Common Human Decency

The Case for Common Human Decency 6 | 8

Common human decency is something everyone deserves, but not everyone gets. Especially at work. Kim and Amy discuss a case study Kim learned about during a recent visit to Harvard Business School. In this case, the co-founders of CloudFlare considered the implications of five employees’ resignations over the prior three months and whether or not the resignations were symptomatic of bigger issues with CloudFlare’s culture and management processes. The HBS alums then put on their case study hats as they explore the recent attention CloudFlare has received for its poor handling of layoffs after Brittany Pietsch filmed her own layoff and it subsequently went viral on TikTok.

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Radical Candor Podcast: Episode at a Glance

Here’s How AI Summed Up This Conversation

*Our robot makes some mistakes—listen to the episode for a 100% accurate account of Kim and Amy’s conversation.

  • The effectiveness of case studies in business education. 0:03
    • Kim Scott and Amy Sandler discuss their experiences at Harvard Business School in the mid-1990s, with Kim sharing that he was in Russia during that time (1990-1994) and Amy mentioning that she was in Europe during college and the year the Berlin Wall fell (1989).
    • Amy Sandler quotes the former dean of Harvard Business School, Noria, on the use of case studies as a learning tool, highlighting how they help students quickly size up business problems while considering broader context.
    • Amy and Kim discuss the case method of learning at business school, with Amy sharing her experience and Kim expressing reservations.
  • Business case analysis and decision-making. 4:31
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott discuss the importance of preparation and listening in business situations.
    • Kim Scott shares a meme about a dog on a call and the importance of confidence in sharing opinions.
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott discuss a Silicon Valley startup where 5 of 35 employees have resigned in the past couple of months, raising questions about natural attrition or a larger cultural issue.
    • Key facts include the company’s flat organizational structure, lack of HR policies, and promotions based on individual achievements, which may contribute to employee dissatisfaction and resignations.
  • Work culture and management practices in a tech startup. 9:58
    • Kim Scott and Amy Sandler discuss a work culture where employees work long hours and are proud of it, but some have quit due to burnout.
    • The professor’s perspective is different, with a focus on the importance of hard work and the need for those who don’t want to work that hard to leave.
    • Kim Scott: Startups often lack HR structure, leading to issues like bullying and unfair pay.
    • Amy Sandler: The majority of employees were engineers, with little representation from other functions.
    • Kim Scott emphasizes the importance of intentionally designing management processes to prevent toxic behaviors, even with good people, and warns against a flat organizational structure without proper hierarchy.
    • Amy Sandler agrees with Kim Scott’s lessons learned from her experience in Russia, emphasizing the need for a balance between chaos and totalitarianism in organizational culture.
  • Workplace layoffs and accountability. 18:14
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott discuss a company that went from being a small startup to a publicly traded company worth $1.3 billion, with a focus on the role of recording interactions in holding companies and managers accountable.
    • Kim Scott highlights the potential of recording interactions to hold companies and managers accountable, using the example of a woman named Brittany Peach who recorded her being laid off by Cloud Flare at the start of 2024.
    • Kim Scott emphasizes the importance of a manager having the layoff conversation with their direct report, citing it as a crucial aspect of compassionate firing.
    • Amy Sandler agrees, but also acknowledges that some companies may not have trust in their managers to handle these conversations, highlighting the need for manager training.
  • Workplace layoffs and performance evaluations. 24:04
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott discuss the legality of recording a call in different states, with Kim Scott expressing uncertainty about the law.
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott consider the preferences of a hypothetical mass firing versus a one-on-one conversation for addressing a problem employee.
    • Kim Scott questions CEO’s reasoning for termination, citing inconsistent messaging on performance vs. layoff.
    • Kim Scott wants to be informed of termination by her manager directly, with empathy and potential job referrals.
  • Layoffs, performance management, and HR practices. 30:19
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott discuss the emotional toll of being laid off, with Amy sharing her own experience of feeling disconnected from the HR representatives delivering the news.
    • Kim Scott expresses compassion for the HR representatives, acknowledging the difficult situation they were put in and the lack of education on how to handle it properly.
    • Kim Scott shares a personal experience of a layoff where the person in charge made a mistake by calling a meeting with both retained and fired employees, leaving the latter feeling embarrassed and demotivated.
    • Kim and Amy Sandler discuss the legal justification for using the term “performance-based” instead of “layoff” to avoid potential legal obligations and maintain employee dignity.
    • Kim Scott emphasizes the importance of identifying and addressing poor performance on a team, especially in sales roles where metrics are more quantifiable.
    • Amy Sandler raises the issue of measurement problems in evaluating sales performance, and how it can be challenging to determine the reasons for termination.
  • Firing employees and accountability in the workplace. 38:38
    • Kim Scott: Firing 40 salespeople out of 1500 is a lot, even with performance management.
    • Amy and Kim analyze a manager’s apology for a company’s HR mishap.
    • Kim Scott highlights the importance of accountability and taking action to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.
    • Amy Sandler agrees and adds that underperforming employees may not always listen to feedback before being let go, and it’s important to provide clear documentation and communication to avoid confusion and ensure fair treatment.
  • Leadership mistakes and feedback. 45:13
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott agree that getting underperforming employees off the team quickly is the right thing to do, but they also acknowledge that being kind and humane is important.
    • Kim Scott believes that not providing clear feedback and an opportunity to address issues before firing someone is a mistake, and that it’s important to be upfront and transparent with employees.
    • Amy Sandler and Kim Scott discuss the importance of acknowledging and learning from management mistakes in public, rather than only addressing them in private.
    • Kim Scott emphasizes the challenges of being a public leader, where mistakes are more likely to be publicly scrutinized and criticized.
    • Kim Scott emphasizes the importance of empathy and humanity when dealing with employees who are about to be fired, even if it means taking risks or making it harder on oneself.
    • Amy Sandler agrees and suggests that criticizing organizational culture without personalizing it is possible by using clear and kind criticism, rather than blaming individuals.
  • Effective feedback and criticism in the workplace. 52:50
    • Identify problems early and fire with humility to avoid undermining trust and legal liability.
    • Kim Scott shares tips on how to give feedback in a leadership role, including praising in public and criticizing in private.

Radical Candor Podcast Checklist

Common Human Decency

  1. Don’t get so caught up in all the HR/ legal advice that you fail to act like a human being. Take a deep breath and a big step back. You, the manager, have a relationship with the person you’re about to fire. You still give a damn about this person. Think hard about how to do it in a way that will make it easiest on them—even if it makes it harder on you, or if you have to take some risks. Don’t outsource firing people.
  2. Identify problems early be clear about naming them and what the expectations are and give the person time to address them. This reduces the shock if they can’t or won’t address it and you wind up having to fire the person. When you give somebody a good performance review rating one quarter and fire them the next, word gets around, and it undermines trust with everyone else. Not to mention that you risk being sued by the fired employee.
  3. When you have to fire people, do it with humility. Remember, the reason you have to fire them is not that they suck. It’s not even that they suck at this job. It’s that this job—the job you gave them—sucks for them.

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The Radical Candor Podcast is based on the book Radical Candor: Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.

Radical Candor podcast

Episodes are written and produced by Brandi Neal with script editing by Amy Sandler. The show features Radical Candor co-founders Kim Scott and Jason Rosoff and is hosted by Amy Sandler. Nick Carissimi is our audio engineer.

The Radical Candor Podcast theme music was composed by Cliff Goldmacher. Order his book: The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering the Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.

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