further investment in what they’re working on.

Delivering hard feedback, making tough calls about who does what on a team, and holding a high bar for results — isn’t that the job of any manager?

But most people struggle with doing these things. Challenging people generally pisses them off, and that doesn’t seem like a good way to build a relationship or to show that you Care Personally.

And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them that you care when you’re the boss.

Remember, it’s not mean, it’s clear.

As a manager, it’s important to challenge your employees directly when needed, even though it can be uncomfortable. This means clearly communicating performance issues, offering kind and clear criticism, and having open conversations about both strengths and areas for improvement.

For example, if an employee is consistently missing deadlines, you should have a direct conversation with them about it. Explain the impact it’s having on the team and the project, and work together to identify the root causes and come up with a plan to get them back on track by using the Radical Candor CORE method.

Or if an employee is struggling with a particular skill, you can challenge them by providing detailed feedback on where they need to improve, and then follow up regularly to monitor their progress. The key is to frame it in the context of helping them achieve their long-term career goals.

Challenge Directly Example

Here is an instance of employing CORE when Kim Scott’s boss had to challenge her directly:

“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)”

Challenging directly may feel difficult in the moment, but it’s one of the most caring things you can do as a manager. It shows you’re invested in your employees’ success and growth. And when done with empathy and clarity, it can actually strengthen the trust and communication in your relationship.